Talk about the stereotypes and misconceptions that neurotypicals and allistics have. What stereotypes have you heard about autism? How do you respond to people who have incorrect stereotypes about autism? What kind of things should people not say to autistic people? What’s something you wish NTs/allistics knew about autism?
I really want reader responses to this one! (I always appreciate comments, but especially for this one.)
There are SO MANY stereotypes out there that it's impossible for me to comprehensively collate them here. This is actually a long-term project of mine, because my one of my long-term goals is to write a book called "Not All Aspies Are Computer Geeks" (though I'm not sure if I'll use "Aspies" or "Autistics" - what do you readers think?); it will look at the various stereotypes and preconceptions, a) how and why they came to be, and b) how true they are. Please do comment with any and every stereotype, preconception, etc you've come across, and if you've encountered them online, I'd really appreciate it if you could add the link (so I can reference them).
As usual, this is more an introductory post to this topic; I'll be examining each of them in more detail in the future.
Here's a brief list of some of the most common ones I've come across (in no particular order):
- don't make eye contact
- "too high-functioning to really be autistic"/"you're not that autistic" (ie. you're lying/faking)
- if you're Not Like My Child (ie. high-support, non-speaking, etc) you can't possibly be autistic
- only males can be autistic/Aspie (this comment is more with "Asperger's" than "autism")
- don't/can't speak, constantly rock/flap/screech/etc
- all maths/science/computer experts
- all savants like Rain Man or some sort of genius
- we all know each other
- we'll be "just like" their brother/sister/cousin/whatever who's autistic
- don't have any empathy
- aren't creative
- autism doesn't really exist, it's just bad parenting
- it can be cured
- violent - particularly associated with school shootings in the US
- can't have successful romantic relationships
- can't get and hold down a job
- poor social skills
- particular gait/posture
- can't understand/use sarcasm
Of the stereotypes that exist, some are harmless and can be (if one is cautious) be used as a guide in steering someone towards a diagnosis (such as unusual special interests, echolalia (repetition of speech/sounds) and lack of eye contact). Others can be beneficial when used in the right way and without being over-emphasised, such as encouraging a special interest that can lead to a career.
But many stereotypes, however well-meaning, are actively harmful and limiting. On quite a few occasions now, on Facebook I've seen or by friends have been linked to articles about companies that are specifically looking to hire autistics - which initially sounds great, but these companies are invariably computer- and technology-centric; I've never seen any in the arts and creative sector. It perpetuates the notion that autistics are all computer- and technology- skilled whizzes, and that just isn't me, by any stretch of the imagination. My BA is English Lit and my MA is Creative Writing - does that sound like someone who's going to be successfully recruited into computing and technology??? Such recruitment drives are completely useless to me and other autistics like me. As for the romantic-relationships one, there are many autistics in happy, loving relationships and marriages!
And the ones that invalidate our diagnosis and our neurology are actively harmful and problematic, such as the myth that only males are autistic, that if you can speak/hold down a job/have a successful romantic relationship you're not actually autistic, that it's not a real condition but the result of bad parenting (my mother has been a damn good parent, thank you very much, and it's an insult to the many mothers and fathers of autistics) and so on.
Overall, stereotypes don't really do anyone any good. They're far too restrictive and don't take into account how diverse we are - there's a reason it's referred to as a spectrum! They limit people's understanding and reinforce the "you can't be autistic because..." and "you're Not Like My Child".
When it comes to incorrect stereotypes I do my best to educate. There's no point attacking someone for having a false stereotype because they're far less likely to listen if they feel they've been put on the defensive, and it's often a case that they've not had good sources about autism. What we need to do is explain that that stereotype is wrong/misguided, why that is so, and educate them about the truth. We can also encourage them to go to accurate sources for further information. It's about education and demonstrating that there are plenty of positives to being autistic, and doing it all in a positive, accepting way.
As for the things people shouldn't say to autistics, here's a list of some of them for ease of reference
- I thought you were all computer geeks
- But you don't look autistic...
- You're not like my child
- Are you sure you're autistic?
- But you can speak...
- Your social skills are really good for someone with autism
- YOU MUST SAY "PERSON WITH AUTISM", NOT "AUTISTIC"
- Have you tried [insert unproven pseudoscientific alternative treatment]...?
- Have you seen Big Bange Theory/Rain Man/etc?
- What's your special talent?
- Labels are for food, not people
- You are more than your diagnosis/You mustn't let your autism define you
- You'll grow out of your autism
- Is your parent/carer with you?/Is s/he your sister/brother/paid carer? (There have been several occasions when people have assumed that Gideon is my sibling or paid carer and are really shocked that he's my boyfriend/fiancé/husband (delete as apprpriate depending on whether it was Sept 2010-April 2015, April-Nov 2015 or post-Nov 2015).
- Autism $peaks says...
- I'm Lighting It Up Blue for autism awareness this April; will you join me? (Or anything else associated with A$.)
- There's no such thing as bad autism awareness
- You should just get your butts out of the house and get a job (from Temple Grandin herself, speaking from a position of white upper-class privilege, and it's a number of statements like this that are why a lot of younger autistics such as Amy Sequenzia have very little time or respect for her)
S#!T Ignorant People Say To Autistics
Basically, don't say stuff that panders to narrow stereotypes, don't tell us how we should identify and what type of language we should use when referring to ourselves (and DON'T 'correct' us), don't question our diagnosis (many of us have been through a long, rigorous and thorough assessment process to determine whether or not we're autistic, devised by people who know far more about it than you probably do and don't presume incompetence.
Is there anything else you readers have come across or that you're not sure if you should say to an autistic?
What do I wish NTs/allistics knew about autism? So many things! Here's a list of the key things (sorry it's another list!):
- we're as diverse as you in our abilities, interests, skills, areas of expertise, etc: when you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person
- it affects different people in different ways (for some of my friends, they're unable to drive because of aspects of their autism, whereas others of us are perfectly competent drivers)
- we need you to be patient with us sometimes because we don't experience the world in the same way as you do and it can be overwhelming
- we need you to meet us as we are, not force us to conform to NT ideals
- when we ask for adjustments/accommodations we genuinely need them
- we are prone to anxiety so when we ask for things like prior warning/advance notice, it can be really detrimental if we don't have it
- we may have to drop out of social activities at the last minute because being around people can be really exhausting and we need alone time to decompress
- autism doesn't make us less human
- it is NOT caused by vaccines/bad parenting/"chemicals"/"toxins"/etc - it's caused by genetics
- it's not the autism that causes comorbid mental health issues, it's circumstances, environment, etc
- you can't separate the person from the autism.