A little bit autistic?

The UK’s Channel 4 is currently promoting its upcoming series ‘How autistic are you?’ [edit: link no longer works]. The blurb asks if you “think you might be autistic?” as a precursor to a whistle-stop tour of reasons you might indeed be autistic: 

“Struggle with social interaction, maintaining eye contact, or understanding the expressions and gestures of those around you? Do you have difficulty understanding other people’s feelings and managing your own? Or perhaps bright, loud or crowded places make you anxious?”


This isn’t helpful.

  • When free to create our own spaces for social interaction we form strong bonds and lasting relationships.
  • I have heard of too many children and adults refused assessment or diagnosis because they can do eye contact.
  • We are empathetic of others, we just might need them to communicate in a way we understand.
  • We often know exactly what to do to manage our own feelings, it’s just that external expectations often lead to us ignoring our own feelings, because ‘other people don’t feel like that’ so we must be wrong.
  • We can also be hyposensitive and crave loud, bright and busy (or have a perfectly well-calibrated sensory system).

Apparently the series intends to demystify autism. I’m really not so sure it’s going to do a very good job of it. The above paragraph ends with this gem:

“Theory and research suggest that autism is a spectrum, with autistic traits distributed along a spectrum in the general population. This means, to a certain extent, that everyone has some degree of autistic traits.”


This theory, that the population ranges from thoroughly-not-autistic-in-any-way-at-all along a straight line through to extremely-very-autistic-in-every-way-possible at the other end, is a fundamental part of Simon Baron-Cohen’s contribution to autism theory, which also includes how we lack empathy (err, nope) and how autism comes from an extreme male brain (err, nope, again).

The series will apparently “feature leading experts and people from the autistic community”. Experts and autistic people. Not autistic experts. Experts and autistic people. Nuff said.

Having preambled for longer than planned, I’m going to return to my title. Is everyone really a little bit autistic? I don’t think so. Does having an autistic trait or two mean you’re a little bit autistic? No, it just means you’re human. Autistic traits are human traits, for us they’re just in a different constellation.

  • If I tell you I wear reading glasses, would you say I was a little bit blind?
  • If I tell you I have a headache, would you say I was having a little bit of a migraine?
  • If I tell you I was a bit sad, would you say I was being a little bit clinically depressed?
  • If I tell you I sprained my ankle, would you say I was a little bit paralysed?
  • If I tell you I am unable to read a foreign text (whilst being perfectly capable of reading in my usual language), would you say I was a little bit illiterate?
  • If I said I didn’t like peas, would you say I had a little bit of an eating disorder?

I could go on. The point isn’t that being autistic is so awful that it’s worse than everything else, the point is that suggesting everyone is a little bit autistic trivialises and vanishes the experiences (good and bad) and the support needs of autistic people.

41 thoughts on “A little bit autistic?

  1. YES! I’ve been rolling my eyes at this. Have you seen the quiz running alongside it? The quiz said my hubby should seek out a diagnosis (we knew that anyway) while it said I was not on the spectrum. Otherfriends have been close to the cut off, but manage their “quirks” (for want of a better word) well. It’s going to trivialise autism and make people think people are milking a diagnosis for all it’s worth – which is not the case at all. Meh.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. “We often know exactly what to do to manage our own feelings, it’s just that external expectations often lead to us ignoring our own feelings, because ‘other people don’t feel like that’ so we must be wrong.”

    This is so spot on.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I once had a colleague tell me “of course all men are a little bit autistic” and it made my blood boil. He was trying to be funny! Told him how bad it was saying that to someone who’s daughter actually is autistic but he just didn’t get it. I’ve not given him the time of day since. 😠

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed, I’m always getting the ‘well all kids do that to a degree’ comment…they have NO IDEA!
        There’s a danger that everything we and the school have put in place to help my daughter cope will be diluted if popular opinion believes she is no different from everyone who exhibits ‘traits’

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The attitude displayed in the article is disturbing and potentially dangerous as such a position is likely to have popular appeal … making us even more invisible/marginalised via a fake concept of *Global Autistic Normalcy* that negates the legitimate needs of actual autistics.

    This isn’t the appropriate way to make autism a *non-issue* we need accomodation of our differences.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I just took the test, just because I like taking them. It was a bit rubbish, though. Some of the questions were strangely familiar.
    I’ve come to the conclusion that the perception of the Spectrum as linear is wrong, although I had that image in my head for a long time myself. It is not easy to overcome such stereotypical thinking because it’s just so pervasive! For me, it was only really since I started to investigate if there is a place on the Spectrum for me that quite a bit of my own thinking has changed. Think how hard it must be for people who have no reason to enquire so closely!
    I’m curious to see how this TV series is going to turn out. The heavy reliance on Baron-Cohen’s theories on their website does not bode well.

    Liked by 1 person

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