‘Low-functioning’ and ‘high-functioning’ are, thankfully, no longer recognised as diagnostic terms for autistic people, in either of the diagnostic manuals – the ICD-11 or the DSM-5. Sadly, these phrases continue to be in regular use by large organisations and medical professionals online and off.

Since 2013, all autistic people are classed as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). You may have noticed that I don’t use that term anywhere on this site. That’s simply my personal choice, as I don’t like the use of the word disorder – but that’s simply my preference – many people do and that is absolutely the right choice for that person. Another big factor for me, is that I’m really bad at remembering what initials stand for – there are SO many and they just won’t stick for me.

When my diagnosing psychologist gave me my report, it described me as ‘extremely high-functioning‘ because of my academic achievement and my verbal abilities. She meant well, she really did – she even said that most people find it a compliment. I did a lot of reading, I spoke to other autistic people and I consequently asked her to remove ‘extremely high-functioning’ from my report. She did, immediately and without any awkwardness. I feel much better about my report now – I feel it reflects who I am more truthfully. Too late for my PIP (Personal Independence Payment) assessment – they used my supposedly ‘high-functioning’ status to give me the smallest weekly payment that they could because, to them, despite copious supporting evidence, what they concluded when they read the term high functioning was that I am a woman who is coping with life, that I function effectively in the world.

And this personal interjection is an example of how misleading, and damaging, terms like low and high functioning can be. Yes, I excel in anything that I choose to study. Yes, I have excellent masking abilities, that cost me a fortune in spoons! I also forget to eat, I’m surrounded by chaos in all aspects of life, I’m dysregulated, emotionally, for a large proportion of my time, and much more besides that means I would describe myself, in recent years, as largely a low-functioning autistic person, if I was made to choose. Fortunately, I don’t have to. I am simply autistic. I have functioning days where I do things like this website, I have days where I can’t even communicate with those closest to me, let alone brush my teeth. I certainly don’t consider I could hold down regular employment or attend social functions and I only drive when I have a specific destination that is an unavoidable one. Does any of that sound like a ‘high functioning’ individual to you?

I would argue that I am a functioning autistic, in that I function in the way that is ‘intended and normal’ for me, if left to live my life as I need to.

These polarising categories have the potential to be equally as offensive and misleading for those of us who have been diagnosed as ‘low functioning’. This may have been simply because we are non-speaking or have learning disabilities. That in no way means we are not capable of having fulfilling lives where we can communicate, participate and fully function – function highly – given the right opportunities to do so, in a way that is normal for us.

Low and high functioning are no longer diagnostic terms because they reinforce stereotypes of what it means to be autistic.