Autism – the motivation for this little website’s existence! Autism describes a neurological state – a type of mind – that diverges from the neurotypical human mind. Because this is neurologically wired, not something that we acquire during our lives, it is not a disorder, not an illness, not something that is faulty, it is simply a difference. We are, therefore, born autistic and will be so throughout our entire lives, even though our environments, our level of support, and societal attitudes will inevitably affect how well we are able to function in a world that really doesn’t understand what it means to be us.

But things are changing and the more we talk about what being autistic means, for each of us, the more loud and proud of our varied differences that we are, the less misunderstanding there will be. Autistic people can have a vast number of co-occurring conditions over a huge range: eczema, auto-immune conditions, IBS, OCD, apraxia and a vast number of others. These are NOT autism, these are conditions that autistic people are having to cope with as unwelcome add-ons. Not always, and not all of them, it varies between individuals, just as it does for neurotypical people. I belong to a number of autistic support groups and the number of co-occurring conditions that autistic people have to endure is truly staggering.

The stereotype of the autistic person, thanks to some horrendously unethical historical research, is that we are ALL learning disabled – i.e. we have low intelligence, or low IQs (side note – IQ tests are skewed and heavily flawed, but that is a whole separate issue that I am resisting the urge to discuss here). People with learning disabilities are not necessarily autistic. People who are autistic and learning disabled are in the minority – somewhere between 15-30% of autistic people also have a learning (intellectual) disability (LD).

This means that at least 70% of autistic people are walking in plain sight – misunderstood, unidentifiable, trying so hard to fit into a world that is resistant to accommodating us. Short of wearing a sandwich board with ‘I AM AUTISTIC AND HEY, I LOOK AND BEHAVE JUST LIKE YOU!’ on it, which I’m not convinced would help our cause, we just blend in. Right up to the point where we have to run from a crowded shop in panic, or find ourselves unable to utter a word when making a difficult phone call, or to attend a family meal because you know there won’t be anything on the menu that you can face eating. These are just small examples of how many autistic struggles are NOT obvious to the outsider. I am not diminishing the experiences of autistic people that do have learning disabilities, I am highlighting the fact that learning disabilities are POSSIBLE co-occurring conditions, just as hyper-mobility of the joints can be, and dyslexia and all of the others (and more besides) that are in the glossary.

This understanding is vital if we are going to:

1) identify all the hidden autistic people that are not coping in this very challenging, neurotypical world and

2) stop seeing autistic people as lacking in some way – faulty, ill, in need of correction. Many of us do have illnesses, but these are not a diagnostic feature of autism – they are separate and they can occur alongside. Some of us have learning disabilities (different to learning difficulties) but this, again, is NOT autism.

Autistic people are, at the very least as amazing and brilliant and witty and daft as the wider population. And yes I’m biased. But it’s still true.