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Why I Refuse to Describe My Autism as 'High-Functioning'

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I have heard the comment “you must be high-functioning” so many times I have lost count. People are quick to label my autism as high-functioning as I appear to deal with things quite well and my sensory issues have become less severe as I’ve gotten older. I can cope with crowds and noisy environments better now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with things.

I have days when the bus is so loud I feel like ripping out my eardrums. I have had days as a teen/young adult when I was too anxious to go out and hid in my room all day.If people saw my explosive sensory overloads/meltdowns, they might not be as quick to label me “high-functioning.” By calling me high-functioning, I feel as though people are dismissing my problems.

I’m not screaming, rocking in the corner or flapping my hands. I learned to stim discreetly from a young age so people didn’t stare at me. I learned not to use big words in my vocabulary because other kids thought it was “weird.” In my experience, the worst thing about being labeled as high-functioning is that sometimes your disability is seen as less severe, and you might get dismissed as not needing much support. Your condition isn’t considered severe enough to get sympathy, but you’re not “normal” enough to fit in and be accepted. You’re just seen as that “strange” girl, and people avoid and start rumors about you.

I refuse to label myself as “high functioning.” I sometimes struggle with things other people take for granted, while other times I don’t have issues. Autism is just another thing that makes me who I am today.

Originally published: January 1, 2019
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