“All I can tell you really is if you get to the point where someone is telling you that you are not great or not good enough, just follow your heart and don’t let anybody crush your dream.” – Patti LaBelle
While listening to others talk about their day do you frequently hear value judgements made toward others? Comments such as, “He’s not motivated enough”, “He doesn’t have enough discipline,” “She’s not applying herself enough,” “She’s not taking enough risks in life.”
Even more striking are the comments people make about themselves. “I’m not smart enough,” “I’m not pretty enough,” “I don’t win enough,” “I’m not good enough.”
One of my questions in response to these statements is, compared to who? We live in a society where we are at our best when working together, though we seem to go out of our way to compete with one another. We are increasingly saturated with reality shows encouraging us to laugh at people in vulnerable moments.
Many people seem to get a rush out of blatant disrespect towards those on the losing end of any situation. Telling others how much they stink, they suck, they’re losers. I find this to be some of the most uncivilized of human behavior. I feel we’re capable of so much more. Improving the way we or those we care about are treated begins with holding ourselves to a higher standard without reserving the right to lower that standard on game day.
It’s a difficult mindset to unlearn this is true. But before it can be undone or at least modified, it must become something you’re aware of, and how it colors your thinking. This mindset is so prevalent in human beings as it pertains to those on the Autism Spectrum. Never more so than in the terms “high-functioning” and “low-functioning.” I’ve never had these terms adequately defined for me because as it turns out they are more often assigned according to the subjective standards of the observer.
I hear parents describe their child as having Asperger’s, but “High-Functioning.” Which seems to be a statement of “my child is more normal than the other low-functioning children.” The problem with the terms “High-Functioning and Low-Functioning” is that they are based on the standard of “good enough.”
Well I’ll get to the point here as someone who was told my entire life that “You’re not athletic enough,” “You’re not tough enough,” “You’re not man enough,” “You’re not social enough,” “You don’t have enough friends” and the list goes on. It is so difficult to live a life with your primary sense of self-worth being based on the constant reminders of what’s missing.
As an adult I’ve had to be creative in my thinking in order to make sense of my unconventional way of being in a world full of “good enough” thinkers. When I discovered I’d helped bring three boys into this world who inherited the same tendency to walk to their own beat, I knew I needed to come up with something to enable them to withstand the “good enough” mindset they would encounter from others. Which would also make them susceptible to applying it to themselves.
I found my answer in the terms “High-Functioning and Low-Functioning.” I frequently hear these terms used along side comments such as “every child on the spectrum is unique,” and “when you’ve met one child with Asperger’s, you’ve met one child with Asperger’s.” So in the same statement people are saying we can compare them to each other in order to say one functions better than another, but at the same time they’re all individuals so we can’t.
Let me attempt to eliminate the contradiction and divest us of the terms “High-Functioning and Low-Functioning.” The fact of the matter is that we are all“functioning.” The Autism Spectrum is comprised of approximately 40 million or so people worldwide. Each with their own unique set of strengths and challenges. Gee, sounds a lot like a description of any other human being on the planet.
We are each uniquely ourselves, with our own unique profile of strengths and challenges. Each human being, is a snowflake and each Autism Spectrumite can claim their own expression of the Spectrum as uniquely as their own fingerprint. Much like a member of an ethnic group may claim a group identity and an individual one as well.
As such, there cannot be a “High Functioning or a Low Functioning” snowflake. It has its characteristics, and makes its own unique contribution to the snow fort we call society. It need not be as big as the other flakes to make a meaningful contribution, it only needs to do its part.
As human beings, we routinely judge the very people whose efforts, we couldn’t do without because we have deemed them as settling for lesser professions or not doing their best. Try and live your life for one day without them and you’ll see just how valuable their contribution to your life is. Maybe then you’ll increase your contribution to theirs, or at least your gratitude.
The fact of the matter is that there is a rainbow that is the Autism Spectrum with 40 million waves of light that comprise it. Each wave with its own unique energy contributing to the whole. Which are the “High-Functioning and which the Low?” I can’t tell. I can’t tell until I decide that person’s contribution isn’t “good enough.”
You may think I’m missing the bigger picture of those on the spectrum who will be challenged to live a conventional life because of the significant disabilities that accompanies their autism. I’m not.
Instead I’m looking at their lives in the following way. In what ways can they contribute to life, add value? And in what ways can others add value to theirs? You see, it isn’t about being “good enough” it’s only about making your contribution, no matter how small. So that those who need what you have can benefit from it. As you benefit from being of service to them.
Thanks for being you.
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Brian R. King LCSW (ADHD & ASD Life Coach) is a #1 Best Selling Author, 25-year cancer survivor, adult with Dyslexia, ADHD, and Asperger’s. He’s also the father of three sons on the autism spectrum. He is known worldwide for his books and highly engaging presentations that teach the power of connection and collaboration. His strategies empower others to overcome their differences so they can build powerful and lasting partnerships. His motto is: We’re all in this together.