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,