We’re Done with Functioning Labels

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You may have heard the term “high-functioning,” or “low-functioning,” or “conjunction-junction-functioning” or whatever label associated with ‘autistic.’

And as of last week, I, too, had myself listed as “high-functioning autistic” here in my bio and About pages.

Not any longer.

This isn’t The High Functioning Life Autistic, it’s The Life Autistic.

Here’s why we’re due for a move away from these labels:

Their meaning is too ambiguous. Who decided at what point someone becomes high or low functioning? Moving out and living independently? Getting a job? Verbal ability? Social skills? There’s too broad of a spectrum within a spectrum to make this meaningful.

They diminish skills. I do feel for those of us on the spectrum, who unjustly and inevitably are binned away in the “low-functioning side,” as if that’s the totality of their being. It ignores the many savants or countless others who display plenty of function, even if it’s not “normal, societal” function.

They mask struggles. Just because people would consider some of us “high-functioning” doesn’t mean we don’t face considerable challenges and struggles that have helped us with this function. We don’t have Autism Lite™ — we are autistic, and not less so, just different.

They don’t account for functional changes. I’ve found the “high-function” label to be burdensome, because people except normality and adaptation 100% of the time. Folks, that just ain’t gonna happen. I’m still prone to shutting down, melting down, and stumbling in whatever functionality I can muster — and others more so. Functionality can have seasonality that goes far beyond the label.

They misrepresent the autism experience. “Oh, they’re one of those ‘high-functional’ types, so their experience doesn’t represent the general—” Whoa, hold up, no, negatron. We may have a greater or lesser experience within the spectrum than others might, but function isn’t negation.

Autistic is autistic.

I don’t need the extra labels.

If you want to learn more about “yeah, well, what kind of autism? Is it the kind where you remember the weather of every date but can’t button your shirt?” then you should just learn more about me.

About each of us.



Two Words I’ll Never Use Again

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I remember trying to be thoughtful, earnest, and specific as a boy.

That got laughed out of me quick. 

Regrettably, I endured a long two-and-a-half years in Jacksonville, FL. Your experience may well vary, and you’re free to elaborate on your own blog. Mine was terrible. There was no more salient time in my life where I felt my otherness, difference, and loneliness more terribly than I did then.

One Sunday School morning, I remember sitting in class as the usual retinue of prayer requests were offered: personal health, family health, and travel.

There was this broad prayer they would offer for those traveling, neatly summed up in “traveling mercies” – a compact, vague, throwaway potency seemingly imparted from the prayers of church elders before to those beneath, until the nuances of its meaning had long dissipated, leaving only the faded ink of a stamp to one’s prayer toward someone and anyone traveling.

I was 11.

It came to be my turn to pray this instance, so I did my best to adopt this country vernacular while still being at least specific and thoughtful. Not being a stranger to polysyllabic words and expressions, I figured I could work with a few.

Never have I been more wrong.

As it came time to pray for “Ian’s family, for traveling mercies . . .”  – another couplet of words sharpened into view.

I recalled a billboard from a law firm, offering various services for all manner of unexpected woes, one of which was vehicular. There was a clumsy way I could have expressed my next thought, sure, but this phrase would tie off the bow more neatly, crisp.

“Lord, I pray for Ian’s family, for traveling mercies, that there won’t be any Auto Fatalities . . .”

Before I could finish my supplication to The Most High, a murmur of snickering interrupted the reverence, followed soon by outright laughing, both my peers and teacher alike. I don’t remember how I finished. I probably did, but I wasn’t privy to what was all that funny.

Auto fatalities.

This is where The Life Autistic is funny, but only in retrospect. It wasn’t then. There’s no one out there who taps your shoulder and says “This diction is inappropriately elevated to your audience’s intellect and education, thus, the result is predictably unfavorable. Just stick with the traveling mercies and call it a day.” At least not at age 11.

That one followed me. To what extent I was asked, I was reminded to ensure we had prayed against auto fatalities. 

Thankfully, Ian’s family made it safe and back.

I don’t recall praying in Sunday School there again.

The Last Bright Lights


I’ve discovered that I have an audience among neurotypical people who have autistic children, nephews, and nieces — and I’m grateful for you, even if my experience and perspective as an autistic dad with neurotypical children is somewhat inverted to (most of) yours! So thanks for following along; I do appreciate it.

I once feared the prospect of fatherhood. I now love it, and my daughters have been twin wellsprings of unending, surprising joys, laughs, amusement, and chaos.

They’re already ahead of the curve on their perceptions. Mo, my oldest, points out when I’m stimming, or zoned out to another planet, or otherwise intractably focused and obsessed. Zo will probably pick up on those expressions in short order.

But they’re thoughtful and reflective now, and soon they’re going to realize: dad is different. 

On my worst days, I like to peer into the future, lay out the pieces on the chessboard in the endgame. And in that stage, I’m no longer there. The game is dire, the board bereft of pieces, the position tenuous.

It’s just as possible as not that I’m not going to do any justice for autism, for The Life Autistic, and for me. That I’ll screw it all up, go down unredeemed, and that less of a dent will be made to where I and others on the spectrum are better understood, valued, and celebrated.

But I’m hopeful.

Where I may fail, I have two bright lights that may yet prevail.

Who will both remember a loving, even if odd, father.

Who may tell a different story of The Life Autistic: “Yeah, my dad was autistic – but he was great, and here’s what we learned about him and people who are like him.”

Whose retelling of the tale could go far beyond mine, to where they’d make even better—and probably more likable—advocates too.

They are a constant reminder: there’s what we do, and what we do for others.

And they will be the light that shines beyond us.