A list of different ways people use the word "high-functioning" about people with developmental disabilities; an attempt to figure out what it actually is supposed to mean.
Interested humans--people with disabilities, staff, family members, allies, and people who are more than one of those things--are invited to share different ways they have heard the term "high-functioning" be used.
It's not about vocal skills or IQ scores, as I've seen proposed in the Autism communities, or frequency of symptoms and self-harming behaviour, as defined by the Global Assessment of Functionality. It's about visibility.
Think about it; that's what really is meant when people label functioning status to disabled people, the level in which the disability is visible to other non-disabled people.
My answer would depend on who was asking.
In a general conversation, if I was inclined to answer rather than explain why I don’t agree with the question, I would stress the joys my son brings to me and others who take the time to know him. In a more formal situation, with doctors who have a more clinical, pre-conceived definition in mind, or with workers / teachers who are the gatekeepers to services it would be completely different.
Another post from “What is High-Functioning?” paints that picture:
I’m writing today to say: “That’s OKAY!” Maybe she won’t star in television show – most people don’t. Maybe he won’t graduate from college – it’s not for everyone no matter how much our society seems to think it should be. Maybe she can’t give a speech or receive an award for outstanding inspiration to others – don’t worry, I won’t either. It’s okay! We shouldn’t define our children (disabled or not) based on other people’s accomplishments or expectations. As parents, our job is to simply love and encourage our children to be the best version of themselves. That includes celebrating the “little” things, being proud of each new accomplishment, and encouraging our children's self-esteem to allow them to keep reaching for the stars.
This morning my son beamed with pride when he said “took my pills.” “I’m smart!”
To some, the fact that I have to make sure he gets to the doctor, has his regular blood work, get the prescriptions filled, and make sure that his daily doses are placed in his pill box count as “needs” on the activities of daily living scale. Certainly not “high functioning.”
Labels, descriptors, and socially constructed definitions should not keep us from enjoying each other for who we are.