My name is Leanne, I’m 24 years old, and have a very mild form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome. Here are some things you should not say to people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD):
1. You don’t care about anybody but yourself
Let me explain. Even though it may seem like people on the autism spectrum don’t care about others (and it may be true that some don’t), many do. We just might not show this in ways most people understand. For example, imagine that Kyle is watching a tournament on TV with some friends. He offers his friends the guacamole his mom made earlier. They say they don’t want any, so Kyle proceeds to eat all of his mom’s guacamole himself. Kyle’s friends think he just doesn’t care about them, or is being rude because they expected that he would offer the guacamole more than once, or leave some in case they changed their minds. Kyle does not see it like they do, because at least he offered it one time, and his friends said they didn’t want any.
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2. You are being (selfish, lazy, bratty, naughty, rude, etc.)
Even though it may seem like we are acting in specific ways just because we can, or just to bother others (and maybe some of us do), for a lot of us, either we are not aware of how our words and actions affect others, or there is an underlying cause. Is there a need or desire that is not being met? Imagine if you were at work, and your boss said something to you like, “You are not working very hard.” How would you feel? How would you react? Now imagine if your boss said something like, “I would like to see you try to work harder on…,” How would you feel? How would you react?
3. Autism is just a made up condition used to excuse bad behavior
Saying this to someone who has autism is like saying, “Your eyes aren’t really blue, you just wear contacts to make them look blue.” Autism is not a made up condition. I know some adults say that a child has autism to excuse the child’s behavior, but that doesn’t mean that all cases of autism are fake or fabricated. Also, autism is an invisible condition.
4. But you don’t look any different
Saying this to someone who has autism is like saying this to someone who is color blind. Most people with autism look very similar to neurotypical people of the same age, or to other members of their family. A lot of people say that I look like my mom, even though I don’t see it other than in how my eyes are shaped. In high school one time, someone told me I looked like my cousin, who was in the grade ahead of me.
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5. So, are you really smart?
Just as neurotypical people can have different levels of intelligence, so can people who have autism. One person with autism may have an IQ in the average to the genius range, while another may fall in the average to well below average range. We may also be highly intelligent about some topics, but barely know anything about other topics.
6. You must be really good with numbers
Similar to above, some of us may be considered math prodigies, while others may struggle with math. When I was in high school, I struggled with math.
7. Have you ever heard of Temple Grandin?
Of course, many of us have heard of her, but just because someone is on the autism spectrum doesn’t mean he/she is anything like her.
8. I know someone who has autism, and you are nothing like him or her
Just like neurotypical people, everyone with ASD is different. Also, everyone who has autism is affected in different ways. Some people are considered shy or barely talk at all, while others almost never stop talking. Some (like me) are kind of in between and will have times when they will barely talk, and other times where they will share almost everything that is on their mind, with almost anyone who is willing to listen.
This article was featured in Issue 75 – Helping Your Child with Autism Thrive