Tuesday, January 21, 2014

#SoMuchHighFunctioningSuchWow

“Wow, I would never have guessed you had Autism.” “You’re just so high functioning; you must be doing so well.” “You’re not as annoying as my sibling with Autism.” “You don’t take medication?!  That’s amazing.” “My son could never do that.” “I never could have imagined he could [do this thing everyone else does.]”
All of these quotes, and more, have been, in one way or another, said to me. Some of them have been in the past week. All I can say is: no, just no, please stop. I am not high-functioning. Was I high functioning when I had that meltdown the other day and missed two classes? Or was I high functioning when I scored that five on my latest AP US History test? Was I high-functioning when I was silent for several hours in lieu of having a brief bout of small talk? Or was I high-functioning when I passed out about seventy five fliers explaining why Autism Speaks can go to hell? Please tell me what makes me “high functioning.”
What makes me high functioning when if there is too much sun, I can’t keep my eyes open for too long? Oh, yeah, so high functioning. What makes me high functioning when ever-present sensory issues make focusing on school work almost impossible so that I have little over a 2.0? Oh, yeah, so high functioning. Oh, right, I forgot, I can write this blog-post, just like Amy Sequenzia—noted “low-functioning/”non-verbal Autistic blogger—who is a so much better writer than I will ever be. Yeah, I forgot, I’m not like your child, because I don’t have gastro-intestinal issues and don’t throw fits. Oh, wait, yes I did. Wow, I’m so high-functioning. Or maybe I’m so high functioning because I don’t stim so much—oh wait, yes I do.  
But maybe I don’t give myself so much credit, after all, look at how many social justice groups I’m in; I must be GREAT at interacting with others, not like those other Autistics. You know, not like your child. Oh wait, I feel social anxiety bordering on paranoia there, because, you know I don’t know if they just tolerate me. Such high functioning, many wow.
When I was in Los Angeles this weekend to visit family, I was in a state of extremely high stress. Well, okay, that’s fine; after all I’m so high-functioning. As any person with SPD (sensory processing disorder) will communicate to you, stress reduces our ability to control our impulse to stop the input of sensory stimuli. That may include covering ears, eyes, or yelling at that guy talking on his cell-phone. When Monday—Martin Luther King Jr. Day which I coincidently spent in one of the most segregated cities in America—came, I was just about done.
We had to go to a grocery store yesterday. Well, that’s fine, because I’m so high-functioning. But, wait, it’s Los Angeles. If you’ve never been to Los Angeles, let me educate you on the horror it is. Even without factoring the racial tension, segregation and blatantly obvious income inequality that smacks one in the face, the city is a total “shithole” in the words of a friend of mine. (Note: I've only visited a few times so individual results might vary.) First off, have you ever heard of this thing called smog? Smog is pollution, but omnipresent as though it is fog. “Okay, that’s not totally unreasonable as long as there’s clean water,” you might think. Ha! That’s funny; Los Angeles has no concept of this magical thing called “clean water.” “Well, fine, that’s not every sensory trigger;” nope, they have others! For one, it’s always sunny in Southern California (kind of like Philadelphia #reference). There’s something like 65 days of cloud cover. That’s inane. They built a city in a desert. Not only that, a popular building material where that grocery store was is super sparkly. It’s almost like 4th and Broadway during Pride, except every day in strong light/sun, so that means I can’t even look down at the ground so I don’t have a frickin’ meltdown. Okay, that just leaves sound which, in pure, Los Angeles fashion, people are the worst drivers imaginable, so they honk their car horns every goddamn second. It’s a perfect trifecta of terrible. AWESOME. If I ever had the misfortune of living in that godforsaken city, I would not be able to function. I could never go to a job interview, or go to the store, or do anything that a neurotypical would do with ease and routine. I’m so high-functioning.
Oh but wait, I live in a livable city with clean water, clean air and everything! (We still have white-flight, but nothing on the scale of frickin’ Los Angeles or Chicago.) Yes, I live in a city without that dreaded sunlight, the city of Jimi Hendrix and Macklemore; I live in Seattle. I can function here. I can function here. That is the lie of the separation of low and high functioning. If I chose the label, it is society that disables me (a different post will explain why I won’t take the identity of Disabled). My issues of access are related to sensory sensitivity and ways of communication. A paraplegic’s issue of access is, but not limited to, ramps for their wheelchair. A Blind person’s issues of access include, but are not limited to, are making things like currency, etc. discernible from each other with say braille. Stephan Hawking’s issues of access include, but are not limited to, a computerized scooter that can talk and walk for him. A wealthy, able-bodied, neurotypical’s issue of access may include highways, internet, open layout rooms, lighting, stairs, chairs, effective public transit, and the list goes on. Think about it, why does your rural town get effective transportation where jobs are—something that costs a lot of money and could arguably be called a “burden” on society—and I can’t be allowed to at the very least stim the way that is effective for me? It’s because you’re “normal” and I’m not.

Society has infrastructure that is built exclusively for able bodied, rich, neurotypicals with the exception of many forms of half-assed attempts at access. Society has built social barriers of targeted and indirect discrimination against Disabled people, Neurodivergents, and a myriad of other minorities for different reasons specific to whom they are. If I was allowed equal access, rather than the same “access” I would be high-functioning. If your child was allowed the same, they would too. Being high-functioning is a lie. There are plenty of ways Autistics could make allistics (non-Autistics) low-functioning if we were the favored majority. We are not; therefore, the ones who can conform the most easily are given the label “high-functioning” and their identity as an Autistic is ignored in favor of their capitulation to neurotypical norms. I can be Autistic, but I can’t flaunt it. And if not “flaunting” it means being drugged, then so be it. What the neurotypical majority desires, the neurotypical majority gets. Wow, so high-functioning. 

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Lydia Brown (writer of the respected* blog Autistic Hoya) wrote a better, more coherent post about this a long time ago. Check her's out and block mine from memory, because mine is horribly written! http://www.autistichoya.com/2012/09/so-high-functioning-sarcasm.html
*If you're reading this Lydia, yes it is. It's one of the best blogs about anything out there. 

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