Why We Should Stop Using ‘High Functioning’ And ‘Low Functioning Autism’

I wrote an article on high functioning and low functioning autism, a couple of years ago.
I haven’t had a change in mindset since then. The article brings out important points about the use of high and low functioning autism and how it’s outdated.


In another article on the same topic, I quoted an autistic individual on her views on HFA and LFA.



How confusing are the labels of high- and low-functioning? I just want to trash them, to be honest. The main definition of function is “to work or operate in a proper or particular way.” Who decides what is proper? Is it not completely subjective? Am I less “functioning” because I happen to be autistic and have bipolar disorder? Am I only less “functioning” during an episode?
The verbal world can be exhausting to me. I burn out easily and need to sleep it off before I can handle any more. This is because, compared to the average person, I process other people’s words slowly. Does this make me “low-functioning”? I have an above average IQ, though — does that make me “high-functioning”? If there are times I prefer not to speak, does that make me “lower-functioning” because I’m not living up to someone else’s standard of what’s comfortable and acceptable?


– Jackie Parslow


It’s time to move away from this distinction- as it’s redundant, besides being judgmental.
The world judges autistic individuals. At least, we within the community should be respectful and not indulge in the use of these terms.


I came across images that you might find useful and explanatory.


Prior to DSM 5, the autism spectrum was divided into different categories of autism.



DSM 5 basically did away with the distinction and every thing now falls under Autism Spectrum Disorders.


Yet, another interesting image




I like this image. It moves away from distinction to focus on areas that the child  may require assistance with.


Another important point is how we use the words high or low functioning.
In the diagram above, the individual may have problems with motor skills and sensory issues. But may be good with executive functioning, perception and language.


Doesn’t this give us a more realistic picture?


Finally, at the end of the day, we’re all on our own individual journeys.
There is no comparison with anybody else.




The best part is: Autistic individuals are cool and unbothered by these comparisons. I see so many who can speak, advocating for those who can’t.


The rest of us should focus on accepting each child – just as they are without putting them into categories of high or low functioning.


“I do not suffer from Autism, but I do suffer from the way you treat me.”
-Tyler Durdin


Kamini Lakhani

Kamini Lakhani is the founder and director of SAI Connections. She has been providing services in the field of autism for more than 25 years and is the authorized director of Professional Training for RDI in India and the Middle East. She is also the mother of a young adult with autism.


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