I’m a “highly functional” Autistic. It takes a lot of work.
I’m an Autistic person with a pretty put-together looking life. I always make rent. I have money socked away in savings and investments. I juggle several teaching jobs and do statistical and methodological consulting work. I sometimes find time to write. I have a social life. Except for the occasional noticeable chest crumbs, I present as clean and well-dressed. I manage my stress. I sleep. I eat.
I don’t think I strike the average person as disabled at all. I get work done on time. I show up to things I say I’ll show up to. I don’t show much distress in public. I rarely ask for help. Because psychological disorders are often viewed through a lens of impairment, people might call into question whether I am neuroatypical at all.
Viewing disabilities — and mental disorders — through a lens of impaired functioning is very flawed. The fact that I am functioning does not mean I’m not impaired, or that functioning is not hard. That I can survive, day by day, does not mean that I am thriving, or that my life is as easy as it is for a neurotypical person. And the aspects of my life that are impaired are rarely visible to an outside eye.
We often don’t see a person at their lowest moments — when they are crying and nonverbal, or engaging in self harm, or refusing to eat, or isolating from everyone they love. We can’t always tell if someone is struggling to make it through the work day, or if their sleep and exercise habits have been disrupted. And we don’t know, from the outside, what a person has been forced to sacrifice in order to live a seemingly “functional life”.
A lot of us “function” because we have to.
A lot of disabled or mentally ill people are able to work a job, pay rent, and get by through an elaborate system of compromise and sacrifice. We may have abandoned career paths that were too demanding of our mental energy, or lost relationships that were too socially or emotionally taxing. We may neglect exercise or beloved hobbies in order to find the time to get work done and make the money we need to survive. We may devote ourselves to rigid schedules that allow us to be professionally…