My own Asperger’s discovery is still a rather recent one, in the grand scheme of life. Luckily, I don’t interact with very many people on a close personal basis, and more luckily, I’ve felt relatively free to be open and “out” about my spot on the autism spectrum. In short, I’ve told people.
So far, their responses and reactions have been pretty tame and/or supportive. Lacking this mythical creature known as cognitive empathy (I’ll admit I seem to have practically none), I don’t know what they’re actually thinking, if what they’re really thinking even is different from what they’re outwardly saying in the first place.
Because of the limited (both in number and negativity) responses/reactions of others in my life, I haven’t heard most of the annoying responses from others that many other Aspie/autistic people have had to deal with.
Because I’m not as familiar with a lot of these annoying responses as many in the spectrum community are, I went searching. After all, the last thing I wanted to do was to say something wrong myself, when meeting a fellow Aspie/autistic person for the first time (or if someone I already know discovers their own Aspie-ness/autism someday). I didn’t want to be one of Those Ignorant People! 🙂
Most of what I found of “things not to say” is pretty logical and straightforward, and I don’t understand how some people out there can be so intellectually DENSE (my own lack of cognitive empathy strikes again!)
But I did come across a few items that DO annoy, irritate, depress, or hurt others on the spectrum, although if said to me, I probably wouldn’t mind so much (at least not the first few times).
So, I guess I’m just putting this out there for the record, a list of 10 things that may or may not be detrimental, depending on the Aspie/autistic person in question (they’re OK by me, but allistics/non-spectrum people would do well to tread very carefully until they know for sure):
#1 – “What’s it Like to Have Asperger’s/Autism?”
This frustrates some folks on the spectrum, but I actually think it’s kind of a cool question. After all, they’re (hopefully) genuinely seeking to learn more, and I see that as a step in the right direction (again, as long as their intentions are genuine). I’m just guessing here, but I think the Aspie/autistic people who can’t stand this question may find it a difficult question to answer. That’s OK; it’s not an intellectual defect at all. We’re all just wired differently. Having lived most of my life assuming I was not on the spectrum, and having only recently discovered that I was, I can answer the question in a variety of ways. I’ll write about this in a future post, too. (So many references to “future posts! Now you know why I (have to) post so often!) 🙂
#2 – “Does That Mean You’re Good With Math/Computers?”
Well, yes and no. I like math OK, but I only made it so far in college. Computers…let’s just say I have a love-hate relationship with technology (the promise of a future post strikes again!)
It might be tempting to get annoyed at this question; when people ask this, they’re making assumptions based on an (incomplete, semi-outdated) stereotype. No, we’re not all gifted in science and math. But hey–at least a relatively-positive stereotype exists! And that positive stereotype is what people think of when they think of us. And those people, during a moment of their own self-checking, are making the effort to ask and find out.
#3 – “Are You Sure?”
I can REALLY see where this question might bother those of us on the spectrum. Depending on who’s asking the question, it could be loaded with skepticism and doubt, directed toward your ability to assess yourself (especially for those of us who are self-diagnosed). But I try to give the benefit of the doubt. They may not know how else to respond and that’s the first response they could think of. We might be masters of masking and mimicking, and they might be very taken-aback that we’re actually on the spectrum. This doesn’t bother me…yet. This could be simply because I haven’t had to deal with hearing it.
#4 – “But You Seem So Normal”
I know, that sounds pretty insulting. But it could be a reaction similar to the previous item, which is that the other person might be very surprised. We may have learned to adapt very well, especially if we’re diagnosed/discovered later in life. So I can say here, too, that this doesn’t bother me…yet.
#5 – “Everything Happens For a Reason”
I actually agree with this one. (I know–I kind of sound like a traitor here.) But the “everything happens for a reason” mantra is sort of the philosophy by which I live my own life. I’ve even said this–probably several times–to myself in reference to my own spectrum discovery. But I definitely don’t fault an Aspie/autistic person for being offended by this. After all, the person who responded this way may be saying it in a trite, cliche, condescending, patronizing, or manipulative way. And that, I wouldn’t agree with.
#6 – “Things Could Always Be Worse”
I agree with this, too – in general; this could be applied to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Where my agreement with this phrase comes to a screeching halt, however, is when it’s implied that Asperger’s/autism is a “bad” thing, and they’re just trying to let themselves Off The Hook by expressing “sympathy” (that I don’t even need).
#7 – “You Described Me; I Wonder If I’m That Way, Too?”
Depending on who is saying this and what their true motives are, this may actually be a very cool response to hear. Maybe, just maybe, by opening up to someone, we’ve illuminated a light bulb in their minds. Maybe without realizing it or intending to, we may have planted a seed that propels them toward a path of life-changing self-discovery, too. Maybe what we said will eventually bring them peace and comfort and self-compassion that we never knew they needed.
On the other hand, some people are looking for a reason to be “interesting”, or they’re “chameleons” (not because they’re spectrum people in the process of masking or mimicking, but because they’re allistic but insecure in general). Or they’re looking for a way to make themselves more likeable, or trying to redirect the attention and focus back onto them. That isn’t cool.
#8 – “Aren’t You Glad You Found Out?”
Well, actually, yes I am! 🙂
#9 – “I Know Someone Else Who Has Asperger’s”
This phrase is perfectly OK with me as long as they don’t proceed down a tirade of how that person annoys them, or that they think that person is “weird”, “creepy”, or any other negative statements. Really. We don’t need to hear that. I mean, what if someone told us they had cancer and we responded with “my neighbor has cancer! And boy is s/he cranky. And since s/he started chemo, s/he looks OLD”? That would be beyond inappropriate.
Someone who says they know someone else with Asperger’s (without any reference to negativity) might, again, not know what else to say. They may say the first thing they can think of. They may not be sure how you feel about your own diagnosis/discovery, and they’re trying to walk the tightrope of political correctness, being unsure of themselves, their own social awkwardness about the topic, their own lack of awareness about the topic, and trying to stay on their toes, ready to shift between “I’m sorry to hear that” or “I’m happy for you!” at any moment. They may also be trying to “console” you by showing you you’re not alone.
#10 – “Do People With Asperger’s/Autism Get Married, Have Sex, Have Kids, Have Friends (etc)?”
This might be a slightly offensive question, but then again, it may be well-intentioned. Most people in general have no clue about spectrum people or spectrum life. Some of us are married; some of us are not. The same applies to sex, children, friendships, etc. And I think that the above (while indeed slightly offensive) may be a semi-valid question, because our lifestyles do tend to vary quite a bit, and these lifestyles are influenced by our neuro-type (although it stands to reason that that goes for anyone, regardless of neuro-type). As long as the person doesn’t have a malefic agenda or an otherwise questionable ulterior motive, the question is probably innocent and well-meaning.
I think that my lack of an issue with these questions and statements is that most of them are well-meaning. I can’t fault a person for trying. I can see where some of them become annoying, offensive, or hurtful at times, but when faced with them, I will try to give the person asking them some leeway. After all, I’d rather have them asking (us!) questions than asking an allistic person (such as, heaven forbid, Autism $peaks), or even worse yet, making their own assumptions. 🙂