Monday, 28 May 2018
"If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism"? Read on...
Turning the pages of a book, I read the words of an autism researcher. What's the point of the word 'autism', they asked, if every autistic person is different? They referred to the phrase, "If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism.". It's a well known phrase, although using language that is long out of favour in the autistic communities.
There seems to be a misunderstanding.
All people are individuals.
People who are wheelchair users are individuals.
People who are Blind are individuals.
People who are Deaf are individuals.
People who are all 5ft 6 are individuals.
Being an individual does not mean you are suddenly able to see. Being an individual does not mean you are suddenly able to hear. Being an individual does not mean that you have stopped being autistic. Being an individual does not stop lots of people from being 5 ft 6.
What do we mean, when we say that all autistic people are individuals? Does it mean that our needs and differences are so diverse that there's no such thing as 'autism'? I do not believe so, no.
Autistic people have sensory processing differences that are markedly different from those of others. I've yet to find one who doesn't, though some are blissfully unaware of those sensory differences as yet. Which senses, and in what way...that's the difference.
Autistic people have a need for forward planning and good routine, to avoid sensory and social overload. Much much more so than an average non-autistic person. The differences are around what helps with that, and how much variation can be tolerated from day to day.
Autistic people have difficulties interpreting the body language and face expressions, eye contact and voice expression of non-autistic people, and vice-versa. What's different is the degree of it.
Autistic people need life to be logical, fair, honest. Far more, on average, than the average non-autistic person. Our outrage when people break rules, tell lies for personal gain, can be far, far more outraged than a typical non-autistic person. The differences are in what the person finds particular outrageous.
Each autistic person also has their own personality. Some quiet, some not. Each is their own age, from their own background, their own accent, their own educational level and set of IQ and ability scores. Their own gender and sexuality identities. Their own faith, or not. Their own ethnicity. These and many other individual things. Those are not different 'autisms'.
For a long time, we had standardised autism to an extraordinary degree. We seemingly believed that all autistic people were clones of 'geeky boy', Rain Man, or Temple Grandin. It seems to have been a huge shock to a number of professionals and researchers that we are a varied bunch. But a varied bunch who are all autistic.