The Myth Of “High Functioning”

You may call someone high functioning, but inside they are a hot mess.

I’ll begin with this.

I get it.

The phraseology of “high functioning” in regards to an autistic person is in the social-ingrained lexicon of society. I can’t be mad when people use it when they don’t know any better. What I can do is work to dispel the myth.

Let’s start with my kid. I know his patterns on how he gets tired and wore out. He’ll get tired faster than I do. That’s what kids do. However, when he does not have the freedom to be himself, you can see those physical signs of being wore out sooner in the day. Let’s use going to church on Sunday morning as an example. He’s not your “perfect” little child who is quiet as a church mouse, but he does fairly well for what he can do. In an hour of this, I see his physical signs of being tired. On a day of his own making, that doesn’t show up until almost dinner time.

Let’s dip in to how it works with me. I can provide you with some more specifics.

  • Eye contact: I can make eye contact with you. But after a few minutes, it physically hurts. I can sustain that eye contact, but my involvement in what’s going on goes down fast.
  • Technology use: If I am in a group meeting setting where I am supposed to be listening to what someone is saying, don’t be surprised if I take out a computer or my smart phone. Yes, technology use is often considered addictive, but that same effect helps occupy enough connections in my head where I actually can listen and focus.
  • Too much chaos, or other negative energy around me: If I am supposed to be focusing and working on something, this is a non-starter for me. The severe nature of negative energy permeates in me and can, if overload occurs, cause a short circuit in my brain.
  • Speaking extemporaneously: Sure, at times I will know something about a subject and can speak at length about it. That’s what you might hear referred to as an “info dump”. I can speak off the cuff about anything, but not often. The pressure of doing so draws that energy from me. Despite of that energy draw, there is no guarantee I can come up with something of any consequence. I do much better writing out my thoughts. I can edit myself.
  • Sound/Noise: For me, the volume of something is not a big deal. The big deal is multiple sources of noise all competing at the same volume level. My brain hears all these sources individually and tries to process them all simultaneously. But it can’t accomplish that. This differs from others who can ignore background noises entirely, banishing them to the singular white noise.
  • Three-dimensional spatial issues: Having someone behind me in most cases is very stressful. It’s not something that will cause a meltdown, but it is something that saps my energy in an exponential manner.

So, some days I can handle this stuff really well (and this is by no means an exhaustive list). Other days, I am not able to handle even half of this. I put my best face on in public, because socially it is not acceptable for things to effect me the way they do. But when I am not in sight, I let go, and sometimes can’t function for a little while.

Every autistic person battles their own issues. Every autistic person has trouble with this social disability. Some of us are just equipped to keep the effects hidden better than others.

You may call someone high functioning, but inside they are a hot mess.

Making A Difference

Someone wrote online today about how the trials and troubles of being an activist sometimes just makes them want to quit. It’s a shame to read that. Some people are pre-disposed to spur positive changes for different groups of people. They may not know what they are getting in to, but they want to help and push an agenda nonetheless.

Other people want to make a change because it is something they are effected by. That’s the group I would qualify with. I want to force changes. I want to make a difference. I want people of different neurotypes to not be shunned and to be given the ability to achieve things, just like the rest of the people on the planet. The more change I can invoke, the better.

But for myself, or anyone else in my shoes, this approach can be tiring. That’s when you must remind yourself of one thing. Who are you doing this for? What person? What people?

Me? I’m doing this for myself. I’m also doing this for my kid. If I make a difference for the two of us, I know I’ve been successful. If I am able to help others, then I’d be over the moon.


I wondered if I would have a good idea to write about today. I wondered if I would have something I could make sense of. I just came across probably the boldest, yet most simple statement by another autistic individual online that explains me well.

“I’m good at multi-solving, not necessarily multi-tasking.”

I know you’ve thought about what it would take to effectively multi-task before. Balance this. Take notes on that. Remember that one thing. Don’t forget that other thing.

Let me give you a peak in to my brain. I’m autistic. I have OCD. I also have ADHD.  In my mind, I start spinning on one thing. I NEVER spin on multiple things at once. But what I often do is jump from one thing to another in rapid succession. This happens with an autistic person. This happens with a person with ADHD. Can you imagine the combined effect of the two?

My brain must always be churning on something. Anything. The more I have to churn on, the better. By strict definition, I may be a workaholic. By the spirit of it all, I am not a workaholic. This happens whether I am at work or not.

So, the jumping between multiple items, let’s compound that with the OCD. I am obsessed with specifics. It has to line up a certain way. This makes me stick on one item longer to get it just so. This also makes me fight with myself to go on to the next thing.

You can tell at this point that, if I’m claiming to be mentally wore out, that I am down and out for the count. It’s not often I do that, but it is very legitimate when I do.

What is my goal in all of this? Get it answered. Get it finished. Wrap it up in a neat little bow. Keep it simple. Keep it concise.

My inner-workings are chaos, just like I feel this blog post is. But I am always churning outcomes. I am really good at multi-solving. Multi-tasking? Not so much.

It is fairly common that I can provide the correct answer (not always, but often). But as my Algebra 2 teacher always chastised me on, I never showed the work. Or at least the work I was “supposed” to show.