High- and low-functioning labels are an outdated form of classification of autism in individuals.
It was first used to describe the presence of intellectual disabilities (IQ), but has since, in the mainstream, been a term to describe how much a person's autism corresponds to the stereotypical idea of an autistic person (non-verbal, heavy usage of stimming and lack of masking).
Of course, these terms (and the idea of autism existing on one-dimensional line from 'less' to 'more' autistic) are an artifact of autism research and labelling done by allistics, with a focus on how well autistic people can fit into their standards (and, in general, how "palatable" they are), instead of accurately describing their experiences of being autistic.
For that reason, both terms are seen in a bad light by some autistic communities, and have been discontinued.
Issues with "High Functioning"
The issue mainly consists of a dismissal of the autistic person's struggles.
People labelled 'high functioning' have an ability to behave "neurotypical enough," thus "can function within society." However, it doesn't account for invisible struggles the person doesn't let out, and the extreme consequences that come from intensive masking.
This kind of expression of autism is often called Asperger syndrome (AS), a term that has been discontinued for medical diagnosis, but might still be seen around in places that haven't catched up to the latest autism research yet.
Issues with "Low Functioning"
The issue mainly consists of a dismissal of the autistic person's capacity.
People labelled 'low functioning' don't express an ability to behave "neurotypical enough," and might have 'learning disabilities', thus "can't function within society." However, the measure of functioning applied may be unfair (unreasonable or unnecessarily neurotypical standards), and, the difficulties faced by the person might be a result of an ableist environment:
- Lack of accommodations
- Overly-enforced neurotypical behaviour
- Allistic oriented teaching
Being perceived as 'lower functioning' than usual often leads to infantilization, loss of perceived ability, loss of autonomy.
Alternatives to the terms
The alternative to 'high-functioning' and 'low-functioning' is 'Autistic.'
There's not ever a need to use such vague and arbitrary boxes, especially since two people in the same category might not share even a single trait.
Whenever intending to talk about an autistic person's functions, use specifics.
Some autistic people however prefer to use the terms low support needs and high support needs.
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Autism Speaks - Autism stereotypes - Bias - Deficit model - Functioning labels - Ethics of autism research - History of autism - Pathology paradigm - Stigma - Applied behavior analysis - Violence against Autistic people