I try not to focus on labels of high functioning autism or low functioning autism, but people often ask where my seven-year-old son Norrin falls on the spectrum.
A child with low functioning autism may have an IQ lower than 70 and would be possibly non-verbal. A child with high functioning autism usually has average to above average intelligence but struggles with socialization and communication. And within these two distinctions, the reality of a label may surprise you.
The truth is – I don’t consider Norrin to be high or low. His level of functioning varies from day to day. Many of his tests are below average, but it’s hard to tell how accurate those tests really are.
When Norrin was first diagnosed with autism at two years old, he had no language. Within months of therapy, he started speaking. Now Norrin can string four, five, six words together. Through his language his little personality is really starting to emerge, there’s even some attitude. But if I ask him what he had for lunch – he doesn’t understand or know how to answer my question.
Norrin is a lover of literature and has a fantastic memory. He’s on his grade level for reading. He can recite whole books and scenes of dialogue from his favorite cartoons. Norrin knows his address and phone number by heart. He knows how to spell his first and last name. But when he’s sick, he can’t tell me what hurts. And when asked how old he is, he just start throwing out numbers. I don’t know if he’s being silly or if he really doesn’t know.
Every morning, I still help Norrin get dressed. He does some things on his own – with prompting – but I still have to button his buttons and tie his shoelaces. But give that kid an iPad and he knows exactly what to do.
Norrin is eager to interact with kids – so long as it’s one on one. He asks them their name (if he doesn’t know it) and introduces himself. He’ll insist on playing a game of tag. But that’s the extent of the conversation. I’ve watched kids walk away from Norrin at the playground. I’ve seen kids laugh and adults stare. I am grateful Norrin is still too young to notice those things. And on those playground days, I try not to focus on the typical kids Norrin’s age because that kind of comparison is dangerous. Instead I focus on how far Norrin’s come. He’s made amazing progress in the last five years, in five more years there’ll be even more.
There are moments, when Norrin seems so ‘typical’ that I forget all about autism. And then something will happen, some minor thing that sets off our day, and Norrin will completely melt down and it’s like, oh yeah…he has autism.
I know autism is called a spectrum. But most days it feels more like a see-saw and we’re constantly trying to find balance to stay right in the middle. Could things be just a little bit better, easier, less stressful? Of course. I think anyone – autistic or not – can say that.
I’m okay with where we are. The middle is good. The middle, we can work with.
Read more of Lisa’s writing at AutismWonderland.