Is Everyone "A Little Autistic?"

Man Alone Watching Dawn
Man Alone Watching Dawn. Getty

Have you ever heard (or said) anything like this?

  • "Oh, I know I'm picky...  I'm just a little obsessive compulsive."
  • "Yes, I'm moody -- I guess I'm sort of bipolar."
  • "I'm in a crappy mood, I think I'm majorly depressed."

If you haven't, you will soon! That's because, in our society, we often use diagnostic terms for mental illness to describe momentary lapses, moods, or behaviors.

Perhaps we believe that spending twenty minutes choosing a color scheme for a party is akin to true OCD...

or that a rotten mood is the same thing as chronic depression. Or perhaps it's just a colorful way to describe a passing emotion or a not-quite-appropriate behavior. Whatever our reasons, the fact is that a moment of discomfort or oddness is absolutely not the same thing as a permanent mental or developmental disability.

So... is everyone a little autistic? While all of us have moments in which our feelings or behaviors are similar to those of people on the spectrum, the answer is -- NO.

How can you tell whether your experiences mean you're mildly autistic -- or whether you're just having a difficult day?

  1. You find big parties to be uncomfortable and overwhelming -- if you're in the wrong mood. Yes, people with autism do have a tough time with noise and small talk -- but a general preference for smaller groups or quieter conversation is a not a sign of autism.
  2. You can't stop pacing, biting your nails, or twirling your hair -- for the moment. Autistic people "stim" (flick, rock, etc.) to calm themselves -- and people without autism do the same thing. Because they're anxious for the moment. Not because they're autistic.
  1. You dislike loud concerts, bright malls, or scratchy clothes. Many people do have sensory challenges -- autistic people among them. But sensory challenges are not enough to suggest autism (though they may suggest a sensory disorder that's worth looking into).
  2. You're absolutely fascinated by a new TV series, and can't stop watching or talking about it --  until the next cool series comes along. Or the football season starts. It's true that people with autism can get "stuck" on an area of special interest. But it is rare for an autistic person to just "move on" to something new out of a desire for novelty or a feeling of boredom.
  1. You find it hard to make and keep friends, though you have lots of acquaintances. People with autism don't generally have the skills to create a network acquaintances. And having a tough a time finding and keeping good friends is not the exclusive domain of people on the spectrum. In fact, it's a pretty common malady in today's world.
  2. You're an uber geek. You love every incarnation of Star Trek, you've memorized the Marvel pantheon, and you're a whiz at Dungeons and Dragons. You even go to Comicons dressed as your fave super hero. And no, that doesn't make you autistic. It makes you someone who enjoys a particular type of fantasy entertainment which some people with autism also enjoy!
  3. You sometimes choose to take things too literally. When someone tells you six times in a row that they can't have lunch with you because they're "too busy," you believe them. Somehow, it doesn't enter your mind that they are politely letting you know they're not interested in YOU. It can be hard for people with autism to read between the social lines -- but your unwillingness to face reality doesn't mean that you're autistic too!
  1. You sometimes enjoy spending time alone. Isn't it sad that we see a desire for solitude as a symptom rather than a positive quality? People with autism are often far more able to enjoy their own company than "neurotypicals," but taking pleasure in solitude is not a sign of autism.

While it's important to note the vast difference between having autistic-like moments and actually having autism, it's also helpful to notice our commonalities as well. We may not all be autistic, but we can certainly find ways to connect with one another.

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