You’ve probably heard the cliched phrase more times than you can count.
“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
The point of this phrase is supposed to be that autism is a spectrum. That it’s a wide range of people of all ages, interests, and abilities. You can meet one person who is autistic, then another person who is autistic, and they can be completely different from each other.
I do appreciate that sentiment. We should treat every human being as their own unique, wonderful individual that they are.
My issue with this phrase is that there’s no reason it’s unique to autism. You can easily say:
“If you’ve met one African-American male, you’ve met one African-American male.”
Isn’t that true? Shouldn’t we not judge a black man walking toward us on the street just because he is black and male? Shouldn’t we be wholly conscious of the fact that he has his own unique past and not just see him by that one trait (well, technically, two traits combined into one).
Or how about:
“If you’ve met one person with lung cancer, you’ve met one person with lung cancer.”
A lot of times people with lung cancer are demonized. Especially if they are / were smokers. “You brought it on yourself” is a typical response. But the actual stories are much more important. We should never knee-jerk judge. We should always be open to listening.
So we absolutely should treat every person on the spectrum as being their own unique person. We should know every person has their own capabilities and challenges. We should avoid assumptions.
And we should do the same for every person we meet – whoever they are.