I’ll explain why this saying and its siblings are harmful to actually autistic people.
I was talking with someone recently, asserting that I was actually autistic. His reply was that we’re all neurodiverse. In other words, my case is not special at all, and I should just shut up.
The claim that we’re all neurodiverse is a sibling of the claim that we’re all a little autistic. It is a weapon deployed by people who want to minimize the struggles of autistic people. On the face of it, the fact that your brain is not the same as my brain would seem to lend credence to the notion that we are in fact all neurodiverse. Still, for some of us, this difference is such that we face special difficulties in life, because of the way our brain is structured.
I’m going to give a series of examples to show how stupid this position is.
Let’s take the case of blindness. Some people cannot see anything at all. I don’t think I’ve actually met someone who was blind in this way. However, I’ve had the fortune of having two friends who were partially blind. As I recall, one of them was able to look at you if he aimed his eyes slightly off of you. When first meeting him, his way of looking at you was strange, but people quickly got used to it. My other friend had a different issue with his eyesight. I don’t remember what it was exactly. However, both were liable to bump into things if they were careless. However, they were still able to read text books, if they used a magnifying device. Then there are those people, like myself, who need glasses to read.
Now suppose that someone like my friends comes to me and says, “Man, this blindness is really annoying. I keep bumping into things. I need a magnifying device to read books. Websites A, B, C, D are not well-designed for people who are blind.” Would it be okay for me, who wears glasses, to say “Well, we’re all a little blind, you know. Don’t worry about it.”
What the fuck response is this?
During my cancer, I was actually functionally blind for a while. Oh, I still could see stuff, but at the worst of it everything was blurry and double. It was impossible for me to read. Whenever I wanted to use my smartphone, I had to remember where things were and navigate by pictures. If some twerp had come around claiming that everyone is a little blind, and that I should chillax, he might have gotten a knuckle sandwich.
I’m also partially deaf. What good would it do for someone to claim that we’re all a little deaf? I struggle to understand speech in noisy environments. I did not use to struggle in this way. I remember when I was an undergrad going to clubs with loud music and yelling over the music. It wasn’t always this way. Do you struggle like I do? If you don’t, then you surely cannot come to me saying that we’re all a little deaf.
There’s a similar phenomenon with mental illness. Someone says they are depressed. No, not just sad. They are depressed. Someone else replies that we’re all a little depressed. What the fuck response is this? I’ve actually known people who were depressed due to chemical imbalances in their brain. My mother was one of those people. There was nothing we could do to make it better. We just had to wait for the storm to pass.
I have myself experienced a depression brought about by chemical imbalance. My anti-reflux medicine worked fine for over a year. However, at some point, I developed a new side effect from it: depression. I figured it out by myself and I stopped taking it. I experienced a rebound of my reflux, but my depression disappeared. What good would it have done to come to me to tell me to get off my damn ass because we’re all a little depressed?
We can also take anxiety as another example. Yes, we all know fear. Yes, we all get butterflies in our stomach when we are in some situations. For some of us, however, the level and pervasiveness of the anxiety can be debilitating. I’ve experienced panic attacks twice in my life. I had to be put on Xanax for those attacks. There was nothing else to do. My body was perceiving a danger that did not exist in the world. Coming to me and telling me we’re all a little anxious would have served no purpose. The person doing this would have said this just to ignore the very real problem I was facing.
After my cancer, I now experience anxiety-induced paresthesia. To put it simply, I feel a tingling in my legs when I’m anxious. I sometimes feel it when I feel social anxiety in social situations, or sometimes when talking with someone who generates anxiety in me when we’re talking on the phone. I did not use to feel this way, but now I do. Telling me that everybody is a little anxious is unhelpful.
Note that in the case of blindness and deafness, there are clear-cut tests that can be performed to assess how much someone is blind or deaf. In the case of mental illnesses, the tests are much less clear-cut. Actually, I think in the case of physical illnesses, few people would want to minimize the difficulties that blind or deaf people face. However, in the case of mental illnesses, we’re fair game.
The assertion that everybody is a little autistic is an attempt at minimizing the issues that autistic people face every day. It is true that autistic people don’t all face the exact same set of issues, but it does not follow from this that they do not have issues that they have to deal with.
Please cut out the bullshit!