"If you met ONE person with autism you met ONE person with autism." This is a phrase that is frequently tossed around in the autistic community. As a autistic self advocate, I could not have agree more with this saying. So why does it seem people often forget this important wisdom when writing and discussing about autism. I cannot tell you enough about how many articlesand books that I have come across that takes a cookie cutter "one-size-fits-all" approach regarding autism. This comes across as author giving "advice" and uses commanding language like the word "should". Even self advocates themselves sometimes phrase stuff in their writing that comes across that others on the spectrum experience the world the same way I understand that autism is a very complex condition to understand. People often crave something concrete and if you are a parent who needs help and guidance on how to raise a child with autism, a professional who wants to better help their clients or a self advocate who want to better understand their condition, I get why these instruction-manual and a more standardized-universal approach can be helpful. The problem lies when people take certain perspectives or approaches on autism and thinks it should be applicable to all autistic people. When you take the experience of one autistic person and apply it broadly, you are ignoring the vast diversity that exists in autistic community. An example of the universalization approach to autism I can think of is Temple Grandin. Don't get me wrong, Temple Grandin is an exceptional woman as she beat the odds and got a Ph.D in animal science and is a widely acclaimed speaker and author. She is also the first one to speak out for autism acceptance and point out the extraordinary gifts and talents of autistic people. However, I feel that people treat her as a "autism messiah" and that her perspective and experiences of being autistic applies to everyone on the spectrum. This is unfair and problematic because it creates a false illusion that ALL autistics are like and should be like Temple Grandin. Temple doesn't have the personal experience of what life is like of being a nonverbal autistic (especially those who type to communicate), the experience being part of a ethnic minority group or being a LGBT etc. The list could go on and on but the point being is that different perspectives are overlooked or not given much attention in the autism community when we just give spotlight to the words and insights of one autistic person.
Going back to the beginning of this blog post of people craving simplicity or clear cut guidelines when dealing with autism, you might be asking of how do you treat autism or what should I do with myself. child or client. My advice to you is to accept the natural variation of experiences that exist in the autism community and to focus on what is relevant to yourself or your child and what you want or need. Autistics are like ordinary people with different experiences, upbringing, and viewpoints and are not always going to agree with each other. An excellent example illustrating the vast diversity that exists along the spectrum is through comic Rebecca Burgess's reference to autism as a colorwheel.. A color wheel is filled with many different shades of colors rather than concrete primary colors. The autism spectrum is the same way with different shades or variance in how different people experience autistic symptoms. For instance some people with autism are social and want a lot of friends while others are more shy and are happy with a few social connections. Some autistics have more issues with there sensory system while others have fewer issues in this area. To conclude this post, each autistic person has a unique story with valuable insights on what it means to be autistic. Therefore, it is extremely important for self advocates, parents and professionals in the greater autism community to be more open to hearing different experiences.
Photo credit: Rebecca Burgess (comic)