Saturday 16 December 2017

The 'Bogeyman' of the 'Low-Functioning'

It seems like every time an autistic advocate pops their head above the parapet and objects to some maltreatment of autistics, especially autistic children, somebody comes back with “but-what-about-the-low-functioning”, dragging in things like poop-smearing, meltdowns and head-banging. “You’re not like these kids, you don’t understand!”, they exclaim, again and again. As if we’ve never heard of such things, or done them ourselves, and as if ‘those’ autistics are a different species.

The ‘low-functioning’, in effect, have become the modern bogeyman. The stereotype that gets trotted out, time after time, cast as “the ones who really do need a cure”, and dragged out as defense against those of us who oppose things like bleach enemas, turpentine drinks, ABA, GcMAF, chelation, hyperbaric chambers and the like as false ‘cures’ for autism.

But I say casting them as this bogeyman is nonsense, a chimera, a false construct.

Why? Because –

1) It fosters a division that isn’t actually there. Functioning levels are actually meaningless. There aren’t any autistics, even adults, who are completely ‘high functioning’. Many of us were like ‘those kids’ when we were young - and some of us still are. But regardless of our apparent ‘functioning’, we can still totally support the neurodiversity perspective.

(There’s also a hidden threat in this - any of us, if we lapse in our ‘high functioning’, could also be subjected to these treatments – and sometimes have been. So basically, the underlying message is “let us do what we want to these kids, or we’ll do it to you too”.)

2) It presumes that the ‘treatments’ will actually help them. I’ve written about ABA before, it’s compliance-training, not a ‘cure’. And then there are the bleach enemas and so on. How anyone can think that these are a good idea to do to anyone is beyond me. How they think it’s going to ‘cure’ a neurological condition is even more perplexing. Yet people do so, causing huge physical and psychological harm to the children. Then they credit any advances the child makes to these bizarre and dangerous ‘treatments’, as though autistic children never grow and mature on their own.

3) It presumes that ‘extreme behaviours’ happen ‘just because’ of autism. We know this to be not true, but even when we try to explain the possible reasons for the behaviours, and offer advice and support, we’re often ignored or derided. Meanwhile, the autistic child/ren in question are indeed suffering - from lack of understanding, lack of supports, sensory overload, social stress, bullying, harsh ‘treatments’, falsely low assumptions of their intelligence, rejection, even institutionalisation and electric shocks… the list is a long one.

4) It presumes that the ‘low functioning’ are somehow different - to other autistics, and indeed other human beings. It casts them as virtually sub-human. They can no longer ignore the humanity of ‘high functioning’ autistics who speak up (though some still try), and so they focus on this group instead. But not only are functioning levels nonsense, as I’ve already said, I’ve read quite a bit of the writings of the ‘severely’ autistic, and I’ve never found anything in these that indicates their brains are radically different to other autistics. The differences are a matter of degree, not of kind.

5) It assumes it’s okay to treat even the ‘different’ like this. This is the crux of it really. Ultimately, it’s not even about whether the ‘low functioning’ really are separate/different from others, or whether the treatments prevent the ‘undesirable’ behaviour. It’s that it’s NOT OKAY to treat ANYONE like this. Ever.

It’s not okay to treat people like dogs, and browbeat, coerce, and manipulate them into submission. It’s not okay to shove bleach up their bottoms or down their throats, force them to drink turps or seawater, inject dodgy blood products into them, starve them with severe diets, give them electric shocks or subject them to chelation that leeches vital elements out of their bodies. It’s not okay to put handwash in a kid’s mouth for stimming, or forcibly hold their hands down till they stop flapping, or anything else that forces them to suppress their very way of being in order to be ‘acceptable’.

None of this is okay. And saying that it is okay because someone is a ‘low functioning’ autistic, is a breach of the human rights of ALL autistics. If even one of us is subject to these things, we are all at risk. And we know it. Even if we don’t think about it consciously, deep down we know it.

This is why we protest.

This is why we say ‘no more’, and ‘nothing about us without us’.

This is not just about preventing abuse, but about demanding our human rights.

So enough with the bogeyman. Enough with trying to scare us and parents of autistic children, enough with trying to silence us, enough with a false separation between ‘them’ and ‘us’, enough with casting the very children who most desperately need acceptance and understanding and support as some kind of demon or sub-human.




  1. I believe the Neuro Typical addiction to conformity cause them to endlessly create categories and then impose conformity to those constructed categories. All of this is some sort of self fulfilling process that helps them feel comfortable in a world where the only constant is constant change.

    I compare "high functioning" to a person's ability to hold your breath under water. Some neuro diverse individuals can "hold their breath" for a very lone time and other only for a short time, but that we all have in common is that we cannot breath under the water of he NT world. Therefore, if we are forced or otherwise made to stay underwater for a length of time beyond our ability, we nearly drown and become "low functioning" for a greater or lesser period until we restore our energy/ability to "hold our breath".

    1. I think this is a great metaphor, particularly the ways in which outside factors can affect a persons ability to hold their breath (illness, temperature of the water, etc.) in a similar way that the outside factors of the NT world (stress, loud noises, etc.) can significantly impact ones ability to hold their breath.

      Reading it helped me feel better about the days when I can't hold my breath as long as I used, by remembering there are other factors at work. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Sounds like torture. It's child abuse. If a parent did any of these things mentioned in this post to a neurotypical kid, they'll go to prison for sure, and rightfully so. So why should parents of low functioning autistic kids get away with this?

    These 'cures' don't cure anything. They just make the victims fearful and unable to trust anyone. Low functioning people on the spectrum can't defend themselves, and that's why they're being abused this way. Seems like being defenseless is the worst crime that deserves the cruelest punishment.

    1. hear hear. totally agree.

    2. Especially the part about being defenceless as the worst crime which "deserves" the "cruellest punishment", Aspie girl.

      And when people do defend themselves or try - or when others defend them - it gets worse.

  3. Excellent points, both of you. It is indeed like trying to hold your breath under water Bob!
    And yes, the things they do to autistic kids would classify as torture or abuse if done to NT kids. Emma Dalmayne is doing some excellent work in this regard, fighting for these fake cures to be made illegal. That's in the UK, but I'd like to see every country do so as well.