Did You Know You’re Disabled?

So I want to discuss something today. Something that’s confusing for autistic people. Especially newly discovered autistic people. Did you know you’re disabled? Yes. It’s okay. Disability is not a dirty word. It’s not a negative word. It is just your impairment’s relationship to the world. For this blog, we will use the WHO definition of disability.

Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.

I know you probably think that being disabled is bad. The world typically tells us that things that they don’t understand is bad. But it’s not. That’s because society makes you disabled. That doesn’t make them bad either, but it does mean that you are not on an even playing field. From Wikipedia:

The social model of disability sees “disability” as a socially created problem and a matter of the full integration of individuals into society. In this model, disability is not an attribute of an individual, but rather a complex collection of conditions, created by the social environment.

Alright.. So how does this relate to autism? Again, from Wikipedia:

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior.

So, our impairments (social interaction, communication and behavior, which under DSM5 includes sensory processing) are disabling due to societies integration of our unique neurological differences. Missing social cues, unwritten rules of engagement, that let’s be honest, are fairly arbitrary because they change depending on the person, the environment, etc etc, is not really because we’re missing them, but because they exist in the first place. (If you’re not missing the cues, you just don’t like following them, then you’re probably an introvert or maybe just a rebel. This means you’re not disabled by it and are not autistic.)

If your communication is impaired, finding the right words, or even just speaking, or putting the words together in the right order, then you’re disabled by the fact that language is required in society. This isn’t to say that language isn’t useful for a whole host of reasons, but it can create very real disability in people who just. can’t. communicate.

Then of course behavior… and since we’re including sensory processing now thanks to DSM5, we can talk about all the sights, sounds, tastes, feels, etc that are completely debilitating. Large group settings for people with auditory processing impairments are disabling because of the many sounds. Executive functioning impairments to explain our need for sameness in routine. That wouldn’t be an impairment if everyone needed that routine. There wouldn’t be unexpected guests. Or spontaneous changes to plans. Well, except as related to sickness, or accidents, or what not.


To be very clear, autism is disabling. If you feel that your autism does not disable you, then you either don’t understand how it’s society that makes our neurologies disabling OR you are not autistic. If you’re the latter, please don’t co-opt my disability so that you have a shiny box to fit in. Find/make a different shiny box, or recognize that not all people have to fit into a shiny box. I don’t get to choose whether or not social situations are disabling. I don’t get to choose whether or not my communication is disabling. I don’t get to choose whether my behaviors are disabling. They just are because of the limitations that society places on them. If you can do these things and are not disabled by them, then you are just not autistic.

Comments for this post will be turned off because frankly, I don’t have the energy to moderate them at this point.

Photo by LordFerguson