Tuesday, July 26, 2016

High Functioning, Low Functioning, Severe, Mild and Labels for Autism

Is it wrong to describe a person with autism as high or low functioning? What about being severe or mild on the spectrum?

I have encountered a number of people recently who find all such labels to be offensive, even describing it as "ableism."

What do we need to know about these labels? First, we should acknowledge that some are offended by the labels and so we should be careful how we use them and with who.

Personally, I'm not crazy about the high functioning and low functioning labels. Functioning in what way? What activities are measured to determine how well a person is functioning? I have used these labels but I intend to avoid them in the future.

But what about severe and mild? It is true that autism is a spectrum. That is why it is called the Autism Spectrum Disorder. It is also true that people are on different points along that spectrum. Two of my children are on the severe end. They are nonverbal and live in a group home. Their autism affects them in some pretty significant ways.

I am also on the spectrum and am considered mild. While I definitely have autism (what would have once been called Asperger's), many people do not notice my autism and perhaps even reject my diagnosis.

As a person with autism, I'm fine with the labels of severe and mild. I find them helpful in describing contexts. They are not meant as restrictions. My son is better at some things than me and that will continue as he grows older.

Ultimately, it is our job to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of the people around us. At the same time, we shouldn't be so politically correct that we no longer can describe anything.

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