Pete Wharmby
+ Your AuthorsArchive @commaficionado Autistic teacher, writer, speaker, parent. He/his. All views my own. DMs open for work offers, consultancy etc. May. 16, 2020 2 min read

One problem that pervades how the #autistic community is viewed by the non-autistic world is the issue of 'functioning'. Its a very difficult subject and I hesitate to go into it, but I like doing my thread thing so here goes... /1

There's an old categorisation of #autism that splits it into 'high functioning' and 'low functioning'. This, and how Aspergers is often conflated with 'high functioning', is the source of much of the confusion and bitterness. /2

The problem is that, generally speaking (very generally), some autistic people are able to advocate for themselves and others, whilst some are not. This can be for a variety of reasons, from age and communication skills to comorbidities. /3

This causes big problems in trying to raise awareness, acceptance and understanding of #autism. It means that #autistic people who are able to and choose to advocate can be potentially dismissed as being 'high functioning' and therefore not representative of autism. /4

(This is often baseless - for example non-speaking #autistic people being dismissed, as they're communicating online in text so their non-speaking status is missed even though that may be their direct target of advocacy.)/5

Non-autistic and #autistic people can regard what they see as 'high functioning' autists as unhelpful in autism advocacy, saying that they are unaware and don't represent those whose experience of autism is more debilitating. /6

This is often a highly unfair assertion. It assumes too much, and disregards the struggles that #autistic people who are able to mask and present themselves as communicators still face daily. But it's a powerful argument used frequently in both good & bad faith. /7

The fact is first of all, perceptions of #autism all too often absorb any comorbidity the person may also have - particularly learning disabilities. This is separate to #autism, though they coexist frequently. /8

It means that #autistic people who don't have learning disabilities, or comorbidities that don't clearly present, can be accused of not really being 'autistic' in the same way, which simply isnt the case. But as I said, it's used against autistic people frequently. /9

Another complicating factor is that an #autistic person's 'functioning' is variable throughout the day, week, year. Being called 'high functioning' and therefore unaware of autistic issues can be galling if you're in burnout, recently had a meltdown and stressed. /10

#autistic people do have a massive variety of experiences but still there are enough commonalities for all #autistic people to be able to speak, in part at least, of general autistic experience. Attacking this is unfair. /11

'Functioning' labels ignore so much nuance and effectively erase too many autistic voices and experiences for them to be useful. Non-autistic people need to be far more aware of this. /12

Ultimately, anyone seeking to silence #autistic voices in any way seldom has a good reason for it. It's a bit of a significant problem that doesn't show many signs of going away. /13

Anyway, them's my thoughts on the subject. I'll put this here... 

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