Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer. I’m feeling fairly cheerful right now, and it has something to do with the fact that I am going to work and coming home from work in daylight! The sudden shift in my mood has been phenomenal. This is despite continued back pain, which looks like it’s going to be there for the long haul. Although the weather has been bitterly cold the last few days, I’ve still been enjoying a daily walk around the park on my lunch breaks, listening to a good audiobook. My evenings have mainly been spent working on my third novel, Aberrations. I’m nearly halfway through the second draft, having just completed chapter 27. Life is somewhat sedate right now, and that is no bad thing.
Last week’s blog was, I know, hard going, as it covered some very disturbing issues. This week, I’m going slightly more light-hearted, although the topic I’m covering is still important to autistic people. I’m far from being the first person to tackle this subject, but hopefully, I’m putting a slightly different spin on things, and throwing in a couple of curveballs, too. So without further ado… friends, I give you The Dirty Dozen, or Twelve Things Never to Say to An Autistic Person… in countdown order… with memes!
#12: Aww, do you like everything neat and organised?
Clichés R us, right? Yes, I grouped my DVD collection by genre and director. Is it because I am obsessed with having things in a certain order? No. It was because my movie collection was large, and when I wanted to find a particular movie, I wanted to find it quickly. This approach does not extend to all areas of my life. Sometimes the effort to organise things in minute detail isn’t worth it. For example, if I open my wardrobe, I can see all my clothes at a glance. Why organise them? It would be inefficient. The truth is that many autistic people are not obsessed with order and organisation. Sometimes the pressure of living in the neurotypical world is so exhausting that we don’t have the energy or willpower to keep things organised. In fact, sometimes, some of us can struggle with life so badly that all semblance of order vanishes. How organised am I if I can’t handle a laundry routine to make sure I’ve got clean clothes for work? And if you are talking about being compulsively well-organised, bear this in mind: Some autistic people and some neurotypical people have something called obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), but being autistic does not mean you must have OCD, any more than having OCD means you’re autistic. OCD can be very difficult to deal with, so stereotyping is not helpful.
#11: Ooh, what’s your superpower?
Really? Are we doing this? Most autistic people cannot recite the periodic table or instantly calculate what day of the week the 4th of August, 271 BC, fell on, or memorise the whole Oxford English Dictionary. Common problems many autistic people deal with include executive dysfunction, dysexecutive syndrome, and working memory problems. Some days, if I can walk into a room and remember what I’m doing, it feels like a victory. Is that the kind of superpower you meant?
#10: I’m so sorry to hear that
What? I’m autistic – it’s not a terminal illness! I think a bit differently to you, but to be honest, if reacting to me being autistic by saying stuff like this, there’s a good chance I should rephrase myself and say, I think a bit better than you. Autism goes straight to the heart of who an autistic person is. To put it another way, I am my autism, so please do not speak in a way that diminishes me, by making out autism is something bad, or wrong, or to be endured.
#9: No you’re not!
This happens. Sometimes people will hear you say the words, “I’m autistic”, and do a scoff or lol, and say, “No you’re not!” Is it a well-meaning aunt who thinks you’re going through a phase? Or an arrogant acquaintance who has decided autism is just a trend like artisan beer, or beards, and he thinks you’re getting on the bandwagon? Some people seem to epitomise Dunning-Kruger effects by having opinions on autism when all they actually know about it is based on a half-memory of watching Rain Man while they were drunk. Don’t be that person.
#8: Is it because you were vaccinated?
Here we go. Vaccines do not cause autism., it’s all a lie, started by Andrew Wakefield in order to make money, and perpetuated by people either too lazy to think, or too dishonest to care. Vaccines save lives. If you’re part of the anti-vaxx movement, you’re helping spread misinformation that will lead to people dying unnecessarily. Grow up.
#7: Have you seen Sia’s movie, Music? That’s about autism!
Sia’s movie was an aggressive middle-finger gesture to all autistic people, including the autistic actors she could have cast. But then, why would any autistic actor have wanted to take part in such a horrible movie anyway, considering the way it glorifies prone restraint, and mocks the autistic experience. The half-hearted apologies that have finally fallen from Sia’s lips will never erase the hateful way she reacted to autistic people’s concerns on social media. The movie is dangerous rubbish that has set back autism awareness just when it was gaining momentum. Don’t underestimate the depth of anger and frustration autistic people feel about this movie, and the behaviour of its figurehead, Sia.
#6: Are you high-functioning, or low-functioning?
Oh boy. These terms are bad. Autism is dynamic. In any autistic individual, the effects change gradually over years, and fluctuate on a daily or even hourly basis. To label someone high- or low-functioning misrepresents what autism is. But more importantly, people labelled high-functioning often have their needs and problems ignored or trivialised (you’re okay, you’re high-functioning). Whereas people labelled low-functioning often have their abilities and worth devalued and ignored. Don’t label human beings like this. It is not cool.
#5: Aww, do you think they’ll ever find a cure?
Autism is not a disease or an illness. Don’t believe me? Look it up on the NHS website if you want the view of an authority on health. Autism will never be cured, because there is nothing to cure. But there’s more. Whenever autistic people are polled on questions like, would they take a cure if such a thing could exist, or would they like their autism removed if such a thing could be done, the overwhelming majority response is no. Commonly, autistic people respond to such questions with, “autism is what makes me who I am.” Why do people think autism is an illness? The full answer is the subject of another article at some point in the future; there is too much to cover here. What I will say now is that Autism Speaks, the hate group that masquerades as an autism charity, is actively pursuing the eradication of autism, which necessarily entails the eradication of autistic people, when you think about it. If you genuinely think autism is an illness or disease to be cured, you are effectively sanctioning the horrific aims of groups like Autism Speaks. You’re not welcome here.
No. Just no. While I can’t speak for every single autistic person, and we are all individuals with differences, I feel confident in saying most autistic people generally do not like surprises. There may be exceptions, but you can’t guess at that. Before giving any autistic person even the most “pleasant” of surprises, you should do your homework first. If you don’t know the autistic person well enough to be 100% sure they’ll be okay with it, find someone who will know. If in doubt, leave it out. Seriously, we’ve got enough trying to deal with the opaque interactions and motivations of neurotypicals without having to constantly expect the unexpected.
#3: I’ll tell you later
Why? If you’ve got something to say, why not say it now? Or if you really want to say something later, why mention it now? The amount of stress this can cause in horrendous. Most autistic people realise at some point in their lives that neurotypical interactions are vague, malleable, and subject to unnecessary nuances that serve little or no actual purpose. But knowing it doesn’t make it easier to deal with. If you tell me that you want to tell me something later, I’m just going to get stressed out wondering why is was you felt you had to prepare me for it. If it’s not something bad or serious, why prep me? If it is something bad or serious, why make it worse by leaving me stressing? I cannot understand why this is not obvious to more people.
#2: We’re all a little bit autistic / We’re all on the spectrum somewhere
Autism occurs due to detectable differences in the brain. Science has isolated many gene mutations that play a part in autism. You can’t pretend that stuff. When people say they are a bit autistic, or they claim everyone is on the spectrum somewhere, they are wrong in terms of the science. But more than that, the comments undermine and diminish the experience of real autistic people. Possibly the greatest and most troubling difficulty faced by autistic people is the struggle to function in a society that is largely shaped by and for neurotypical people. We struggle to fit in, to feel at home. We struggle to understand, to cope. We struggle against a daily, lifelong tide of misunderstanding, discrimination, abuse, and marginalisation. Trust me; you are not all a little bit autistic.
#1: You don’t look autistic
The obvious answer to the famous “You don’t look autistic” remark is to say, “What does an autistic person look like?” You know, we are just people. Unfortunately, though, the comment, “You don’t look autistic” deserves a bit more reaction than that. It perpetuates misguided preconceptions of autism. One of those is that being autistic means you must always look different to a “normal” person (whatever that is). The truth is that some autistic people can sometimes show differences of appearance. I personally don’t have a very expressive face, and people often think I look confused, or lost, or worried as a result. Some autistic people have tics or stimming behaviours that stand out, and we can find unwanted attention directed at these differences very unpleasant indeed, so comments about what an autistic person looks like are unwelcome. But most of the time, autistic people look like anyone else. If you’re expecting to see us all looking like we’re are on the verge of a meltdown, you’re going to be disappointed. We usually learn (sometimes unconsciously) that we have to modulate our behaviour and expressions to fit in and avoid the unwanted attention that leads to bullying, discrimination, and mockery. It’s hard work, and damned exhausting. And one more thing: Telling someone they don’t look autistic is a close relation to #9 on this list; telling someone that they are not autistic. That’s like calling them a liar; saying that because they don’t match your narrow, stereotyped notion of what autistic looks like, that they are not autistic. It’s just one more way that people who don’t understand autism diminish autistic people. Please, don’t do it.
Why do I write this blog?
When I was first diagnosed as autistic, at the age of 54, I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resource for newly-diagnosed adults. It’s my aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn. I will never hide what I do behind a paywall. If you like what you read and want to chip in, feel free to “buy me a coffee” by clicking the icon below.
You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence.
That’s all for this week, thank you for being here. As always, I welcome comments, either here or on Twitter, or my Facebook page. Until next week, stay safe, stay healthy, and be yourself.