I’ve had to tell a lot of people that I’m autistic in the last few months, most people have just said ‘okay’ and got on with their lives, however there are some things I’m sick to the back teeth of hearing and that’s what this post is going to be about. I thought I’d talk about things that a lot of autistic people are sick of hearing as well as why people think these things about those who have autism.
Before I start though please don’t be worried if you’ve ever said any of these things to a person with autism, most of them aren’t offensive, just a little bit annoying after the tenth time of hearing them. I’m also sorry if I use the wrong phrasing at any point in this post.
1. ‘You don’t look/act autistic’
This is the most common one, I completely understand people who have this reaction. If you look at representations of people with autism in the media you’ll see the basics are there: the need for routine, self stimulation behaviour (stimming), meltdowns, special interests etc. They’re normally all there, just extremely overdramatised. In a lot of media representations of people with autism they appear to have no feelings or empathy and to be dangerous and volatile if their routine isn’t adhered to.
So if you were to meet someone who had autism and your only knowledge was over dramatised media representation but the person in front of you appeared to be just like any average person on the street I’m sure you’d be a little shocked.
However this can be offensive to those who have autism as it could be taken to mean that you aren’t taking their disability seriously, which happens far too often with invisible illness and disabilities. It can also be took to mean that looking or acting autistic is a bad thing, which isn’t true as autism is a disability just like any other.
Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
2. ‘So you’re really good at maths and science then?’
No, I’m really not. I’m pretty average at maths and I’m really bad at science, how about you?
This one also comes from media representation. It is often shown that those who have autism are extremely intelligent, especially when it comes to maths and science. It is true that a small number of people with autism are savants (A savant is a person who has detailed knowledge in a specialist field, I literally just learned this term from google don’t shoot me if I’m using it wrong) and some have higher than normal IQs, some have normal IQs, some have cognitive disabilities and some, like me, just really don’t like maths or science.
It’s almost like we’re human beings or something.
3. ‘Would I be able to talk to your carer? Or a parent?’
This one is the worst for me. It’s only happened maybe a couple of times but it’s always during a phone call and it’s always a nightmare. I can’t always make my own phone calls because of my social phobia so sometimes my girlfriend will do it for me, she isn’t listed as a carer or anything like that she’s just down as a person who can discuss things regarding me, a bit like when you’re young your parents can talk to the doctor about you. When I do make my own phone calls I’m extremely nervous and sometimes get a bit confused if the person on the other end bombards me with questions or talks too fast. So imagine my despair when I explain that I get nervous on the phone so would the lovely man from the internet company please talk a little slower because I can’t understand what he’s asking me for him to say ‘look do you have like a parent or a carer or someone I can talk to?’ No I don’t, I can talk for myself please just make like Gary Barlow and have a little patience.
This basically comes down to knowledge as well, if you’re trying to do your job and you come across someone who you’re not quite sure how to deal with you would probably think that it would be easier to speak to someone related to them so that you can have a better understanding of their needs as well as get the job done a bit quicker. I think when people say this or talk to people with you about you like you aren’t there, especially in social situations, they think they’re doing the right thing and making things easier for you.
When this happens however it just serves to make me more nervous and puts me off ever ringing that place again. I can completely understand the reason why people with autism get so pissed off when they’re asked this, if we wanted you to talk to a carer or parent that’s who you’d be talking to. Just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean that they’re unable to do anything for themselves.
I might have a meltdown every so often but I can definitely answer some quick questions regarding my internet supplier, I probably just don’t want to.
4. ‘What is it like to be autistic?’
When someone asks me this I don’t get offended or annoyed, I get frustrated with myself. It’s so hard to answer this question because whatever I answer that person might think that all autistic people are how I describe my personal experience and I wouldn’t want that to happen because we’re all extremely different. We all look and act and talk and walk different. There are places online that give basic definitions of what it’s like to be autistic and there are lots of brilliant blogs and videos and articles by people with autism about living with this disability that I strongly urge you to look up if you’re curious about it.
Another reason that this is so difficult for me to answer is because, even though I was officially diagnosed when I was 20, I’ve been autistic my whole life. To me (and probably most other people on the spectrum) my behaviours and thought patterns are completely usual. So asking me what it’s like to be autistic would be like asking an Italian person what it’s like to be Italian.
Basically it’s clear that although knowledge and understanding of autism has improved greatly in the last few years it’s important that it keeps improving because at the moment a lot of people are only aware of severe forms of autism in children when there is, literally, a whole spectrum for this disability.
I hope all of this has made some sort of sense, I just wanted to touch on some of these topics as I’ve seen a lot of these ‘things not to say to autistic people’ things floating around and I think it’s always a good idea to think about why people are saying these things in the first place because there’s no smoke without fire 😊😂