What is Autism, Anyway?

what is autism, anyway?

One of the first questions I asked myself after I received my autism diagnosis was, “Wait, so I have this thing, but what actually is it?”

To some of you, this might not be surprising. It’s natural to want to know what a diagnosis means after receiving it, right? Perhaps it might surprise you more if you knew that I’ve grown up with an autistic brother my whole life, and although I was sure I knew what this condition entailed, I now know I was almost completely clueless.

Now that I am open with my diagnosis with most people in my life, I’m often asked the same, perfectly valid, question from them. Because I generally suck at on-the-spot communication, I usually stands there tripping on my words until they awkwardly agree to change the subject. That might be because I have weird ways of communicating, but it’s also largely because autism is difficult to define. Even as an autistic person myself, I don’t feel I am qualified to give a clear-cut description of the condition for the sole reason that everyone will have a different experience to reflect upon.

Officially though, autism is defined as a neurological developmental condition, which basically means it’s all about the way my brain was formed and the way it works today. It’s diagnosed nowadays as a spectrum condition which means that, whilst there are similar experiences and traits among everyone on the spectrum, the traits people have differ from person to person. For those of you who’re currently envisioning a straight line with ‘mild’ labelled at one end and ‘severe’ at the other, stop. The spectrum is a lot more accurately compared to the colour wheel, and an autistic person is likely to have an individual mix of these various traits which cannot be defined by how we function on a particular day. It is for the above reason that many of us dislike the use of functioning labels.

It’s widely understood that autism affects someone’s ability to communicate and socially interact with others, though I’d argue that it greatly affects everything I do on a daily basis. It affects the way I make the decisions I make about my life and how I come to them, meaning I can often draw different conclusions and offer a new perception that neurotypical people may not have thought of themselves.

Some people believe it’s a condition you grow out of, or something that becomes less serious as you grow older. This isn’t the case. The challenges you have as you grow older are definitely different to the ones you have when you’re younger, but they’re not necessarily easier. Not by a long shot. No amount of therapy will change something that wasn’t made to fit into society’s version of normal.

Overall, defining autism any further than the fact that it’s a neurological developmental condition is virtually impossible right now. With the fact that current research is damaging autistic people more than it’s helping them, I’m not sure we ever will. However, I think it’s important to remember that autistic people are very much equal to neurotypical people; we may present behaviours people aren’t used to, but we are still human and just as worthy as you are.

Until next time,


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  1. Shay

    19/04/2016 at 4:29 PM

    Hey Bex, its shay, I love your blog post, i can just see you standing there talking to me about its, its funny how when you’re put in front of computer you can speak and show your feelings through a screen but when talking to professionals you are not quite sure how to convey your message. I think they should look at this as to have an insight into how it affects you.

    1. rebekahgillian

      19/04/2016 at 4:38 PM

      Thanks, Shay! I definitely agree. It would be so much easier to email lecturers/professionals to explain things rather than having to find the words verbally all the time. If only I could format emails properly, eh? 😉

      1. Shay

        19/04/2016 at 4:43 PM

        Welcome babe! I will always try to support you in anyway, may not be able to say some things that annoys me about how you get subtley mistreated, 🙁 ah well! Keep writing these blogs! 🙂 x

        1. rebekahgillian

          19/04/2016 at 5:12 PM

          Thanks Shay. I wouldn’t say I was that bad off really though — I know some people who have it so much. It’s just difficult accommodating things for one person, especially on the course we’re doing in college ha! & Thanks, I’ll make sure I do. 🙂

  2. Sally Ramsey

    20/04/2016 at 9:31 PM

    This is wonderfully accurate. I think this should be a wake up for every parent that thinks if their kid is lucky enough to no longer meet behavioral criteria for an autism diagnosis, somehow has had their brain normalized is living in never never land. There will always be differences. Some will be problematic. Some may be very positive. A different point of view can be of great value in a number of arenas.Giving support for challenges and appreciation for beneficial departures from what society pegs as normal, is essential.

    1. rebekahgillian

      20/04/2016 at 10:22 PM

      Yeah, definitely. I completely agree with all of the things you said in this comment.

  3. lspurlock1

    21/04/2016 at 4:37 PM

    Hello Rebekah,
    Your blog has definitely got my attention, I have a son that is struggling with some disabilities and also is struggling in school with his reading compression etc. You are a very smart and strong person keep up the great work and never let anyone or anything get you down maybe you should write books I think you would be very successful !!

    1. rebekahgillian

      24/04/2016 at 2:46 AM

      Best of luck to your son in the future! Thank you! 🙂 I’ve never considered writing a book about being autistic/autism in general (I’m still learning myself, to be honest), but “Neurotribes” is meant to be a great book, highly rated by the autistic community, if you’re interested in reading up about it. 🙂

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