The Neurotypical World Should Not Decide How We Function

I once had a boyfriend who broke my heart. I thought he was my boyfriend, at least, but he thought otherwise. Am I high functioning because I had a boyfriend? Am I low-functioning because my heart was broken or because I didn’t realize we weren’t actually an item? Am I more high functioning because I’m autistic and had this relationship, no matter if we were actually together or not?

How confusing are the labels of high and low functioning? I just want to trash them, to be honest. The main definition of function is “to work or operate in a proper or particular way.” Who decides what is proper? Is it the neurotypical person? Is it not completely subjective? Am I less functioning because I happen to be autistic and have bipolar disorder? Am I only less functioning during an episode?

Let me tell you something that scares me to tell you because it may be controversial: I sometimes wish I could be non-verbal. The verbal world can be exhausting to me. I burn out easily and need to sleep it off before I can handle any more. This is because, compared to the average person, I process other people’s words slowly. Does this make me low functioning? I have an above average IQ, though — does that make me high functioning? If a non-verbal autistic person wishes to be verbal, does that make them lower functioning because they are not living up to their own standard of what’s comfortable and acceptable? What if they write brilliantly and wish to stay exactly as they are? Does this make them high functioning?

What about quality-of-life? Does this play into a person’s ability to function, high or low? If you judge a person who stims a lot in public as low functioning because they do not act like everyone else, are you not low functioning because you’re assuming that person cannot meet and even exceed your standards in other ways? Does your own discomfort make you low functioning and the comfort of the person who’s stimming make them high functioning?

What I’ve written may have confused you a little bit. That might be because it’s mostly subjective and questions that cannot be answered in such a black and white manner. “High and low functioning” is very black and white, while this world is colorful and full of very different people. I’d say you are ignoring the brilliance of the so-called low functioning person if you only see their difference to you as being a negative, and you’re also ignoring the struggles of the supposed high functioning person if you focus only on their sameness to you, as a neurotypical, and dismiss the fact that they often need to adjust to your standard of ‘proper.’

In short, I would just like to say that I think I am functioning. Maybe not to your standards, but my own. I may not be able to sing at all, but I can paint and draw, and that’s enough for me.




  1. I’ve been considering these issues a good deal, lately, but as you show, it’s such a tangle that I can’t bring myself to write about it. But the most important one, I tend to think, is the idea that someone diagnosed as low-functioning is going to function poorly in all areas at all times. Those of us who can nearly pass as “normal” need to address this issue publicly and make sure that it isn’t forever a point of contention that allows “high functioning” people to feel that they are somehow better or more worthwhile.

    Liked by 1 person

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