I’m going to come right out and say it. I despise the phrase “We’re all a little autistic.” Other than the fact that it isn’t true, since autism is a neurotype and classified in the DSM-V as a cognitive disorder, it’s pretty ableist to say it.
I was recently in a discussion in a mom facebook I joined a while ago, talking to another mom who has an autistic child. She was talking about the noises her daughter makes, and we were relaying stories back and forth, appreciating when our kids expressed joy, and another mom piped in with the dreaded “Everyone is a little autistic,” phrase.
Nevermind that the saying had no place in the current conversation. It didn’t matter. She needed to interject with her little quip about autism. Maybe she thought she was being cute, popping in with her bit of sage wisdom. Maybe she equates autism with quirky habits like needing things to be neat and tidy or collecting small horse figurines, or color-coding your outfits by the days of the week.
What actually comes across to an autistic person is this: “Your experiences are invalid so stop complaining.”
Does she mean that? Probably not. People often use the “Everyone is a little____” to find common ground. But that’s not what happens. And in case you couldn’t figure out why people got angry with you when you said it, this is most likely why. There’s been countless times I’ve seen this phrase. Comment sections, Tumblr, my own facebook wall. It is extremely discouraging.
In case the reasoning is eluding you, let me give you another example using another thing I deal with: anxiety. I feel comfortable with this because anxiety is often comorbid with autism.
I get the phrase “Everyone’s a little scared sometimes,” but what other fail to understand is, I’m scared ALL of the time. Just like I am always autistic. When you tell me “Everyone does this,” what you’re telling me is that I need to stop complaining about my experiences. When I talk about shaking, feeling nervous, the feeling of impending doom, and you go “Oh I get that sometimes,” you miss the part where I tell you I am ALWAYS feeling like this.
So when an autistic person is telling you about sensory issues with food, don’t equate it to when you got a virus and had trouble eating whatever you threw up for a while. It’s not the same, and that doesn’t make you a little autistic(Yes, this happened to me)
When an autistic person says bright lights hurt their eyes, it’s not the same as stepping out into the sun for the first time that day. Don’t tell them it’ll get easier to deal with and stop complaining.
I can absolutely understand wanting to connect with someone. I really, truly do. Connecting with people is a wonderful experience that does not come easy to me on a deeper level. But please don’t throw our experiences under the bus. That alienates us and does not make us like you.
Instead, what I suggest is saying…nothing. If you’re online, read. Listen. Ask a question or two if you’re confused. But never, ever tell an autistic person that we’re all a little autistic. If you’re in person, it’s the same. Nod, make the appropriate sounds, but never use that flippant response.
As a reminder, Ashley and I are doing a fundraiser for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. We are selling non-toxic acrylic nail wraps that we put designs on. To see Ashley’s work so far, visit this page.
To visit mine, go here.