We are not all on the spectrum!

26 April 2017

Dear friend,

Twice this week I've heard this phrase used in slightly different forms;

I'm so Autistic or
I'm sure s/he's on the spectrum. 

Twice this week it has stopped me dead in my tracks but both times I've said nothing just smiled or said, That's OK!  As it has suddenly dawned on the other person who they are talking to and they have immediately back tracked or apologised. But is it OK?

I’ve seen/heard the word “autistic” used as an analogy for:
  • Abnormal social behaviour
  • Obsessiveness over something or someone 
  • An advanced knowledge of something
  • Fidgeting
I don't want to come across as an arse difficult and I don't want to be a bore about autism but every time I say nothing it feels like I am letting my son down.

It is not OK to use autism in this way...

The fact that people believe that their husband/son/friend may be autistic tells me that they most likely misunderstand what the autism spectrum actually means. The autistic spectrum is not linear, you can not be a little bit autistic (that is a myth). Please see this amazing cartoon from Rebecca Burgess that explains it brilliantly. Autistic people will have a set of individual traits in different areas of the spectrum they are not all the same!

I often hear people saying analogous things, and not just about autism. How about, “I have to keep my house so clean and everything put away. I am so OCD" or " I can't remember anything I'm sure I have alzheimer's." This type of language is said often in jest but does that make it right?

Perhaps the use of 'autistic' as a personality quirk has increased because of a common misconception that has been bandied around. 

Everyone is a little autistic! 

Articles in leading newspapers have run with sensationalist headlines declaring that Every one of us is on the spectrum.

No we are not all on the spectrum! 

Autism is complex... 
  • Experiencing a taste of what autistic people live with does not make someone autistic, not even a little bit. I like to know whats happening and I don't like last minute changes but I am not autistic. The ‘autistic’ analogy latches on to some of the superficial characteristics of the typical autistic person. It is at best Stereotyping and at worst insulting. 
  • Trying to normalise my sons disability by stating, I do that too or I'm sure my friend is autistic as he doesn't like change, is not showing solidarity with me. You can’t support difference by pretending that it doesn’t exist.
  • It feels as though it has almost become trendy to have a touch of autism like in the 'noughties' when geekiness suddenly became cool? Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates apparently all 'have a touch of Aspergers' if you believe some press.  (Can you feel my eyes rolling?) 

Autism is a clinically identifiable disorder. Getting a diagnosis is complex, it is emotionally challenging and the autistic label does not come easily. Don't belittle it.

Please do not use analogous language. Don't reinforce the stereotypes! If you hear others doing so then challenge their thinking. Be brave.

Autism is not just a personality quirk. 
I am not comfortable with analogies about autism as I believe it perpetuates unhelpful stereotypes. 

What do you think?  

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