Sunday, October 18, 2015

Aren't We All A Little Bit Autistic?

You seem pretty normal. Aren't we all just a little bit autistic? What is normal? Labels go on soup cans.

You may have heard some of these before. If you have an autistic friend, you've probably even said them. In all likelihood, you meant to be inclusive and open-minded. After all, your friend isn't that different from you. Right? It doesn't make sense to slap a different label on them.

While this mindset doesn't go entirely unappreciated, many of us in the Autistic community feel that it's dismissive of the different challenges we face on a daily basis. Even those of us who might appear on the outside to be mostly normal have worked hard to be able to function in a neuronormal world.

For many of us, the difficulties are primarily centered around communication and social norms. These are things that do not come naturally to us. That's not to say we can't learn those skills. It just takes conscious effort for us.

The truth is that we autistic people are very well aware of our differences. Most of us have come to terms with them, and are not ashamed of them. Most of us have no problem with others acknowledging that those differences exist. In short, there would be no word to describe the differences if the differences weren't there.

What about severely autistic people? Surely it's a compliment to say those of us at the Asperger's end of the spectrum aren't like them?

In a word, no. Don't forget that we have the same diagnosis as them, usually for many of the same traits. To compliment someone by saying they aren't like severely autistic people is to say that it's more preferable to be 'normal.' Such statements can make us uncomfortable sharing more about ourselves too.

And let's not forget the people we're making the comparison to. Let's imagine for a moment if someone were to say that at least their friend isn't like you. My guess is that you would find that insulting. It should always be assumed that severely autistic people have feelings and know what's being said about them.

There does appear to be one time when no one seems to want to include themselves on the autism spectrum. That would be immediately following a mass shooting, such as the recent tragedy in Roseburg, Oregon.

Thankfully, the news media has made a decision to not mention autism in a story without some degree of relevance. When autism is mentioned without an explanation of relevance, most people will determine the relevance on their own, even when there is none. For example, speculating if a mass shooter is autistic may lead people to believe that autism caused the shooter's actions.

Unfortunately, most pundits and bloggers don't hold themselves to the same standard. In an attempt to understand what led a person to kill several people, some will attempt to diagnose the shooter. Not only is this impossible to do simply from a news story and some vague descriptions from friends and family of the shooter, but it's also highly irresponsible.

Making unprofessional autism diagnoses for mass shooters in an attempt to understand their actions has in the past caused autistic people to be afraid to go to work or school out of fear for how they might be treated. It has also spawned organizations, such as Families Against Autistic Shooters. The world this creates, even though it's temporary, only adds to the difficulties of living with autism, while doing nothing to promote understanding.

In summary, we in the Autistic community have no problem with society recognizing differences between us and those surrounding us. The differences are very real. The problem only comes when those differences are used to explain unrelated behaviors.

Ignoring or fearing difference only drives people further apart. In order to fully integrate the human family, differences need to be understood and celebrated. This is the part where I call for autistic people to be proud of yourselves and educate those around you, as well as for non-autistic people to talk to and learn from your autistic friends and family members. After all, we might have differences, but we're all human beings first.

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