I often get the question. There are many different opinions. Some people see autism as a disorder or a deficit. Some disagree strongly with that and say that autism is just another way of perceiving and understanding the world. Some even see autism as the next step in the evolution of the human brain.
Probably no surprise for those who know me and my work, but I think that the question “Is autism a disability” is not a good question. It is too absolute and…contex blind (pun intended).
It is the context that defines whether the autistic thinking is a deficit or an asset.
So, the question is not whether autism is a disability or not. The question is: where and when does it prevent the person from being happy and flourishing?
Although there is a difference between the autistic brain and the non-autistic brain, we are not talking about two completely different brains. Despite the differences, the autistic and the non-autistic brain have more in common that one would assume after reading all those books and articles on autism. People with autism (*) are not so different as many people think.
Consequently, not everything that autistic people do or say can be explained by their autism. People with an autism diagnosis should not be reduced to their diagnosis. As everyone else in the world, people with autism are unique people, and their unique personality is the consequence of the unique mix of all their characteristics: their interests, their different intelligences, their personality traits, their preferences, their unique history full of personal experiences etc.
We should not make autism too big, but see it in context, namely in the context of all the other characteristics that make a person unique.
Want to read a bit more?
I wrote a short article about autism in context.
(*) I use both person-first (person with autism) and identity-first (autistic person) because of the variety in preferences. In some countries like the UK most autistic people prefer identity-first language, while in Belgium and The Netherlands most people with autism prefer person-first language.