Is it Wrong to Label People With Autism?

I recently had a discussion about using labels when describing people on the autism spectrum. Some of the people in the discussion felt strongly that labels are completely inappropriate.

What do I mean by labels?

People with autism are often described as being high-functioning vs low-function or mild vs severe. I will admit that I’m not crazy about the labels of high or low-functioning. They seem to put definite limits on ability. The truth is that my children are high-functioning in certain areas and low-functioning in others.

But I am okay with mild and sever autism. I understand that some people find this offensive but it is true that autism affects different people in different ways. A person with Asperger’s and a PhD is different from a nonverbal person with a global delay. One is not better than the other, but they are on different points on the spectrum.

I don’t think that describing this as mild or severe is a bad thing. A person with muscle weakness might be mild and just get tired out easily or might be severe and fully rely on a wheelchair. Looking at that as mild or severe is not offensive, why should it be for autism?

Some people might disagree with me and that is okay. This is just my opinion. I don’t trying to limit my children with functioning labels but I am fine acknowledging that they are on the severe end of the autism spectrum.

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1 thought on “Is it Wrong to Label People With Autism?”

  1. My child was once labeled as being on the spectrum. It was particularly distressing because of how wide the range is and what behaviors they included in their analysis. The way they described my son equated to, “slightly socially awkward and focused on his imagination.” Now, on the one hand I can see why labeling someone with autism is easier because it’s easier to say, “That boy has autism.” Than it is to say, “That boy is slightly socially awkward and focused on his imagination.” The problem I had with how they defined autism is that it was so wide-ranging it covers too much and loses its meaning. “Autism” can mean anything from, slightly socially awkward to literally unable to speak. We also didn’t appreciate that this school (the teacher in particular) persistently told my son that he just didn’t think like the other kids (I think she literally said that his brain worked differently). This led my son to be self-conscious about his progress or lack thereof in various areas and even today (some eight years later) will apologize for his brain being different. Sometime, yes I think labels like these are harmful. There’s nothing wrong with my son, and telling him there’s something wrong with him has hurt him.

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