What NOT to Say to Someone with Autism

"You can't be...you're nothing like Rain Man..."

Photo by Nicole Mason on Unsplash

I'm 37 years old and in February last year I was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism. After all that time, finally finding out who I am, was quite a revelation. 

It's akin to a key turning in a lock and suddenly everything making sense (as to why it didn't make sense...if you see what I mean?)

Females with autism are much more likely to slip under the radar and go undiagnosed for longer, because essentially we tend to try and "mask" our symptoms to fit in. 

It's not always the case and I've no wish to make sweeping generalizations, but it's one part of the reason females don't seek help. 

For me, it literally was because of a planned meeting I'd had with a psychologist to discuss my ongoing depression and anxiety - when she said quite suddenly "Has NO-ONE ever tested you to see if you're autistic - you're a typical fit for the criteria...?" I went home, did some research and had my lightbulb moment. Twelve months later I got my "I spent 8 weeks going back and forth to the mental health unit and all I got was this lousy t-shirt...and a diagnosis of Autism."

Since my diagnosis I've had to hear some pretty nasty/sneaky/unfair comments when I've been brave enough to let people know. It really REALLY hurt to hear such things being said, especially when I had undergone all the tests/assessments over 2 months at the hospital. 

In my experience, here are just a few of the things it is NOT OK to say to someone with Autism:

You can’t have autism, you’re nothing like Rain Man!

…and you don’t look like a total arse-hat, but then you spoke.

Autism is known as a spectrum disorder, meaning there are many different levels of severity in terms of how it affects you. Mine is high functioning, and it impairs my life, but I am relatively able to communicate and I do understand things like humour.

No way! You seem so NORMAL

We’re not all gibbering in straitjackets. Chances are you’ve walked past 10 autistic people today without even knowing it. We don’t have the Ready Brek red line round us…

The condition is under-diagnosed in women as they tend to be better at masking the symptoms than men (but not exclusively). To many, I look and appear to communicate fine, but I find most social situations terrifying.

But…Maths is not your strong point?!

Contrary to popular belief not all of us are great with figures or complex calculations. Many on the spectrum tend towards dyscalculia (I do). Of course there are lots of people with autism who love numbers, sequences and patterns – I love anything to do with historical dates and anything regarding multiplication tables, but I’m largely mathematically deficient.

I’m so sorry

Why are you sorry? Autism has its drawbacks – overwhelming anxiety and depression aren’t good, and neither is living in fear of change, but on the flip side, it can make you very focused, driven and creative. Having specific interests and really being able to research them well (and obsessively) gives you a great eye for detail and keeps you occupied when times are tough!

You must be cured from it, you’re talking LOL!

There’s no cure, and we’re not all mutes. We’re capable of having intelligent and thoughtful conversation, especially if we can talk about what we love. We might be shy, or appear overly anxious and uncertain, but if you’re patient and give us time, we can adapt. Unless you’re going to ask all of the questions/statements above. In which case, get stuffed, Arse-hat.

What’s it like having autism?

When I’ve stopped rocking back and forth in the dark and shouting for Liberace, I’ll get back to you.

We don’t think about it, it’s just in us. I can’t relate to what it must be like to NOT have autism and I don’t want to try. Every person’s experience is different. I have lots of unusual quirks and stims that I didn’t realise were autism until I got diagnosed. I still have them and I don’t feel any differently to before.

You must be really difficult to be around! You’ll be really high functioning.

I am, and it’s fabulous, darling.

True, social situations are horrible and small talk is hard. When you want to be alone and shut off and no-one understands why, that’s tough. I need more alone time and quiet space than most, but it’s not a sign there’s a huge problem or that I’m about to do something stupid. I just need to be still, solitary and silent so I can regain my strength to fight another day.

You must be on a lot of meds?

Two teaspoons of kick-arse, three times a day. Now get stuffed.

Really? It’s none of your business if I’m on meds or not. I’ll share that info with you if I want to. I don’t ask you if you’re on pills for your overbearing nosiness…

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