I’ve always said that labeling someone with high- or low-functioning autism, or any disability for that matter, isn’t ever truly accurate. You may see an extremely smart girl who seems “normal” but you don’t see everything.
You don’t see how the noises hurt her ears. You don’t see how the bright lights hurt her eyes. You don’t see how hard she struggles to fit in. You don’t see how she struggles to understand the social cues. You don’t see how seriously she takes what you say even if you’re joking. You don’t see the struggles when she’s having an overwhelming day.
All you see is the smart girl. All you see is the girl with a mask on. All you see is the girl faking it all to fit into the neurotypical world.
At the same time . . . you see the child with no words. You see the child who stims uncontrollably. You see the child who doesn’t talk. You see the child who can’t tell you, verbally, how he feels.
You see the child who’s developmentally behind. You see the child who has a 1:1 helper all the time.
You see the adult who is developmentally a child. You see the adult who likes to play with a child’s toys. You see the adult who likes cartoons. You see the adult who can’t express everything the way you expect them to.
The things you don’t see and the things you don’t understand are why these high- and low-functioning labels are so unrealistic. Just because society sees someone as low functioning doesn’t mean they aren’t more aware than you know. A non-verbal child is capable of communicating. You just have to listen differently. A non-verbal child is even better at reading your mood and attitude toward them than you realize. They just express things differently.
At the same time, the child who is considered “high-functioning” has so many struggles you can’t see. They are judged poorly and more harshly when they have a moment when they’re struggling more.
They are treated like they’re less than worthy if they’re not as good as they usually are. They are not granted the same grace or leniency when they struggle with things that are harder for them.
Many people disregard, forget, or may not even know they are neurodivergent or have any kind of disability. There is so much more to high or low functioning. There’s so much more to understand. There’s so much more to learn. You only need to be willing to try. You only need to be willing to listen. You only need to teach your children and share with your friends. Let’s all practice more acceptance and inclusion than awareness.