A little autistic?

“Everyone is a little autistic” is a sentence guaranteed to anger a lot of autistics. It is often used by non-autistic people to belittle us, to imply that our struggles are not so bad or so different from theirs. The usual retort by understandably angered autistics is “nobody is a little autistic. You’re either autistic or you’re not”. Unfortunately, that not entirely accurate.

I have taken a lot of “Are you autistic” type tests. And although I always scored highly on them, I often wondered about the cutoffs used in these tests. “If you score above X you are probably autistic”. What about those people who score just one or two points below X? Five points below? Who defined the cutoff as X and how? I realised that whether or not someone is autistic is not black or white. The same problem exists with the criteria used to officially diagnose autism. There is a grey area where someone can have some traits but “not enough”. I call these people “grey autistics”. In my opinion, that are autistic if they think they are. And often they are more autistic than they realise, as they may develop more traits as they get older or circumstances change, or they may have more traits than they realise, subtle traits.

There is a group of people defined in scientific literature as belonging to the Broader Autism Phenotype (BAP). These correspond with my “grey autistics”. They are close family members of autistics, often parents, who have some autistic traits but not enough for a diagnosis. At the moment, most research about them focuses on demonstrating the genetic nature of autism.

If these people wish to define themselves as “a little autistic” then I believe that is their right. However, this is not the same as saying “everyone is a little autistic”. Given that the prevalence rate of those belonging in the BAP is currently about 5%, and that of diagnosed autistics is around 2%, it is clear that 93% of the population is clearly not “a little autistic”.

(There are also “autistic cousins” who are not in the BAP but have some autistic traits. I have written a bit about those here.)

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3 thoughts on “A little autistic?

  1. This is an interesting topic. My husband, having read similar material as me and having embarked with me on autistic research, admitted to seeing similar patterns of behaviour in his own childhood and adulthood. He mentioned rocking as a kid habitually but being told to stop “acting like a retarded child” so he was forced to stop stimming effectively. He also has the same things like intense concentration and special interests, sensitivity to light and sound, synaesthesia and a musical tilt to his abilities (mine is more tactile).

    But! He is much more socially adept than I am. Even though he was not socially adept as a teenager, something changed when he decided to assimilate into society and he did it so well so much that now he is almost an expert at human behaviour and can read social cues adeptly, even if it seems like a learned skill. He falls into none of the stereotypes you’d associate with autism. So is he autistic? Is it just his proclivities? I would say that yes, he is “a little autistic” but it is not as much a disability as it is with me sometimes. It is not as outwardly visible as mine can sometimes be (I can’t have eye contact at all, prone to muteness, am always doing some kind of stimming etc). So yeah, I like the idea of ‘grey autistics”, haha.

    Amy G.

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      1. Yeah, I would have to agree with that. He did run an anime and Asian subculture store in the 90s/ early 00s, so you can imagine that also drew its fare of autistics finding their place in the world. Lol. And yes, some autistics are really good at masking it’s their skill.

        My Dad also masks superficially well, but you can tell it’s artificial when he reverts automatically into blank other-world mode if no one’s looking, haha.

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