The most common phrase associated with autism is, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
I get it. It alludes to the fact that autism presents differently for all of us, depending on numerous factors like personal interests, personality, gender, upbringing, intelligence, environment, and more.
I agree with this. But here’s where it goes awry: it misleads people to think that autism is a garbled mess that cannot be understood. It can also lead people to think there are no similarities between autistics.
As an autistic and a therapist who specializes in late-identified autism, I can tell you that simply isn’t the truth.
There are common aspects of autism - it’s why a name even exists for us. How could we diagnose or label someone as autistic if there weren’t defining categories?
So here’s my argument. Autism has defining categories. Autism impacts the sensory system, body, emotions, thinking, passions, and socializing. This is true across the board (you can see my essay on How I Conceptualize Autism to learn more). Where we see variability is in HOW autism impacts each of these categories.
For example, every autistic experiences sensory system characteristics. For some, this looks like an increased sensitivity to bright lights. For others, it shows up more in their food preferences, like what textures they prefer to eat.
Another example is that some autistics are incredibly adept at socializing, but internally question and monitor every aspect of their socializing. In contrast, there are some autistics that struggle with appropriate social behavior and don’t think deeper about it.
Furthermore, I also don’t like the phrase because I often experience a resonance with my fellow late-identified autistics. Through a conversation, I can sometimes sense someone is autistic without them even telling me. It’s hard to put my finger on, but it’s like our way of being and communicating automatically connects.
Does this mean I’m going to go out and rally against the phrase “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism?” No. I’m all for people using what is helpful to them. I don’t think it is actively harming anyone, just potentially a little misleading. So I will simply choose not to use it.
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