• Chris Wingate

Writing about autism, and pathologizing behavior

I've had an interesting conundrum these past few weeks, with a looming deadline to write anything about autism: I couldn't do it.


Of course, by the time you read this, I will have come up with something. But that something is verbalizing why it's so hard to do this, not a more productive article. The words just don’t really come here, and they do there. Why is that?


I can say with confidence that it’s not for lack of writing talent, or even desire to write. I’m not incapable of doing justice to many topics—I received plenty of support for my previous blog article, for which I am grateful—and while my interests often cycle heavily, I’m currently in a strong writing kick where I’m motivated to do it. Recently I started another blog where I routinely write articles between 3,000 and 4,000 words and make updates an average of twice a week. (By contrast this might generously come out to be 400 words, and I don’t even put out an article a month here.)


At least in my perception, the disconnect is that I often don’t know what to write about, really, when it comes to autism. My experience does not feel remarkable to me, and for the most part I don’t know what is remarkable to other people beyond being autistic in the first place. Is it remarkable to easily write 4,000 words about something you’re interested in, and barely 400 on the experiences that feel normal to me? Wouldn’t a neurotypical person have the same problem?


But I suppose that gets at something, doesn’t it? Regardless of context, there is often a difference in how something is seen when a neurotypical person struggles with it, versus how something is seen when an autistic person does. Even if there are completely rational, human explanations for my inability to write on this subject, I feel pretty comfortable saying that if I went around asking, most people would see my struggle this as a form of executive dysfunction (even if they don't know what that means)—in other words, as another product of being autistic. And maybe that's the case sometimes, sure. But is it universally? I doubt it. They definitely would not if I were neurotypical. It would just be writer's block, and nobody would think differently of it.


This is to say that I think we sometimes jump to pathologizing certain behaviors as "autistic" behaviors because they're happening in autistic people, and that's quite silly. Sometimes, there are behaviors which do need to be addressed and which stem from being autistic; but sometimes, writer's block is just writer's block. One day the words will probably come easy for my work here, and one day they probably won't on my other blog. These are human experiences, not autistic ones.

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