Monday, December 9, 2013

High and Low Functioning are Meaningless Terms

One of the issues highlighted for me by the recent Flashblog was the desperate need for better vocabulary around autism. We commonly use the terms "high-functioning" and "low-functioning" and it's becoming ever more clear that these terms are meaningless.

Dozens of autistic people contributed thoughtful, well-written posts about being autistic.  What we don't know -- unless they tell us -- is that some of those people are writing those posts in diapers. Or had a meltdown that left them incapable of speaking last week. Or are never able to speak at all without technological assistance.
Some people are skeptical about these bloggers. And certainly the potential for deception is there. But my son has a youtube channel, which I check out periodically. It's always kind of... confounding. Videos of himself show the boy I see the most -- smart, cute, but decidedly still a little boy, much younger developmentally than his biological age. Visually oriented videos demonstrate technical skills worthy of an adult. The comments he leaves are the most confounding of all: they sound like an average teenager years old than he is. They tend to be on the blunt, even rude side, but that's pretty much normal for youtube comments.

He's at his most "autistic" when he's at school, trying to process too many voices and too many unwritten rules. So was I.

This is one of the reasons I have no trouble believing that autistic adults who write intelligent blog posts are "low-functioning" in real life.  Technology and the internet make use of what are often an autistic person's greatest areas of competency, and eliminate a lot of barriers to communication. Many autistic people have a voice now. It's time to listen to them.

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