Non-autistic: “Everybody’s like that.” No. You aren’t.

Like almost all other human beings, I try to form, strengthen, and enrich bonds with other people.  Given the fact that the world’s population dice are weighted much more heavily toward neurotypicality, chances are that most of these people aren’t going to be sitting next to me anywhere on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.

As part of the attempted bonding process, especially with those closest to me who are neurotypical, I often find myself explaining and describing various aspects of Asperger’s/autism to them, such as individual traits, culture, vocabulary/lexicon, and some of the issues we tend to face in the autism spectrum community.  After all, even though we may walk the same ground from day to day and visit the same places, we actually live in slightly different worlds.  Or maybe it’s the same exact world, but perhaps skewed and viewed from different angles, depending on one’s neurological orientation.

For example, I might describe generally-autistic attributes like systemizing, hyper-focusing, alexithymia, or echolalia.  Or I might explain how we experience empathy, sensory stimuli, or making eye contact.  Naturally, I’ll illustrate the differences between how the different population segments approach these concepts.

And invariably, at some point, from someone, I’ll hear the inevitable stock phrase: “well, everybody’s like that, to an extent.”

They’re probably trying to be nice, to help me not feel so alone.  The problem is, when they say things like this, their attempt achieved the opposite of their desired result: I feel even more alone.

Because, yet again, I didn’t feel heard.

In fact, I probably wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that every time I hear this, I die a little inside. At the very least, I roll my Inside Eyes.

How can anyone claim to know what it’s like to be anybody else?  How could anyone claim to know what anyone else’s life is truly like?  We only see the world through our own eyes, which are not without our personal lenses, lenses that bend, shape, and refract our worldview.

Worse yet, when someone makes the statement that “everyone is like that”, they’re inadvertently saying several other things.  Things that hurt.

Things like, “you don’t actually have it hard”. 

“You don’t actually get misunderstood.”

“Your experience doesn’t really matter.”

“You don’t actually struggle the way you think you do.”

“It doesn’t take that much strength to get through the day.”

“You’re probably just being melodramatic.”

“You never actually ended up as the cheese standing alone in kindergarten.”

“You shouldn’t have a problem just picking up the phone and making that call.”

In saying “everyone’s like that”, they’re dismissing my experience.  They’re denying my reality.

I know that for every trait I have, even those on the autism spectrum, there’s a neurotypical person out there who has that trait, too.  I’ve never claimed to have a monopoly on anything.  My personality is not copyrighted or patented anywhere, nor are any of its individual traits.  Other people have a right to those traits, too.

But I do have a collection of traits that, when taken together, are seen in only about 1-2% of the population.  And not one of those traits is shared by everyone.

There is no single statement that I could make, beyond the most basic of human needs, that is universally true.  Beyond our needs for physiological survival, every other statement made about the nature of human beings would fall flat of the absolute.

Sure, some traits are more common than others; most of us need some kind of contact with other humans, even if we’re introverted to the core.  But who am I to say, at any level of certainty, that that statement applies across the board?  I can’t legitimately make that kind of claim unless I happen to know every human being on the planet (which I don’t).

Assumptions like “everybody’s like that” demean who I am.  They also reduce the paint palette of humanity to a boring set of lowest common denominators.  Those statements actually demean everyone, on and off the spectrum.

People who make those kinds of statements may be trying to ease my discomfort, but actually, they only add to it. 

Usually, whatever I said that led up to their statement was probably some kind of confiding session.  For that moment, I needed their support.  I needed the spotlight to be on me. 

By making statements like that, they take that away from me, spreading out my pain or discomfort across the entire population, which includes people who don’t need that support.  And it takes away from people like me who do.

They’re probably trying to help me not feel so pathological.  But what they don’t realize is, I don’t feel pathological anyway.  Do they perceive me that way?  Is this an inadvertent form of Sideways Ableism?  It might be buttered with love or care, but it cuts just the same.  If they believe that by “normalizing” me, I’ll feel better, then I wonder if that means that they’ve made the assumption that I somehow don’t feel adequate or complete or whole on my own.

I don’t need or want to be “normalized”.  Ironically, my Asperger’s/autism discovery was actually a key component that drove my self-esteem to unprecedented heights.  Never in my life have I felt so solid about who I am.

And I’m sure that my vibes of elation, excitement, and having been liberated have certainly been conveyed, both through verbal and non-verbal avenues.  I felt like I’d been reborn, in a way.

My newfound explanations for lifelong puzzles and enigmas have definitely been communicated as a positive, monumental development.  It was akin to telling everybody it’s my birthday.  So the response of, “everybody’s like that” is even more perplexing.  Imagine the following conversation:

Me: “It’s my birthday!”

Neurotypical: “Well, everybody’s got a birthday…”

If such a conversation ever actually took place, the respondent would be perceived as having committed a bizarre etiquette breach.  Conversational flow would halt and stop cold, replaced by confused expressions and requests for clarification, complete with the internal double-checking of my sent “it’s my birthday!” message to ensure that I hadn’t actually said something else (completely different) instead.

Nobody would dream of responding that way to a birthday proclamation, but it’s almost inevitable that someone “coming out” as autistic will hear it from somebody.  I heard “everybody’s a bit like that” from–count ’em–three people, and my inner circle doesn’t have much of a wingspan.

Which led me to wonder: could their motive for saying these words involve a subconscious desire to make themselves feel better?  If they feel they have to attempt “normalize” me in order to make themselves feel better, then…just–what the hell?

In an attempt to “normalize” me, they’ve actually marginalized me even more.

The “everybody’s like that” statement has a dampening, deflating effect.  Best to bury that one into a grave, away from the dog that digs.

Because for many autistic people, the events of discovery and/or diagnosis is life-changing, usually (although not always) for the better, often listing side-effects of relief, liberation, validation, vindication, authenticity, and the ability to find and bond with others like them (us).

The subsequent act of “coming out” (disclosing their autism spectrum status to others) takes courage and requires trust.  The desire to do so (in voluntary situations, as opposed to a case in which it has become necessary to do so) is often borne out of a compelling urge to share, usually in some type of joy or other positive context.  As we share this moment with them, we want (need) them to share it with us.

So when someone discloses their Asperger’s/autism spectrum status to you, don’t minimize it with an “everyone’s like that”.  Instead, just as if we were telling you it’s our birthday, share in our joy, relief, and elation, and reflect it back to us.  Clap your hands and cheer for us.  Celebrate with us.  Explore and learn about it with us, because chances are, if we’re making the Asperger’s/autism discovery for the first time as adults, we’ll probably talk about it a lot.  We’ll be reframing our entire lives in a whole new light, and we’ll want/encourage you to do it with us.

If we disclose something to you or discuss an aspect of our autism spectrumhood to you, there may be times in which you’re not sure how to answer, whether to be joyful and congratulatory or compassionate and sympathetic.  When in doubt, assume nothing; simply adopt a neutral stance and ask us how we feel about it (the realization, diagnosis, stumbling across a piece of information, making a monumental realization, etc).  It doesn’t hurt to ask.

It’s a lot better than, “well, everybody goes through that.”

Maybe the majority of autistic people do share the experience I was originally disclosing or explaining.  If you were referring exclusively to people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, then you might arguably be correct in saying “(almost) everybody’s like that”.

But please, don’t ever assume that neurotypical people can claim the same traits in the same combination and intensity, and with the same effects and challenges as people on the spectrum do.  Because it just ain’t so.

When the world at large already defaults to the position you already operate in, life is comparatively exponentially easier for you.  When your neurological orientation is already widely understood, accepted, embraced, and even idolized, the effort required in living day to day is significantly less.

Not all of us are so lucky.

“Everyone” is not “like that”.

🙂

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35 Comments

  1. Oh how true. And oh how frustrating and, yes, belittling and demeaning. My mother recently has been saying well-meant things such as “you are you” and you are special, please don’t feel you need to label yourself”. I just cannot seem to relay why having this label is helping and comforting me so and why I now feel it’s OK. I like the term ‘reframing’. I am in the reframing process. Thank you once again for a wonderful blog. Every blog of yours is like you are reading and writing from my mind and for this I am comforted and it is aiding me through my process x

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and support! 😊 I really do appreciate that ❤️

      I’m so sorry that you had to endure remarks like that. 💐 The person saying things like these most likely mean well (or at least, they had better!), which can make our resentment that much more stressful (!). But the outcome is still the same – we feel even less self-esteem, less valid. Because it’s implied that we’re “making a big deal out of it”, which makes us feel even worse. And the ugly cycle continues. About the only solution I can think of is to simply get our voices out there and illuminate the reality of those statements for one person at a time 💙💚

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonderful post. My only child has this issue with me, doesn’t understand, although I know he loves me. He’s got his own issues due to ME not knowing who I was or how to cope, when I was trying my best to be a good mom. We’re both adults, now, and our relationship is good, but this does leave a hole. Thank you so much for all you write.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad that your relationship is good now! You’re not alone, dear friend 😊 Adult diagnosis seems to be bundled with a tinge of “if only I knew then what I know now”💐 Hope is not lost, my lovely ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  3. apart from my own experience hearing the same darned things, i can back up what youre saying thusly: because its a funny thing– i *never* ever found anyone like myself until i knew what to “search” for (decades later!) then i found out there are tons of you. well, golly! but yes, that makes you (quite) different from the nt.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Awesome!! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼. All I can say is, “me too!” I never knew what I really was/am, and I didn’t know how to go about finding more people like me until one day, poof!!–“haha the joke’s on you, girl! You’re autistic!!” Who the F knew?? Lol 😊 It has actually been quite the heartwarming, encouraging, and exciting experience for me, and it’s been so fulfilling to meet kindred spirits. My only wish is that I would have found out sooner ❤️

      Liked by 3 people

    2. I never knew what to search for. But having had an autistic sibling, I had a few inklings. Very bad childhood led me to be a lifelong searcher for what the whole thing was about. Then, a young housemate moved in and we became friends, and he was so obviously an Aspie that it made me compare myself to him- both his statements and my observations. So- I started doing some research.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much for sharing your story, lovely friend! ❤️ I’m amazed! I’m so sorry that you went through what you did. 💐 Childhoods may write the book of who we are. But the cool part is that the book isn’t finished; as adults, we write the subsequent chapters 😊 And yours is amazing! I always love hearing people’s stories about how they came to suspect that they might be on the autism spectrum. Especially those of us who either didn’t have children, or didn’t have to bring them in for an autism evaluation. It’s also interesting how often family members come to mind during our discovery 😊

        Thank you for adding your voice! It’s definitely an asset to the conversation ❤️

        Liked by 1 person

    3. ive got a million things to say to you today, im sorry. actually for every thing you say to me, i think of 5 to say to you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0mpli40G4E ❤ im always keeping it back!

      i wanted you to know that every time you like or comment something of mine (including one of my comments to you) i get a little tingle of joy– every time. and entirely unrelated to anything, but i went to your twitter for the first time today (i rarely go to anyones twitter, ever) and found out youre biracial. thats awesome, the first person i ever found attractive (jennifer beals) is too. (for years i thought she was hispanic, though shes not.)

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Yep, right there with you, my friend. I would have stood in that circle with you 💐 It’s interesting how, when we discover our autism status, memories we thought we had safely buried begin to surface once again, either during our own reframing of our lives through our newfound lens, or while reading the reframings of others. It can hurt. But the good news is, it can also offer us a chance to finally heal from it–at least, that’s been my experience; I hope the same for you – if not right away, then maybe later ❤️

      Thank you for sharing; your story helps me feel less alone, too 💜💙

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes, been through this topic too many times I’m starting to hate myself for being so fragile and sensitive to others’ well-intentioned remarks and the various variants of “everybody’s like that/a little autistic.”I am wondering if saying “well, that’s life” carries the same effect. It is less belittling but it doesn’t acknowledge my problem too, like you said, it takes the spotlight away from me and feels like the person is just telling me to suck it up. I need to learn to be less easily offended.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for commenting! Yep, I think it does have the same meaning. “That’s life” has always seemed a bit crass to me, more or less so depending on the preceding conversation.

      As a fellow sensitive person 😊, I think that while it’s probably helpful to thicken our own skins for our own wellbeing, it would also be wonderful if the rest of the world became a bit more sensitive of a place to be. ❤️

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Great post. I’ve thought, myself, that this is often based in a misunderstanding of our own attitudes toward autism — like you said, an attempt to de-pathologize our traits when *we aren’t looking at them as pathologies*. So when we happily go on about finally understanding why we react a certain way, they’re hearing us moaning about this “condition” we have, and so they try to reassure us. (Call it a failure of “theory of mind” on their part. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely! I agree all the way. An Asperger’s/autism diagnosis/realization is one of the few that one is often happy to get. Because it’s not pathological 😊 It’s a way of being, and the label helps us explore ourselves further and discover each other ❤️

      Thank you so much for your comment! 😊

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Amen!! Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. It’s so true!

      I admit (juicy confession time!) that I preemptively uttered that line to people when I was “coming out” at first. But I think that’s only because it was so new to me and nothing had changed…YET. But then, over the course of the next few months, it *did* change. Everything changed. Not on the surface so much, but deeper inside. My partner, the person closest to me in adult life, noticed it the most. He noticed it more than (and before) I did. He said, “oh yeah – your self-confidence has gone through the roof.” That was cool to hear. :). A close friend whom I hadn’t seen in a while commented that I looked more relaxed and comfortable; some of the lines on my face were much less prominent. She could tell, too.

      And they were right, of course. In the early days immediately following my discovery process, I made the remark that I was still the same person I was yesterday. But I would have to revise that statement now, because in retrospect, it’s not at all true anymore :). I would also proceed to give you the credit for illuminating that point for me by your fantastic comment. Thank you for that! It’s a gift ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you for the great post❤️👍 I was having this very conversation with my boss last week. They had asked me how I was, I said ok except for the clock on her wall which I hate. It’s like having someone knock rhythmically on your skull. I would destroy all clocks that tick if I could. Sorry got off track. Anyway they said “well I sure lots of people find clocks annoying” I hadn’t said it was annoying having someone reaptedly bang on your head hurts. I suggested that comparing an NT’s annoyance of the ticking from clocks to the discomfort/pain it causes me was like me comparing going for a walk up a hill in the countryside to climbing a mountain. I was told I couldn’t just dismiss others experiences and that I shouldn’t make assumptions. I agree with this and it’s a reasonable point, thing is I can’t help feeling that what was actually being said was, you’re exaggerating, don’t try and set yourself apart you’re not that different and do not question my view of things. It is by far my least favourite thing to hear and the favoured thing for NT’s to say. Why must people try to empathise when they can’t and why default to assuming it is required.

    Sorry that was a bit of a rant, I only meant to say thanks share my appreciation and ask if it would be ok with you if I rebloged this post on my site.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely words and for sharing your thoughts! Never a problem to rant, my friend; rant away! This is a Safe Ranting Space 😉❤️

      It’s so true that it can be incredibly difficult for NTs to understand how our environment affects us. I’m convinced that the only reason ticking clocks still exist is because most NT people don’t mind them, and those who find them mildly annoying don’t get bothered enough about it to kick up any fuss. Their nervous systems tune it out most of the time. But we don’t have a choice! Everything gets through, whether we like it or not, whether it’s even important sensory info or not. Gah lol. See? You’ve got a good ranting partner right here lol 😂😂🌺❤️

      Liked by 2 people

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