High and Low: Functioning labels

High and low.

High functioning.

Low functioning.

I am told that there is nothing between.
You are either one end or the other.

There is no middle ground.


“You don’t even look autistic,” a stranger tells me.

I spend the next day observing myself.
I check my facial expressions. Am I supposed to not smile?
I check my hands. Do my fingers not look autistic enough? How would that even look anyway?

I check the mirror. What am I supposed to look like?

I chew on my shirt without thinking and go to my bed.

Maybe I should allow myself to stim in public more, I think to myself. I allow my hands to flap happily, and rock gently to feel better.

I don’t like pretending to be neurotypical anyway.


“Why are you doing that?” snaps the campus street preacher, clutching his bible as he wonders how to cast out a demon. He has no idea what autism is.

I rock faster and flap my hands close to me. The pitch in his angry voice creates fear, and I move my hands to my ears.
His look of disdain makes me look down. He’s too loud and I don’t like it.

I don’t want to look at his eyes – at anyone’s. It hurts.


“Wow, you’re so clever! Look at those grades and involvement. You’re such a high functioning autistic!”

I went to a service project because my group told me to, and it sounded nice.

I stay up until 3 in the morning with my paper, working intensely after I’d been distracted for two hours researching political tensions on a science fiction show.

I wonder why I’m feeling odd, and then I remember: I hadn’t eaten since I had woken up at 10 am the day before. I got so distracted that I forgot to eat or even get up to use the restroom – again.

I go through the papers given to me by my notetakers. The same song has been playing on my headphones on repeat since 8 pm. I have it memorized; after all, it’s the only song I’ve been listening to during the past two weeks.

I’ll eat when I finish.


“Honestly, I don’t think you’re able to live alone. You’re not great at being independent.”

My post-it notes cover the walls, a mural of bright yellow and blue. They remind me to take my medicines, to wash my hair. They ask if I brushed my teeth and if I remembered to check my calendar.  I did.

The floor is messy, dishes are slowly piling up. I call my friend and ask to be reminded how to make turkey bacon again.

My phone goes off, a text reminder from my fiance that I have a class soon, or that I forgot to get clothes out of the dryer.

I make a detailed list, marking each step I have to complete in order to just take out the trash.
I get everything done, even though I am so tired.


“You speak so well, and your social skills are impressive for an autistic.”

I nod quietly and rehearse my next line. My aphasia forgot how to say the word ketchup as I order my dinner. I give up and go without.

Someone asks me my major, and I prepare to recite my script used every time:
” I am doing a major in Sociology with a minor in -” and realize halfway that I changed my minor last month. The script is wrong. My script is not updated.

I catch my breath and do a little cough.
“…and minoring in Special Education.”

I sigh as I spend the rest of the time staring at the floor. I can’t speak anymore. I nod quietly or sign “sorry” instead.

I spend a lot of time staring at the floor around the people.

They know how to talk and joke; I missed the class on how to make friends and keep them.


“Are you okay?” someone asks me at a club meeting.

I’m rocking more violently. The lights are drilling into me. The room is echoing with every individual voice vying to be heard. It’s warm. Worst of all, I forgot to eat all day – again.

My friend calms me down and takes me out of the room.

I go back to my dorm and hide under my weighted blanket.

I am no longer able to speak. My cognitive ability has a short in its wire. The operating system is crashing down.

I am not high functioning.

I am not low functioning.

I am autistic.

My days are high, and my days are low. They’re all different.

I may be independent – but I may not.

It’s not just a line; it’s a spectrum. It’s a giant sphere of strengths and difficulties, and they shift.
The lines zig and they zag, to an almost dizzying degree.

My autism is not mild. Nothing about me is mild.

If anything, my autism is strength. It feels like spice, the kind you expect from a strong cup of tea or coffee. My existence isn’t bland (even if I do only prefer bland foods). No one’s existence is.

I am a fiery autistic. I blaze with the power of thousands of suns, burning through my intensity towards my passions and interests. I shine when I am respected, when I can be myself without fear of invalidation or infantilization. I am bright, in my own way. Everyone is.

My existence is tied in both highs and lows. There is nothing mild about it.

I am autistic.
That’s it.

I am no more and no less.

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