On Functioning

I often wonder how most allistic (not autistic, but possibly still not neurotypical)/NT people define high and low functioning when it comes to autism.

Is it our communication? Does that account for simply being able to utter words or are social communication deficits acknowledged, too? How about if a person can be articulate on paper, but has little or not verbal communication?

Is it the ability to live alone/”independently”? Why is this only a factor for disabled individuals, not realizing for one second that we all depend on others, and why, though teased, my NT peers who didn’t move out of their parents’ home at age 18 weren’t ready to be independent, either, and that was okay for them, but concerning for me?

Is it the level of support we need? If we have parents/siblings/spouses who are willing to help, is that acceptable, but if we have to hire someone, do we automatically shift from high to low functioning according to allistic/NT standards?

I think, in the end, that we need to realize that we all have different strengths. My speech is odd but passable, and most people don’t realize that I was functionally nonverbal (but boy, could I sing!) until I was eight years old. I can’t make most phone calls without an extensive transcript of how the conversation will go and a list of phrases for an “out” if the auditory processing issues become too much to manage. I cannot go to certain stores because they are overwhelming and I cannot work with kids (who aren’t my own) for more than 5 hours without melting down or shutting down. I still find showering overwhelming and take quite awhile to dress myself as a coping mechanism for calming down from the showers that I must take. Schedule changes throw me for a loop, and though I do have a drivers license and do drive, I avoid it as much as possible and find I’m unable to do it at all in certain circumstances (if I’m tired and it’s both rainy and dark as night, I can’t do it). I have a BA in English and teacher’s certification in three additional subjects beside English, but I had trouble actually being a teacher – I found it difficult to come up with answers to wholly unexpected questions on the spot, and I taught in a very non-NT way that my ESE students loved, but my general Ed and honors students (save for the two kids diagnosed with AS and ADHD in the honors class) hated.

I prefer minimum wage or “easy” jobs because of the routine. I am lucky to be married to someone in the military who has a good wage, insurance,and job security. At nearly 32 years old, I am overqualified for most jobs and am fearfully considering studying for a second degree (this time in computer science) so I may have a career that will bring me more than the wages I currently receive and will, at the same time, provide me the routine I need.

There’s a statistic that 85% of autistic adults are unemployed or underemployed. That doesn’t surprise me in the least. Many jobs are inaccessible to me. I sure can write a blog, but few people want to hire the rocking, flapping, semi verbal woman who can’t make eye contact with any consistency, who still wears clothing more appropriate to the tween crowd.

Sure, I’m “high functioning”. To some people.

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I am a 35 year old parent of two multiply neurodivergent preteens. I am Autistic and queer.

6 thoughts on “On Functioning”

  1. I first encountered problems with the high/low functioning issue when I decided I wanted to write an academic paper about gender issues and autism. I ended up not writing the paper because reading the medical literature sent me into a deep depression. But one of the things I noticed along the way was that the researchers and professionals who work with the Autistic for a living couldn’t agree on what makes a particular Autistic “high functioning”! If even THEY don’t know, why the heck are ANY of us using those terms?

    Thanks for a great blog post, from one “mid-functioning” Autistic to another.

    (“mid-functioning” is meant sarcastically as I, too, clog up the nice, neat dichotomy between high and low.)


    1. Mid functioning is one of my new favorite phrases. I think what you and Tammy have both said is that it isn’t us placing the labels on ourselves but others doing so that causes such a divide. It’s the false idea that all Aspies are geniuses with social issues, when in reality, literally directly from the man who diagnosed me, the only reason I have an Asperger’s diagnosis versus an autism (or maybe a PDD-NOS) diagnosis is because I said my first words before age three. The rest is irrelevant.


  2. I’m like… super high-functioning. Today. I got up early, I kept to The Routine. So far nothing has deviated from The Routine, including the rinsing out of the coffee mug post coffee-consumption, and I am Getting Sh-t Done Like Nobody’s Business. Saturday, I woke up to a loud TV, WITH teenagers playing youtube videos on their phones, WITH grownups having a conversation in the living room. I was freaked out before I even pulled the covers away. I couldn’t even make coffee right. Seriously. It was tragic, and I took two naps to reboot my brain and my husband was mad that I slept the whole day. Functioning levels… I guess… depend on whether you have more good days than bad? How annoying you are to those around you? How other people define you? I don’t know. But it seems to be the latter. Unfortunately.


    1. Ooh yes, this is me, too. I’ve been that way in the super high functioning mode. I think it has to do with getting the ADHD under control first, then tackling the other stuff.

      But some days, nothing helps and I cry in the middle of Walmart.


  3. I think of myself as having a “nonuniform set of competencies”. Heh. Everything is hit or miss. I’ve never actually lived alone (went from parents to married) so I have no idea whether I’m actually “independent”. I can write the hell out of something but expect me to have a conversation about the same subject and you’ll think I plagiarized what I wrote. I’ve been employed all of my adult life, but self-employed and I can’t imagine anyone would pay me what I make working for myself but I have such an odd way of getting from point A to point B when it comes to work. Mostly, I think there are very few people who are willing to put up with me in general.


    1. Yep, I can very much relate to that. Went from parents’ house to university (lucky to be on a full scholarship) to married. Have done so many “menial” jobs, but none acceptable for my degree. Anyway, yes, I think that my writing is far better than my ability to communicate, which is only slightly verbal (sometimes).


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