Myth: If you can use social media, you are “high functioning” or “have mild autism”

Woman stands in social media frame with #NoFunctionLabels to say that if someone can use the internet they are not high functioning because functioning labels are a myth when it comes to autism and autistic people

Recently, we posted the above tweet on Twitter. Here is that thread in context:

Many people assume that autistics on the internet are “high functioning” and tend to minimise their struggles. They believe if someone is able to type and navigate the internet, they aren’t “like their child” or they are not actually disabled.

But functioning labels are a myth. They harm the person being deemed “high functioning” or “mild” by neglecting to acknowledge their struggles. They harm the person being deemed “low functioning” or “severe” by neglecting to acknowledge their ability and humanity.

What follows are the replies to this tweet, and we hope it will challenge your views on functioning labels.

Day to Day Life


Many autistics manage to hold down jobs, although it is well known that there is a huge issue with the unemployment or under-employment of autistics worldwide. Still, for those who are able to work, there are significant barriers.

Health and Wellbeing

For so called “high functioning” autistics, there can be significant struggles surrounding their health and wellbeing.


Alongside health and wellbeing is a darker side to the same coin. Many autistics struggle with self-harming behaviour.


Last but not least is a staple of any discussion surrounding autism. Socialising can be a nightmarish experience for many of us.

I think it’s clear that autism is not as clear cut as “high” and “low” functioning, and I want to thank these twitter members above for illustrating this so well.

Next time you want to refer to someone using a functioning label, or minimise someone’s challenges because they are able to use social media, I want you to think about the contents of this article.

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10 Responses

  1. Until neurotypicals unanimously own up to being naturally born as abusive assholes what’s the point of even thinking about having some kind of dialogue with them?

    1. I don’t know what you’ve been through scottfw, so I don’t wanna judge. But I will say that one of my biggest problems in the past was rage. I’ve worked hard to release it appropriately, and I’ll leave it at that.

  2. All of these perfectly illustrate the struggles each of us face, but which are generally hidden to the causual observer.
    The old “you are not like my autistic (relationship here) so you are not really autistic” is just one version of ignorance we see each day. Understanding of the nature of autism is at this moment in the world undergoing a huge revolution in perspective and available information.
    People’s ideas about autism need to be brought up to date through education, and such articles and posts as this can go a very long way to help spread understanding. Here, We speak for ourselves. ( thank you)
    We have wildly different levels of functioning, each and every one of us, and the struggles we have fluctuate at any given moment.
    Until this is understood by the general public, no doubt we will encounter ignorance which needs to be enlightened.
    Information about autism is growing faster than specialists and professionals can keep up with it,
    The general disinterested generic public must rely on shared information from our autistic community to be informed. Nobody else will be doing this for us.
    I will share this post and use it as a valuable tool to shine a light on the ignorance that surrounds us regarding our autism. Thank you for this post!

  3. There have to be any allowed words at all to describe different needs. Otherwise the language militancy forces folks’ needs to go undescribed.
    resulting in unmet.
    Whatever words we replace “functioning” with be in the same trouble in a few years. How do the language deciders propose to prevent that?

    1. “I need accommodation X in order to perform task Y at this time.” It’s that simple. Functioning labels don’t actually help with this, because they’re not specific and often lead people to make incorrect assumptions about what you can and can’t do. It’s like the topic of this post – NTs often presume to draw inferences about all aspects of someone’s life and support needs based on their having typed 10 words on Facebook, which is patently ridiculous yet happens all the time.

  4. Still confused what high functioning autism means! I was diagnosed Aspergers, which I believe was based on scores from tests and IQ. Now that has been taken from me, and I get more meltdowns as I am ageing, I feel less confident in the title of HFA? I cannot go into shops, visit people or entertain, need much more sleep and am depressed. Do I assume I have slipped into a different category of autism?

    1. I would not make that assumption @Kathy barber. There is a tendency for an association between autism and depression, but it is not causal. The way my therapist explained it to me is that my autism makes me more prone to depression, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I shouldn’t investigate and treat the depression on its own. The need for more sleep and not feeling comfortable in shops can be a symptom of either depression or autism. For me, I hate being in shops where the cash register is constantly beeping or there is loud music playing.

      I don’t know what country you are in, and I know that COVID makes things more complicated, but I would look into a psychiatrist for antidepressant medications and a psychologist or social worker for autism coping strategies that make episodes of depression last less long. If you are in Canada, by chance, let me know by replying. I can recommend a very good autism-therapy clinic based out of Toronto (phone appointments available too).

  5. Hi, I just wanted to let you know that your post has been mentioned here:

    I love how this includes so many voices from the autistic community. With so much evidence, it pretty clearly debunks the idea that “mild” autism is a thing. You never know how much someone is struggling under the surface, so it’s important to be kind and understanding. A little autism acceptance can go a long way.

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