Thursday 9 May 2024

We're NOT all Autistic.


Oh but we're all a little bit Autistic."

Hmm, if you are Autistic, I'm guessing that you've heard that phrase or statement, or something very similar to it, at some stage from well meaning friends, family, colleagues or even from random strangers. Maybe even from a medical professional.

It honestly amazes me how often we hear this. At least once or twice, sometimes more, a week, someone tells me "oh but we're all a little bit Autistic." So far this week alone, that phrase has been said to me three times - once from a parent of an Autistic young adult. And depending on who says it, and how it is said, it really grates on my nerves.

Why does it grate on my nerves? Because we're not all a little bit Autistic.

Welcome to my unofficial TED talk on why we're NOT all a little bit Autistic.

At times when we hear that phrase, it's followed by, "but all children do that," or "I fidget," or something similar.

There are many Autistic traits, many of which can be seen during typical childhood developmental stages. For instance, toe walking. Babies and toddlers will often toe walk when learning to walk. But your typically developing child will outgrow toe walking. An Autistic child may toe walk for longer. Many Autistic adults toe walk.

Echolalia is another trait - the repetition of phrases or words. Listen to babies babbling. Often babies, and toddlers, will use Echolalia like speech patterns when learning to communicate. But a typically developing child will outgrow the echolalia speech patterns.

Fidgeting. Yes we all do fidget. And anyone who says that they've never fidgeted is telling porky pies. You might fidget because you're bored during a work meeting. You might fidget if you're nervous or anxious about an upcoming appointment. Fidgeting may look like tapping a pen or pencil, tapping your foot on the ground, playing with your finger nails, drawing random objects in the margins of your work books or diary.

For the neurotypical, ie non-Autistic, person, once you're out or away from that environment, the fidgeting stops and it no longer interrupts your day.

For an Autistic individual, stimming - aka fidgeting - is a part of their daily life. Every single day. Stimming is used to express emotions. Stimming is used to ground and self regulate emotions. Stimming is used as a tool to distract from the external over whelming sensory input.

For an Autistic person, stimming is a part of life. I carry sensory items in my pocket every single day just in case I need them. Up until recently, I didn't realise just how many times a day I use these items to self regulate my own emotions and to distract myself from sensory overload. And thinking back on it, I have always carried a small sensory item in my pocket during my adult life so far. One of those big aha moments.

Sometimes stimming is a welcome distraction. Other times, stimming can be detrimental especially if it is a self harming stim. For an Autistic individual, escaping from the environment does not mean that the stimming stops. Stimming is classed as a restrictive and repetitive behaviour, ie it occurs all the time and can impact their daily life.

I could go through all of the Autistic traits and criteria that are used to diagnose Autism, but we'd be here for days. So I'll move onto other reasons why we're not all a little bit Autistic.

If everyone was a little bit Autistic, the world be a much friendly sensory and social environment for everyone. Our world is set up for neurotypical individuals. Schools, shopping centres, attractions, hospitals, pretty much any place you visit, are not created with Autistic individuals in mind. Many of those places are a huge sensory nightmare.

"Oh but shopping centres can be very busy." Yes they can, especially around peak times throughout the year. But a simple shopping outing to buy groceries during an off peak period, can be socially and sensory overwhelming. For both my children, it's often the choices that are available. For example, buying a snack. They know they want a snack but there's so many choices. They may initially have a snack type in mind but then as soon as they see the other choices, their brains go into overload. It's then not a simple choice, and we'll often walk away with no snacks and with children who are feel overwhelmed and bombarded.

If we were all a little bit Autistic, the world would be much more inclusive of neurodiverse individuals. And let's be completely honest, the world really isn't truly accepting of differences and therefore not truly inclusive. Often in workplaces, Autistic individuals have to request and justify why they need accommodations. If workplaces were inclusive, Autistic individuals would not need to justify why they need certain accommodations simply to do their role.

If all children were a little bit Autistic, education settings would be created to suit all learning types. This definitely doesn't occur. As it is, all children (regardless of neurotype) learn in a different way, yet learning materials and assessments are standard for all. Individual Education Plans (they may have a different term depending on where you live) are created every school year to assist Autistic students to access a quality education that suits their learning style. And unfortunately these IEPs aren't always suited to the students changing needs.

None of things exist for Autistic individuals.

Autism is a neurotype. You either are or you aren't Autistic. It's not half and half. An Autistic individual doesn't choose when and where they're going to be Autistic.

It isn't a compliment to tell an Autistic individual that everyone is a little bit Autistic. Saying this implies that you are discounting everything that the Autistic individual has gone through to gain the diagnosis. You're discounting their struggles that they may hide every day. You're discounting the affects of Autistic masking. You're discounting the efforts that the Autistic individual maintains to navigate their world.

So please, please stop telling Autistic individuals that "we're all a little bit Autistic." Because one day they may respond with, "and we're all a little bit ignorant, let me re-educate you!"

And if you think you are a little bit Autistic, go and get an Autism Assessment done. Then you may just realise that no, we're not all a little bit Autistic. Because gaining an Autism diagnosis is another barrier for many people.

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