Functioning labels are misunderstood and harmful.
Let me tell you a story about me and something that happened last week at work to explain my case.
I mask. I have masked for 33 years. 31 of these years I did not know I was autistic and so I learnt to endure painfully anxiety provoking situations in order to just get by.
As I mask, people often mistake my autism for being 'mild' or class me as 'high functioning'. The thing is I get why people would think that because it shows the mask is basically working. They view me as someone who is able to function well in society, communicate and often outperform the rest of my peers. Thing is I do this all to the detriment of my mental health.
Those who know me well sorry to say but you don't know me. There are probably a handful of people who actually know me and those are the people who actually listen to me or want to learn about me. They do not ask meaningless questions, they ask meaningful ones. They are not dismissive either, they genuinely care and we are able to have open discussions about me being autistic and other neurodiverse conditions as I am borderline dyslexic and have a verbal processing disorder.
So based on the above paragraph I was having a discussion with one of my handful of friends and we were discussing the severity of certain conditions such as dyslexia and they mentioned to me that I must have a milder version of autism. Now normally I wouldn't know how to correct this but something happened to me that same day where I was practically in tears at my desk and my manager had to come to my rescue.
So I explained. Right now what you see is a very calm and relaxed version of me. We are in a pool and this is one of the most relaxed settings you will ever see me so it is likely you will never experience any of my triggers. See autism is known as ASD because it is not linear. There is no mild and severe it is just autism.
I explained that earlier that day my mobile phone network went down. It meant I couldn't use my noise canceling headphones and I had two people typing next to me. I was trying to get on with anything I could get on with but when you work in a job where you actually use the telephone all day it was proving difficult. I couldn't even log in to my deskphone because I could not remember the password so had to use my managers for a while. So I am stressed because none of my tech is working and I felt really exposed and in the end I looked across at my manager and said I can't do this for another 5 hours. It is unbearable.
Going home was not an option because my mobile was down and to activate any wifi chat apps they had to send a text verification. I was about to have a meltdown. The tears were already coming. Now if my friend saw me in this situation he would realize my autism isn't mild because I was about to have a complete meltdown because 2 people were typing and I couldn't stop that noise and didn't want to appear dramatic by leaving the office.
Luckily a few months back my manager had bought a splitter and I have an aux cable so we managed to find a way to use my NC Headphones to at least dampen the typing down. However, the mic on my headphones wouldn't work without bluetooth so in the end I had to wear my NC headphones on my head and use the company issued ones for the speaker using the splitter. I can't tell you how unbelievably grateful I was to my manager that day.
What people fail to understand is although I am a great communicator I rarely truly connect with people. There is no feeling towards most people I speak to. Emotionally I am very distant but those I care about know because I will take time to message them and answer their calls or arrange a meet up if they are struggling. I let my guard down and tell them things not everyone is privy to.
I get stressed with any slight change also and this causes me a massive amount of stress. I am really good at memorizing where things are in supermarkets so there is nothing more amusing than when supermarkets decide to switch things up. Do they think I will buy something extra because I am down an aisle I know the item I want is but they have now moved it to the other side of the store? Notice the only items that rarely move are bread and milk...
One thing I have never been short of is intelligence. What I lack in social skills I get by through being honest and good at what I do. I may never get the promotions or move up any corporate ladder but that is fine. I would always rather be true and honest than compromise my integrity by being something I am not.
So to conclude in some settings I would not appear autistic however, in others someone may label me as severely autistic by being paralysed by certain noises or not understanding a joke. It all depends on the environment you see me in.
However, please know. Masking is truly exhausting. It is stressful and people should just learn to be less judgemental and more accepting to make the world a truly better place. You can say you are. However, have you ever not invited someone to a party because they are a bit weird, or just not your cup of tea? Actions speak louder than words.