High Functioning vs Low Functioning Autism - Question — Scope | Disability forum

High Functioning vs Low Functioning Autism - Question

mia97 Member Posts: 51 Courageous
edited December 2021 in Coffee lounge
Why is it considered 'not appropriate' to use the term high functioning or low functioning, in regards to autism?

When I was diagnosed with Autism/Aspergers, many years ago, I was diagnosed with 'High Functioning Autism/Aspergers' - this is what it says on my report.

However, recently, when speaking with someone professional (i.e. through work), they informed me that these two descriptions are no longer used and, can sometimes, be seen as discriminatory or offensive.

Please could people explain this to me as to the reasoning behind this statement?
The concept I am struggling to understand is, if the terms 'high functioning' and 'low functioning' are not referred to, how will people know/understand my disability. If we are all just labelled 'Autistic or Aspergers', there is a risk people may automatically assume that I am 'low functioning', as opposed to 'high functioning' and vice versa. Consequently, resulting in me not being supported in the best way possible.

I hope this makes sense, and I a mean no offence to anyone at all, I am just trying to learn and update my understanding. I appreciate autism/aspergers impacts everyone differently, and by no way am I saying one or the other (i.e. high or low) is necessarily bad.

Thank you in advance and I look forward to reading your explanations?


  • chiarieds
    chiarieds Community Co-Production Group Posts: 12,265 Disability Gamechanger
    Hi @mia97 - I'm very unsure as to the answer to your query. My son some approx. 15 years ago was described by a neuropsychologist as 'next door to Asperger's.' My understanding is that due to Asperger's being named after Hans Asperger, whom it's now thought, altho not a Nazi, his referrals sadly led to many children being murdered under the regime, is no longer deemed appropriate. Altho many are fine with the diagnosis of Asperger's they already have, others are not due to his now known history.
    This only comparatively recently came to light, & I presumed where the terms 'High functioning,' formerly Asperger's, came to instead be described.
    I would have therefore thought that the term Asperger's may be seen as offensive, but not 'high functioning.'
  • mia97
    mia97 Member Posts: 51 Courageous


    Thank you for taking the time to answer, this has helped me understand more. That's interesting, definitely learnt something new here. I was always just so confused about people's outlook to this, but now I totally understand.?
  • L_Volunteer
    L_Volunteer Community Volunteer Adviser, Community Co-Production Group Posts: 1,995 Pioneering
    edited December 2021

    Hi @mia97

    Thanks for reaching out to us for support with your question. I will try and answer your question the clearest I can, combining knowledge from my own diagnosis with autism as well as knowledge gained through my Masters degree in special educational needs. 

    As you will most likely be aware with your own experiences of autism, it is suggested that the term high functioning is not always appropriate because sometimes people with high functioning autism can also experience difficulties. Often the term high functioning autism is used to mean we are always able to function at a high level (sometimes at the same rate as others without autism). This ignores that our performance is not consistent every day or across all aspects of our life. For example, some people with high functioning autism excel in education but may struggle with daily living skills. Additionally, some people with high functioning autism may also struggle to talk some days, when they are feeling certain emotions (e.g. stress) or in some situations (e.g. presentations).

    On the flip side of this is your question about why low functioning is not an appropriate term. In response to this question, low functioning autism is often used as a term to describe people who are frequently seen as not meeting expected milestones and are usually non-verbal. This ignores their individual strengths and may mean people automatically have low expectations for them without getting to know them as individuals first.

    Instead, people now often use the autism spiky profile to understand autism. The spiky profile helps people to see the areas people with autism may experience difficulties with (or indeed thrive in) whilst also recognising that our performance will vary in each of these aspects as opposed to being the same in all areas. If you are interested, you can find the illustration at https://www.google.com/search?q=autism+spiky+profile+twitter&tbm=isch&ved=2ahUKEwj0p-Oupdn0AhXB0YUKHWdYBUgQ2-cCegQIABAA&oq=autism+spiky+profile+twitter&gs_lcp=CgNpbWcQA1AAWABglgJoAHAAeACAAUSIAUSSAQExmAEAqgELZ3dzLXdpei1pbWfAAQE&sclient=img&ei=5U-zYbShA8GjlwTnsJXABA&bih=703&biw=766&rlz=1C1CHBF_en-GBGB976GB976#imgrc=-RLxUhH-yDLQjM.

    I hope this helps to answer your question but if you have any follow-up questions or need anything to be clarified, please don’t hesitate to reach out again!

    Community Volunteer Adviser with professional knowledge of education, special educational needs and disabilities and EHCP's. Pronouns: She/her.