While I do not believe that autism and chronic illness are medically linked, it is undeniable that many autistic people are also living with chronic illness.
When I ask the question “how many of us are living with chronic illness” in my autistic self-advocate groups, many of us are ready to disclose our health concerns. The responses often echo in similar tunes: Irritable Bowel Disease, epilepsy, diabetes, hypertension, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS), are all lived experiences of more than one self-advocate that I know. I had never even heard of Ehlers-Danlos until entering the self-advocacy world.
More likely, I believe, instead of saying that autistic people are more likely to be chronically ill, is that we are more ready to be open about our health if we are also openly autistic. If we are working on unmasking our autistic selves and living with pride, it flows that we would also be working on unmasking our chronic health conditions and speaking openly about them because we are holistically working on being an unapologetic person.
I knew that I had Crohn’s Disease, a type of Irritable Bowel Disease, 11 years before I knew that I was autistic. I am still working on unmasking this part of myself, because I do not want to openly speak about spending up to half of my day on the toilet. I masked and felt ashamed of my ill body for many years. But just as I am unmasking my autistic self, I am opening up about my Crohn’s Disease. I do both of these things for the same reason. Unmasking my autism will help autistic people feel less stigmatized and more able to accept and love themselves. Unmasking my Crohn’s Disease will help people with IBD feel less stigmatized and more able to accept and love themselves.
Being autistic and chronically ill can be a lonely experience. Being chronically ill can make you feel isolated, and autism blocks a lot of traditional communication so you feel even more isolated. But you do not have to feel that way, because there are so many autistic people with illnesses, even the same illnesses that you might have.
Send some messages out to an autistic self-advocate group about wanting to connect with somebody who is autistic and chronically ill, and you will certainly find one of us who can share our knowledge on how to manage our health in an autistic-friendly way. There is no need to feel isolated, there are so many of us who would like to connect with you and support you.