Functioning labels have long been hated in the Autistic community. Not only are they wildly inaccurate, but they do not take the dynamic nature of our disability into account. Despite this, many professionals and laypeople continue to use them, or variations on them.
Arguments about the inaccuracy of functioning labels and the assumptions they create are important, but extremely reductive. There is a darker side to the purpose that they serve, and this needs to be discussed.
We live in a world that operates on what can be considered a neuronormative premise. This arises from the privilege awarded to neurotypical neurocognition, and the acceptance of the idea that neurotypicality is the one correct way to exist.
The question is, why is this considered the “correct” way to exist?
Society has been designed to fit the majority, with minority neurocognitive identities being marginalised and oppressed. This oppression has lead to the disability of neurocognitive styles that do not fit into neuronormative standards. We are not awarded the same access to our environment as neurotypical minds.
This lack of access has lead to Autistic people having a lower economic value, and a greater perceived cost to society. When you deny people access to work, they can’t produce profit or pay taxes, but you still have to keep those pesky human rights.
Thus we have the origins of functioning labels.
Whether people care to admit it or not, they measure the economic value of the Autistic person. People deemed “high functioning” are expected to produce more profit, and are denied access to supports that would support their wellbeing, while those deemed “low functioning” are expected to produce little or no profit, while costing the system money.
This in turn is used to dehumanise Autistic people, with the end result being violent ableism and eugenics.
This is also the function that subgroups would play in the landscape of “autism diagnosis”. When certain researchers call for Autistic to be broken down into “types”, what they are actually looking for is a way to invalidate the Autistics standing against their ableism; it then also opens the door to justify the eradication of certain subgroups of Autistic people deemed financial burdens on the system.
It is essentially a divide and conquer tactic, and most certainly another tool of oppression. It allows non-autstic researchers and policy makers to remove undesirable neurocognitive styles from from the gene pool.
When you use functioning labels, this is what you are upholding. This is the harm that you are contributing to. However it is difficult to spot because the harm is buried under centuries of neuronormative thinking and misinformation.
In order for Autistic people to be treated equally, and for eugenics to fail, we must stand against the use of functioning labels and subgroups imposed upon Autistic people by those with no knowledge of the Autistic experience. When we know better, we can do better. #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs