If you were to meet me, you might utter the words ‘I’d never know you were autistic, you must be very high-functioning’. These exact words were said to me last week, but speaking about my kids, so replacing ‘you’ with ‘they’.
And today, I’ve been filling out forms, applying for Domiciliary Carer’s Allowance for my kids. If you were to base your opinion of them on what I’ve written, you might say ‘wow, they are so low-functioning, definitely disabled.’ (Though the Medical Assessor might disagree – they’re known for turning people down.) If I were applying for Disability Allowance for myself, I’d get a similar reaction. In fact, when I’ve made clear the extent of my issues, I’ve had people say ‘I don’t know how you function at all.’
So, which is it? Are we high-functioning or low-functioning? It really is a ridiculous question, isn’t it.
Why don’t we ever talk about Neurotypical people based on their functioning level? Is it because, we can understand that the high-flying business executive functioning well at work, is going through a divorce due to his low-functioning marriage? We understand that the unemployed person, who can’t function enough to get out of bed some mornings, has a close group of friends and functions well socially at weekends. We understand that people have good days and bad days. Strengths and weaknesses. And we would not ask ‘are you high-functioning or low-functioning?’ when we meet them. That would be rude!
So, why do people think it’s ok to ask that of autistic people?
Goes back to one of my life mottos: if you would not treat a neurotypical person that way, don’t treat a neurodivergent person that way either.
[image of a pile of forms, for Domiciliary Carer’s Allowance, waiting to be filled in, with a pen on top. ]