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No, Not Everyone Has 'a Little Bit of Autism'

As part of the effort to educate the workforce and schools in our culture, I have heard anecdotes and read articles about places having experts come in to do inclusion training. While they have worthy intentions to establish an environment of understanding and compassion, it misses the mark when sweeping statements are used without care. Man, I take issue with the way some experts go about these trainings.

I have been processing this thought in my mind for years now. It grates on me particularly during “Autism Awareness Month.” So, I’m taking to writing about it to head off some of these well-meaning trainings before they occur.

During one of these trainings, one expert explained “everyone has a little autism in them.” “Do you notice the buzzing of the light sometimes and it annoys you?” she asked. “Have an itchy sweater on that distracts you? That’s your own little bit of autism.”

Whoa. This is where neurodiversity training goes off the rails for me. Autism is a complex medical diagnosis not everyone qualifies for; similarly, everyone does not have “a little bit” of chronic illness or autoimmune disorders because they experienced a single moment of discomfort. Everyone does not have “a little bit of autism in them.” That would be like me saying, “everyone has a little bit of psoriasis” when you have dry skin or “that’s your little bit of rheumatoid arthritis” referring to your achy joints after a workout. It is just. Not. True.

Autism is a spectrum disorder. Yes, the neurotypical (aka: person without autism) falls on that spectrum, but at the stark end of having none of the characteristics of an autism diagnosis. Sure, people may find certain sensory or social situations uncomfortable, but that does not make them autistic. Not even a little bit. They may have special interests or hobbies that rock their world. Nor does this qualify them for such a statement.

Having awareness of those slight agitations (the noisy lights or the itchy sweater) that most are able to pull their attention away from and place it back to the more important and pressing matters of oh, working or learning, may allow someone to empathize with a person who is on the spectrum, to see into my world a little bit. But by no means does it qualify them to be “a little autistic.”

The trainer should tweak the presentation. Present their material to an audience of autistic individuals first and ask for feedback. And listen. Explain that we can all experience things within our environment that make us uncomfortable, and we can use those moments to remember that a person with autism is experiencing those things on exponential levels all of the moments that they are awake.

Research can only do so much when it is presented without the voice of those it is supposed to be representing. Trainers need to focus on what to do in response to workplace or school environments that are not neurodiverse. What you do with the information after the fact is even more important than awareness.

This story originally appeared on Same Sara.

Getty image by Maxim Kabb.

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