Yesterday I had two separate encounters with people who independently said in conversation that they felt everyone was on the autism spectrum somewhere. And I happen to agree.
I am a parent of two children, both diagnosed with autism, and I see autism everywhere.
Take the man that spoke to me recently in a coffee shop. He stood far closer to me than I was comfortable with. And whilst he rattled on and on and on about the subject he was interested in he never seemed to notice I was looking at my watch, putting my coat on, and generally giving the impression of having to leave. I wasn’t being ignorant, but I had other commitments and this gent was someone who I barely even knew. The chances are he is on the autism spectrum somewhere but he probably has no idea.
Then there was the very rare chance I had of visiting the hairdressers. As I got speaking to the stylist she mentioned how refreshing it was to see someone different. Yes, I am afraid my visits are that few and far between she probably mistook me for a brand new customer. She went on to say how she has so many established clients who come the same day for the same style at exactly the same time every few weeks. She even said she could fill in much of her diary before she even left the house. While this is great for business of course, it did make us both think how many of these regular customers are on the autism spectrum somewhere? People who like the same routine every day and need this just to give them security. She went on to say how decorating the salon causes so many of her clients to get upset as they like things to be the same every week. The most interesting thing about this conversation was she never even knew that both my children had autism.
Then there was the visitor to my house. As I offered him a cup of tea he asked if I could put the tea bag in for a certain length of time, use only a particular amount of milk and stir the sugar in a certain direction. Another person I thought about diagnosing!
How many of us clean our house a certain way, eat certain things on certain days (friday is pizza night?), shop in the same stores because you know where things are, or only wear certain clothes because only those ones feel comfortable? An I really saying that these things mean you have autism? No. What I am saying is that we can all show traits. I know lots of people who find social situations uncomfortable. I know adults who still think a dinner must have potatoes and vegetables or they don’t feel it is a dinner. I know others who only clean their house in a certain order, become distressed if the supermarket changes it’s layout, or get very upset when buses change their routes. But you know what…I have yet to meet anyone, other than my son, who eats their slippers!
You see, in order to get diagnosed both my children had to have enough traits to meet the criteria. And this means they need support in lots of areas. So while the man I met at the coffee shop is still able to go about his business despite have some social awkwardness, my visitor is able to have a full time job but likes their tea made ‘just so’, and many of the clients at the hairdressers like things to be the same way every time, every one of these people is able to live an independent life and function in society.
And that’s the difference with my children. Isaac has no speech at 5. Naomi is so anxious she is unable to talk in social situations even when in pain or upset, they both have continence issues, and Isaac has severe learning difficulties. Isaac will need support throughout his life. Naomi will need support for years to come too. As will many other children and adults with autism. Because to have received a diagnosis they have ‘crossed the line’ from being quirky and different, to having needs in lots of different areas.
Autism is a spectrum. Many people will be able to live independently, have a job, get married, raise children, and even attend university. Others will require life long support. Some need support in social situation or in their learning. Some, like my son, require 1-1 support just to make it through the day. But everyone of them are valuable, precious, special and almost certainly unique.
The coffee shop, the supermarket, and the hairdressers all need people who incorporate visiting them into their daily, weekly, or monthly routine. And of course the slipper manufactures also gain..because, of course, my son is eating his slippers….and his pyjamas too for that matter!