Remember that article where I ranted about five things you should never say to a person with autism? Well, it turns out I wasn’t done yet. Here are five more things that will either offend a person with ASD (autism spectrum disorder), or make them think you’re just plain silly. Once again, we all make mistakes and that’s okay. Don’t worry if you’ve said one of these things in the past; just try not to do the same again. Oh and please like, share and spread the autism awareness.
1) ‘You’re not disabled. You’re like, not even in a wheelchair.’
There are so many different ways to be disabled, and most of them don’t actually involve a wheelchair. Like autism, some of them are completely invisible and often remain misunderstood or undiagnosed for this reason. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a large impact on a person’s life. It takes a great deal of confidence and courage to “come out” as disabled in a world filled with ableist privilege (and yes, just like racism and sexism, ableism is a real thing!) I struggled with the knowledge of my diagnosis and the sense of shame it gave me for thirteen years before I was able to admit to having a disability. To go through all that, to spend years coming to terms with your condition and then be told by a dismissive stranger that you’re ‘not disabled’ is a slap in the face.
2) ‘I bet you’re good at maths and science. Autistic people are supposed to be geniuses, right?’
Autistic people are all socially awkward geniuses. This is a false, outdated stereotype perpetuated by television like The Big Bang Theory, films like Rain Man and news channels that only report on autistic savants. A savant is someone with a severe mental disability who is extremely skilled in one area (ie: reciting prime numbers). Very few people have savant qualities, but because savants are the only autistic people represented in the media, people tend to assume everyone with autism is a savant. As for the whole genius thing… some people with autism are good at maths and science, just like some neurotypicals are good at maths and science. Research by Simon Baron Cohen suggests autistic people actually have an aptitude for maths, science and technology because we have systemising brains that thrive on logic and order. But for every person with autism who’s good at science, there’s just as many who are average at science, or bad at science but good at other subjects. Personally, I’ve always hated maths and science because these subjects usually have one right method, and one right answer.
3) ‘I don’t care if you have autism, you should still be able to tell if I’m upset!’
This is something I hear quite a lot. My inability to read emotions has caused rifts in several of my friendships, and I’m sure other people on the spectrum could tell a similar story. It usually involves me inadvertently saying or doing something to upset a friend. Instead of the friend explaining that I’ve upset them (which would give me the chance to apologise and attempt to resolve the situation) the friend says nothing and waits for me to interpret their mood based on their body language/facial expression. They wait… and wait… and wait. And meanwhile I’m completely oblivious, only realising what’s been going on (and apologising profusely for whatever it was I did) several months down the line after someone explains, explicitly, through words, that this friend is upset. I’ve spoken to many people on the spectrum who’ve had similar experiences, often leaving them confused and hurt. They desperately wanted to make things right, but didn’t understand the situation. It was like they were being spoken to in a foreign language. Autism impairs the ability to read faces and recognise the emotions of others. I know it’s inconvenient, but if a person with autism upsets you, you simply cannot expect them to figure it out for themselves any more than you can expect a person with no legs to get up and walk.
4) ‘Don’t say ‘neurotypical’, I find that term offensive’
‘Neurotypical’ is not an offensive or derogatory word. A Neurotypical is just someone with a typically developing brain (they could be as quirky and individual as anyone, but the brain is physically typical). What’s offensive is when people say things like ‘one of my kids is autistic and the other one is normal’, because this implies that autistic people are weirdos who can never be normal. The word ‘neurotypical’ may sound clinical, and people with a typically developing brain may not like to be labelled, but as long as we continue to discuss autism openly ‘neurotypical’ will be an essential part of our vocabulary.
5) ‘You shouldn’t call yourself ‘autistic’. The politically correct term is ‘person with autism.’’
Some people may prefer calling themselves a ‘person with autism’ and that’s fine, but I get to choose what to call myself. My identity… my health condition… my choice what to call it. I think the logic behind ‘person with autism’ as a better alternative to ‘autistic’ is that people don’t want to define someone by their disability. But for the sake of terminology, I’m happy to be labelled as ‘autistic’. Autism is responsible for how I see the world and how I interact with the world- it’s safe to say that’s a pretty big part of my identity. Although calling someone a ‘person with autism’ may seem politically correct, to me that term implies you cannot see them as a person unless you put the autism to one side. I am the person I am not in spite of my autism, but because of it.
A while ago I read an article that actually compared autistic children to children with cancer, stating that we wouldn’t call a child who has cancer ‘cancerous’ and the same goes for calling a child who has autism ‘autistic’. No matter what the circumstances, autism should never, EVER be compared with a terminal illness. Having an autistic brain leads to having a unique view of the world, having cancer leads to pain, suffering and (in some cases) death. Cancer is something we should be trying to cure. Autism is something we should be trying to accept.