Why I Reject the “High-Functioning” Label

If you ever met me, you’d probably assume that I’m neurotypical even if a bit strange, mad, and even aloof. Now, enter that awkward moment where you find out I’m actually autistic, whenever that would be if ever (as much as I don’t mind openly discussing it, I don’t always find it necessary to bring up in conversation). “What!? You don’t look it! You must be really high-functioning!”

This is a conversation that I always dread having with people. First, I have to fully convince them that I’m autistic, which is usually quite a hurdle because I don’t pander to all the usual stereotypes of autistic people. Then comes the second phase, where they inevitably say that I must be high-functioning and while, yes, according to the literature, I am ‘high-functioning,’ I feel very uncomfortable with the label and I believe that the dichotomy between high and low functioning is misleading and very harmful to everyone on the receiving end, including those considered to be ‘high-functioning.’

Basically, the difference between low- and high-functioning is that the ‘higher’ functioning you are, the closer to ‘normal’ you are. I think that this is the main problem with this dichotomy. It suggests that the goals for autistic people are normalization and being indistinguishable from the rest of society. It suggests that it is necessary to quash all the behaviors associated with autism, including those that are not harmful to anyone. It sends a very harmful message to those who are incapable of blending in with the rest of society, which they proceed to internalize, opening them up to a lot of cognitive dissonance that further aggravates their frustrations.

‘High-functioners,’ for a lack of a better term, face a lot of pressure to pass for ‘normal’ because this is the message that has been pounded into us. For us, there is a lot that goes into seeming normal and blending into society. It’s a greater effort than people realize; we usually lead double lives: one as an autistic and one as a neurotypical, a combination that can lead to some serious cognitive dissonance. In addition, most high-functioners are very uncomfortable with talking about autism in general out of the fear of being found out. We put a lot of effort into seeming normal so why would we spoil that effort by revealing ourselves to have this dirty condition that prevents us from being ‘normal’? For most ‘high-functioners,’ being ‘found out’ is the worst thing that could possibly happen.

I, after trying so hard to seem normal only to experience nothing but personal failure and a nagging feeling that I’m living a lie, had decided ‘fuck this shit’ and wrote a public Facebook note revealing my history with autism. Ever since I revealed myself to be autistic, my cognitive dissonance had dramatically subdued and even became happier. The moment that I revealed myself and got positive feedback for it, I realized that my efforts to seem normal were outright meaningless and I try to communicate this lesson here on this blog whilst switching to a different paradigm for thinking about autism and simultaneously encouraging that shift here. (On a side note, if you’re a closeted autistic and thinking of doing something like I did, just keep in mind that the feedback WILL be positive and you’ll find out who your real friends are very quickly).

Being normal is absolutely useless and the dichotomy is a promotion of the ‘be normal’ mindset. When you reject either label, you reject to pressure to be ‘normal’ and I believe that it’s the best I can do for my own cause.

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4 thoughts on “Why I Reject the “High-Functioning” Label

  1. Pingback: High and low | autisticook

  2. Pingback: On the Negative Perception of Auties and The Things They Do and What to Do About it (And a Personal Confession Embedded Within It All) | Angry Autie

  3. Pingback: Privilege and You: What It Is and What You Can Do With (Not About) It | Angry Autie

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