High-Functioning vs. Low-Functioning Autism: It Isn’t a Dichotomy #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day eight in the A to Z Challenge on autism. Today, I want to focus on a controversy within the autism/autistic communities: the high-functioning/low-functioning dichotomy. It isn’t a dichotomy at all, but many people feel it is. Let me explain.

A number of more capalbe autistic people do not want to be associated with “low-functioning” autistic people. Conversely, many parents of less capable autistic children do not feel their child has anything in common with “high-functioning” autistics. My point in this post is not that there are no differences between people on the autism spectrum. In fact, there’s a saying going round that if you’ve met oen autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person. It is also true that some autistic people are, overall, more capable than others. My point with this post is that there is no hard line to cross between high-functioning and low-functioning autism.

I already described some common assumptions about the HFA/LFA distinction in August of 2013. These assumptions are mostly false, because they are based on the dichotmous view of functioning levels. For example, a person doesn’t suddenly drop off a cliff in functioning when their measured IQ score is below a certain point. Again, a person with an IQ of 50 obviously does funciton at a lower level than a person with an IQ above 100, although with autism affecting much more than just cognitive ability, this isn’t even necessarily that simple.

After all, in autism, much more than cognitive ability is affected, and a person who has a high measured IQ might have severe behavior problems because they do not understand social situations, have sensory processing issues, etc. For example, I have a measured IQ of roughly 150, but I still need intensive support.

There are, of course, people who fall on the less capable end of the spectrum in almost all areas of functioning. They have a low measured IQ, are non-verbal, have severe behavior problems like aggression, etc. Some others are at the more capable end of the spectrum in most areas. These people – most of whom have an Asperger’s diagnosis -, appear just quirky and odd in social situations, but do not have many other problems. I do not say there is no difference between these people. What I mean to say is there is no cut-off point or clear-cut ability that all “low-functioning” autistic people can’t perform and all “high-functioning” autistics can.


5 thoughts on “High-Functioning vs. Low-Functioning Autism: It Isn’t a Dichotomy #AtoZChallenge

  1. It is a big problem though especially to those of us who really don’t know anything much about the subject. Holland? Where do you live? Used to visit Holland regularly when I lived in the UK.


    1. Jo, what do you mean is a big problem? I realize my post is a bit involved for someone who doesnt’know anything about autism. Sorry for that. Btw, I live near Arnhem.


  2. Thanks for providing this thorough education about autism, a subject I knew little about. It seems, there are many facets to this disability. I have met a couple of bloggers online with Asperger’s. They were good writers, but as you say, had little social skills.


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