In my book I wrote that: ‘autism refers to a neurotype that leads to a cognition that is qualitatively different from that of the PNT [PNT stands for predominant neurotype – what others refer to sometimes as neurotypical] in the way that information specific to communication, social interpretation and interaction is processed and understood; and to a perceptual reality of the sensory environment that differs considerably from one individual to the next’ (Beardon, 2017:19).
Sounds a bit long-winded perhaps, but trying to somehow define a population of people in any meaningful way is a pretty tough ask! Essentially, I think that autism is all about how the autistic person’s brain processes/filters different types of information, including verbal and non-verbal communication, social signals, and the sensory world. My understanding is that the autistic brain translates these types of information in different ways compared to the PNT, so the end result is that life is experienced qualitatively differently in all sorts of ways for the autistic person compared to the PNT. This has a huge impact, subsequently, on how the person makes sense of the world around them, and will of course also play a huge part in how the person reacts in relation to how they communicate, how they engage with others, and how they present in terms of behaviour. Only by trying to understand how life is actually experienced by the autistic individual (and each individual will differ) can society begin to understand the individual person.