Someone (I think it was Amanda Forest Vivian, but I'm not sure) started a Tumblr for the purpose of providing highly specific answers to that question --- what is "high functioning"?
People are encouraged to submit anecdotes about people with developmental disabilities being labeled "high functioning," and what specific thing they think led the person to label them that way.
Some specific examples of things that get people sorted into the "high-functioning" category:
- Asking what it means to "exchange a look"
- Initiating a conversation with another student in a college dining hall
- Requesting a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich in lieu of whatever food they've just been given
(There are also some less-concrete examples of "high-functioning" stuff like being able to speak fluently, carry on a conversation, not having a "routine" and being "independent.")
Anyone can submit a post; they just have to click the "Submit" link in the sidebar and type in the text of their post, a title, and their name and email address.
I love the idea around this Tumblr blog --- to have one place where people can share all the different things "high-functioning" has been used to mean --- and would submit an anecdote or two of my own if my autobiographical memory weren't only slightly better than Wolverine's. (I know that I've been called "high-functioning" fairly often --- at least once in the context of, "isn't she too high-functioning to be here (at a camp for autistic children)?" --- but cannot remember the details of any of these instances. So I don't think there's anything I could contribute that would be of value to this project, which is too bad).