How functional am I?

I’m told I’m high functioning.

As far as I can tell, mostly this means that for short periods of time I pass for normal. When I’ve saved up my spoons and I’m not overloaded, if a random stranger glances at me they don’t see anything unusual. So, to the people who use phrases like “high functioning” and “low functioning,” I’m high functioning.

Now, intellectually, I know that’s full of bunk. I know that “high functioning” means “we’ll ignore any help you need” and “low functioning” means “we’ll ignore any strengths you have.” I’ve seen it in practice many times, and I’ve had people deny my difficulties or insist that I’m just “quirky” based on nothing more than their idea that I’m “high functioning.”

But turns out that as much as I know this way of thinking is incorrect, as much as I understand that functioning is not linear, it turns out that it has burrowed into my brain deeper than I ever realized. It pops out at me and leaves me struggling with… I’m not even sure what.

A little backstory – I was diagnosed as an adult. People can make some very inaccurate assumptions about my childhood when they hear that, though. Basically, by the time I got into kindergarten, it was unmistakable that something was wrong with me. However, no one knew what. Long story short, things tended to jump between trying to figure out what was going on, and just treating me as though my failings were my fault and I’m just weak. I know now what was going on and why, but those messages don’t go away so easily.

Now, a little while back, after a lot of work and many incremental steps, I reached the point of being able to go grocery shopping on my own. It was a huge accomplishment for me and I’m glad I’m able to do it. This involved a lot of working both on driving independently (very difficult both in terms of sensory input and real-time processing) and on being able to handle the intensity of the grocery store on my own long enough to get the groceries.

This is where it gets rather shameful. Where my rather treacherous brain betrays me. The grocery store I go to employs some people who seem to have intellectual disabilities. They are definitely not the kind of people who can pass for normal the way I can. If someone who rates people by functioning came on by, they would surely say that I am higher functioning than some of those employees.

Yet those “lower functioning” employees are holding down jobs that would send me into screaming meltdowns within a matter of days if I tried to do them. And sometimes, when my brain is being uncooperative, when all that inspiration porn I’ve been exposed to and all those messages of moral weakness I grew up with are echoing loudly in my ears, I wonder why they can do it and I can’t. I think I must just be weak or lazy the way people insist people like me must be. I’m failing to “overcome” my disability the way we’re supposed to in order to be worthwhile.

I know that this is wrong. I know that there are many, MANY errors in my thinking. I know that functioning is neither linear nor one dimensional. I know it’s only reasonable for people who are weak in ways that I am strong, to also be strong in ways that I am weak. I know that this is how it works. But sometimes, on a gut level, it seems I forget.


Filed under ability, issue, personal, Uncategorized

4 responses to “How functional am I?

  1. merelyquirky

    Reblogged this on Merely Quirky and commented:
    My family are quiet people, so my lack of interaction was not noticed. But also, my change of behavior as a toddler was received with disinterest. I’m the youngest child, and though I’ve always heard stories about my sisters when they were little, somehow no one could ever remember any involving me. No first words or steps, no amusing vignettes. I was an afterthought, and I felt it even then.

    My sisters, both older, obviously knew more than I did about anything. But my parents also thought of me as the dumb one. My voice wasn’t heard, my opinions generally disregarded or scoffed at. If I dared to offer a fact they didn’t already know, I was instructed to cite my sources in order to have a shot at being believed.

    When the middle school called asking to put me in a program of special classes, my mother replied that that was a Good Idea, since I seemed a bit slow. When the school corrected her misunderstanding, clarifying that, no, these were advanced classes for the highest intelligence kids, Mom replied Oh, you must have her mixed up with one of her sisters.

    I never knew this story as a kid. My mother thought it was a funny story to tell me at a party 35 years later. It was hard enough to go to the thing in the first place, but after hearing this story, everyone was starting at me. Staring at me. Staring.

    I hadn’t driven my own car there, so I was stuck, an hour’s drive from home. I excused myself from the room, found my bag (and it’s ever-present book) and hid in my sister’s bedroom with the pile of coats, and read until my ride was ready to leave.

    Nowadays, I don’t go to gatherings without my own transportation, a warning that I might have to duck out early, and a book.

    It is strange to me, that my family thinks I’m dumb, weak, and untrustworthy, but everyone else thinks I’m smart, strong, and ‘too honest’. I’ve had folks ask me to be their body guard, their interpreter of local customs, their legal advisor, social service conduit, and to diagnose that weird sore on their shoulder. Clearly strangers’ high opinions of me are a mixed blessing.

    But after a lifetime of being adamantly told who/what I am by all around me, it is exhausting trying to weed out their self-interest, insecurity, or sociopathy, to find a grain of value. In myself or others.

  2. Tricia

    Not higher functioning or lower functioning – different functioning. Instead of one big scale of “function” high to low, I see it as several scales that make up me. So having a job where it requires you to interact with TONS of people is something that others are “higher” functioning than me. On the other hand, I can organize and track a dozen issues in 30 minutes, keep track of who is working on what and make sure I get updates in a timely manner and able to deliver a summary to the management accurately at the end (I just did this earlier today, which is why I’m referencing it). I know that’s something not everyone can do.

  3. I’ve felt like this too. I am considered “high functioning” autistic, which often means that I straddle the line where I am too “high functioning” to receive services and help for things I need, but not quite “high functioning” enough to actually succeed in the world among NTs. I have met many more “low functioning” adults that had jobs, had friends, had activities, were living more or less independently, and just generally seemed happier than me. I may be “higher functioning” in some ways, but clearly they are functioning very well at things that I struggle with!

  4. Odin the Aardvark

    I have only just come across your blog – keep up the great work! I am 54 years old, and have always known that I am not ‘normal’ (whatever that is!) Then, 2 years ago, I had a meltdown at work, and, working with a therapist and my doctor, realised that I am almost certainly an Aspie. I read widely on the subject, and got into discussions on various Aspie forums – I felt as though I had finally come home!
    I am certainly ‘high-functioning’ – or, to put it another way, fortunate – I hold down a rewarding, well-paid job, despite the difficulties. I work in IT (well, there’s a surprise!)
    Back to the high vs low-functioning: people seem to have a need to simplify things, and this has led to a wide range of misleading descriptions, from a single right – left spectrum of politics to the use of a single IQ figure to label someone’s intelligence. This is just another, unhelpful example.