Can I tell you something. Got to tell you one thing. If you expect the freedom that you say is yours prove that you deserve it. Help us to preserve it or being free will just be words and nothing more.
Kansas, 1974

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Autism Divide

This post was sparked by this post at Stop Think Autism, High Functioning? Then Shut Up! There seems to be a persistent effort by some to segregate the autistic community into "high functioning" and "low functioning" with the main marker of high functioning being the ability to utilize verbal communication and/or computer/internet tech to communicate.

I have always found the high/low functioning distinction disturbing. Even before my children were diagnosed I found the distinction unpalatable. I steadfastly refuse to discuss my children or anyone else in those terms. I very nearly cringe when other people insist on using the terms high and low functioning with regard to autistic individuals. I'm not the one who finds the distinction problematic, Verbatim: Levels of functioning in autism.

When I first encountered the high/low divide I was initially put off by the tone of superiority that came from some who classified their children as "high functioning." They often seemed relieved that at least their kid wasn't one of the "low functioning" kind. I wanted nothing to do with the disdain and disrespect that would lead one to take such an attitude toward autistic individuals.

More recently I have been repulsed by the attitude that "high functioning" autistic individuals are not really autistic or not autistic "enough" to be allowed to partake of any discourse on autism or being autistic. The argument goes that because high functioning autistic individuals can utilize verbal communication and have other "normal" skills then they are not qualified to speak about the lives of "low functioning" or "real" autistic individuals. "Low functioning" is portrayed as the worst possible thing to be, something to be pitied. Again, I want nothing to do with anyone or any organisation that would show such disdain and disrespect for autistic individuals.

I must note that I've yet to find this attitude coming from a self identified autistic individual (I'm sure they exit I just haven't crossed paths with any of them yet). In my experience these attitudes usually come from people who identify themselves as the parents of autistic individuals.

The movement to segregate the autistic community into high and low functioning camps is reminiscent of those who wanted (and still want) to separate the church along racial lines. They should have known better and had more reason than most to resist such segregation. The Bible after all teaches about the unity of all who believe. But the segregations went ahead and did it anyway, to the detriment of the church and society as a whole. Autistic individuals and those who care from them should know better than most how destructive exclusion is but here we find a segment of the autistic community stereotyping and seeking to exclude a wide swath of the autistic community from the discourse on their own existence.

As I noted in the comments on the Stop Think Autism post this is a selfish self centered attitude. An attitude born of a desire to occupy the moral high ground regardless of who you have to cut down to get there. Those who take the segregationist attitude insisting on dividing the autistic community into waring high/low functioning camps are,in my opinion, unable to see past the end of their own noses and therefore unable to properly assess a situation and provide suitable solutions to any problems that may arise.


Related posts:
  • Autism Pride

  • How Not to Offer Comfort
  • 1 comment:

    1. The main motivation I'm familiar with for using such terms is to identify which people are capable of which things in order to treat them better. It's not fine-grained enough to be all that useful for most things, but it makes sense to speak in such shorthand as seeing someone as higher functioning than someone else when the context is whether the person is capable of getting a job at a grocery store or something like that. It's probably abused in the ways you're describing, but I doubt that's the original motivation, which seems relatively harmless if used in moderation and only in those circumstances where it's useful to speak in such terms.

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