Wheels On My Back

04 - Is "Highly Sensitive Person" an Ableist Euphemism for Autistic? + Why Self Identification Is Valid

August 04, 2021 Jess Edelstein
Wheels On My Back
04 - Is "Highly Sensitive Person" an Ableist Euphemism for Autistic? + Why Self Identification Is Valid
Show Notes

If you look up the criteria for a “highly sensitive person” or HSP, you’ll find a long list of autistic traits and the conclusion that 20% of the population meets the criteria for “HSP”, and that it’s commonly attributed to a combination of genetics and early environment.

Hmm. This has a lot of autistics online wondering (we do have pattern seeking minds and bottom up thinking processes after all!)…could HSP - a nonpathologized and dare I say ~trendy~ term, be nothing more than an ableist euphemism for A U T I S T I C??

Many of us think so!

Of course, not all autistics are highly sensitive but the ones who are tend to have more internalized or masked autistic traits that tend to be missed or misdiagnosed. This is a very common experience for women and AFAB individuals who tend to be identified as autistic later in life, if at all. 

Unfortunately, most clinicians still operate from a deficit-based model of autism (even though that’s being steadily debunked by current research)

So it makes sense that in the absence of validation from their doctors and therapists (plus internalized ableism) many people turn to HSP as a way to describe their lived experiences. 

As HSPs know, being highly sensitive isn’t a disorder or illness, although heightened sensitivity can be socially or physically disabling in certain over-stimulating environments. Kind of like….autism? 

!! Imagine how inconvenient it would be to autism industry and research if it turns out that 20% of the population is actually autistic and it’s just a neurotype and not a disorder after all!

For more thoughts on this topic, plus my experience getting a clinical diagnosis and why I still advocate for the validity of self-identification - check out episode 4 of Wheels On My Back. 

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The official website of HSP researcher Elaine Arom:

“FAQ: How does sensitivity differ from Autistic spectrum disorders (Asperger’s Syndrome, etc.)?

A: Autistic diagnoses can be complex and dynamic. This area is not Elaine’s specialty, and she does not keep up on current research. This topic deserves accuracy and respect. Therefore, we advise those looking for more information to seek out autism experts. Just be certain they understand something about innate temperaments such as high sensitivity as well.”

Autism Identity and the “Lost Generation”: Structural Validation of the Autism Spectrum Identity Scale and Comparison of Diagnosed and Self-Diagnosed Adults on the Autism Spectrum