“Functioning Labels” and “Person First” may do more harm than good

You’ve probably heard Aspergers Syndrome referred to as “high functioning Autism”, and while in some respects that may be true, I recently read a take on this that has led me to believe that “high functioning” is not a label one should use. No one can stop you, but you might want to reconsider.

is an autism centric blog that has lots of interesting posts. I’m going to highlight some of them today. The first is on “Functioning Labels”:

Yesterday at the #autismchat, one of the things I said was “High functioning means your needs get ignored. Low functioning means your abilities get ignored.” I am by no means the first person to say something like this. Over at Autistic Hoya, there is a good cartoon about functioning labels. I think that over at Just Stimming, something along these lines has also been said. Cal Montgomery criticized a lot of the ways they’re used in a movie review . And of course, every time someone assumes high functioning/Aspergers because someone blogs, this gets brought up. It gets brought up because it’s true.

I have traveled foreign countries alone, and done so competently. That doesn’t mean I’m not Autistic. It means that the skills I have allow me to do that. I don’t catch a lot of non-verbal communication. That’s a skill I don’t have so well. If the situation I face is needing to figure out how to get from point A to point B by public transit, I am in good shape. I’ll function GREAT. If the situation is a crowded gathering where I need to politely interact with people, I might manage the length of the party (or I might not.) Then I go home and shut down. My functioning in that area is kind of cruddy.

How do you define high and low functioning? Is it by how easy it is to make an independent living arrangement work for that person? Is it by ability to navigate from point A to point B safely? Is it on being able to drive? Is it by ability to handle social situations? Is it by ability to speak? Is it by IQ? Is it by what society thinks we should be able to do? Is it by what WE think we should be able to do?

So, what are we defining functioning by anyways? We ALL have strengths and weaknesses. If I’m high functioning, you just ignore the weaknesses, and if I’m low functioning, you just ignore the strengths. Either way, we get hurt (and ignored!)

I think that’s a great point, and I had never considered this before. Many people use the “I’m high functioning” as kind of a defensive maneuver. Since Aspergers and Autism are both still so poorly understood for the most part, if you tell someone you are Autistic they’ll likely want to avoid you because they will instantly form associations in their head. By saying “but I’m high functioning“, you’re basically saying “but it’s safe for you to still associate with me”. And perhaps inadvertently, it continues to uphold the stigma around others who would be “less high functioning” than you. Let’s bust those stigmas folks!

Next is the issue of terminology. Here’s a . I’ve written about this before (after first discovering the idea and deciding it was the better way to go). The idea here is that if someone has a disability, you wouldn’t call them a disabled person, you would call them a person with a disability. It respects the fact that, despite a disability, they are still a human being worthy of the same respect and care that any other person, disabled or not, receives.

-“You are a person with neurotypicality.”
-“I am an Autistic who happens to be experiencing life with personhood!” (Laughing)
-Can I cure your neurotypical?
-Just like I’m a person with femaleness, right?
-And you’re a person with whiteness?
-No, I think I’m an Autistic Martian. Nice try, though.

However, as in the queer and transgender realm, there is a big push to let people self-identify and self-label. As in, if someone introduces themselves and says “Hi, I’m John and I’m autistic”, you wouldn’t say “No John, you’re a person with Autism”, because they is not how they want to be addressed. They told you how they consider themselves. If you meet someone who appears physically male but they introduce themselves as a woman named “Jane”, you will have to address her as such.

I admit, for a moment I thought to myself “but that’s inefficient, to have to stop and ask every individual person how they would like to be addressed”, and then I realized that’s exactly what we do when learning people’s name when we first meet. “Hi, I’m Christopher”. Hi, Christopher, I’m Bob. So, you wouldn’t call Christopher “Chris” (unless you ask him and he says he doesn’t mind), and you wouldn’t call Bob “Robert” under the same reasons.

So, with Person First, it comes down to the person. The blog writer (who has linked to tons of resources on the subject) advocates to address people whoever they tell you they want to be addressed, even if it seems negative towards themselves.

Lastly, the issue of . The blogger writes that while it’s technically true that she is differently abled, she is also still disabled, that is just a fact:

And yet I won’t say that I am differently abled, and I will correct people who call me differently abled. I will also info-dump all the reasons that it’s not the language choice I want if you tell me I should be using it. It’s soft. It’s nice. It also ignores the fact that I am Disabled. I am disabled by society’s responses to my actual set of abilities, impairments, and kind of weirds. In many cases it’s more by the kind of weirds than the actual impairments, which is… really telling.

I won’t let society ignore the fact that they are disabling me. If I’m not supposed to call myself disabled, they can ignore that I am even disabled at all. If they can ignore that I’m even disabled at all (I am, and by the rules and expectations of what I am supposed to be able to do, like use phones and sit still and make eye contact and not need to choose between paying attention and looking like I am paying attention and being able to use speech instead of typing whenever I meet people in person and choosing to do so every time it’s possible because that’s what’s expected even if typing would be much easier and 炒外汇入门 there are certain things I can only communicate that way because I have mental blocks that I’m not supposed to have and it goes on and on…) well, if they don’t need to look at my being Disabled, they don’t need to look at the ways they are making me disabled. Ableism, institutional and personal, creates disability, and I can’t let people forget that because you can’t dismantle a system you can’t even see, won’t even look at. I need the world to look at the way it turns differently abled (different from what? Always ask) into disabled, and I can’t do that without calling it what it is made- DISABILITY

And Lastly, a good post on .

Care to share your thoughts?