Functioning Labels are Ableist Nonsense

Functioning Labels are Ableist Nonsense

"Yes, autism is a spectrum, but not in the way that neurotypicals think."

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

Popular Right Now

Bullet Journaling Saved My Life

I finally found a new approach to time management.

My first semester as a college student was a little hectic – to say the least. From joining way too many clubs, taking on an 18-credit course load to trying to manage a social life, I had very little time to breathe.

Moving into the spring semester, I knew I had to manage my time better. I had to realize, for starters, that time is not infinite. It seemed like a novel idea to make up a schedule at the beginning of each week to keep track of my class time, clubs and save room for destressing or socializing. Then, and only then, would I be able to fully understand how much time I had to commit to other things like more clubs or a job, for instance.

Although I had discovered this solution by the end of my fall semester, I never gave it much thought to how I would actually carry it out.

Everything started to fall into place after Christmas. First, I received an essential gift from my boyfriend’s mom – the necessary tools to carry out my new time management solution. I received one pack of black and one pack of assorted colored Paper Mate InkJoy Gel pens – the kind that even a lefty does not smudge. With those pens, I received a purple journal. What seemed like everyday gifts for the aspiring writer became my weapons of choice when battling my busy schedule. A couple days later, my boyfriend’s mom added to the gift that keeps on giving. She posted a few videos on my Facebook page introducing a new concept for me: bullet journaling. I had found the theory for my solution and I had just received the tools.

I was ready to begin my journey with the best anxiety-reducing, stress-relieving, and creativity-inducing practice.

The weekend before break ended, I started preparing my journal. For me, it took a lot of thought before I started marking up my journal with pen. I planned out exactly what I would be putting into my bullet journal and how many pages that would take.

For those who have not yet discovered bullet journaling – I highly recommend watching a couple videos to see how they are set up (you might end up wanting to try one yourself). To save some time, I will provide a quick idea of the concept. A bullet journal most closely resembles an in-depth planner. In some stores you can even buy a planner with some of the features I will detail later rather than making a bullet journal from scratch. It is very costly and a little more difficult to personalize this way, but it saves a lot of time. A bullet journal can help you track and manage whatever you want from the movies you would like to watch this year to your budget. The way in which you do this can be as organized or as messy as you would like.

I started with a basic cover page. I decided that I would only map out one semester in the journal, so I could have more room to schedule out my days. I added in features like a future log and a few pages to keep track of the books, movies, and TV shows I want to read or watch this semester. Like a regular planner, I have two pages mapped out at the beginning of each month to look at my schedule in a normal calendar form. Then, each day has its own page where I write down my schedule starting from the morning to the evening hours. It is a great way to keep track of classes and events for the day and still find time to fit in homework.

One of the most satisfying perks of having a bullet journal for me is being able to check off different activities once I have completed them and have a really solid idea of where I stand as far as work I have finished and work I still need to do. I add a daily do to do list with each schedule, so I can remember the minor things that I might typically forget – like running to the mail room to pick up a letter.

It is also very convenient to have everything in one place. With regular planners, I would often find myself keeping track of my homework in one planner while keeping interviews or other activities on my phone calendar and even more things on a physical calendar in my dorm. To add more chaos to my life, I usually kept a hard copy of my class schedule in my dorm rather than putting it on one of those platforms.

It was overwhelming.

Bullet journaling simplifies everything. I keep it with me at all times, so I always know what I am doing next and I never lose track of important meetings and due dates.Bullet journaling can be so much more than time management too. I use colored pens (it makes looking at a busy schedule less stressful and a little more fun). You can make your journal as creative or as simple as you would like. I usually stick to writing things down in my typical handwriting but for those who are into calligraphy – this is a perfect place to get fancy and practice new fonts.

It works for stress relief. Some people add in coloring pages to complete as they go throughout the journal. I plan to add inspiring and uplifting quotes throughout my journal to keep me from completely stressing out when I am overloaded.

The whole concept of bullet journaling can sound very time-consuming but for me personally, I have found you can put in as little or as much time as you want into the process. If you want to get creative and spend a couple hours a day on it, that is certainly possible, but it does not need to take that much time. I took the route of mapping out my schedule for maybe half an hour at the beginning of the week. Then, when I get a chance, I revisit it a couple times throughout the week to add more to my schedule as needed.

You also really do not have to be creative at all. I had no idea where to start when I first decided to do a bullet journal but there are plenty of videos that can give you inspiration and ideas for fun features and ways to make your bullet journal. To personalize it, you can mix and match ideas from different videos.

The only thing I find frustrating in bullet journalling is mapping out lines for some of the features. I constantly mess up the lines or the things I am writing down and since it is in pen, I often find myself reaching for the white out. That may be because I am a perfectionist though. Again, a bullet journal can be as messy or as organized as you would like, so have fun with it.

For anyone thinking about bullet journaling, I would definitely recommend it. Watch some videos online to get a tutorial of the different things you can do with a bullet journal. Stop by a craft store and find some colored pens, sticky notes, or stickers that would make bullet journaling more fun for you. It is definitely a time saver. At the beginning of the day, I feel better prepared for anything that may come up. I have a concise schedule of my plans for the day and I know how much time I have to devote to each task or activity for that day.

My first week with bullet journaling has been a success. I am in a much calmer state and my bullet journal will help me stay on track throughout the semester.

It may not be for everyone, but it is worth a try.

Cover Image Credit: Ashley Stalnecker

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

To The Girl Who's Lonely, It's Time To Recognize Your Worth

Your value is not based on what other people think of you.

Dear Lonely Girl,

You are not alone. I know it's hard, and we all feel lonely sometimes. We don't always do well at taking care of each other, and we start to question our self-worth. Please know that you are more than enough just by being you.

It's OK to be lonely. Nothing is wrong with you because you want to be around other people or you're hoping for someone to love you in the way you wish they would. I pray that you find the strength to take care of yourself despite any unfulfilled hopes and desires. Don't rely on other people for your happiness.

Unfortunately, you will be disappointed. People are imperfect. Find the beauty in the things that surround you and what you're doing each day.

There is so much in the rollercoaster of life that makes living colorful. Remember that there are aspects of life that matter to you and things you are passionate about. Continue to work to be inspired. There's some beauty in loneliness. You might come to discover more about yourself than you initially thought you could. Know that someone out there cares about you, even if human beings are imperfect in expressing love.

I hope that you have even one person that you connect with that cares about you.

Your value is not based on what other people think of you.

Your identity is so much more than that.

Treat yourself well. Life is too short - you should be collecting experiences. Even if it's by yourself, go to that movie. Take the road trip. Go find out something about yourself that you may not discover another way. Just because someone has not expressed an undying devotion to you does not mean all hope is lost. You are still beautiful. You have thoughts and ideas that matter. Your struggles, hopes, and dreams deserve to be known. If today was hard, tomorrow will be better.

Feeling lonely is a little easier if you like being with yourself. I hope that you can see your self-worth and beauty as much as those who love you can.

This letter is as much to you as it is to myself.


A girl who's also lonely sometimes

Cover Image Credit: @hellodarlingblog

Related Content

Facebook Comments