I just wanted to be considered autistic.
Let’s talk today about autism functioning labels and why they can be harmful.
Growing up with autism I didn’t speak till 3 and didn’t speak in complete sentences until I was 7. I used to be called ‘low-functioning, and now because I can talk, live independently and have a job as a professional speaker the majority of people call me ‘high-functioning.’
For a while in high school I considered myself high-functioning too.
Things started to click for me though when I came across someone referring me to this label again. It was when I was at a dinner when someone was surprised I was on the autism spectrum because I don’t show a lot of characteristics on the surface. He said, “You have autism? You are so high-functioning.” There was a woman at the table that night who was referred to as ‘low-functioning’ too.
What I came to realize is that if I’m labeled in this way it could be used to diminish my obstacles that I still struggle with to this day. I’ve noticed with that label I often also receive the question of how I was able to ‘cure’ my autism. It also can insinuate that I function well in every area of life and that’s just not true. My challenges with transitions and sometimes with social interaction for example I would never consider as high-functioning.
Then we look at labels such as ‘low-functioning.’ Those who may be labeled with this may need 24/7 care, may be self-injurious, etc. If someone is given a low-functioning label though it could disregard their strengths. Imagine some in our community overhearing themselves being called ‘low-functioning.’ I know some can’t comprehend but from my friends who’ve been referred to as ‘low-functioning’ in the past, like the woman at that table that day, I can tell you that it’s very painful to them. ‘Moderate’ is another area that’s frustrating to me.
My challenge for everyone reading this is to erase these labels from your vocabulary and instead when you are speaking about someone on the spectrum talking about the unique strengths and challenges each person on the spectrum has. That way if someone needs help we can start each conversation by pinpointing the best ways of supporting that individual.