An update on Asperger’s and functioning labels


The first thing i’d like to do in this article is unequivocally apologize for referring to my place on the spectrum as “high functioning,” This designation plays into the false dichotomy of high and low functioning Autism, when really there are just different dots on an unnumbered spectrum. I used that terminology because my doctor did, but I know my psychiatrist in particular isn’t always up to date on the modern lingo. Thanks to those who commented and emailed about that, I truly appreciate it from the bottom of my heart!


Let’s take a minute and dive into what the history of that dichotomy is and why it’s wrong.


The only DSM distinction that is made within Autism Spectrum Disorder is Asperger’s. That’s it. There is no such diagnostic thing as low-functioning or high-functioning, it simply doesn’t exist. But if that hasn’t warmed you up enough, know that they were initially used to indicate degree of communicability. If someone was non-verbal and instead used PECS or signing to communicate, then they might be labelled low functioning. But why is this low at all?


An interesting balance I’ve had to grapple with is that of acceptance and change within the mental health world. Some diagnoses need to be accepted, then changed. For example, Major Depressive Disorder need not only be managed, it can also be treated and eradicated, hopefully, over time. Conditions like OCD and Asperger’s/Autism Spectrum are not like that. They are chronic and are best seen as manageable rather than somehow “fixable.” Why?

They’re just a difference in how someone thinks! Fundamentally, my brain works differently than others’, in a way that a group of doctors would call Asperger’s-like, but that’s just a label. It’s useful for self-discovery and for treatment, but beyond that it means little. Why should someone who communicated non-conventionally be seen as “low-functioning?” They just function a bit differently.


That difference can be undeniably inconvenient for some, but it has a beauty to it and a necessary respectability in that brains exist on an endless number of categories, each unique to its owner, and I personally think that someone who thinks a bit differently is just a bit more unique and brilliant than those who don’t. It’s my superpower.


As to how I’ve been doing recently with it… I’m settling in. As you all know, at first it was pretty scary to call myself Autistic. I was scared of stigma and self-doubt and shame, but I’ve experienced none of that, at least nothing that wasn’t self-manufactured. I’m learning to recognize stimming behavior in myself, and tie that back to my picking disorder, as well as a variety of other physical and auditory coping mechanisms. I’m on female Autism Tik Tok, which is beyond marvelous, even if you aren’t Autistic I would recommend it for its pure empathetic value. 
Most of all, I’m just trying to get used to saying I have Asperger’s. I’m Autistic. That’s okay. That’s more than okay.

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