I’ve been waiting for this book to come out since I heard the author on a podcast in April – We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation, by Eric Garcia. It’s part personal narrative, interwoven with other autistic people’s experiences, and part medical and policy history (I mean, you can’t really talk about autism without getting into how the diagnosis came about and evolved). (I would say Neurotribes by Steve Silberman has a more in-depth history, but We’re Not Broken feels more personal – the first-person Autistic perspective helps.)
So far, I’m only halfway though the book, but already I’m impressed with the effort taken to dispel the functioning label divide. Eric is very intentional to describe what functioning labels are (“high functioning” vs “low functioning”), and how that binary is not accurate or helpful.
So while the label high-functioning might be used as a compliment (I know people have called me that in the past), it winds up delegitimizing the needs of autistic people who can pass.
In similar ways, “low functioning” can also be used to dehumanize people, such as in sheltered workshops, where disabled people work for sub-minimum wage (here in contrast to the high-tech autism-at-work programs):
It sets up the false narrative that autistic people who cannot find full-time work or who do not have the capacity to work full-time are not worth the same amount of attention or resources that autistic people who can become assets for companies receive.
This binary is also unhelpful because support needs can fluctuate. On a good day, someone might be able to take care of all their responsibilities, but on a bad day struggle to eat meals. Depending on how that person is classified, they might not have support on those bad days, or they might not be taken seriously on the good days.
Even something like “living independently” isn’t a binary thing – the amount of support a person needs can range from one-on-one full time care, to someone checking in to make sure you’ve got groceries.
It’s why, as of right now, I don’t live completely independently; I rent a room in a house in Washington that came furnished, and I hire a cleaning person to clean it once a month.
I like that this is labelled as “not living independently,” because it’s true, but you probably wouldn’t consider a neurotypical person with a house cleaner as “not independent.” In reality, I don’t think any human in society is independent, we’re all varying degrees of interdependent, and remembering that is important.
This is the point in the story where people expect a happy ending, the part where an autistic person goes from being a social outcast to channeling their special abilities into gainful employment. […] It’s every autistic person in Silicon Valley who can program a computer, no sweat.
(It is funny to be a person who falls into some autism stereotypes but not all of them.)