Autism is a neurological difference. Autistic people see the world differently to what is typical of most humans. We experience the world differently, we do things differently, we are different. We diverge from what is typically expected. Ours brains and body are different and so we are neurodivergent.
But does that mean Autism isn’t a disability?
Many Autistics would say no, it isn’t. We are neurologically different not disabled. But then, what is a disability? According to the equality act: ‘You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities’. For some Autistic people the only difficulty affecting their lives is the limitations of social constructs and a lack of understanding and acceptance of other people. For others though, their lives are affected by the inability to do what society calls ‘normal daily activities’. Some Autistics cannot wash themselves, cannot walk unaided, cannot cook their own meals, clean their own house and some don’t have the ability to manage their own finances. Are these people disabled?
Yes Autism is a neurodivergence of the norm, but that doesn’t mean Autism isn’t disabling – for some. This might be where the problem comes in. Autism is a big spectrum and people range in abilities and functioning. Some are able to work, manage their own home but struggle with even the simplest of relationships. Some, like me, can manage relationships, manage their own home and family but struggle with work. Some are getting PHD’s but cannot cross a road without assistance. Some are non-verbal and require tools to help them communicate effectively, some still cannot communicate because others have not given them the chance and tools needed to. Some can just about manage every aspect of their lives but require lengthy recuperation time, others struggle with every aspect and require lengthy recuperation time. Some Autistics struggle with just one aspect such as communication or motor skills, others struggle with several aspects. Some may never stop needing help and accommodations whilst others may never get the accommodations they need because they appear ‘normal’. Autism is so diverse that what may seem a disability to some is just a different way of living to others. Some may embrace their stimming whilst others may hate their stimms. We are all different, even to other Autistics.
So are all Autistics neurodiverse? Yes, I believe they are.
Is Autism a disability? I fully believe it depends, on the person, on their abilities, on how their Autism presents, on whether they have accommodations and whether they need them. Whether the Autistic thinks their Autism is disabling to themselves. There’s really no one answer here.
For me Autism is both disabling and also not. I embrace the neurodivergent way, but I really struggle to communicate verbally, I struggle to do simple chores, I struggle with relationships and friendships. Are these disabling? Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. I can manage, just. But is ‘just’ acceptable for me? I’d say that my Autism can be a disability sometimes, but for me it might be more that society is more of a hindrance than the way my mind and body work. On my own I’m not so disabled, but that might not be true for everybody.
You can be neurodivergent and disabled at the same time. But Autism isn’t necessarily a disability.