Updated: Feb 12, 2019
Many times I've seen comments from parents, family members, or caregivers of those with autism that are something like "I think I may be on the spectrum". They'll see that they share certain traits with autism and wonder if they have it too. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of undiagnosed cases of autism out there where someone has learned to cope with the challenges of autism and be successful. But in this case, I'm talking about situations where someone may have one or two traits in common with autism, but not enough to actually qualify for a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder - traits like focus on detail, difficulty with social interaction or eye contact, or the need to engage in soothing behaviors like stimming.
Borrowing a concept and term that my ex-wife came up with, one of the interesting things of autism is that being autistic, especially high-functioning autistic, is to be "extremely normal". This means that often the challenges faced in autism are normal challenges everyone faces, but that are taken to extremes, hence, "extremely normal".
Allow me to explain what I mean by this. Everyone has times when they have difficulty interacting socially, where they don't know how to engage in a particular social situation. Everyone has times when they don't know what to say, have difficulty finding words, or how to express themselves. Everyone has times when they have trouble looking someone in the eye. Everyone has times when they're uncomfortable in their own skin, where their clothes are itchy. They've had times when lights are too bright, or sounds are too loud - anyone that's ever had a hangover or migraine can probably relate to this. Everyone has times when they don't handle change well. Everyone has topics or subjects they are obsessed with or fixate on. Everyone gets anxious from time to time.
Perhaps the most challenging behavior in autism to recognize as a "normal" behavior is stimming. As I've discussed in an earlier post, stimming is repetitive behavior that autistics engage in to self-sooth. This again is a normal behavior people engage in from time to time. Say you hit your head on something - what's your instinctive reaction? In response to the pain, you probably clap to your hand to your head to cope with the pain. You're doing something called gate control, using the sensation of your hand touching your head to block out the pain you're feeling. Stimming is often much the same way - we're using the sensations that come from the repetitive behavior to try to block out other unpleasant sensations or feelings we may be experiencing.
The difference in autism is that these challenges and behaviors happen much more frequently. They can be overwhelming. They can be defining characteristics or a person's personality or behavior.
So how does knowing this help? What difference does this make? I think it can help with explaining autism and helping people understand it. If they can better see that what people with autism are experiencing or doing is something that they go through too, I think it can help foster compassion and tolerance. Rather than judging the person for their behavior, they can see that they've dealt with something like it themselves, and can appreciate what the person might be going through. Better still, they might consider how they've handled such situations, and how they might be able to help.
And I think that is something that those of us with autism can really benefit from - understanding, acceptance, and compassion about what we experience and the challenges we go through. After all, isn't that what everyone needs - acceptance and understanding? Isn't that normal?
If I could ask a favor - I'm trying to grow the readership of my blog, so that these insights that I write about and share here can better reach those that can benefit from them. If you've found my posts helpful, would you please take a moment to share them? Thank you so much for reading.