Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Friday, March 7, 2014


In discussing this post, I was asked "She is very high-functioning, isn't she?"  I kind of evaded the question, since "functioning" labels are falling out of favor in the disability community.  I tried to address it on the level of multiple intelligences, which have also come to replace a linear view of IQ for neurotypical populations.  That didn't really go anywhere.  I finally said "I don't know her, I don't KNOW what she is like beyond what her mom is writing here."  But that wasn't satisfying either.

The simple answer is "Yes, she is high-functioning."

However, that simple answer is wrong.   It is precisely the point of the post that the designation of "functioning" is predicated on how said functioning is both supported and assessed.  Ascribing the label to the person him/herself assumes that it is a static quantity independent of context.  Many autistic individuals present as extremely "low-functioning" until they sit down with a keyboard and express themselves, and are able to create for themselves an environment which allows them to function.  Likewise, many people with Down syndrome present very differently when therapy, education, and community inclusion allow them to participate fully in society.  The child in the above post was written off by various teachers and therapists at different times, only to blossom when the appropriate supports were made available. In many cases, labeling someone as "low-functioning" is an excuse for not providing these kinds of supports.  Conversely, labeling someone as "high-functioning" is used to exclude them from exemplifying the benefits of supports. (E.g. "Sure, she is able to access the curriculum -- she is high-functioning!")

This is precisely what makes the field of cognitive disability so exciting -- we really DON'T KNOW what "functioning level" is to be "expected" of any given individual -- no matter how disabled they currently appear to be.  People are shattering one glass ceiling after another when appropriate supports are established.  All we can do is treat each person as an individual and work to create inclusive contexts so that everyone is able to "function".

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