Identity-First Autistic's stance on 'functioning labels'


Functioning labels are written about extensively within the autistic community. The overriding consensus is that they do far more harm than good.  

Realistically, there is no such disparity as simple as high, middle and low functioning autism. Autism is a spectrum and we all function highly in some aspects and less well in others. Functioning in any one area can even fluctuate day-to-day depending on environment, accommodations and other factors. For example, an autistic person may perform a highly specialised task to an incredibly high standard when in a suitable environment, but be completely unable to perform the same task in an open-plan office surrounded by noise, activity and bright lights. They may instead appear surprisingly 'low-functioning'.


Before we even begin to discuss the consequences of functioning labels, we can already see that this short hand attempt to categorise autistic people in to severely impaired or mildly impaired by our atypical neurology is inaccurate and misleading. It promotes a a vastly over-simplified and detrimental understanding of autistic people. 


Labelling a person low-functioning dismisses our abilities and labelling us high-functioning dismisses our struggles. Low functioning implies that the autistic life is a tragedy and a burden and high-functioning is often mistaken to mean having savant abilities or to be only mildly or temporarily autistic.    
We should not be labelled on our apparent abilities or disabilities.  Our identity, dignity and personhood should not be boxed in to narrow categories that imply a person is somehow less or more autistic or less or more human based on how well we can perform daily activities such as self care or communicating in the typical fashion.
Many autistic people labelled as 'low-functioning' find that low expectations are then put upon us, and our thoughts and feelings are not recognised, respected or considered valid or even to exist. Likewise, with autistic people labelled 'high-functioning', many of the things that we simply cannot do as a result of not being neurotypical, we are still expected to some how work around, regardless of how much pain that may cause us since we are considered to be 'less affected by autism'. 

Identity-First Autistic are against the use of all functioning labels, and along with promoting identity-first language, we want to see functioning labels dropped from the diagnosis of autistic people and for them to no longer be used to describe an autistic person. 


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