Today is part two of a two-part series for Autism Awareness & Acceptance Month. Read Part 1 here: Everybody Does That (Part 1)
Everybody Does That
Last week I gave my first response to the statement “Everybody does that,” which I usually hear when I talk about the signs of autism and/or ADHD.
Response #1: “Yes, everybody does that. However, the frequency was the concerning part.”
Today I want to talk about my second response:
Response #2: “I think you mean, you do that.”
Sometimes, when people say “everybody does that,” it’s because they don’t understand that autism and/or ADHD signs happen more frequently to some people than others, to the point where they can become debilitating. They aren’t aware that, just because a certain struggle or behavior is normal/typical, doesn’t mean that it can’t be disordered in a way that becomes problematic.
Other times, I can see pretty plainly that there is a different reason altogether why this person is saying, “everybody does that.” A reason that causes me to sigh, put an awkward smile on my face, and have a debate with myself about whether or not I should say something.
The reason? This person is most likely undiagnosed autistic/ADHD themselves. They just don’t know it yet.
Most people believe that they are more or less “normal.” If we look like, talk like, walk like, act like others in most ways, we just assume that we are completely typical, and that any differences between ourselves and others all come down to personality. Really, it’s not a hard assumption to make. We don’t have much else to go on.
Except, sometimes, these differences aren’t personality. They are a disorder. For example:
- Sometimes being more low-key and less active than others isn’t just a personality thing; it’s a sign of anemia.
- Sometimes being louder than others isn’t just a personality thing; it’s a sign of hearing loss.
- Sometimes being clumsier than others isn’t just a personality thing; it’s a sign of coordination issues or poor vision.
- Being forgetful, scatter-brained, and constantly late are not just personality things; they are signs of ADHD.
- Being uncomfortable around too many people, hating parties, and preferring to be alone are not just personality things; they are signs of autism.
You heard me, right? I said “sometimes.” I am not a medical professional, and I am not saying that these symptoms always indicate autism or ADHD, but sometimes they do. And it’s easier to notice them as an outsider when you look at families as a whole.
Did you know that most neurological differences are highly heritable?
Clinical depression is 50% heritable.
Anxiety disorders are 50% heritable.
Schizophrenia is 80% heritable.
Bi-Polar Disorder is 75% heritable.
ADHD is 77% heritable.
And Autism is 80% heritable.
What does this mean exactly? It means that all of these neurological differences/disorders run in families. It also means that, if a child is diagnosed with an increasingly common disorder like autism or ADHD, it is extremely unlikely that they don’t have at least one biological parent and/or biological grandparent with the exact same disorder. Of course, few parents will have a formal diagnosis, and the chances of a grandparent having a formal diagnosis are slim-to-none. This is simply because not a lot was known about the brain in past generations.
Think of it this way: very little was known about mental health just a few generations ago, and anything we did know was whispered shamefully. I was the first person in my family to be diagnosed with depression. But you know what? The depression was there in my family line all along. It’s pretty obvious, really, in hindsight. Just because I was the first one with a label, doesn’t mean that depression didn’t exist before that. (In fact, the floodgates have opened now in my family. We’ve all got a label or two now, even the older generations!)
As I look at my two beautiful children, one with an autism diagnosis, and one with an ADHD diagnosis, I see traits of both myself and my husband in them. And then I take a look around at some of the grandparents, aunties, uncles, and cousins, and say, “Ohhhhhh…” Yeah, it’s a thing. It might not be a diagnosed thing yet, but it’s there.
When I describe autism and ADHD symptoms to people in my extended family (or to friends who have very unique, colourful families), I often get the “everybody does that” line. And, you know what? That’s probably true enough. It’s probably true that they do that. That their mother or father does that. That their siblings do that. That their aunt or uncle does that. Enough “everybodys” in their life probably do it for it to seem completely normal, because challenges that are indicators of autism and ADHD run in families. It is normal in their eyes because it is normal for people in their family to face these challenges. But that doesn’t mean they have to.
My husband and I are both on waiting lists to have ourselves screened for autism and ADHD. Not because we think having a diagnosis is trendy, but because we know how heritable these differences are, and we want to be equipped to be there for our kids. We want to be able to help them answer tough questions they may have about themselves down the road. We want to be able to say, “You know what, sweetie? Mommy/Daddy struggles with this too. Here are some ways we have learned how to cope with this problem…” We don’t want our kids to feel at a loss.
To sum up, if “everybody” in your family has symptoms of autism or ADHD… you might want to talk to someone about that. Seriously.
It is also not shameful or bad if you are an “everybody” that faces challenges. It is simply a part of your family’s DNA. There may be therapies, support groups, medications, or a whole collection of new friends out there just waiting for you to take the first step toward investigating why you are the way you are.
And finally, the next time someone describes a struggle that makes you think, “everybody does that,” take it as an opportunity to learn about these real challenges, instead of belittling them. Listen, and you might just learn something about yourself.
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One thought on “Everybody Does That (Part 2)”
I wouldn’t be surprised if I have one or the other, and or a mild case of both.