Functionality labels

Anyone that follows me on social media may have already seen my recent comments on functionality labels, but it’s always worth repeating.

Since DSM-5 (the diagnostic criteria for mental health/disorders) was released in 2013, Asperger’s as an official diagnosis was replaced with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Aside from the controversy of Hans Asperger collaborating with the Nazis, the change in the official diagnosis title was to bring to light the distinct differences between autistic people. It served to show that we represent a broad range of characteristics, and merely share a few core criteria.

It does however, call into question the terms High Functioning and Low Functioning Autism. Clinically speaking, I am High Functioning. I can go about my daily life without suffering violent temper tantrums and pillaging villages. At least, that’s all that I can assume the so called ‘specialists’ mean by naming me so, it certainly has no relation to my internal struggles around sensory processing and general socialising.

By suggesting that all of us fall into place between these two very finite extremes gives birth to the idea of a linear spectrum that simply doesn’t exist. Instead, it would be better represented by a ‘colour wheel’ type diagram, or circular spectrum as shown below:

I suppose it depends what we are considered to be defined by. Is it the things we excel at, the things we struggle with, or a mixture of the two?

Consider this scenario:

On Sunday, a Low Functioning Autistic person had a panic attack & meltdown in a public toilet and had to leave a restaurant due to sensory overload. Too many people, too many sounds and smells to process.

On Monday a High Functioning Autistic person dealt with 1500+ people at work, 300 of which being very loud, excitable children. No sensory overload, no meltdowns.

Now consider that both of these people were me. My current clinical diagnosis can never accurately describe my internal struggles. Functionality labels for autistics just don’t work. If you instead rated each of us according to the colour wheel and adjusted appropriately there’d be a far better understanding of how an autistic brain functions.

We can’t be broken down into finite categories, nor can anyone. You can’t assume that because someone has High Function Autism and appears fine on the outside that they are perfectly okay on the inside. Just as you can’t assume someone doesn’t have mental health issues because they are outwardly laughing and smiling. It’s something I’ll go on to blog about later, but one of the reasons I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 21 is due to the fact that I’m so good at masking. I can quite literally hide all of my autistic traits and appear perfectly and chronically ‘normal’.

That isn’t to say that people don’t recognise this, people that know me well would never reference me by my functionality label. I am simply autistic. The best way you can learn to describe someone you know is by asking them. Talk to your autistic friend, I guarantee they’ll appreciate it.

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