Monday, August 15, 2022

A SERIES OF HUMBLE REQUESTS #1*: Please stop saying “Everyone is a little Autistic.”

Please Stop Saying “Everyone Is a Little Autistic.”


Autism is an expression of the way human brains can grow. 

While the medicalization and professional gatekeeping around autism pose challenges and injustices of their own, they have resulted in a definitive description of this particular form of neurodivergence.  

Autism is officially defined as a “disorder” (lots more on this language in the third post in this series!) involving two key developmental differences, one broadly involving social communication and the other encompassing repetitive and/or intensive behaviors and/or foci, as well as sensory differences. 

EVERY Autistic person—whatever their support needs, how they refer to themselves, etc., etc.—shares these two neurological traits to a certain degree. And if you don’t? You’re not Autistic.

Sure, you may well be neurodivergent in some other way, and perhaps you’d like to explore that possibility on your own or consult with a professional. Or you may be neurotypical. We are all growing and learning about ourselves and others, so investigating aspects of language and neurology as part of that journey can be helpful for everyone.  

And there certainly is a spectrum of ways of being human, with some of us a little more awkward or smooth, quirky or conventional, obsessive or detached, introverted or extroverted, and so on. But that proves we are indeed “all on the human spectrum,” not that “we are all on the autism spectrum.” 

I’m willing to bet the majority of Autistic people have heard someone (usually, more than one someone) say a variation of this phrase. 

One reason it stinks when we hear those words is that we also often hear people referring to autism in pejorative or discriminatory ways. So it’s like you want to be in this club when it suits you, but otherwise, no thanks…If that’s the case, are you really uplifting and including Autistic people? 

Another reason is that some people will find ways to write you off because of your neurology—which would not be the case if we actually were “all on the spectrum,” right? They’ll say (or think) “Oh, they’re just saying that because they don’t get it,” or “You’re being black and white again.” These kinds of judgements allow people to devalue or dismiss your opinion as inferior to theirs (or to the mainstream viewpoint). 

Trust me, even as someone with a fancy doctorate and extensive experience teaching ethics and philosophy I still get this, even from people who are close to me. And it hurts. 

On a very basic level, if your lived experience doesn’t entail these kinds of discriminations, stating that you are/everyone is “a little Autistic” is…not helpful. 

Giving us a list of all the “weird” stuff you do (much of which typically has nothing to do with autism) to “demonstrate” your “autism”…also not helpful. 

By the way, everyone is “a little weird.” This one likes peanut butter-cheese-kimchi sandwiches; that one loves listening to Kenny G or enjoys doing interpretive dance. Some people don’t like puppies (???). Some don’t like people (more understandable). Others genuinely believe they have been injected with alien DNA. But I digress.

I’m sure many Autistic people could add to my reasons for why this phrase is problematic, but I’m going to add just one more here: Autistic people were not put on this earth to explain and define autism to others, never mind offer their “autism credentials” to every person who doesn’t know what autism entails. The latter is particularly arduous for those of us who, whether by choice or trauma, have become more adept at masking. 

I’ve taken on an “explainer” role in my blog and books in part because of my frustration over misperceptions and ignorance around neurodiversity, but even I get tired of having this role imposed on me. In brief, a diagnosis—whether via a professional evaluation or a serious, informed, deeply considered self-diagnosis (I’ll cover this topic in the second post in this series)—is probably the best way to tell if you are #ActuallyAutistic. 

I do not know why people feel compelled to tell me they are/everybody is “a little” Autistic when they are not. Are they trying to be inclusive? Kind? Are they actually ignorant? Dismissive of the very real challenges of being Autistic in a neurotypical world? Another motivation? 

Someone I was discussing this with suggested many people are eager to be exceptional in some way. So it’s also potentially part of a…special snowflake competition? 

I don’t know. 

And, to be honest, it’s exhausting to have to consider intent every time someone says something along these lines. Especially—and factually, literally—since it’s nonsense. We are not “all on the spectrum.” 

Now, obviously, neurotypical people are not monolithic. They are as different from each other as they might be from any Autistic person. What they are not…is Autistic.

And so, dear readers, if you have innocently used this phrase and/or others like it, please reconsider next time—and don’t. We know you aren’t trying to be upsetting, but…

Here’s a quick list (you know I love my lists) why we’d like you to abstain:

1. Saying “Everyone is a little Autistic” is factually incorrect.

2. It silences and diminishes the real lived experiences of Autistic people.

3. It ignores the social, professional, political, and other discriminations and personal challenges Autistic people must contend with daily that non-Autistic people do not endure.

4. It places a burden on Autistic people to clarify definitions and emphasize their own differences.

Thank you so much!!!!


Full Spectrum Mama 



After my book came out and I began to be a bit more in the public eye, I realized there were three recurring issues I wanted to address in this safe space so that I could refer people to my opinion on the topic without having to go into it on the spot. Like many Autistic people (and others, too, I am sure), I have a hard time thinking AND feeling AND speaking at the same time. 

There are certain questions and uses of language put forth mainly by neurotypical people—in my experience, not just via media outlets, but also audiences and, actually, friends—that the vast majority of neurodivergent people find extremely offensive even when they are not meant to be hurtful. In this series of three posts, I’m going to focus on three of these: saying “Everyone is a little Autistic,” asking about our diagnosis, and referring to autism as a disease, or similar. 

My book with Jenna Gensic, The #ActuallyAutistic Guide to Advocacy, is full of positive, proactive ideas, but sometimes I do get frustrated—and this blog has been known to contain a vent or two. Jenna and I used to feel really anxious, and sometimes defensive, when people would call us out on mistakes we’d made (with language, assumptions, etc.), but we eventually came to genuinely see such interactions as learning opportunities. Now we explain—in our books and to our audiences, as I am doing here, now, at Full Spectrum Mama—that we are always discovering how to communicate and act in more uplifting ways. 

While first writing this series of posts, I was going to call it “Stop it!” And please do stop, if you are doing any of these three things. But I took some deep breaths and changed my wording to be a bit friendlier, in hopes that lots of people will take in this guidance as helpful and heartfelt, as it was intended. After all, we are here together on this planet to learn and grow!

The above is the first in this series.