I have been meaning to make a post about Theory of Mind for ages now but I have been so busy with Uni and personal issues that I have not had the chance. Over the past few weeks I have however noticed some reactions towards autism that I wanted to talk about.
Why do people normalise autism?
I was telling someone about how I am struggling with some aspects of my course that are not very inclusive, in particular the web conferences (too loud/no structure/multiple chats/overwhelming) and I was given the response “Oh everyone is on the spectrum somewhere, you just need to grin and bear it”. I did not know how to respond to this statement. We are all human and we all have the same struggles in the broadest sense possible but we are not all autistic. This person was comparing me to them and how they do not “like” bright lights or crowds. I can’t be in a room with bright strobing lights, it is physically painful for me on a sensory level and I am unable to carry out tasks due to this pain and distraction. That is not the same as preferring, natural light or dimmer lighting. In the same way in busy places like the centre of town I struggle being there for long periods of time because the amount of stimulus is overwhelming for me and this usually leads to shutdowns or meltdowns. It is sensory and emotionally distressing experience which is mentally draining. This is not the same as not ‘liking” a situation and “making a fuss”.
Are they trying to empathize or connect with me?
While I appreciate this could be the case I do not think this is the best approach. When someone generalises autism it makes me feel even more isolated than before. Yes we all feel sad, happy, angry, tired sometimes but to different extents, different reasons and it effects us all differently. I was diagnosed as an adult and because I have done things that an autistic person wouldn’t do people think my difficulties are not as severe. I hear this a lot from other people who are ‘high functioning’, because we can mask our differences and appear “normal” in most situations people expect us to ‘just get on with it’. There is a difference between surviving and coping, just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should have to. Another point to consider is sensory seekers, I am a sensory avoider but my best friend is the opposite and needs to have lots of stimulation. This makes her excited and then she has a lack of energy afterwards and needs time to calm and reenergise. (Similar to the amount of social energy we have is less than nuerotypical people.)