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I Know Two Autistic People

I know two autistic people.

The first is attending college after graduating from a prestigious high school. They’ve always been considered smart and clever by those around them. They can speak, read, and write, sometimes better than the average person. They are able to hide their stims in public, and have learned a fair amount of social rules. Their special interests include science, and they’re studying to be a teacher.

The second found high school extremely difficult. They were bullied in their childhood, and were always seen as weird. They prefer not to speak, or can’t speak at all, 80% of the time, and have an AAC device. Sometimes they find it hard to read and write.

They can’t drive, and can’t work typical minimum wage jobs such as retail. They have very little executive function, find it difficult to start or switch tasks, and get very anxious when deviating from their expectations. They have poor emotional regulation, and have trouble keeping a consistent hygiene routine. Their special interests include children’s media and specific bands whose songs they listen to on repeat.

How would you label these two autistics?

If you’re a a neurotypical professional, parent, or someone who hasn’t read into a lot of autistic self-advocacy, you might label the first autistic as “high functioning” or “level one,” and the second as “low functioning” or “level three.”

You might make further assumptions based on these descriptions and labels. The first might be a little awkward, but overall a successful person that doesn’t need any support. The second would be visibly autistic at first glance and needs many supports.

Let me throw a wrench into your gears then, shall I?

I am both of those autistics.

I am neither high nor low functioning, because those labels are ableist garbage that separate autistics into two groups: you can either conveniently forget we’re autistic, or are reminded of it constantly because we need support. We’re either a savant or a burden, and anyone who blurs those lines is ignored.

Autism is not a linear spectrum of high to low, speaking to nonspeaking, invisibility to visibility. Autism is a rainbow spectrum of inconceivable dimensions and combinations of autistic traits. Humans are beautifully diverse, and that extends to neurodiversity. The amount of support someone needs, or their visible autistic-ness, says nothing about them as a human being, or even about them as an autistic person.

Functioning labels were never about helping us. They were always about categorizing us to either ignore or patronize. It’s time to stop using them, and start calling us what we are.

Autistic. Just... autistic.