Eight Things Not to Say to Autistics - Wesley's version

To my readers, you might have read articles or watched videos of such similar popular titles of what not to say to autistics. Well, this is my version, based on my own real life experiences, they are not copied/adapted from other sources.

They are not listed in any order of priority/importance. All are important for our well-being, mental health, respect and for us to build bridges in human relationships

1ST THING NOT TO SAY: "why do you <description of behaviour>?"

Example: "why do you take what I say so literally".

Isn't the answer obvious? Because I am autistic. This question may also hint to the autistic person that you don't accept him/her and wish for him/her to not exhibit such autistic behaviours. Do you realise in some cases we can't help it?

Moreover, our autistic brains are wired a certain way.

What to say instead: "Let me try to <description of accommodation>". An example: "Let me try to explain it to you more clearly/explicitly




2ND THING NOT TO SAY: "Can you not <description of behaviour>, it is a sign of autism

I have autism, and thus I behave this way (or have the propensity to). So think logically - how would the autistic person feel at this remark? Very hurtful isn't it.

You are implying that you despise autism or the autistic person or both.

What to say instead: Acknowledge the person's needs, and if necessary make suggestions of what is good for the autistic person (not for yourself)

Example: "Are you alright? Understand that you need need time and space to do this [acknowledge his needs], but maybe not here in public or else you will attract attention that you yourself may not want" [suggestion which benefits the autistic person]. Do NOT instead say "maybe not here because you are causing me an embarassment [that shows how self-centered you are, that you care about your face and don't really care about the autistic person's well-being].




3RD THING NOT TO SAY: "Don't <description of behaviour>, you embarass me!"

A similar version of this could be: "can you behave more normally?"

Our lives coping with autism living in a Neurotypical world is challenging daily, scolding us only make our lives worse. Besides, ask yourself honestly, in your own heart - do you care about your own face/reputation, or you care for the autistic person's well-being &health, whom could very well be your own son/daughter/sibling/cousin/relative?

What to say instead: Explain in a gentle and loving manner. Focus on the autistic person, not yourself
For example, "I know it is hard for you, and you are getting unwanted attnetion. Let me help you", and/or"I love you for who you are, regardless how society thinks of you"





4TH THING NOT TO SAY: "Your autism is nothing la, you are high functioning

Similar versions of this includes:

  • "You are as normal as you can be"
  • "you only have social problems, that's all"
You have never lived in our shoes. Do you have any idea what we go through? I doubt it. Besides, do you really think being high functioning = our problems are ONLY social problems. You can't be more wrong. There is more than what meets the eye. You effectively downplaying our problems by saying this. 

It is similar to telling a person who is clincially depressed that "nothing la, everyone has bad days, yours is a small problem" or a person with nuts allergy "oh, I dislike nuts too", or a person with cancer "everyone falls ill now and then

What to say instead: Depending on the context and content of what was said, here are some suggestions:
  • "I don't claim to understand what you go through. I acknowledge it is difficult. I love/treasure you no matter what"
  • Say things which validates the autistic person's feelings
  • Show genuine interest to learn and care e.g. "tell me about your social challenges and other challenges, I wish to know more"




5TH THING NOT TO SAY: "You continue to behave this way, you will have no friends"

Where the "you have no friends" could also be replaced by some other discouraging/demeaning remarks

Such remarks make my life worse than it already is and trying to make me somebody I am not. 

You know what will really help instead? Being a friend to me and helping me find friends e.g. get into the network of autistics in the autism community and/or people who share similar interests as me 

What to say instead: Comment that validates the autistic person's feelings show you care and wish to help if the autistic person wants help. You can also ask how you can help.




6TH THING NOT TO SAY: "What you said <whatever the autistic person said about autistics> is SUBJECTIVE/UNTRUE. I DISAGREE

I am the one living with autism 24/7, I know these facts better than you do. Just like how a teacher will know better than me about the education system, a lawyer about law, a person with cancer about what it is like to go through cancer, etc.

An example of this could be: "what <the other party's name> said to you is subjectively offending to you, but it is not offending".
- in this example specifically, it is also a problem of playing double standards. Often when autistics say things which are offensive unintentionally, others take offence and put the fault on us for such comments. (for illustration, an autistic person might say "why are you so fat?" without knowing it is offending and he has no intention to offend). 
- so similarly, when others say things that are offending to autistics, why can't we have the same right to take offence and expect an apology? Why is it that now when we are on the receiving end of being offended, you tell us it is "subjectively offending" and even claim it is not offending. 

Remember that I as an autistic person and who has interacted with many autistics, know better what kind of words & actions are offensive to autistics. They are not "subjectively offending", they are offending, period.

What to say instead: Some suggestions include:
  • Validate the autistic person's feelings and his perspective
  • Ask the autistic person how you can help and how he/she can educate you, just like how we autistics bother to learn what is offensive to Neurotypicals and to not make such remarks in future after we make the blunder before.
  • Apologise to the autistic whom you have offended. It helps build bridges.



7TH THING NOT TO SAY: "It is unfortunate that autistics are.... "

For example: It is unfortunate that autistic brains are wired that way.

Autism is so much a part of us. By saying this, you are demeaning us and belittling our worth. Might as well say it is unfortunate that we were born (demeaning right? exactly). 

What to say instead: 
  • "It is unfortunate that humans in general are less forgiving" (the problem is with the whole human race, because humans all have shortfalls, humans all judge too quickly from time to time. Don't victimise autistics by implying our existence is an unfortunate event)
  • "It is unfortunate that people don't celebrate Neurodiversity" or "People should learn to celebrate Neurodiversity"



8TH THING NOT TO SAY: "It is about behaving more normally" or "it is about normalising the behaviours"

This implies we are less worth because we don't behave like everyone else, which has become the standard of "normal" unforutnately. I would prefer we break down such barriers and build an inclusive society which celebrates Diversity and the Freedom of Expression, and the Beauty that overflows from these. 

Trying to make us "normal" is like throwing fresh water fish into seawater, or the other way round. 

Also, do be aware of the cost involved in "normalising" behaviours - our very lives literally. Research has shown that when people try hard to be what they are not, and/or their behaviours are suppressed without addressing the underlying emotions for the behaviours, they end up in serious mental health issues. 

Because of this, many autistics end up dying younger, with an average lifespan of 36 (very young age to die right?)

So weigh the cost and benefits properly, would you normalise an autistic person at the expense of his lifespan, breaking the nautral course of life (where people die of old age), and taking away many precious years of his life?

My closing words:

Be kind and gracious with your words. Make the world a better place
Do unto others what you wish them to do unto you.

Ponder this.


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