Dear Computer,

You’re huge and heavy. I look like a total idiot toting you to the Starbucks, sitting next to the grad student with his sleek Mac Book. Your battery life is too short to be without the power cord for more than an hour. You’re slower than dirt. Your function key literally does not function. So it’s safe to say your overall functioning blows.

I give you a D+ because at least you HAVE a keyboard and screen.

Dear Dishwasher,

You’re terrible at washing dishes. You don’t drain. You don’t remove the large chunks from my pans. You leave a soap scum that’s both visible and not delicious. I have to use my fingernails to unstick the crusty crap from my silverware.

Function wise, you’re on the lower level. You get an F. Unacceptable.

Dear older model four door vehicle,

Ok, I have to give you some props because you put in a LOT of work. There’s four of us and just one of you which means we are in you a lot. But your features and functions leave a little something to be desired. So many other cars have cool functions like heated seats, and computer screens in the dashboard. And a robot with a go-go gadget arm that reaches into the back seat to pass your child his unreachable hot wheel for the 90th time. Oh, they don’t make that function? Well they should. What the hell do engineers even work on anyway?

You get a C+ because I’ve backed you into three cars now and your bumper has proven to be quite sturdy.

Dear vacuum,

You suck. But not in the way vacuums are supposed to. Basically, you don’t suck. I wish you would suck harder. I only get you out of the closet once a month, so you should be able to get this right. While you do function somewhat as a dust and dirt pusher-arounder, I’d say you’re… low functioning at best.

C- for you. Sorry not sorry.

But wait, what if I was homeless?

If I had no shelter, wouldn’t I think that having a car would function freakin phenomenally as a form of shelter when the Michigan snow storms hit in January? Or what if you were a person who finds all those bells and whistles on the car to be overwhelming. Or if you prefer to ride your bike. It’s all relative, isn’t it?

So when someone asks me that lovely question: “Does he have High Functioning autism? Or Low?” I’m not quite sure what to say.

In the autism community, a functioning label refers to the terms “high functioning” & “low functioning”.

I certainly function pretty well as a question asker, that’s for sure.

When I was a little girl, my grade school teachers would say: “If Kristen doesn’t have any questions to ask, there aren’t any.” This topic is no different. I come away with more questions after being asked what level my child functions at.

What exactly IS functionality in a person anyway? Is it being able to drive? Pay bills? Is it the ability to navigate social situations? Is it the ability to pass as “normal”? What if the person doesn’t give a crap?

Is it the ability to spot a fierce pair of heels at the Salvation Army? Cuz if that’s it, I totally kill it in the functioning department.

Is it the ability to navigate a bus route in NYC? What about the ability to effectively calm yourself with techniques that help get you through very uncomfortable situations?

For me, that’s biting my nails at the grocery store checkout line, and I tap the steering wheel when I’m feeling impatient during rush hour traffic.

What if functioning is the ability to develop scripts you can use at parties? My personal go-to is “Hi. How are you?” Whether I actually super care how you “are” at that particular moment is besides the point.

OJ does well in math at school. His reading comprehension is not good. He makes beautiful art but using language as communication, isn’t his strong suit. Which one of these defines his functioning?

Now that my questions-without-answers are out there, I can tell you how it feels to me as the parent of an autistic little boy, when asked if he is “high or low functioning”.

  • It feels limiting.
  • It feels disrespectful.
  • It feels judgmental.
  • It feels uninformed and inaccurate. Context-driven. How a person “functions” can vary from day-to-day, minute to minute.
  • It feels like the intended goal is to look as neurotypical as possible. Which I get. But in my perfect ordinary world, we wouldn’t give a shit whether someone can “pass” or not. Society would accommodate, not the other way around.

My child is not a damaged or incomplete neurotypical person. He is autistic. That’s his development. And my development is mine. And your development is yours.

I’m aware that well-meaning people use the term “high functioning” as a compliment, but what they’re doing is putting down a whole community of people, in my opinion. It feels like a thinly veiled insult.

High functioning = less autistic = better??? Seriously, NO.

There is a hierarchy to the terms high & low. Obviously we tend to place more value on the high. So let’s not do that with people, right?

Leave functioning labels for inanimate objects like computers or vacuums. We humans are a prism of colors. We are not linear like a straight line. Autistic people are no different.

Someone who needs more supports should not be placed in the low functioning category. He should not be pitied. Seriously, can we end the stigma of needing supports?? It’s false. If you need a support of any kind, you are not less worthy.

I know that people like to put others into a comfy little box, especially when unformed. But I also know that my 7-yr old does not fit neatly into one of these boxes. He receives supports for what it challenging to him. That has absolutely NO effect on how much I love him.

Putting my kids into a tidy little category might be more comfortable some people, but I just don’t play like that.

Does putting a functioning label place value on MY child’s life. Nope.

It is not my place to speculate on your functioning or anyone else’s.


By the way, my son functions poorly… as your son. But he functions great… as mine. Thank you very much.

*I also feel the need to use a disclaimer here because I am aware of the fact that I am a non-autistic person speculating on this subject. My son is on the spectrum BUT that doesn’t mean I know anything about how all autistic people (or any autistic people) feel about this subject. When my son develops the expressive language to tell me his point of view on functioning labels, I will ask him to share with me (and he may choose to or choose not to). Until then, I’m just a mom with an opinion, and a blog 🙂

This comic strip is spells it out absolutely brilliantly, you should totally check it out!

Here is another article, written by  at . It is her take on functioning labels from the perspective of an autistic woman. Love love love this.