Below is a list of phrases commonly uttered by Neurotypicals (non-autistic) people when speaking to an Autistic person. I am fully aware that when people say some of these phrases they have no intention of being hurtful and I respect that. These phrases might not be hurtful to everyone in the Autistic community, however it is important to be aware that for decades the community has suffered from misconceptions and negative stereotypes surrounding Autism. With a little bit more understanding and awareness, something as simple as understanding why a phrase is hurtful can actively help the Autistic community.
No. 3: “You don’t seem Autistic.”
I find this first phrase particularly annoying. If there is one thing people need to understand about the Autistic community is that no two Autistic people are the same. Yes, we have enough behavioural similarites to be diagnosed as Autistic, however these can manifest themselves in different ways. How an Autistic person presents themself to the world, is not only affected by being Autistic, but also things like their upbringing, their background and their experiences of life all of these can be extremely variable. It is also important to take into account that many Autistic people (especially girls) mask their Autism to hide as many of their personality quirks as possible. If you think someone doesn’t seem Autistic, it is a sign that either they are doing a really good job at masking or you are not as educated on Autism as you thought.
No. 2: “Well we are all a little bit Autistic.”
This next entry is a little bit more complicated. In essence what a person is trying to communicate with this phrase is that “ Most of us experience some behavioural traits commonly found in Autistic people.” This phrase is usually used as a way to express empathy to an Autistic person, which is a kind gesture. However, when saying this in a such a simplistic way, it can sound like someone is trying to undermine the pain and difficulty experienced by an Autistic person. Instead of trying to be empathetic towards all of the difficulties faced by Autistic people, focus on particular emotions. Something along the lines of, “I understand, I often feel anxiety when…” Neurotypical people will probably never understand fully what it is like to be Autistic and that is fine. Autistic people will probably never understand what it is like to be Neurotypical. What is important is to understand and empathise with small yet significant emotions.
No. 1: “I’m sorry you have Autism”
Before I continue any further, I included why stating someone has Autism can be hurtful in a previous article. However for someone to say they are sorry that someone is Autistic can be incredibly hurtful. Autism is not a life threatening illness or disability. When someone says they are sorry what do they feel sorry for? Are they sorry that Autistic people can have incredible attention to detail and notice the smallest things? Are they sorry that Autistic people can display incredible empathy when given the opportunity? Are they sorry Autistic people often have an incredible knowledge of particular subjects. Are they sorry that Autistic people process their emotions differently to others? Are they sorry that society has been so uncaring towards Autistic people in the past, that Autistic people still suffer the negative consquences? No one should feel sorry for Autistic people, they should feel angry about how society treats those who are different.
And that is the end of my list. I hope I don’t sound too angry in this post, I don’t mean to be. A topic like this can be very emotive. I also don’t mean to make out that Neurotypical people are awful. Many of them are lovely and just because they occasionally say hurtful things, it doesn’t make them bad people. It makes them flawed, just like everybody else.