Why saying “everyone is a little autistic” is invalidating

A drawing of a kangaroo on a purple background with handwritten text that says, "Everyone may have some autistic traits to some degree, but not everyone is equally disabled."

Many autistic people get told that “everyone is a little autistic” when they disclose that they are autistic.

While everyone may be a “little autistic” in the sense that everyone may have SOME autistic traits to SOME degree, it is a dismissive thing to say in response to finding out someone is autistic.

This is because autistic people have more autistic traits to a greater degree, and living in a society with neurotypical expectations leaves many autistic people disabled. (This is viewing autism through the lens of the social model of disability.)

Saying “everyone is a little autistic” ignores these differences as if everyone struggles the way autistic people do. Autistic people have unique struggles and often need accommodations that neurotypicals don’t require. 

Being autistic is not the same as being “a little autistic” in the way a neurotypical person may imagine it. Being autistic means you’re neurodivergent and meet the diagnostic criteria for autism. Being “a little autistic” in the sense of having some autistic traits to some degree, but not meeting the diagnostic criteria for autism, means you’re allistic (i.e. not autistic). The line has to be drawn somewhere.

For example, liking order & structure is an autistic trait, but everyone likes order & structure to some degree. In general, for autistic people, this will be to a much greater degree to the point it can be disabling. Being extremely rigid about the way things are done or organized and needing that predictability is different from simply liking order. Extreme rigidity in a chaotic environment where others don’t respect this need for order can lead to anxiety, distress, and interpersonal conflicts. It can be disabling. 

In an environment where autistic needs are accommodated and respected, autistic people may not be disabled. You can be autistic and not be disabled in your environment, but there is a general tendency for autistic people to be disabled because of a lack of accommodations.

Autistic people are often marginalized and disabled because of having autistic traits in a society that expects neurotypical behaviour. Allistic people are not marginalized and disabled in the same way. This is why saying “everyone is a little autistic” in response to finding out someone is autistic is invalidating and minimizing.

Everyone may have some autistic traits to some degree, but not everyone is equally disabled.

A drawing of a kangaroo on a purple background with handwritten text that says, "Everyone may have some autistic traits to some degree, but not everyone is equally disabled."

P.S. Did you know baby kangaroos are born extremely premature? They’re the size of a jellybean at birth, and the baby that still looks like an embryo crawls into the mother’s pouch to finish the rest of its development.

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