January 22, 2015

The conclusion from the previous articles seems to be that even though the terms high and low functioning may not have been designed to be hurtful, their use can be problematic in terms of expectation, self-esteem, services, and categorising people.  But if these terms aren’t used what can take their place?  There are several other terms that are used to describe people who are at various points on the autism spectrum.  So should these terms be used instead, or new terms created, or is the answer much simpler?

Sometimes people who might be called low-functioning are also regarded as having `severe` autism?  Is this a good term or not?  Several parents claim that saying their child has severe autism is accurate because of quite how severe the negative side of autism can be for that child.  But is the opposite of this is to imply that people with Asperger`s have a mild form of autism?  Again, it is inaccurate to suggest that Asperger`s is in any way mild.  It may present differently, and it may affect the individual in similar, and different ways than `classic` autism.  But referring to Asperger`s as mild autism is to ignore the significant impact Asperger`s Syndrome has on a person`s life.

What about the term `Classic` autism itself?  It certainly sounds strange when thought about for any length of time.  Obviously what it refers to is the first `kind` of autism that was studied and documented – sometimes known as `Kanner`s` autism.  Again it is not that this term is offensive per se, it is just that it might not be all that helpful.  It doesn’t sound like a particularly relevant diagnosis in the twenty first century.

The terms high and low functioning autism do seem to create more problems than they solve, but other terms are often unacceptable to some individuals.

May be the way to settle this is to simplify everything; whether a person is diagnosed with Classic autism, Asperger`s or any other element of the spectrum, they are first and foremost autistic.  May be just simply saying this person is autistic, or this person has autism, or this person is on the autistic spectrum, then going on to further explain any individual needs or nuances of their particular condition would be the most helpful thing?   Terms like Asperger`s or Kanner`s autism exist so that they can be said in place of a more detailed explanation, but it is impossible to get all the nuances of how autism affects an individual from a handful of words or phrases. There is so much more to autism than can be conveyed by mere terminology.  Perhaps autism or autistic should be the go-to words, and personal details should be provided simply when needed?


About the author 

Paddy-Joe Moran

Paddy-Joe Moran is a nineteen year old author of two books and blog writer with Aspergers from the U.K.
Blog. http://askpergers.wordpress.com/
Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS
Books. http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

  • While I agree that first and foremost, someone on the spectrum is “autistic,” I also think that it is helpful to have labels that help to describe the nature of the impact that autism has on that person’s live and environment. My daughter (17, and “classically”, “severely”, and mostly “non-communicatively” autistic) is almost entirely unable to function, and presents a significant life-and-death risk to herself and others without extensive, 24/7 support. While still having significant impact from autism, many people with other labels are much more able to function in a typical environment. These labels can and should help us to define needs and support system requirements, but there are significant and real issues with the use of labels. This topic warrants further and more in-depth discussion and I thank you for your article.

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