Wednesday, September 12, 2012

School House Rock and Autistic Labels

"Conjunction junction, what's your function" is still running through my head after whipping out the School House Rock DVDs to supplement my kid's grammar lesson yesterday. Whatever happened to that priceless educational Saturday morning cartoon extravaganza? I can still recite the preamble to the US Constitution (there's some useless trivia). School House Rock just rocked. So today when I stumbled on yet another tireless debate about autistic function levels, I thought,
"Hey! Conjunctions have functions. My child is not a conjunction!"
(side note, I totally used an "Interjection, for excitement or emotion - generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point, or by a comma when the feelings not as strong..." carry on).

The old school lingo of high functioning and conversely low functioning autism has been wrought with problems. First off, who wants to be given a function level? Am I a high or low functioning writer (wait - don't answer that)? Are you a high functioning or low functioning reader? How about my music skills in which I'm a tad prideful? Should I refer to myself as a high functioning musician or a low functioning musician? You get my point. These labels are subjectively defined and have no real definition.

What makes someone "high functioning" as an autistic? Does that mean they must communicate verbally with average to high intelligence as based on standard measures? Or does it mean, they can speak their mind through writing even when they cannot speak verbally? Or is it based on some wacky formula for calculating potential? Furthermore, who sets the bar on what potential even is? 

Many autistics cannot communicate verbally or struggle to do so. If a person cannot communicate their needs undesirable behavior ensues. If someone were to take away the average person's ability to communicate, we can imagine that frustration would overtake and undesirable behaviors would result. It's really not rocket science (for that we need Interplanet Janet).

A good many of autistics who cannot verbally communicate, are extremely eloquent with the written word. A good many outperform typical people in academics. But here's the thing. Someone had to recognize these autistics had potential. Functioning labels prevent us from recognizing potential.

Every child should be given and taught to use tools for communication. I don't mean PECs - I mean real techno-savvy language tools. Word processing, Ipads, whatever we can find to help these people get their voices heard. With today's technology, there is little excuse for a human to be kept from communicating. 

So the next time I hear someone use a function label to describe a human, I'm going to relentlessly sing School House Rock songs until they recognize how harmful those labels are. 

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