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Autism and Disability

I have frequently heard people say that "Autism is not always a disability" as a way of declaring themselves equals to non-autistics.

My response: No. Autism is always a disability. But disability may not be what you think it is.

OK, let me explain.

Why can I categorically say autism is a disability? Because it's right there in the definition of autism. To be diagnosed, autism must cause significant impairment--that is, it must be a disability. It can be a rather mild one or it can be very severe, or it can (usually does, in fact) depend on the situation the person is in.

But if you can be diagnosed with autism, then you have a disability.

(It is possible to be neurologically and/or culturally autistic, but not diagnosably autistic. This group has autistic neurology and/or social style but cannot be diagnosed because they do not have significant impairment. However, this is not the group that NTs or doctors think of when they say "autism".)

It's the disability stereotypes we need to challenge, not the idea that autism is a disability.

Ask yourself this: What ideas do you associate with the statement, "Autism is a disability"? What does it seem that that statement accuses you of?

Then take those ideas, and ask yourself: "Are those ideas actually true about disability?"

For example: Disabled people can be highly skilled or highly intelligent just like non-disabled people can be. We are neither inferior nor should we be objects of pity. We have many talents. We are individuals. We do not necessarily need more outside help than is utilized by the typical person, though those who don't will need something like more effort, different technology, or a different environment. We can work; we can fall in love; we can have kids. We participate in sports and hobbies. Life with a disability is not any better or worse than life without one (and, yes, people with disabilities have been surveyed, and that was the result).

Disability is not always obvious; nor is it usually extreme. Having a disability is actually quite common, and disabled people represent nearly 20% of the population. Disability does not define who you are--though it is often still a large part of your life and, like any experience you have, will affect your personality and your viewpoint.

If you are autistic and you want to declare yourself equal to other human beings, there is no need to say that you are not disabled, because disabled people are not inferior. Perhaps people have been teaching you for a long time that disability is associated with pity, fear, and inferiority, and you can't reconcile that with the idea that you like who you are, autism and all. But instead of rejecting the idea that autism is a disability, why not re-examine what you have been taught about disability? I guarantee you'll find you've been told some pretty big whoppers...


I am beginning to wonder if you'll ever say anything I disagree with!


yes, but...

A lot of what you're describing isn't disability, it's just difference. As someone from outside the US I find it a little disturbing to imagine a culture with such inflexibly homogenising expectations that the two look the same (I mean, it's not great here, but it's no where near *that* bad). Maybe if that wasn't the case, then the specific differences that do make up disability wouldn't prompt such irrational and disrespectful fear. Maybe the associations that the word "different" calls to mind could do with a little re-examining as well.
But leaving that aside for a moment...

I totally agree with you that we should be wary about the motives that lie behind refusal of the term "disabled". Too often these claims are about the speaker distancing themselves from something stigmatising, and "disabled" should not be stigmatising. If it's being done for that reason, then yes, very very bad.
It is important that those of us who are not disability/diagnosably autistic be able to identify ourselves as autistic, because otherwise all of the help and meddling offered to diagnosable autistics will continue to aim towards the goal of replicating an NT "normal", rather than focussing on helping us be the healthiest and happiest versions of *ourselves* that we can be. To deny that the undiagnosably autistic *are* autistic plays right into the hands of the eugenicists and curebies, whose sole hold on the public imagination comes from this idea that autism is, by definition, a disorder.
It shouldn't have to be so all-or-nothing. You should be able to say "my disability doesn't make me less valuable" and I to say "my autism doesn't make me disabled" without one contradicting the other.
You say "If you are autistic and you want to declare yourself equal to other human beings, there is no need to say that you are not disabled, because disabled people are not inferior." I wholeheartedly agree with this. 100%. I will be shoulder to shoulder with you on the barricades fighting for this. But I don't say that I'm not disabled because I want to declare myself equal to other human beings and equate disability with inferiority. I say I'm not disabled because I'm not disabled. Different from NTs, yes. Disabled, no.
Some people with autism are disabled, some are not, but we're all different from NTs, and we all have our lives made more difficult (and sometimes even endangered) by the NT fear of anything that's not themselves. I was clearly diagnosable as a child (or would've been, if they were looking then the way they do now) but am not as an adult. Some things are harder for me than they are for my NT friends, but the reverse is also true. The parents of children who are being diagnosed now do need to know that that's a possible outcome (maybe even likely -- while we insist on claiming that autism is always a disability, the frequency with which that happens will never be known, and neither will be the things that make it possible. All we'll have is the suspiciously massive difference between the number of autistic children and the number of autistic adults -- even allowing for better detection rates recently, it doesn't add up, but we don't just stop being autistic when we grow up).
I believe that those autistics who *are* disabled will get more useful and respectful services and assistance if autism is understood more accurately: if they stop trying to trick and bully and manipulate us into imitating them, and start giving us what we need in order to be functionally ourselves. That can't happen unless more is known about what our own non-NT normal looks like, and that's not going to happen until undiagnosable non-disabled autistics are willing and able to name themselves as such and have that claim taken seriously.
Yes, that makes the category of "autism" more complicated, and some people are easily confused by complexity. But autism *is* complex.

Re: yes, but...

I did mention that sub-group--people who can't be diagnosed with autism aren't disabled, but can still identify as autistic.

However, it is very important to make that distinction when you say you aren't disabled. You have to explain, "I'm culturally/neurologically autistic but have a lost diagnosis/am Broader Autism Phenotype/am a Spectrum Cousin rather than being diagnosable". Letting people assume that you have been diagnosed with autism, or else could be diagnosed if you were evaluated by a competent professional, would not be correct.

We are already at a high risk of losing services we need or losing the protection of the ADA, especially adults. The problem is that we are disabled and we need these things if we are going to go about our lives. I understand that not everyone in the autistic culture is disabled; but saying "autism is not always a disability" without clarifying exactly what you mean by "autism" (the broader definition, not the clinical one) can be pretty damaging.

What I'm saying is not, "Everyone who is part of the autistic community is disabled," but, "Everyone who can be diagnosed with autism is disabled." There's a difference.


What I'm saying is not, "Everyone who is part of the autistic community is disabled," but, "Everyone who can be diagnosed with autism is disabled." There's a difference.

I agree with you completely. With my disability most of the symptoms I have are often taken in a context that diminshes or trivial whatever it is I am experiencing as a result of my injury.

In my opinion, the unspoken social contract of brotherhood and shared responsiblity for fellow man in other countries is taken more seriously elsewhere in the world than here in the United States. Commiseration is not something that is done well in America, if you ask me. I find that I recieve more help and understanding through objective professionals than I do NT's.

This lack of understand is part of the cultural bias that I think is a part of the American psyche. Before someone would be understanding and accepting that you are impaired, particularly if you are capable of perform a job or task with any effiecncy greater than a NT, they believe that it means you must not be disabiled. They only recognize catastrophic physical injuries that allows them to feel superior to a person. It is a sign of the fragility of a person's ego that won't let them accept that a person can be high functioning but still disabled.

dis ability

Dis ability, dat ability, it's all the same to me. I prefer "different." If you're no Einstein, does that mean you have a physics disability?

Re: dis ability

Much of what anonymous wrote above could have been written by me, except that he/she said it better.

And you've said what you said well as well.


Autism is a Disability and That's OK, Too!

You make a great point. As someone who has many autistic traits, but does not experience diagnosable impairments, and also as a mother of three children who experience diagnosable impairments, I resist those who want to say autism is not a disability. For my children, autism is very much a disability and they do not deserve someone denying their reality because they don't want to be stigmatized. Autism being a disability isn't wrong, it's the stigma that's wrong.

Address the stigma, correct misinformation, share your own experiences, but don't deny the reality others experience every day.



I think often of Helen Keller, probably because the movie was so big when I was a kid, years ago. Helen had a "behavioral problem" from the looks of it, but when she was brought into this world by slowly being taught what she needed to be a part of it, her disability was over-run by her brilliant mind. She was still very disabled, but because a bridge was built to her world, we no longer saw her disability, but her abilities. She was still dependent on others to a degree a non-disabled person could never tolerate without feeling less than. Some people need others to survive, to live an open life, and there should be no shame in that. None. We can't help or change the cards we are dealt in life, what one needs is a helping hand, not a curse.



but what if it causes impairment only from the eyes/point of view of other people?
I mean, if you are actually fine with it, but people thinks you struggle.
Then you think that maybe if you were in their shoes and then back in yours you'd think you are struggling now.
Sorry if I explain myself badly.
Thanks in advance for your answers, saying that to you and the other readers.

Re: Question

Something can cause impairment but not distress. It can even cause very little impairment but still be considered a disability.

For example, say you have a spinal cord injury and cannot walk. You use a wheelchair. Everything that a typical person can do, you can do. You take care of yourself and do not need help from anyone else. You participate in sports, have a family, work, etc.

This is a case where the only reason you are considered disabled is because you do things differently from the typical person. This person is not impaired in any way when they have access to their chair and an environment in which they can use it.

Disability is defined primarily by the culture around you. If there is something you cannot do, or do differently, or need help to do, that is expected of the average person, then you are considered disabled. (You may want to research the social model of disability; this is the concept I'm referring to.)

So, yes, it is possible for you to be able to do everything you want to do, suffer no distress, and still be disabled.


impairment or disability

In my country only severely impaired autistics are diagnosed as autistic. If you're able to avoid being diagnosed, then either you're not autistic, or you may be autistic but it doesn't matter because you can manage to live in the neurotypical world.

You're not considered disabled in any way... you may be considered impaired "at worst". So you can imagine the very heavy weight any high-functioning autistic has to carry all the way.

Some autistic people here kill themselves because they cannot handle the pressure. Autism here in my country and generally in all south America is seen in black and white terms: you're disabled or not. If you're not disabled, even if you ARE impaired, it's still expected from you to behave and to fuction like normal people or else you'll have no future.

High functioning autistics live believing they are what they're told, or thinking they're just weird, or they find out they may be autistic and cover it.

In my country it would be a "suicide" to disclose your condition. No jobs for you, no education, no social life, goodbye to everything... I can totally understand why many would use the autistic label on themselves only in a very limited context and try exceptionally hard to fit in the neurotypical world or try to become famous among neurotypicals so their quirks are not seen a something negative.

"Crazy" people claiming to be autistic (not being severe cases) would be locked up in a mental institution. Or would be "setenced" to marginalisation. It's taboo. Nobody would advocate for their rights. You're lucky there in the US and european autistic people seem to be as lucky as you, you'd be all ALONE here in latinamerica.


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