Autism: Do you have to be autistic to understand autism?

A friend of mine answered a Tweet yesterday telling someone that I am an ‘autism expert’, the response to this from a certain lady was  ‘if she’s not autistic she’s not an autism expert’.

I speak about how we need people with differently wired brains in my TED talk

Now, there may be an element of truth in this statement, but, not being on the spectrum but having a great understanding of the way autistic brains work has huge benefits as well. And why do I understand autism so well?  I’ve been around autism for my entire life!  My mother and both of my brothers were/are on the spectrum (one of my brothers and my mother are deceased), most of my children are on the spectrum and a lot of people I meet, and indeed, a lot of my closest friends are also on the spectrum. Five years ago I also set up, and still run, an autism support group where I obviously meet numerous people on the spectrum.

There is power in understanding the way the autistic brain works and how the different wiring affects people, but also understanding that the poor souls not on the spectrum sometimes struggle to understand the straightforward way the autistic brain tends to work.  I can interpret the differences in behaviour between those on the spectrum and those not, I can see where the communication struggles are occurring and suggest ways to overcome the challenges.  This is especially useful when I’m helping a couple where one is on the spectrum and the other isn’t.

I can often help to unravel the communication challenges

Because I understand how both types of brain work I recognise when communication is less effective due to the differences, and I’ve had plenty of practice with my own children who are all incredibly different within their autism.  They have challenges with totally different things and I understand what is causing those challenges, I’ve ‘studied’ my children in order to be able to help them as best I can and this has led to a great level of understanding.

No, I’m not autistic, but my time spent with autistic people has given me a huge amount of insight into how they think and feel, I can empathise with them, I can help them and I can use this to make people’s lives better.  On the other side of the coin I can also help people who are on the spectrum understand why non-autists seem to make communication so complicated and how to better understand what they are trying to say.  I see myself as being a kind of mediator.

And, of course, I can never experience the way the autistic brain actually works but maybe my perspective is the next best thing?  Better than nothing maybe, and, we need ALL types of brain wiring to make our world a better place to live.  Vive la difference!

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