Autistic people described as ‘high functioning’ because they do not have intellectual disability often still struggle with daily living skills, according to a study of more than 2,000 people on the spectrum1. The data should put the term ‘high functioning’ out of commission for good, the researchers argue.
The study, the largest of its type, shows that individuals deemed high functioning often have poor ‘adaptive behavior’ — the ability to perform basic tasks such as brushing teeth, tying shoelaces or taking the bus.
Researchers coined the term ‘high functioning’ in two papers published in the late 1980s2,3. It has since become shorthand to describe people with autism who have strong language skills and do not have intellectual disability (an IQ below 70).
For years, autistic people have objected to the label, as well as its counterpart, ‘low functioning,’ saying these terms do not reflect how much support they actually need.