Welp, it finally happened. [Beware (or enjoy?): snarky post ahead!]
Over the last few years, I’ve been coming out to family, friends, coworkers, etc. in an effort to be more authentically me, mask less, feel comfortable in my skin, and help others better understand my boundaries and needs.
I have been very, very ridiculously lucky to have mostly positive reactions when I tell people I’m Autistic. At the very least, reactions have been surprised, but affirming. But I brace for the reaction of each new person I tell because I know that people routinely react ignorantly to Autistics coming out.
And it finally happened. I told someone (whom I no longer work with) that I wasn’t able to take on more of a workload because I’m Autistic and am feeling very overwhelmed. And her response?
Well—laughably—she first completely and utterly ignored me and continued on with the monologue she was currently wholeheartedly invested in. Then about 30 full seconds later she paused and said:
“Wait. You’re on THE SPECTRUM?!? Yeah, okay… we’ll go with that.”
She may as well have rolled her eyes given the tone she used.
She then plowed ahead with her monologue before pausing again and saying:
“Really? You’re on the spectrum? Weird, I can always tell when people are. I work with kids who… never mind.”
So, maybe not the most ideal reaction. (Yes, this is sarcasm. I can do sarcasm.)
Honestly, what I hated most about the situation was my reaction and the feeling of helplessness. I wish I had been able to directly call her out on it, but that’s something that takes time to learn to navigate in real time. I’m the type of person who needs time to really process a situation and react later. The type of person that takes a few weeks of simmering and thinking about a situation and then write a snark-filled post after fully processing.
And that’s okay.
What’s not okay is how this person reacted to me.
So let’s unpack her reaction together, shall we? Class is in session! (Still feeling snarky…)
1) “I can always tell when people are Autistic.”
Yeah… No, you can’t. I mean, sure, you probably can some of the time. But I’m sitting here right in front of you. I’m Autistic. And you didn’t know. Ergo… no. You cannot always tell. Autistics are all around you; you just don’t realize. So yeah. There’s my “highly logical brain” for you. Sending you common sense. For free. You’re welcome.
Okay, on to the next one!
2) “I work with kids on the spectrum./My brother’s best friend’s cousin’s niece has autism.”
Ok. Well, first of all… I feel bad for those kids. (Is that mean? That sounds mean.) Honestly, anyone that ignorant needs to be further educated before working with Autistic people.
Literally every person is different. Didn’t know I had to say that, but apparently I do. Why would you expect me to be like another Autistic person you know? I don’t shout “You’re neurotypical? But you’re nothing like my friend Sally!?” into your face while maintaining a disgusting amount of gross eye contact. Because it’s silly. Because it doesn’t make sense. Because it’s absurd.
Bottom line–humans are all complex and highly different beings. No two of us are exactly alike. Why on earth would you expect two Autistics to be exactly alike? As the popular phrase goes, “If you’ve met one Autistic person… you’ve met one Autistic person.”
3) “Yeah, ok. We’ll go with that” (insert nasty, sarcastic tone and/or eye roll for bonus jerk points)
So, first of all, you’re heavily implying I’m a liar. You’re implying that my psychologists and therapists are incompetent or misdiagnosed me. Or that I somehow tricked two mental health professionals doing independent assessments of me.
But more than that, you are denying my neurology. You are denying the entire structure of my brain, the way I think, and the awesome things that come along with that. You’re also denying the terrible things that come along with it. You are denying my experience.
You are being ableist, denying my struggles of past and present, denying my identity, being condescending and patronizing, and just generally being an unkind human being all in one go. It’s not a good look…
Bonus “Avoid alienating or pissing off an Autistic” Guide
4) “You hide it so well!/I never would have guessed!”
This. is. not. a. compliment.
I mean, I guess I kind of slightly sort of maybe a little get where people are trying to come from with this? Finding out that the person in front of you is a literal coping and masking wizard who is 1000% of the time exhausted is a lot. It is a feat. But it’s also messed up.
Think about it this way. As a kid, I knew very quickly in school that I was different. I didn’t have a name for it, but I knew. I was bullied relentlessly and I didn’t understand why. I even had a teacher who routinely bullied me.
It was so bad that I started to try to MacGyver together social camouflage to avoid sticking out. (Read 1: Operating Manual for a bit more on that.). My masking, ability to “pass” as neurotypical, and generally inflict extreme harm on my introverted self in order to avoid bullying and aggression is not only an exhausting production that I just don’t know how to turn off, it is the result of years of agony and bullying. Craving friendship and acceptance so much that I mimicked peers I admired. Subconsciously suppressing my neurology, personality, and desires to get by and survive.
After all, that’s such a huge part of why I started this blog—to explore who I authentically am at my core. Because I have had to put so much of who I am away in a little box on a shelf in the back of my mind. And I’m just starting to unpack that box now.
5) “You’re so high functioning!”
There are a few phrases that are bound to make most Autistic people angry, and this is one of them. For one thing, functioning labels are just completely skewed and narrow. Functioning labels hurt all Autistics. Period. (I’m not going to go too far into this, but will insert a link once I find a good one.)
You don’t see the emotional, mental, and physical fallout from my exposure to things like overstimulation, sensory overload, long periods of social activities, or a scary experience. You don’t see my meltdowns or shutdowns (usually) because I have learned to plan out my energy and ability to cope for any given situation or day. This is closely tied to Number 4. Performing “high functioning” comes at a high cost and is just not accurate.
6) “I’m so sorry.”
Don’t be. I love me. I love my neurology (most days). The issues I deal with are related to society: ignorance, exclusion, assumption, aggression, bullying, inaccessibility, sensory assault, ableism, etc.
7) “Oh, like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory/Rain Man/(Straight white cis man or boy)?”
How you should react to someone divulging information to you:
You may find yourself saying, “Okay, Alex. I think I know how to lessen my chances of pissing off an Autistic. So what do I do and say?” While I can only speak from my personal preferences and wishes, these are some things that I would personally love to hear when I tell people:
–Thank you for telling me.
–Thank you for trusting me with this information.
–Cool. My partner is too. (Notice how different this is from the comparison above in Number 2)
–I don’t know much about that. Are there any resources you recommend to learn more?
–I have some questions. Is it okay for me to ask you some?
–How can I better accommodate you?
–What are your needs? How can I help?