Like most autistics, I dislike functioning labels. These are terms neurotypical people use to describe how an autistic person appears to be relative to a typical non-autistic person from a non-autistic perspective.
I have been described as “high functioning” because I had a successful career of 35 years with the same multinational I.T. company and because I have been married for 48 years and have two wonderful children. Yet my attempts at socialising can at best be described as “tries hard, but fails to implement the required rules. Grade: F”.
My social skills are lacking. I can’t do small talk; I avoid eye contact and touching of any sort unless I know someone very well; I can’t read body language and that especially applies to that used in the process of dating and courtship (by either sex); I didn’t understand gender roles; not being aware of non-verbal communication, I didn’t use any, and my voice and body language appeared to be lacking any feelings or emotion. If I had put my faith in finding a partner the “normal” way, I’d still be looking. (Perhaps I’ll tell the story of how my wife and I discovered each other another time.)
When seeking work for the first time, I applied for six jobs and was accepted for all of them. They were all related to my “special interests”, often referred to by “autism experts” as “obsessive interests”. While I still struggle to tie shoe laces, or converse and do up a button at the same time, I had no problem dismantling a mechanism with over 5000 individual moving parts and comprising of more than 8,000 parts in total, and then reassembling it without the need to refer to a manual. This was in spite of a work colleague messing up my neat piles of parts spread over four workbenches just “for laughs”.
I struggle comprehending a three line haiku in English, yet I had no problem solving a Boolean equation comprising of over 4600 symbols, or single handedly writing and maintaining a parts management system comprised of more than 20,000 lines of code that was used in the company I worked for in the late 1980s until the mid 1990s.
(I have used the past tense with regards to the positive traits mentioned above due to the fact that my ability to process large amounts of information has declined with age and the rise in frequency of migraines.)
On the other hand, I have no perception of the passage of time. I understand the concept of time. I’m unable to experience time passing. Without some external aid, I can’t tell you whether 5 minutes or five hours have passed. Something that happened last week or last decade often feels more recent than something that happened yesterday. My determining of “recent” is based on how much detail I can recall, not on when it occurred.
As a consequence, I suck at time management and prioritising tasks. Given the opportunity to concentrate on one task as a time, I can do a superb job, but ask me to juggle two tasks at the same time, and there’s every chance neither will actually be completed.
So while I’m deficient at some skills, I am very proficient at others. I am neither a “high functioning” autistic, nor a “low functioning” autistic I am simply autistic.
What is most appalling about the use of functioning labels is in the determining of one’s competence. Wikipedia’s editorial decision to delete pages by or about those they consider “low functioning autistics” is but just one example.
This post was inspired by one of the same name by Emily Volz over on the Aspergian: Why I’m Not a High-Functioning Autistic