Many people interested in ASD have debated the term “low/high functioning”.  But I was surprised to learn that the researchers who presented studies at IMFAR almost exclusively used “high functioning” subjects in their studies; and more confusing, their definition of high functioning was exclusively IQ scores.  Now we all know how unreliable IQ tests are in truly understanding the cognitive levels let alone the abilities of someone with ASD. 

So, what does the term “high functioning /low functioning” mean to you?  Here are comments (or variations) of what I have heard and interpreted as definitions.  What do you think?

High functioning:

  • IMFAR researchers:  IQ over 100
  • General education teacher:  “wow, that is not what I thought autism was”
  • School psychologist: “he won’t qualify for OPWDD (adult services)”
  • Another parent of a kid with ASD observing your child:  “she must be high functioning, she talks, has eye contact, attends academic classes, and rides a bike.” 
  • Grandparents: “he’s so talented and clever”
  • Neighborhood kid: “she’s just being herself”
  • Potential employer:  “she’d make a great software tester.”
  • Theater arts program director:  “She’s so refreshing, we wish everyone had her enthusiasm”
  • Parent:  he seems so similar to his peers, shows independence, attends academic classes, and has a friend, and keeps me up at night worrying
  • The general public:  “she reminds me of Temple Grandin”

Low functioning

  • IMFAR researchers:  IQ under 80
  • teacher: he needs full time one-on-one support and is not ready for an inclusion class.
  • School psychologist:  she plays with her shoelaces while listening to a story
  • Another parent of a kid with ASD observing your child: she parallel plays, has meltdowns, and is in self-contained classes.
  • Grandparents:  repulsed when he stuffs too much food in his mouth, and doesn’t pretend to love a gift from grandma
  • Neighborhood kids:  “Eww, I am not gonna ask him to play with me on the playground.”
  • Potential employer: “I’m not sure if our customers would be comfortable with him bagging their groceries.”
  • Parent:  is non-verbal, needs constant supervision, attends lifeskill classes, and keeps me up at night worrying
  • the general public: “he reminds me of Rainman”

 Actually the term kind of repulses me.  I would rather refer to levels of independence.  What is your opinion?

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