… I mean, every autistic person is autistic. And not just a little bit.
Just to start: A little autistic isn’t a thing. Autism is, technically, a pervasive developmental disorder, so there’s no such thing as having that “just a little.” Now, every autistic person experiences their autism in their own way (I feel like I’ve said that a couple of times already), and it has a different impact on their life. But that doesn’t make any autistic person “more” or “less” autistic. There’s no straight line with Extremely Autistic at one end and Only A Little Autistic at the other — the “autism spectrum” is more of a color wheel. Autistic people have different traits, might need more or less support, or have more or fewer comorbidities, or be more or less deft at masking their traits. But that doesn’t mean their autism is itself somehow “more” or “less.”
And because there’s no such thing as being “more” or “less” autistic, there’s no such thing as being “a little” autistic. If you are autistic, you just… are. All the way. And if you aren’t, you just… aren’t. Even a little.
Do I sound like I’m gatekeeping or something? It’s not a gatekeeping thing. It’s, like, a neurology thing. (More on gatekeeping later, though.)
All or nothing
At the risk of belaboring the point, autism is characterized by a ton of different traits, experienced by different autistic people to different extents. Many of those traits are also experienced by neurotypical people from time to time. I mean, people are people, and that includes autistic people. But autistic people experience those traits because of, like, autism. And neurotypical people, by definition, don’t. The traits affect the lives of autistic people differently than they do neurotypical people.
And more importantly, those traits aren’t the only things that make an autistic person autistic. There’s so much going on that doesn’t show up on the surface. If you deem a person autistic, “a little” or otherwise, based entirely on their tendency to be awkward in public or not like loud noises, you’re reducing an entire Thing down to its most superficial aspects, and that’s… not cool. It diminishes the experience of people who are actually autistic. (#ActuallyAutistic.) It can even be kind of belittling — You’re not dealing with anything anyone else doesn’t experience. Get over yourself.
I am though, to an extent. Autistic people are dealing with things people who aren’t autistic don’t experience. We have to work through some things in everyday life that other people don’t have to work through. And we’re doing it in a world that’s not built for us, or built to accommodate the extra work we have to do. You don’t have to see us as some special, magical, inspirational creature for doing it (in fact, I’d rather you didn’t), but it’s good to at least acknowledge that we are doing it. (Even better? Support us in trying to get accommodations so we don’t have to work as hard. But I could just be shooting for the stars here.)
Everyone experiences pain from time to time, but we wouldn’t say that “everyone’s a little arthritic.” And plenty of people fart when they eat gluten, but we wouldn’t say that “everyone has a little bit of celiac disease.” (I won’t go into “everyone’s a little OCD,” because it’s a whole thing, but let me assure you that everyone isn’t “a little OCD.”)
A lot of people get twitchy and anxious in large crowds. A lot of people are sensitive to noises or smells or physical sensations. A lot of people have trouble making eye contact. A lot of people are awkward in social situations. A lot of people don’t know how to read other people. A lot of people are plenty smart but slow at processing things mentally. A lot of people get stuck on routines and get thrown off when the routines are interrupted. If you do one (or a few) of those things, you’re human. If you do all of those things, you’re me. And if you do some or all of those things because you’re autistic, you’re autistic — all the way autistic. (If you do all those things and you aren’t autistic… maybe you’re actually autistic? It’s worth pursuing, at least. More about that right below.)
Gatekeeping and self-diagnosis
In light of all the above, how do I feel about people self-diagnosing with autism? I’m, like, fine with it. (It’s not my place to dictate such things anyway, but my personal view is that I’m fine with it.)
A lot of people don’t have the resources to get an official, clinical diagnosis. It can be tough to get. Some psychiatric professionals don’t know a lot about autism, particularly autism in adults, and aren’t prone to referring a patient for evaluation. (I can tell you all about that. And probably will at some point.) Some people don’t have an autism specialist in their area. Some can’t put aside the time for the hours of meetings and interviews and testing that go into pursuing a diagnosis. And some don’t have the money to do the whole thing — because it ain’t cheap, and it ain’t alway covered by insurance.
I’m not going to exclude someone from the autism community simply because they don’t have the privilege involved in getting an official diagnosis from a medical professional. “Not autistic on account of not able to afford testing” is not a thing. I have no way of knowing what’s going on in another person’s head, and I know for damn sure that what’s going on in my head isn’t always apparent to the outside world, so all I can do is trust someone’s judgment. Think you’re autistic? You might well be. Welcome to the club.
But self-dx isn’t the same as “everyone’s a little autistic.” Self-dx recognizes that everyone isn’t “a little autistic,” and that if someone experiences a lot of the traits associated with autism, it might be because they actually are all the way autistic. And if they ultimately determine, even without the support of a medical professional, they they actually are all the way autistic, again, I welcome them to the club.
Before we go
I know some people who say it are trying, sincerely, to be comforting. It’s okay. Everyone’s a little autistic. You’re not that weird.
Thank you, truly, for wanting to be kind. But I don’t need or want to be comforted. Autism isn’t some tragedy that’s befallen me — it’s my life, as I’ve always lived it, and it’s who I am and have always been. I am kind of weird, if we’re using neurotypical behavior as a comparative, and I’m fine with that. Sure, I’d love to be able to make friends more easily, or be more comfortable in social situations, or not have had a meltdown in front of Petsmart because the dog was misbehaving and my rain jacket was too hot. But those things suck because they suck, not because I’m sad about them or ashamed of them.
I recognize that everyone isn’t autistic, and that being autistic sets me apart from people who aren’t. That’s fine. Human people are different in lots of ways that set them apart from others, and that’s cool — the world would be boring if everyone was the same. The trick isn’t to make everyone the same, or wish everyone were the same, but to appreciate and celebrate people exactly as they are.
It took me a long time to get to a point where I accept myself for who I am, and getting my autism diagnosis was actually a huge part of that. So while I will never not appreciate someone whose heart is in the right place, I will also assure you: I’m good. In fact, I’ve never been better.