Being autistic is like being pregnant: You either are, or you’re not

Bug Portaluppi, Staff Writer

If you are openly autistic, you may often find yourself in conversations like these:

“Aren’t we all, at least a little bit?”

“Autism is a spectrum, with a high and low end.”

“You clearly only have a little bit then.”

And if you know anything about autism, all of these responses sound absolutely ridiculous.

Although titled Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the DSM-5, the word “spectrum” has been widely taken out of context. The “spectrum” only refers to the fact that everyone is different. Therefore, autistic traits will present themselves in different ways for different people.

There is a reason why autism is an available medical diagnosis; because those defined as such differ from the majority. The psychological term known as “clinical significance” applies itself here. Sure, you could have a few things in common with autistic people. Maybe you miss a social cue every once in a while or you have a daily routine. But if you do not relate to a significant amount of autistic traits, and each to a significant extent, then you are probably not autistic.

Non-autistic people have a tendency to underestimate the impact that autistic traits have on daily life. There is a difference between getting annoyed at people who chew with their mouths open and breaking down crying because you are bombarded with the sounds of the high frequencies and piercing electricity of every single piece of technology in the room at once.

There are plenty of undiagnosed autistic people. And being undiagnosed for a long period of your life can be extremely detrimental. So that isn’t to say that if you genuinely believe you’re autistic, the possibility should be ruled out immediately if you aren’t suffering 24/7. But understand that research and significance are essential. Nobody should be making ignorant claims that invalidate autistic struggles.

The reality is that autism is a differing neurotype, or brain structure. Therefore, each individual either has an autistic brain, or non-autistic brain. We are not all a little autistic.

Furthermore, because it is a brain structure and not some sort of infectious liquid, you cannot have a “little” or a “lot” of autism. Functioning labels and other similar forms of categorization derive from eugenicist ideology. We can acknowledge strengths and weaknesses without undermining peoples’ humanity.

Usually, non-autistic people focus on just a few autistic traits to determine whether they deem someone high or low functioning. These often include verbal ability, type of schooling (special education, general education, advanced education), etc. However, determining functioning level based on a few assumptions leaves out so many other autistic traits. What about social skills, repetitiveness or sensory processing? Not to mention, many traits fluctuate depending on the day. Autistic people cannot be put into that type of binary.

Acknowledging different levels of ability in different areas is important to an extent, but there are better ways to do so. Maybe instead of describing someone as “low-functioning”, you could say that the person is nonverbal and communicates with an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device, is enrolled in special education, and has daily self-injurious meltdowns due to sensory issues. Those descriptors would tell us so much more about the person and their needs.

Labeling someone as “low-functioning” underestimates their strengths and labeling someone as “high-functioning” undermines their struggles.

Ultimately, informed perspective and language helps everyone. Educating yourself honors the disabled people around you that you love and care about.