Most of the time, people think about autism as a set of deficits. This is the way that a clinical diagnosis works. You have to check off certain boxes on a list of areas where you aren’t “normal,” things you can’t do the “right way” or ways in which your brain or body aren’t able to manage living as a neurotypical person. “Warning signs” for autistic children include:
1. Lack of eye contact
2. Repetitive behavior
3. Difficulty communicating
4. Trouble anticipating social expectations
5. Literalism/difficulty with jokes or metaphoric language
6. Sensory sensitivity
7. Needing routine/difficulty with change
8. Picky eating
9. Clumsiness/proprioception issues
10. Lack of appropriate friendships
Note that each of the items in this list is seen as a kind of deficit. Of course, this explains why autists are often targeted for behavioral therapy of some kind that is designed to “fix” them. Autistic adults often talk about the trauma of being forced to “behave” the way that others want them to. It is distressing, and is a form of socially acceptable abuse.
We’re supposed to “learn” scripts of how to act normally in the neurotypical social world. We learn how to laugh at jokes that make no sense to us or that we often find offensive. We learn to dress the way that is vaguely “fashionable,” even if we’re well aware of how fashion forces people to buy new clothes every season even if they don’t need or want them. We learn to eat food in a socially acceptable way, to live in lighting and other external environment that is distressing to us. We learn how to make small talk, how to jump into a conversation, how to let other people have a turn. We learn to make eye contact for just the right length of time to make other people comfortable. No one seems to care very much about our comfort.
And yes, we can learn how to act in ways that make us seem more normal. This is often touted as a “cure.” Temple Grandin is the lauded example of the “cured” autist, at least that is what we were supposed to believe in the 80s and 90s. Until it became obvious that she was never cured. She is still…