One piece of misinformation I’ve been seeing a lot of recently on this page is the misconception that “Autism is a mental illness” – which it’s not.
Autism is NOT a mental illness.
Autism is a neurological and developmental difference where people experience differences in the following areas:
- Differences in communication and language processing and usage – can cause people to land on the extreme ends of proficiency with language but may also cause struggles with communication and language processing.
- Differences in the intensity of interests and focus – Autistic People often have specific or steadfast interests. We often become very captivated by our interests, so strongly that they can become all we think about – and sometimes we can’t let things go (even if we want to).
- Autistic People socialize differently than non-autistic people – we tend to be very direct communicators and often dislike small talk, favoring “deep conversations” on topics that may be “taboo” to non-autistic people. We also tend to do better in small group or one-to-one settings where we engage in activities around shared interests (or parallel play) vs. socializing in large groups or just for socializing with no activity or purpose (unless you’re someone we know well already). It takes me a while (and lots of energy) to figure new people out. As a kid, I liked hanging out with adults more than other kids most of the time. I had one close friend at a time (and was always wrecked if they moved or left) because of how long it took me to get to know someone enough for them to be predictable enough that I felt safe around them. Also, I’ve always been VERY content to be left alone in a room to engage in one of my intensely focused hobbies and passions. I don’t feel alone when engaged in an activity I love.
- Sensory processing differences are common in Autistic People – Every human being, Austic or not, has a unique sensory profile. This can vary significantly from person to person, even from Autistic person to Autistic person. Autistic (and other sensory-sensitive humans) often have sensory profile ranges that usually tend to be on the extreme ends of things (being overly or under-sensitive in various areas of a person’s sensory profile compared to those who are not sensory sensitive). For those of us who are sensory sensitive, the sensory atmosphere is always top of mind whenever we venture out into the world.
- Need for routine – The world is frequently chaotic and hostile to Autistic and other NeuroDivergent People. This world wasn’t designed with my needs taken into consideration, and my options are to flex myself (which I’ve tried, and it didn’t go well) or to bend the chaotic systems to fit me. Predictability, routine, and having as much information as possible are ways I make sense of the chaos, and excerpting control over the world allows me to prevent it from hurting me. People on the outside see “restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior” – they feel my need for routine limits me. However, I experience comfort in predictability. I operate with some “insistence on sameness” that others interpret as having an “inflexible adherence to routines,” but I benefit from having a routine that works for me. Allowing myself to give into my deep love for my familiar interests, safe foods, comfort shows, songs, and sensory things (that I know are good for me and won’t cause me harm – when so many things in the world are bad for me) has been good for me.
Just like other humans, Autistic people can have good or poor mental health (though Autistic People have an increased likelihood of experiencing a mental illness because of how we are treated in the world).
Systemic problems, that exclude and isolate Autistic People, expecting us to assimilate into a society and system that isn’t designed for us exacerbate these issues.
This has been an excerpt from a longer Substack post.
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