Lately, I’ve been thinking about functioning labels, again. (High Functioning, Low Functioning, etc.) What I have noticed is that in autism, and very likely other disabilities, these labels are assigned to their holders by the way other people experience their autism. Does anybody see the problem with this? It’s a black swan fallacy in the making!
Okay, let’s back things up. The Black Swan Fallacy is a tendency to deliberately ignore things that contradict our views. It goes like this: In Europe, at least until Australia was “discovered” by Europeans, swans were generally seen as white, that is, with white feathers. But when explorers went into Australia, there were black swans, that is, swans with black feathers. This threw the “all swans are white” notion into a giant tailspin. Black swans were seen as rare, since they were barely seen at all. Here’s my personal beef with that particular notion: I’ve been to Lakeland, Florida. Lakeland, Florida is known for its swans. And there, roughly a third of the swans are black. I counted the black and white swans out of curiosity to figure this out. (Now, don’t get me wrong; all swans are beautiful. I’m not arguing about their beauty.)
Now, let’s apply this to functioning labels. If a mother says about her autistic daughter, “She is high functioning. See, she greets people extremely well,” the mother is more likely experiencing the girl’s autism mildly, and judging so because she greets people “extremely well.” But what if the autistic daughter constantly, and with pain, rehearsed this greeting to death in order to do it extremely well? The mother probably doesn’t know that. She might actually be wrong about her daughter due to lack of information! That is how the Black Swan Fallacy works. So, if an autistic person tells you they are struggling, they most likely are. They may not be as high functioning or low functioning as they present in that moment.
Besides, functioning labels are often used to dismiss the experience and views of the disabled person anyway, as if to say, “Well, it doesn’t happen to me, so it never happens.” So, what the abled need to do is sit down, shut up , listen and accept that things may be different. There are lots of black swans.