“Things Not To Say To An Autistic Person”- my reaction

If I had a pound for every time I read or hear the statements below, I wouldn’t be job searching…

Today I thought I’d take a different approach to usual and have a look at a video: BBC3’s “Things Not To Say To An Autistic Person” available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d69tTXOvRq4. It’s part of a series in which people in a social minority share with each other – and the viewers – what sort of things they constantly hear from people. And after watching the one about autism, I thought why not share my thoughts? So here are the statements covered.

“But you don’t look autistic!”

Can you tell me what an autistic person looks like? I’ll have a go. Human sized. Hair, mostly on the head. Two eyes. One mouth and nose. Four limbs, but only two are used for walking. I can’t really give much more detail, though, because no two autistic people are alike…

Autism isn’t a physical condition. In fact it’s not even one condition, and I’m well aware that those on the severe end of the spectrum may present as being obviously different. But it’s only their behaviour that shows it.

“What’s your special ability?”

The assumption that people like me have a special ability is, to be fair, loosely based on truth. It also implies that people on the spectrum have superhero alter egos. Which isn’t the case, because frankly, life’s not fair.

It is common for autistic people to have an above-average IQ, and an intense, detailed fascination with their area of expertise. I mean, not every five year old would know a polymorphic snake when they saw one. And yes, assuming someone is gifted is better than assuming that they’re dumb. But blatantly assuming anything can sound annoying, and anyway, it’s not always as simple as autistic people having one super-talent and struggling with everything else. Autistic obsessions may be rigid while they last, but they can change and overlap.

“Everyone’s a little bit autistic”

Nothing wrong with this statement exactly, but does everyone who coughs have a little bit of asthma?

“Autistic people don’t feel empathy

Let me stop you there. Many autistic people aren’t as expressive as neurotypicals. We don’t always know how to respond to people during immediate, face-to-face interaction, and yet somehow, we over-empathise. If someone I’m with is unhappy, it’s like the air is thick with it.

“You could be normal if you tried”

I don’t try. I just am. For me. Don’t even get me started on healing

“How would you describe autism?”

A hard question, but not necessarily an inappropriate one. Having Asperger’s, i.e. at the mild end of the spectrum, I’d say poor co-ordination, difficulty reading people, a mix of detailed and innovative, and overall a bummer, but also perfectly normal. Well, “normal.” If you want a lengthier description, you’ve got one right here.

“What is the best thing about autism?”

To be honest, it’s a nuisance. But hey, I can joke about lacking empathy or humour in a way that would be insulting coming from anyone else. I have life experiences, and an understanding of the world, that are apparently different from neurotypicals’. Plus, if I didn’t have it, I might not be writing this blog.

There you have it. Personally, I wouldn’t put a ban on those last two points, but other than that, please try to remember the issues touched upon. And while you’re at it, watch the video, and tell me what you think. How can one deal with these statements? Could they be replaced with something more appropriate?

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The good side of Asperger’s

A lot of people these days try to put a positive spin on being a bit different. I realise that I covered this a couple of posts ago. Because I wanted to make it clear that it’s ok to acknowledge the negatives. But my personality makes me the sort of person who, if I’m not careful, gets weighed down by the bad stuff. I think the aforementioned post, and many other (written and verbal) rants from me have shown this.

So just for once, I thought I’d look at my Asperger’s with a brighter outlook. DISCLAIMER: I don’t mean to brag – while some of the following is what people say about me, this is focusing on AS as a whole, not an individual’s personal strengths. Enough rambling!

Firstly, while people do exaggerate about this, it is true that Aspies are more prone to above-average intelligence than most. And many have skills that are less common in neurotypicals. Some might have a great sense of pitch. Others may be gifted artists. As for our special subjects? Well if you want to know more about cats, or Myers-Briggs personality functions, or anything about the mind, you know where I am.

Then there’s understanding people. Being on the spectrum means you may struggle with this. But for me, at least, it’s on-the-spot social interaction that’s tricky. Once you’re aware of this, you may spend a lot of time trying to make sense of the social world. And you know what? A slightly “outside” viewpoint can lead to a different, and maybe even deeper, understanding of people.

Also, AS people are known for being unwavering and just a little stubborn at times. Making decisions isn’t easy. Going back on them is twice as hard. But I’ll say this. If you have this tendency, chances are, you’re reliable. You keep to a predictable way of doing things. If I’m doing something new and significant, I will carefully plan. Or try to. As for breaking rules? They’re probably there for a reason, and unless they’re not going to work, I’m not breaking them just because I can.

And lastly, this one goes out to everyone in a minority. It might not be a walk in the park, but you have the potential to reach out to people like you and help them feel less alone. Think about it – you could be a role model! Everyone finds it comforting when they find someone they can relate to, and I’m no exception. Sometimes we “token minorities” have to stick together. So why are you still reading this post? Go out there, make someone’s day, and shine!

My weird obsessions

As a child, I bet at some point you enjoyed being read to. But was your favourite bedtime story a sea life encyclopaedia with special sections on sea slugs, and fish with tenoid scales?

Thought not.

We all have things that fascinate us. Obsessions, even, if you like. You’ve probably heard about autistic special interests. In a sense, they go that bit further than ‘normal’ interests and obsessions, although as I type, I realise that for me there is much more of a blur between the two than there was when I was a child.

But before we autistic people reach that stage, for some reason our current interest(s) is all we can think of to talk about. As a conversation starter? We’re in. Some other person briefly alludes to said interest? Shouldn’t have done that… Trying to explain how awesome it is? Remember that your listener might not agree!

If it looks like I’m stereotyping or exaggerating, the only person I am vouching for is my younger self. Because I have had some pretty weird obsessions in the past, and what’s more, the weirdest ones were during my childhood. To show you what I mean… these were a few of my favourite things (yes, I did get The Sound of Music violin sheet music for Christmas).

Shortly after the sea life phase was snakes. I brought one of my snake books to show-and-tell, and gave the other Year Ones a lecture on how snakes displace their jaws to swallow whole animals before spending a whole week digesting them (fun fact). My favourite toy at the time was a plastic snake called Boris, with whom I shared every bath and bedtime, when he wasn’t wrapped around my neck. Not forgetting the reptile exhibition when I proclaimed to the man in charge: ‘I had no idea corn snakes were polymorphic!’

The next one I can remember was a certain computer game I owned from age eight onwards. It was 102 Dalmatians: Puppies to the Rescue, an action game featuring two puppies on a mission to save other puppies, while laboriously defeating Cruella DeVil, her henchmen and the evil robot toys. I definitely rang Grannie at least once just to tell her all about this game, and probably bored several babysitters to tears in a similar way. And on rediscovering this game last year, I found I am still pretty good if I do say so myself…

And onto the one I haven’t fully grown out of: cats. I’ve loved cats since before I can remember, but I think the nerdy fascination kicked off when I was ill in bed and Mum got me a library book about breeds. Before I knew it, my favourite game was ‘guess the cat breed.’ My school project on cats included detailed clay models* of every breed mentioned. And now here I am with a blog that has an entire section on cats. Yep.

On getting this far into this post, I’m beginning to think I need to do a part 2. Those were the most prominent special interests as a child, but I could still fill a page on my more recent obsessions, however ‘autistic’ or ‘normal’. Until then, everyone, what are your weirdest obsessions?

 

*picture to follow if I can find it