Sometimes, it feels as though some non-autistic people automatically judge those on the spectrum according to a superficial interpretation of their abilities.
The autism spectrum is wide-ranging, in the sense that it covers people who are profoundly impaired by autism, to people who would be deemed as “high functioning” – that is, people who are able to live independently, have partners, raise a family, have a career, etc.
Those who are on the lower end of the spectrum, who are deemed “low functioning” [depending on how their abilities and impairments are interpreted] are those whose autism are generally quite evident. Few would argue the concept of the autism label on such people.
However, people who are deemed “high functioning” are sometimes fair game for doubters of their diagnosis.
A cursory search through google.com will find such detractors of people who are deemed “high functioning” because they are able to articulate their experiences and thoughts in a manner that non-autistics can understand. These detractors can be found everywhere, from people whose understanding of autism has been more informed by being exposed to people on the spectrum who are not “high functioning”, to parents of those whom are deemed “low functioning”. There are videos and blogs from said parents who, in essence, attempt to deny the existence of people who are “high functioning”, with statements implying that people who are not as significantly impaired as their child have been misdiagnosed, that those deemed “high functioning” don’t share in the same difficulties, or that the medical community has stretched the definition of autism too far.
However, what these detractors are misunderstanding is how autism can significantly impact on an individual, despite whether they are deemed “high” or “low” functioning. Everyone on the autism spectrum will display the triad of impairment in some way – that is, impairment in communication, social interaction and behaviour. How the triad of impairment expresses itself depends on the individual.
For instance, some individuals who are profoundly impacted by autism may never develop speech, which impacts on their ability to communicate with others. Others are overly verbal, which impacts on their ability to communicate in different ways – it can mean, for instance, that they miss out what others are saying, or others form negative opinions of them because others may interpret that behaviour as self-absorption, rather than as a neurological difference. There are also people with autism who experience an inability to follow and maintain a conversation with others.
While those examples above may initially appear disparate, what links them together is that they significantly impair a person’s ability to communicate meaningfully with others. That may lead to others to interpret a person with autism negatively, from downplaying a person’s cognitive faculties, to not realising what a person with autism needs, or ostracising the person with autism due to misinterpreting a neurological difference as a character flaw.
Similar examples can be found for the other elements of the triad of impairment – social interaction and behaviour. Some people with autism may seem to prefer their own company over others, while some people with autism who are socially motivated can appear as active but odd – that is, they seek the company of others, but inappropriately. Some people with autism have rigid routines. Other people with autism develop fixations on items, or topics of interest, to the point where their self-care is neglected.
Again, while those examples may appear disparate at first, they are linked because of their impact on a person’s life.
Basically, these examples highlight that people on the autism spectrum are, first and foremost, individuals. Just because one person on the spectrum doesn’t superficially fulfill a certain box, doesn’t necessarily mean there are no difficulties in an area. For instance, while I am able to hold a conversation with people, I am also liable to launching into monologues on a topic of interest, to the point where I would hammer away at a topic until someone makes it obvious that they would like to change topic. In the past, this has meant that there are times when I am viewed as rude, or boring, or both.
I also can be caught up in an interest to the point where I can neglect personal hygiene. I can also eschew eating and studying at the expense of learning all I can about a certain interest. This can have a negative impact on my life, because it can mean that I fall behind in classes and therefore not perform as well as I could.
Therefore, I think it is important to consider what actually impairs a person in their everyday life, instead of labeling people as “high” or “low” functioning and making assumptions based on said labels.