Functioning Labels are Ableist Nonsense

Functioning Labels are Ableist Nonsense

"Yes, autism is a spectrum, but not in the way that neurotypicals think."
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Content note: This article contains discussion of ableist language and behavior. At some of the links, there is further discussion of ableist abuse.

There are a lot of harmful binaries in the world; although not excusable, it is understandable that people cling to them. We like black-and-white concepts, concrete truths, and ideas of good and bad that it is simple to parse out. Unfortunately, human beings are never truly that simple, and disabled people– specifically autistic people, as I am discussing this week (and throughout this month)– are just as complicated.

Neurotypicals have a tendency to categorize autistic people as either high-functioning or low-functioning. An easy way to understand exactly what these terms connote is this: “high-functioning” means “better able to pass as ‘normal’” and “low-functioning” means “less/un-able to pass as ‘normal’”.

Another way to conceive of functioning labels (one that may make some uncomfortable, but one I think is most apt) is “high value” and “low value”. High-functioning autistics are more likely to be able to speak, navigate social situations, hold down a job, drive, and perform other tasks that neurotypicals assign value to; ones they view as essential to being a normal human being. Low-functioning autistics may be unable to talk, or unable to talk in a way that neurotypicals find appealing. They may never be able to pass as neurotypical and are more likely to be confined to special-education and never hold a job.

Our capitalist system assigns the most value to someone able to be productive and convenient, and our society which pathologizes anything that pushes the boundaries of our arbitrary norms. So, many are comfortable assigning a condescending label, low-functioning, to “unproductive and abnormal” people. There are a number of problems with these means of categorization, and the consequences of them can be disastrous.

For one thing, functioning labels, by normalizing a normal/abnormal binary, also normalize abusive therapy techniques, such as ABA. By seeking to “correct” so-called abnormal (and entirely non-harmful) behaviors, they are erasing the unique ways in which autistic people exist. Oftentimes, these practices traumatize them in the process.

These labels also overlook the uniqueness of each autistic person– the fact that everyone, regardless of an arbitrary label, has different struggles and strengths that can’t be neatly categorized. What if someone can drive, but can’t talk? Can attend a mainstream school but struggles to socialize? Can make eye contact, but covers their ears at certain sounds? Functioning labels are unacceptably reductive of the fullness of autistic lives.

Functioning labels justify forms of ableism against both high-and-low-functioning people. People labeled high-functioning are not given autism-specific help when they need it, because neurotypicals, seeing them as “nearly normal”, believe they do not need it. Low-functioning people are condescended to or isolated because they deviate too much from the norm. High-functioning people may not receive an autism diagnosis until adulthood, and then not viewed as valid in their autism when they are. Low-functioning people may be reduced to a diagnosis, and seen as subhuman, “stupid”, and unworthy of attention.

Yes, autism is a spectrum, but not in the way that neurotypicals think. It is not a spectrum with “less autism” on one side and “more autism” on the other. Rather, each autistic person has different qualities, some “more normal” and some “less normal”, and sometimes, this changes with the day and situation.

If you truly want to be “aware” of autism this month, please be aware that autistic people are not divisible into monolithic categories. Functioning labels inhibit any hope of acceptance for autistic people by ranking them according to adherence to normalcy, and this is not okay.

Cover Image Credit: Tumblr / @phineasfrogg

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An Open Letter To The Girl Trying To Get Healthy Again

"I see you eating whatever you want and not exercising" - Pants
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Dear girl trying to get back in shape,

I know it's hard. I know the hardest thing you may do all day is walk into the gym. I know how easy it is to want to give up and go eat Chicken McNuggets, but don't do it. I know it feels like you work so hard and get no where. I know how frustrating it is to see that person across the table from you eat a Big Mac every day while you eat your carrots and still be half of your size. I know that awful feeling where you don't want to go to the gym because you know how out of shape you are. Trust me, I know.

SEE ALSO: To The Girl Trying To Lose Weight In College


The important thing is you are doing something about it. I'm sure you get mad at yourself for letting your body get this out of shape, but life happens. You have made a huge accomplishment by not having a soda in over a month, and those small changes are huge. I understand how hard it is, I understand how frustrating it is to not see results and I understand why you want to give up. Being healthy and fit takes so much time. As much as I wish you could wake up the day after a good workout with the 6 pack of your dreams, that just isn't the reality. If being healthy was easy, everyone would do it, and it wouldn't feel so good when you got there.

Remember how last January your resolution was to get back in the gym and get healthy again? Think about how incredible you would look right now if you would have stuck with it. The great thing is that you can start any time, and you can prove yourself wrong.

Tired of starting over? Then don't give up.

You are only as strong as your mind. You will get there one day. Just be patient and keep working.

Nothing worth having comes easy. If you want abs more than anything, and one day you woke up with them, it wouldn't be nearly as satisfying as watching your body get stronger.

Mental toughness is half the battle. If you think you are strong, and believe you are strong, you will be strong. Soon, when you look back on the struggle and these hard days, you will be so thankful you didn't give up.

Don't forget that weight is just a number. What is really important is how you feel, and that you like how you look. But girl, shout out to you for working on loving your body, because that shit is hard.

To the girl trying to get healthy again, I am so proud of you. It won't be easy, it will take time. But keep working out, eating right, and just be patient. You will be amazed with what your body is capable of doing.

Cover Image Credit: Stock Snap

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What Could Have Been

Changing your mindset from living in the past to living in the present can change everything.
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As we get older, we make more memories, new friends, new thoughts, and form new views on, well, life. While all of these new things are being created, it’s so easy to get caught up in “what could’ve been,” but what’s more important than what could’ve been is what is.

A belief I strongly live by is the idea of what is what’s meant to be, will be. Because of this belief, any time I find myself living in the past, or wondering how alternate situations may have affected my life, I try to reflect and remember that if it’s meant to be, it will happen.

With every person you meet and every experience you have, it’s so easy to wonder why someone came into your life or left your life, to wonder how your life would be different if you didn’t meet that person, if they didn’t exit your life; what would’ve happened if a certain situation didn’t happen or occurred differently. In these instances, you just have to remember that every experience helps shape the person you are today.

Despite how much you may wish something didn’t happen to you, something did happen to you, or how much you wish someone stayed in your life, you can’t linger in the world of what could’ve been because quite frankly, it just isn’t. If you’re living in a world of wondering and overthinking situations, you’ll never be able to move forward into a life of the people and experiences you’re supposed to indulging in.

There are so many cheesy phrases that encompass this general idea, what’s meant to be will be, it is what it is, the idea of destiny, but essentially, I believe in all of these. Obviously, there are courses of action that can be taken to control one’s own destiny, and I am all for creating your own destiny. However, part of creating your own destiny is moving forward in a positive direction, taking every experience and making the best out of each and every moment, wipe your tears and move on.

Living in the past leads to having a negative outlook on life because you’re not making the best out of every moment, you’re wondering “what could’ve been.” Instead of pondering this thought in your mind, focus on what can be. You’re probably thinking that these are the exact same phrase, but honestly, these two phrases are extremely similar to the idea of looking at a glass as half full or half empty.

If you’re someone who sees a glass as half empty, you are stuck in the world of what could’ve been; if you’re someone who sees a glass as half full, you are someone who is making the most out of life, looking at what can be, and will be.

Nothing is impossible. If you work hard enough, and change your mindset to one that is positive, everything that is meant to happen to you, will. Of course, it is difficult to maintain a purely positive outlook on life, but if you try hard enough to see the good in everything, what could’ve been will truly be a thing of the past.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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