The third most frequent question I hear, which is more often said rhetorically than actually asked, is:
Aren’t we all a little Autistic?
In short. No.
People never say this about physical illnesses or physical disabilities. No one has ever said:
–But, in a way, don’t we all have cancer?
–That’s ok, we all have some degree of diabetes.
–Really though, who HASN’T lost a leg in a car accident?
It’s silly right?
But people do it all the time for mental illnesses and cognitive disabilities:
–Oh my goodness! Did you hear they killed off my favourite character? I am SO DEPRESSED!
–Just spent all day organizing my office–you know me–so OCD!
–Yeah, but aren’t we all a little Autistic?
I think people do this for one of two reasons.
- I think some people do it to be kind.
I think some people make this comment (“Aren’t we all a little Autistic?”) because they don’t want to make anyone feel damaged, or feel like a freak. So they minimize how different the person is by saying some form of “We all have that.”
Why do kind people feel the need to do that, I wonder? Are people with mental illnesses and cognitive disabilities excluded, made fun of, or treated poorly or something? (Oh wait…)
I appreciate the attempt at kindness and inclusion, but it’s misguided.
I’d rather people say (and mean) that it’s ok to be different instead of saying, “It’s ok, because you’re not that different.” The first is acceptance. The second is sweeping disabilities under the rug.
If you believe that people with cognitive disabilities have no more reason to be ashamed than people with physical disabilities, then please treat them the same.
- I think some people do it for attention.
It’s a lot easier to fake a mental illness or cognitive disability than a physical one. Today, anyone who craves attention can set up a TikTok or Instagram account, talk about all the reasons they are special, and get the attention they want in the form of double-taps and supportive comments.
It’s important to be discerning on social media. Not everyone has the experience and expertise that they claim. Just like how anyone can say I’m so depressed or so OCD and not be formally diagnosed, there are many young adults on social media who have found a couple of Autism “quirks” that they relate to, and have decided to build a persona on it. I have no doubt that these people feel that they are Autistic, but Autism is not a feeling; it is a medical diagnosis.
This crowd of self-diagnosed entertainers are becoming a problem for people with actual diagnosed Autism, because the Autism impersonators spread a lot of disinformation. A big one is that many of them believe that life-changing therapies that help children on the Spectrum cope are actually not necessary or beneficial at all, because they never needed it, and they turned out fine.
I wish I was joking.
Then, some of them take it a step further and attack parents for enrolling their children in therapy, accusing them of trying to “change” their child and “not accepting them the way they are.”
Hurtful. And wrong.
I DO love my kid just the way he is. He is amazing, brave, strong, caring, and so funny. That is why I am 200% committed to helping him thrive and be happy. If that means Occupational Therapy, so he can be armed with the right strategies and tools to comfort and regulate himself when his sensory issues overwhelm him, he’s going to get it. If that means Speech-Language Pathology to help him communicate his wants and needs so he isn’t frustrated all the time, he’s going to get it! If that means working with a Feeding Therapist and Dietician to make sure his is getting balanced nutrition while eating foods that he can tolerate with his sensory sensitivities–you guessed it–he’s going to get it!
I don’t put him in therapy because I don’t accept him the way he is. I do it because I DO accept him the way he is. And I’m willing to go the extra mile to meet him where he is at.
It’s the double-standard between physical disabilities and cognitive disabilities all over again. No one attacks a parent for buying their child with Muscular Dystrophy a wheelchair. No one thinks a parent is not accepting of their blind child when they teach them to read Braille.
Autism is not something we all have a little of. It is not a personality trait. It is a medical condition. Therefore, treating it medically is not a bad thing!
To sum up, the answer to “Aren’t we all a little Autistic?” is no.
Yes, we all have a variety of abilities. We all have strengths and weaknesses. We all have “quirks” in our personalities that make us more aggravating or more endearing to others. This is called being human, not being Autistic.
Being Autistic means you have met a set of diagnostic criteria, as observed and recorded by a Psychiatrist. We are not all “a little Autistic.”
You can support Autistic people by not adopting their diagnosis as your personality/identity, and also by not minimizing their experience.
If I could put one thing out there for Autism Awareness Month/Autism Acceptance Month, it would be this:
Autism acceptance is being able to say that we are not all a little Autistic…
and that is ok.
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