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How to Stop Criticizing Yourself and Others as a Person With Autism

December 6, 2022

How to Stop Criticizing Yourself and Others as a Person With Autism

I walked into his room. Tears poured down my cheeks against my will. I couldn’t help it.

My son, whose meltdown and unkind words were the inspiration for my tears, looked at me with shock. He ran to me and put his arms around me and said he was sorry.

I hugged him back and squeaked out, “You know, you’re not the only one that this is hard for. It hurts my feelings when you talk to me that way, and it scares me when you kick and punch. My job is to keep you safe, and to help you keep yourself safe.”

Very harsh criticism can come out of the cutest of mouths. We may question our parenting skills as we try to teach our neurodivergent kids. Teaching them how to stop criticizing others, autism complicating things, and with our own feelings getting in the way is no easy feat.

Often, it’s their criticism of themselves that is most heartbreaking. How can we help?

In this article, I would like to offer some tips and support in hopes that we may all learn a little something about criticism. You might say we are going to critique criticism.

Are people with autism sensitive to criticism?

Some people with autism may seem like they live in their own little world. They may act in a way that communicates to others that their own life is the only one that matters. It can be difficult for them to identify their own emotions and also how other people are feeling.

In a study called, Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders Do Not Use Social Stereotypes in Irony Comprehension, we learn, “Social and communication impairments are part of the essential diagnostic criteria used to define Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) [1], [2]. These impairments are often related to a serious deficit in the capacity for mentalizing [3], the natural tendency to explain everyday actions in terms of mental states.”

Autistic people often live with the criticism of others as a regular part of their relationships. They often have sensory sensitivities, and though they have done nothing wrong, they may garner criticism from other children, adults, and others for their struggles. When the way you act, speak, and live are different, unfortunately that can come with much criticism.

They may not be able to fully communicate or understand what they are feeling, but they are sensitive to criticism, and its effects on their lives. Living with, or being, overly critical people can have vast consequences and can isolate you from your loved ones.

Those with high functioning autism are often more aware of how their lives are different, this can cause them to feel bad about themselves and have more stress. Social interactions are so important, yet they can pose one of the biggest threats to an autistic person’s well being.

What are some coping strategies for autism?

Learning healthy coping strategies is important. This requires information.

Information

A greater awareness of the truth of themselves and others can be the first step in learning to cope with negative emotions and understanding during social interactions with others. Absorbing and processing feedback from friends and family members in a healthy way requires information. In order to control criticism, a different perspective must be achieved; one that may not have occurred to the person with ASD on their own.

How to stop self criticism as a person with autism

Being on the receiving end of criticism isn’t easy for anyone. Criticism from parents, children, peers, in laws, other parents, and maybe the most dangerous, ourselves, can be difficult. Autism spectrum disorder can complicate matters because it can make it harder for the individual to have a true understanding of the “why” behind the negative feedback.

Autistic people are at a high risk for depression. Self critical thoughts and lack of self compassion are two components of depression. If self esteem is low, someone who has received criticism from others, who struggles to understand why, can be vulnerable to depression.

Self awareness is important. To realize the truth of one’s value, talent, and ability, and the skills to believe and recall said truth at any given moment is key. When the negative thoughts come there are some things that help.


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Inspect

Everyone makes mistakes, everyone does things that are wrong from time to time. It does not make them bad people, it’s just life. How you go about dealing with those mistakes shows your character.

Self criticisms need to be examined. Learning how to do this can make a huge difference. An autistic child who knows who they are and has self awareness and confidence can learn to stop and inspect self critical thoughts, hold them up to the truth and decide for themselves if they match.

Identify

If the self critical thoughts can be identified as untrue, then something can be done about them. If they are true, the next steps of deciding what to do are crucial.

Interject

Teaching autistic people how to interject truth into their self critical thoughts can help them differentiate lies that can be dismissed, and truth that can be acted upon without judgment. Preserving self love, attending support groups, letting go of untrue thoughts and feelings, and promoting self advocacy can go a long way to help stop critical self talk and feelings.

How to stop criticizing others as a person with autism

“If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all.” This old saying really has a lot of wisdom within it. One way to stop criticism of others is to take responsibility for your thoughts, words, and actions.

Realization

A person with ASD may not realize that what they are doing or saying comes across as critical. For them, they may just be stating the obvious, the truth, or what they really think.

In one study called, A Randomized Controlled Study of Parent-assisted Children’s Friendship Training with Children having Autism Spectrum Disorders, we see that “Learning to make and keep friends may be especially difficult for the child with ASD, since the natural development and transmission of necessary peer etiquette requires generally positive and sustained interaction with peers and learning from best friends. Continued isolation makes deficits in the knowledge of peer etiquette more obvious as the child with ASD gets older.

“Not surprisingly, as adults, many individuals with ASD consequently lack community connections and friendships that are taken for granted by typically developing persons (Baxter 1997). Thus, teaching the skills necessary to make and keep friends has a significant life long impact for persons with ASD.”

With the deficits in social understanding, it is no wonder that a person with ASD would have a different perspective on what is “socially acceptable” and therefore their communication could come off as criticism. On the other hand, for them what is socially acceptable in a relationship may not be the norm for others.This can cause them to be critical of others for things that society views as normal.

Strengths

One of the strengths of many with autism spectrum disorder is their blunt honesty. This strength can bring stability in a relationship because you always know where you stand with someone who is brutally honest.

However, being vocal about things they feel are ridiculous or unusual or unnecessary can make others feel bad. One way to curb criticism is to learn tact. It’s not just what is said, but how.

Once they understand, and they have the information they need, the criticism often stops. Afterall, their intentions most of the time were good. They may have just been trying to be helpful.

Learning about how what they said or did made someone feel bad is often all the motivation they need to stop the behavior. If they have a high self esteem, compassion, and love for themselves that will spill out to others.

RESPONSIBILITY

Learning how to give positive feedback instead of negative can be good. Also realizing that it isn’t their responsibility to judge, keeping the focus on kindness, and learning to pay more attention to others body language and feelings of others can all help.

How to manage criticism from others

Managing criticism from others is difficult for anyone. For those with ASD who have trouble with social skills, it can be brutal.

It can cause anxiety, not knowing what to expect, feeling like everything they do is wrong, and can make them angry. This can cause a vicious cycle, because often, being critical of others happens as a response to others’ criticism.

There are some questions that can be asked to help handle the critical behavior, and decide how to address it. Here are some as an example:

Where is it coming from?

In a study called, Feeling, Caring, Knowing: Different Types of Empathy Deficit in Boys with Psychopathic Tendencies and Autism Spectrum Disorder,we discover, ““ASD is characterized by difficulties in knowing what other people think.” One good thing about criticism is that when people do it, they reveal what they think.

Ever heard the saying “Consider the source”, this is a good tack to take when someone is critical of you.

Is the person someone who is close to you? Is the person someone you trust?

Do you have to spend a lot of time with the person? The questions can help you decide if paying attention to the criticism is even worth doing.

For example, a stranger on the street who says something about you can be ignored. You never have to see them again.

On the contrary, someone you know and love and spend time with regularly will have a different motivation, and listening to their criticism from that perspective can help.

Why is it happening?

Sometimes understanding why the criticism is happening. Is the other person trying to help you? Are they just a person who tends to judge and it isn’t really about you?

If the why is something you did that hurt someone else, you can make amends and change your behavior. If it is just from their own problems you can understand that it isn’t about you really, and you can let it go and not worry about it.

Resources

An autism resource specialist can help guide you. There are many books that teach social skills that can be purchased or borrowed. Resources can also be found from the autism society.

Here at Autism Parenting Magazine, there are many more articles that can help you and your loved ones explore topics related to autism.

Summing up

Autism brings its own challenges to social situations. Criticism is a part of life. How we handle it is key.

I hope this little dip into how to manage criticism from others and yourself has helped. Practice listening, self compassion, learn the skills you need to stop self critical thoughts, and being overly critical of others. You are not alone, dealing with criticism is tough but it is one thing most people have in common.

References

Zalla, T., Amsellem, F., Chaste, P., Ervas, F., Leboyer, M., & Champagne-Lavau, M. (2014). Individuals with autism spectrum disorders do not use social stereotypes in irony comprehension. PloS one, 9(4), e95568. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0095568

Frankel, F., Myatt, R., Sugar, C. et al. (2010) A Randomized Controlled Study of Parent-assisted Children’s Friendship Training with Children having Autism Spectrum Disorders. J Autism Dev Disord 40, 827–842. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-009-0932-z

Jones, A. P., Happé, F. G., Gilbert, F., Burnett, S., & Viding, E. (2010). Feeling, caring, knowing: different types of empathy deficit in boys with psychopathic tendencies and autism spectrum disorder. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines, 51(11), 1188–1197. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02280.x

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