Last year for Autism Awareness & Acceptance month, I wrote a few posts that answered common questions I get asked about autism. This year, I want to address a common statement that people say when they hear I have an autistic son:
“Everybody does that.”
Everybody Does That
It happens like clockwork. I can usually predict it down to the second.
I’ll be on a couch with my legs tucked under me, or sitting at a cute table at a coffee shop, chatting with the person across from me about my children. Perhaps I bring up one of their struggles as part of the natural progression of the conversation, or perhaps they ask me how I knew that my oldest was autistic (and/or how I knew that my youngest has ADHD). So, I’ll smile and say, “Well, there were several signs, such as…”
And before I’ve fully answered, the statement will come flying out of their mouths:
“Everybody does that.”
I have two responses to this statement, which I often don’t get the opportunity to share in person. (People have a way of talking over you when they think they’re right, have you noticed?) So today, I’m going to respond for anyone willing to listen. I’ll share my first response today, and my second response next week.
Response #1: Yes, everybody does that. However, the frequency was the concerning part.
Autistic individuals are not a whole different species. They are human. They experience all the same things that humans experience, including all the same difficulties. It is the frequency of these difficulties which cause medical professionals to take notice, and see these difficulties as signs of something more.
I think the best way to describe it, is just to give a few examples.
- Everybody sneezes, but if you are sneezing constantly when you don’t have a head cold, you should probably get tested for allergies.
- Everybody sleeps, but if you sleep for 20 or more hours per day, every day, and cannot easily be woken up, this is a problem that could indicate a serious sleep disorder, and requires medical attention.
- Everybody chokes from time-to-time, but if you are choking on every single bite of food or every single sip of water to the point that you cannot eat or drink at all, this is a problem that needs to be addressed quickly. It could cause you to die of dehydration or malnutrition.
- Everybody poops. But if you’re pooping 30+ times per day, you might want to see a doctor about that…
Frequency of signs/symptoms matter when it comes to diagnosing a disease, disorder, or neurotype. Most health conditions are about frequency of signs/symptoms, and not just about the symptoms themselves.
If you say to someone who is choking, “Stop being dramatic, everybody chokes.” You are missing the point. This person needs your help–now! If you tell someone who habitually chokes, “Yeah, whatever, everybody does that,” you may miss the fact that they are thinner than the last time you saw them. That they have a serious condition that deserves your empathy, not your dismissal.
An autistic individual may experience many things that are completely normal-sounding, such as: being uncomfortable around loud noises, being a “picky eater,” struggling to get enough sleep, etc… It’s not that these experiences are unusual in and of themselves; it’s the fact that these experiences are so common in an autistic person’s life that they prevent them from living a typical-looking life. When someone is constantly managing these challenging areas of their life to the point that they are unable to attend to other areas of their life, this is a sign of autism.
This is why autism is called, in it’s long form, “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” (And why ADHD is called, in it’s long form, “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”) These names indicate that normal/typical/common parts of the human experience are disordered in a way that makes them hard to manage.
Thanks for listening to me this far! Next week I’ll talk about my second response to: “Everybody does that,” which is, “I think you mean, you do that.”
Here are last year’s posts on the common questions:
Have You Seen the Good Doctor?
What’s His Superpower?
Aren’t We All a Little Autistic?
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6 thoughts on “Everybody Does That (Part 1)”
I feel like I have learned so much from your blog, Ashely. For me reading it is better than a conversation about this because my own reply gets louder than what someone is saying.
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I’m glad it’s helpful. That’s why I do it. 🙂
I can somewhat relate, albeit not as a parent.
I’m sometimes told, “But you’re so smart!” To this I immediately agitatedly reply: “But for every ‘gift’ I have, there are a corresponding three or four deficits.” It’s crippling, and on multiple levels!
Until I was a half-century old, I didn’t even know about my own disabling ASD condition. It’s still an unofficial [self-]diagnosis due to the large fee charged within our [Canada’s] supposedly universal health-care system; for, within it are important health services/treatments that are universally inaccessible, except for the high-incomed to access in for-profit clinics.
While low-functioning autism seems to be more recognized and treated, higher-functioning ASD cases are typically left to fend for themselves, except for parents who can finance usually expensive specialized help. … But a physically and mentally sound future should be EVERY child’s fundamental right, especially considering the very troubled world into which they never asked to enter.
Perhaps not surprising, I feel that our educators could/should receive mandatory training on children with ASD, especially as the rate of diagnoses greatly increases. There could also be an inclusion in standard high school curriculum of child-development science that would also teach students about the often-debilitating condition (without being overly complicated).
If nothing else, the curriculum would offer students an idea/clue as to whether they themselves are emotionally/mentally compatible with the immense responsibility and strains of regular, non-ASD-child parenthood.
From my observations, while low-functioning autism is relatively readily recognized and treated, higher-functioning ASD cases are basically left to fend for themselves [except for parents who can finance usually expensive specialized help].
It would explain to students how, among other aspects of the condition, people with ASD (including those with higher functioning autism) are often deemed willfully ‘difficult’ and socially incongruent, when in fact such behavior is really not a choice. And how “camouflaging” or “masking,” terms used to describe ASD people pretending to naturally fit into a socially ‘normal’ environment, causes their already high anxiety and depression levels to further increase.
Of course that exacerbation is reflected in the disproportionately high rate of suicide among ASD people.
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I agree with you. The “higher functioning” (even though high-functioning isn’t a medically recognized term with good reason!) individuals usually get overlooked and are left to struggle all alone.
You also raise a great point that “smart” does not mean someone is autistic, or that someone who is autistic is “stupid”. That is a very wrong misconception. Dr. Kerry Magro always makes a point of saying that he has a doctorate and is a published author, but can’t tie his shoes. Autistic challenges often have nothing to do with intelligence.
It is definitely hard for adults who are realizing they may be autistic in adulthood, as most services, grants, and charities focus on children. This is something we need to change with our awareness/acceptance campaigns. Also, as I will address next week on the blog, autism is highly heritable. I wish that parents and grandparents were automatically given the option to be screened for autism when a child is diagnosed. It would bring so much more understanding and clarity around autism to the whole family.
Thank you for your comment! I enjoy interacting with my readers. 🙂
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I don’t know how to say this, but here goes.
I found a book about ADHD called ‘Scattered Minds’ by Gabor Mate. It really helped me understand myself and what ADHD is. I was diagnosed with ADHD and ASD at the same time, about a year ago, and I’ve struggled to know what things about me were ADHD and what was ASD. This book helped me see the ADHD side of things a little better.