Chapter 3

Who can be autistic?

The way people talk about autism has changed a lot.

We used to call autism a lot of different things. Some people still use these words.

Some of these words are:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Autistic Disorder
  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
  • Pervasive Developmental Disability Not Otherwise Specialized (PDD-NOS)
  • Atypical Autism

Today, we mostly just call it autism.

Autism and other disabilities

People with other disabilities can also be autistic.
Autistic people can have more than one disability.
Sometimes, these other disabilities are part of being autistic.
Sometimes, they aren’t part of being autistic.
Autism is a developmental disability.

Many people with developmental disabilities have more than one disability.
That’s normal.

Here are some other disabilities autistic people sometimes have:

Learning disabilities (called “learning difficulties” in the United Kingdom):

  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Dyscalculia
  • Nonverbal Learning Disability

Mental health disabilities:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • PTSD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating Disorders
  • OCD
  • Tourette’s Syndrome

Disabilities that affect your body:

  • Connective tissue disorders, like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Marfan syndrome
  • Sleep disorders, like insomnia or sleep apnea
  • Digestion disorders, like GERD and peptic ulcer disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Tuberous Sclerosis

Other developmental disabilities:

  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Disabilities that affect how you learn and think. People with intellectual disabilities might learn more slowly.
    (called “learning disabilities” in the United Kingdom)
  • ADHD
  • Rett’s Syndrome
  • Angelman’s Syndrome
  • Down Syndrome
  • Cerebral Palsy

Some disabilities happen more in autistic people.
Sometimes, people say that means autism is a bad thing.
But that doesn’t make sense.

Think of it like this:

People with red hair sunburn more easily.
Sunburns hurt and can cause skin cancer.
But we don’t say that red hair is bad.
We don’t try to cure red hair.
We don’t tell people with red hair to dye their hair.
That wouldn’t help with their sunburns.
Instead, we make sure people wear sunblock.

It’s the same with autism.
Autistic people should get more support for all of our disabilities.
We don’t need people to try and fix us!

Getting the wrong diagnosis

Sometimes, autistic people don’t get an autism diagnosis.
We might get diagnosed with other disabilities instead.
Sometimes, we also have these disabilities.
Other times, doctors are just confused.
They might not realize we are autistic.

Women and people of color get the wrong diagnosis the most.
They might be diagnosed with other disabilities instead.
Some of these other disabilities are:

  • Deafness
  • Schizophrenia
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Avoidant Personality Disorder
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder
  • Nonverbal Learning Disorder
  • Sensory Processing Disorder
  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Intellectual Disability

Autistic people can have disabilities besides autism.
But some doctors don’t know a lot about autism.
They might say we have these disabilities instead of autism.
Doctors can be wrong.

Anyone can be autistic.
Girls and women can be autistic.
Transgender people and non-binary people can be autistic.
People of color can be autistic.
Teenagers, adults, and older people can be autistic.
People with other disabilities can also be autistic.

Girls and women can be autistic!

Girls and women get diagnosed with autism less than boys.
Lots of people think of autism as a “boy’s thing”.
Girls might get diagnosed with other disabilities instead.
They might be told they’re just shy or mean.

But that is wrong!
Girls can be autistic, too.
Autistic girls might not always look like autistic boys.
Girls and boys might act differently.
Girls might feel more pressure to fit in than boys do.
This can make it harder to tell if girls are autistic.

Studies about autism mostly focus on autistic boys.
This means that we know very little about autistic girls.
That makes it even harder for girls to get diagnosed.

Transgender and non-binary people can be autistic!

There are lots of different genders.
But some people think there are only 2.
When people are born, the doctor usually says “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!”
The doctor says this based on what someone’s body looks like.
But sometimes the doctor is wrong.
You don’t have to be a boy or girl just because of what your body looks like.

Sometimes, a person who was told she was a boy is actually a girl.
Transgender means your gender is different than people thought when you were born.
Cisgender means your gender is the same as people thought when you were born.

For example:

Billy is transgender.
When Billy was born, everyone thought he was a girl.
But Billy knew he was a boy.
Billy told people that he was a boy.
Now, he lives his life as a man.

There are lots of different genders.
Sometimes, a person is not a boy or a girl.
Sometimes, a person does not have a gender.
Sometimes, a person feels like different genders at different times.
Non-binary means that someone isn’t just a boy or a girl.

A lot of autistic people are transgender or non-binary.
We do not know why this happens.
That is okay!
It is okay to be autistic.
It is okay to be transgender or non-binary.
It is okay to be both!

Some people say that autistic people cannot understand ourselves.
They might just say that we are confused about our gender.
Those people are wrong!
Autistic people get to decide what our genders are, no matter what.

People of color can be autistic!

People of color are people who are not white.
Black people are people of color.
Asian people are people of color.
Latinx people are people of color.
Anyone who isn’t white is a person of color.

White people get diagnosed with autism more than people of color.
But people of color are just as likely to be autistic.
Doctors aren’t very good at diagnosing autistic people of color.
Racism can make it harder for autistic people of color to get diagnosed.
They might get diagnosed with a different disability instead.

We need to work hard to support autistic people of color.
Everyone should be able to find out if they are autistic.

Teenagers, adults, and older people can be autistic!

Anyone can be autistic.
It doesn’t matter how old you are.
You can’t ‘grow out’ of autism!

Remember: autism is a developmental disability.
If a person is autistic, they never stop being autistic.
This means that people of all ages can be autistic.

Sometimes, people get diagnosed with autism when they are an adult.
They didn’t have a chance to get diagnosed as a kid.
Or, their doctor made a mistake.
That doesn’t mean someone wasn’t autistic as a kid.
They were still autistic before they got a diagnosis.
They were autistic the whole time.

Any type of person can be autistic.
Autistic people are all kinds of people!

Chapter 3 Resources