On Level of Functioning

By Daniel Hawthorne

If there is one thing I have learned from having to deal with autism all these years, it is that my high level of functioning is never to be taken for granted; there are simply too many factors that can lower it in a hurry. Believe me, being low functioning is not fun, especally since that is when the sensory torture is the worst. For me, my high level of functoning is something to be treasured and protected, for only in doing that am I able to function at a high level so much of the time, something which hasn’t always been the case.

Everyone has good days and bad, times when they functon better than at others. And I think most people are affected to at least some extent by such environmental factors as loss of sleep, fatigue, excessive noise, toxins, and illness. For the autistic individual, though, with his neuro-physiological differences, these same factors have major, major impact on how well he is able to functon from one day to the next, or even from one moment to the next.

By “level of functioning,” I mean one’s ability to access knowledge and skills learned, to think clearly, and to express oneself in a meaningful manner. For most autistic people I know, including myself, the ability to function at a high level is clearly there, whether it happens or not. Hypothetically, if the antagonizing factors such as crowd noise is present constantly, then high functioning may be attained.

So the dlemma: how can unexpressed intelligence be real? Many parents tell me that doctors often remark that their autistic children cannot possibly know things they apparently do know. And I ponder: is the brain, with all ts mechanism for allowing communication, really all that different from a personal computer? After all, having information on the hard drive does not necessarily guarantee that one can access it. In my experiences, Windoes 98 is all too good at freezing. No matter how much I lecture my computer, I still can’t access the information I want; I have to restart it first.

So no wonder level of functioning in autistic children goes misdiagnosed so frequently. Of course, the good news is that low functioning need not stay that way: take away the aggravating factors and the individual with autism is suddenly able to reach his or potential. Just what are all these factors? One can never know for sure, or to what extent they are, but that’s a pondering I’ll leave for another time.

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