My daughter’s autistic behaviors were recognizable fairly early. She was delayed in meeting all of her milestones. Her speech came slowly. Pretend play was not her strong suit. Despite all the red flags we spent years waiting for a diagnosis. She was diagnosed in the years before autism was as prevalent as it is today and we jumped through many hoops to find a doctor to say that yes, she was on the autism spectrum.
Today though? If I took the toddler version of my child to any park, playground or grocery store, someone would quickly whisper to someone else that she must be “on the spectrum.” In our situation they would be correct, but what about all the situations when the phrase is so casually used? Someone, somewhere, right now saw Tommy line up his trains or Sophia avoid eye contact in a Tik Tok, looked over the top of their cell phone and muttered a casual diagnosis.
I’m absolutely thrilled that autism has become a household word. We’re certainly past the awareness phase and my days of explaining the term are over. No one immediately things Rain Man when they hear autism, their minds tend to drift towards someone they already know on the spectrum. But do we need to claim every quirky human as autistic? One hundred percent, no.
Sure there are those fully-functioning adults who’ve discovered late in life that they fit the diagnosis, but the large majority of people with autism do not have families or hold full time jobs or drive a cars. For kids like mine, “on the spectrum” isn’t a catch phrase for a few personality quirks, it’s our life.
My daughter struggles every day to overcome obstacles and her diagnosis isn’t a phase she might grow out of. Autism is part of her and part of our life. There’s nothing casual about the term or the long years we’ve spent working on acceptance and inclusion by the rest of the world.
Am I happy that some of her traits are recognized and appreciated for what they are? Absolutely. Do I think we should casually diagnose people we find quirky with something that is a way of life for many, many others. Absolutely not.
There are a million autistic traits I find endearing, but can we stay away from social media one-liners and park bench diagnoses about a disorder that so many are truly struggling through day by day?