WE'RE NOT A LITTLE BIT AUTISTIC.

When I was three, I was sitting in the front seat of my parents' Holden Kingswood, between my father and my maternal grandfather. My parents, my maternal grandmother and my infant brother had to leave the car leaving me with my grandfather. I remember my grandfather lighting a cigarette and saying, "That's the wiper and that's the lighter." He was right about the lighter but wrong about the wiper. Then, I remembered him asking me what sort of car we were in (I could pick cars when I was little, I knew the Holden by the lion (the Peugeot had one, too, but it was different) the Ford by the blue oval badge and others, too) and I replied, "A Holden Kingswood," and he said, "That's right, so that shouldn't say, "Ford Cortina." I asked my mother why the radio had Ford Cortina on it a few days later and she told me that my father had the radio (then an optional extra) from the Cortina taken over into the Kingswood before they sold it as it didn't have a radio before. (Incidentally, I remember my grandfather was wearing a brown cardigan, an orange shirt and brown shorts on the day). Yes, the Holden had a Ford accessory, but was it a bit of a Ford? Well, not really.

If I had bought a Holden from about 1988 onwards, I would have said to the dealer, "Well, it may be a win for you, but the Ford dealer will profit from this, too." If they asked me why, I would have said, "Well, I'm going to measure the seats for the Falcon and if they are the same and will fit, I am going to swap these seats for Falcon seats." Historically, in Australia, you have typically been either a Holden fan or a Ford fan, but I have known of people, in one case even a police officer, back when local forces had a mixture of Holden and Ford, who said that he preferred the Falcon for the comfort and the Commodore for the car. I have even had some dyed in the wool Holden people concede that the Falcon is more comfortable.

Even in that case, a Commodore with Falcon seats isn't "a bit of a Falcon," it's a Commodore with Falcon seats. So, if we would say that about a car, why should we say that somebody is "a bit autistic." A person is either autistic or they're not.

There has been debate that some people may have autistic traits, but that still doesn't make them a bit autistic. It's the reverse of someone with one Chinese great-grandparent being told they can't say they're Chinese. A person can have Chinese heritage, even if the rest of their ancestry is European.

I have seen an interview with Merylu Henner, who can recall in detail what she was doing on certain days and what the weather was like. I can do the same, and I can remember back as far as when I was two, and having seen Merylu Henner, in the interview, driving around in a convertible while wearing a scarf and sunglasses as well as long sleeves and long pants, I could have been forgiven for thinking she is autistic with sensory processing issues, OR, due to her red hair and fair skin, she might have just been cautious not to get sunburnt.

Similarly, I had a housemate who was deliberately unpleasant and was quitting alcohol, who would walk along with the buds of earphones in his ears, listening to the radio on his phone, but that wasn't because he was autistic, that was because he was a misanthropist. Many autistics are introverts, but you can be an introvert and not be autistic and you can be an autistic and not be an introvert.

I am an introvert, and that's just my personality, but when I find someone with whom I can enjoy a stimulating conversation, I can really talk.

My mother used to criticise me when I was younger because if people asked me how I was, I would reply, "I'm good, thanks. I'm doing an assignment." What my mother didn't realise is that I am more comfortable talking about what I'm interested in than what I am about what label outfit Kim Kardashian is wearing or the weather outside.

I mean, on another level, I am autistic and own a Toyota. I purposefully chose a Toyota because I wanted a car from Japan, yet I have met other people who own cars of the same model who haven't given the fact that it's Japanese a second thought. And I have known people who drive Japanese cars who aren't interested in Japan and people who are interested in Japan who don't drive Japanese cars. However, when I'm around people who are interested in Japan and who drive Japanese cars, I'm comfortable and they are few and far between and are mostly autistic, so we agree on a lot.

So, if a person whose parents are both from China and both Chinese is sitting beside someone who had a Chinese great-grandfather, they can say they have varying degrees of being Chinese as these are static, and the person who is only an eighth Chinese may be in their element eating Chinese food, or doing something else typically associated with Chinese culture. Autism, however, is elastic, in that an autistic person may be verbal and able to do some neuro-typical things, but when stressed, may be unable to speak and shutdown. Similarly, a neuro-typical may enjoy collecting things, but that does not mean they're a little bit autistic.

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Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.

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Peter Wynn

Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.