And this, ladies and men, is yet another mechanism of oppression to keep the autism agenda at bay! It’s a simple one, too. The idea behind this one is that when someone is ‘too autistic,’ they couldn’t possibly know what’s good for them and therefore they cannot speak for themselves. When someone is ‘not autistic enough,’ they either are not really disabled or cannot know what ‘real’ autism is and therefore they are not allowed to speak for themselves, at least as autistic people.
The line between ‘too autistic’ and ‘not autistic enough’ (henceforth, the line) is never defined and those who use these two terms cannot define them in a way that goes beyond ‘I can just tell.’ The truth is this: the line doesn’t just not exist, it’s actually a cop-out, a convenience for anyone who wants to make a distinction but doesn’t really want to go through all the intellectual rigor required to do it convincingly well. Those who really do take intellectual precaution will see that the existence of the line is not supported by any standard.
My main argument against the line is the fact that autism is recognized as a spectrum. The idea of autism as a spectrum and the idea of the line contradict each other because there are no lines in a spectrum; everything meshes into each other. Think of the color spectrum. We may have colors divided up for our convenience but this convenience is misleading. It’s not clear when exactly blue turns into purple or when red turns into orange; all the colors elide into each other. It’s the same thing with the autism spectrum. It’s not clear when autistic becomes not-autistic and it’s not clear when ‘severely autistic’ becomes ‘mildly autistic.’ I’ve personally worked with autistics who have a blend of characteristics from ‘mild autism’ and ‘severe autism.’ In addition, much like the many shades of blue, there are many shades of ‘mildly autistic.’
Of course, the main difference between color and autism is that while colors remain nothing more than abstract byproducts of human perception, autism concerns real people in a broken bureaucratic system. How someone gets diagnosed has an impact on what kind of services they can receive. If one is considered ‘mildly’ autistic, there is a chance that they will miss out on some services that would be beneficial to them. If one is ‘severely’ autistic, they could mistakenly get placed in a class with intellectually disabled students, resulting in a pace of intellectual growth that is so slow that the misplaced child could regress.
Until the line is firmly established and universally agreed upon – and that’ll never happen – it’s a fake concept that intellectually lazy people use to do nothing but pass judgment on autistic people and, unconsciously, to silence them.
I get the accusation that I’m ‘not autistic enough’ all the time. Though I often joke about it when I get that accusation, I secretly get a little irate at the accuser for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I can feel the person using their neurotypical privilege to pass judgment onto me like they were the authority on me. That is to say, it’s a way of keeping neurotypical privilege and control over alternative minds in check. Secondly, because autism is heavily stigmatized, it takes a lot of energy for me to inform new people about my being autistic so it’s painful to hear someone deny it or explicitly claim that they don’t believe it. If I really weren’t autistic in some sense, I wouldn’t be expending so much energy in telling people about it in casual settings while potentially committing social suicide.
To wit, the line is political. Despite autism’s roots in science and medicine, the line is not based on science, medicine, or any other kind of rigorous definition but rather a glitch in human perception. That glitch, in turn, fuels yet another neurotic attempt at controlling others.