Today, June 18, is Autistic Pride Day, when those of us who identify as autistic celebrate our neurodiversity. This plus a recent conversation about ‘labels’ caused me to reflect on several things about autism that I feel like sharing.
First, there are aspects of my autism that I genuinely celebrate and think others should, too. Hyperfocus (except for the extreme versions) can give high productivity but also a kind of “high” similar to being in flow state. Attention to detail (while not especially intense in my case) leads to increased effectiveness in some kinds of activities. Lack of interest in (and limited understanding of) social dominance games means I have no inclination to play office politics. Literal-mindedness can be a source of conscious humour when I am aware of it in the moment, and leads me to default to taking people at their word (often a good thing, sometimes a bad, but on balance something I am content with).
Second, I used the phrase “identify as autistic.” I had the bureaucratic advantage of a diagnosis, which is one piece of the leverage one might need to get workplace accommodations. But the difficulty of gaining access to formal diagnoses (especially as an adult) means that many people know they are autistic but can’t get formal blessing. Self-diagnosis needs to be taken seriously.
Third, there are caveats to that. The psychiatrist who has been helping me navigate my workplace accommodations, among other things, happened to mention that a large fraction of the population now say they are autistic. I’ve heard many people say “autism is a spectrum, and we’re all on it.” For me the issues with that are:
- It’s not really a spectrum, it’s a collection of different aspects of personality and ability, of neurodiversity.
- People experience their autism in their own way. If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.
- If you have a few elements of the classic cluster of visible behaviours, it makes sense to say you’re autistic, but there is a vast difference between symptoms society accepts, those it considers quirky, and those it disparages as ‘disorder.’
- I am certain I have met people who are using ‘autism’ as an excuse for bad social behaviour.
Fourth, I do consider some ‘symptoms,’ but by no means all, as impairments. Inability to speak (which happens to me occasionally) is an impairment. It becomes a disability when society generally won’t accommodate it (I’m a fan of the social model of disability). Plenty of nonverbal autistics can communicate just fine with assistive technologies, and can be as articulate as anyone once they learn to sign or type. Society needs to learn to make accessibility a core human right.
Happy Autisic Pride Day!