Everyone Has Autism
By William Stillman
Ever awaken in the middle of the night and realize your arm is “asleep” from the elbow down? It is a common situation experienced by nearly everyone at one time or another. As much as your brain is willing that arm to budge, it is deadened to the signals or impulses your brain is sending it. How many of you have actually had to physically move the asleep arm with your other hand in order to free up circulation and regain its use? If that same nightime paralysis were in more than one limb, or lodged in your voicebox, you would outwardly behave in ways that were autistic, just like any of autism’s “cousins” such as Asperger’s Syndrome, dyslexia, Tourette’s, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Cerebral Palsy, Lou Gehrig’s, ADD, ADHD, OCD, Sensory Integration Disorder, and a realm of other human experiences on a neurological continuum.
I’ve heard people refer to autistic children as “mutants” or functioning on par with a dog! This is hard to fathom when we consider that we are all more alike than we are different, and we all are truly brothers of one another. It is this kind of fear that the multi-billion dollar autism industry is founded upon—hastily, intensively, erasing all traces of autism in favor of normalcy. But in my work as an autism consultant, 90 percent of what I endeavor has absolutely nothing to do with the autistic one; it has everything to do with creating a transformation in everyone around that individual!
Noteworthy about those who would suggest that anything less than their perception of normal is unworthy, is that they fail to recognize a truth: at the present rate of autism statistics (one in 150 children and counting), it is they who will soon be the minority if they’re not first rendered “disabled” by virtue of genetics, deteriorating health, poor lifestyle choices and the aging process. They would surely wish for others to continue presuming their intellect regardless of the physical transformation their bodies will endure (which may cause them outwardly to present in an autistic-like manner).
The curious thing is we all have autism to one degree or another! We’ve all experienced neurological crossed-wires that result in motor-control blips, misfires and disconnects. You experienced an “autism” if you’ve:
- driven from Point A to Point B, but upon arriving at Point B you have no recollection of the drive.
- begun driving from Point A with Point B as your final destination, but today you need to make a special stop to pick up something or someone—and you end up driving your regular route, having forgotten to make the detour.
- been driving along, and hear a song you like with the intention of listening all the way through, but soon realize your mind has wandered and you haven’t heard a word of it.
- been driving along and hear a song you haven’t heard since high school—and experiencing the song immediately conjures memories of that era in your life. We create a strong associative connection in the same way with scents and smells we link in memory to certain people and places (a food aroma, cologne or perfume, or tobacco), as well as life-defining events such as an accident, a birth or death, or a disaster of some sort (you could probably relate details about where you were and what you were doing on September 11, 2001).
- happened upon someone familiar while out shopping, but seeing them out of the context in which you know them disables you from recollecting their name on the spot and in the moment (although it may come to you after you’ve had sufficient process time).
- had to physically retrace your steps in order to remember something, or you’ve misplaced something you suddenly realize you’ve been holding the whole time you’ve been searching for it (a pair of scissors or your eyeglasses).
- lost track of time or self-awareness (no need to eat or use the bathroom) while immersed in an activity for which you hold great passion (painting, jogging, dancing, gardening, etc.).
had a case of the giggles so severe that you could not regain your composure until the experience ran its course.
- ever been so angry, or afraid, and words escaped you in the moment.
- absolutely had to scratch an itch and could not focus on anything else until you were so relieved.
- calmed your anxiety by biting your nails, tapping a pen, shaking your leg, rocking yourself, twirling strands of your hair or toying with a piece of jewelry, or talking or humming to yourself.
experienced uncontrollable shivers so intensely that your teeth chattered involuntarily.
- struggled to decipher the meaning of certain words in the appropriate context, such as “she shed a tear over the tear in her new dress.”
- organized your items in your kitchen cupboards, bathroom, work space, or clothes closet in alphabetical order (canned good with labels facing out), by color-coordination, or at right angles.
- come in from frigid weather and your hands are so numb with cold, you could not use them to hold an eating utensil, write longhand, or unbutton your coat.
- had a song in your head that absolutely will not go away! It may be The Star-Spangled Banner, a commercial jingle, or a Barry Manilow tune. You may have even been awakened in the middle of the night hearing the song you cannot seem to banish. Imagine if that experience of being “stuck” with the song in your head (which precludes your thought processes) transferred throughout your body, or stuck in your throat and hindered your vocalizations?
These common experiences—“brain fades” or instances in which our body vetoes brain signals—affect us all, making us kindred in our humanity. But if you did them with any degree of regularity, you’d be eligible for an autism diagnosis! The next time someone suggests an autistic person’s hand-flapping or finger-flickering is maladaptive, gently remind them that they do it too, only it looks like the times they sit and shake a leg!
As much as we are all on a learning curve about autism (including some “experts” in the medical community), we are also all on a curve of diversity in our collective human experience. This begs the question: is there really any such thing as “normal?” Just maybe autism isn’t really as autistic as it seems.
© 2008, William Stillman