The thing I didn’t say in my last post that I wanted to address but didn’t because it didn’t really fit in with the post even though it was inspired by the book plus the post was getting long anyway is this …
People love to put autistic people into categories. Specifically, high or low functioning. It’s a totally irresponsible thing to do. It serves no purpose. And most importantly, I think, is that it denies people their full human-ness.
In the book I reviewed yesterday, Christopher took advanced (*A level maths) at the age of 15 and Aced the test. He was most surely headed for college to study math and science. He had a remarkable memory and was able to understand the concept of money and chores and taking care of a pet. He was verbal. His parents were comfortable leaving him home alone and he wrote a novel. He was able to develop relationships with people. Sounds pretty high functioning to me.
Christopher also could not see past one lie his father had told him and recognize that that did not make his father a bad or dangerous person. There was no reasoning with Christopher. He wet himself sometimes for various reasons. He had a crippling dislike for certain colours and he did not react appropriately to strangers who tried to speak to him or who touched him. He went to a special needs school. He did not have any friends and his sensory challenges restricted his life in a major way. He was prone to wandering off. Sounds kinda low functioning to me.
Jay is not a star student. But he’s a really great artist. He doesn’t have any sensory issues which is an astounding thing to say about an autistic person. He’s flexible with his schedule and he enjoys going on vacation to new places. He doesn’t understand money AT ALL – so far. He does not respect other people’s time so there’s no use in trying to rush him. He is not self-conscious but wants to be a part of whatever activity other kids are involved in. He’s a sore loser. He is in a general education class in a general education school with no aide and there are no concerns about him wandering off or engaging in self injurious behaviours. He has friends. He cannot ride a bike, swing himself or tie his shoe laces. He is verbal and reads for fun and appears to understand stories but scores poorly on reading comprehension tests. He can make his own grilled cheese sandwiches.
Is Jay high or low functioning? The answer is … Yes.
The truth is that it’s not a fair question. It’s too arbitrary and does a dis-service to everyone.
We would never use that kind of binary qualification to identity non-autistic people. We wouldn’t say that a brain surgeon is high functioning but a plumber is low functioning. Is an illiterate farmer high functioning but someone who writes computer codes low functioning, because, we all need to eat? Stevie Wonder can’t drive, but he’s functioning at a higher musical level than anyone I know in real life. Everyone has a different skill set or ability. All are valid and necessary.
Someone who is non-verbal could very well have a brilliant academic mind. Yet, they might spend their entire life with people calling them low functioning or assuming they are stupid. How frustrating would that be? How belittling and condescending.
Someone else who has no outward signs of a disability and who is able to function well in a controlled environment – who could “pass” as high functioning – may have no sense of danger and might frequently put themselves in situations they shouldn’t and therefore cannot be left unattended – ever.
I think we need to get rid of the terms high or low functioning. I have friends who function at a much higher level than I do in a kitchen or in a garden or on a dance floor while I outshine them in a swimming pool or with an excel spreadsheet or with a sewing machine.
I know it’s an uphill battle trying to change peoples thinking. I don’t know how to do it other than spreading the word. Instead of taking one part of who someone is or what they can demonstrate and barricading them into a box, we need to look for peoples strengths (everyone has them) and nurture those and then we should also look for their challenges (everyone has them) and assist them with those.
I realize this is not a new concept; I just felt compelled to talk about it today. Plus, I get to use some memes which said in less than 30 words combined, what I spent 1000 words saying.
*A Levels are exams taken after graduating high school but before attending college in the United Kingdom and former British colonies. It requires studying a subject over a 2 year period and sitting an exam at the end of each year. Most students only study 3 or 4 subjects due to the intense nature of the work. Most students are between the ages of 16 and 18 when they sit A levels.