I’m now 18 months post diagnosis and in that time, I’ve been on the receiving end of more than a few silly comments about me and my differently wired brain.
The worst offenders have actually been complete strangers. While colleagues, close family and friends have been nothing but supportive; medical professionals, service providers, shop assistants and people on the internet have felt somewhat entitled to inflict their ignorance and frankly, rudeness on me.
Here are the top 15 nuggets of opinion that I’ve received from strangers… so far.
1.You don’t look autistic to me.
Really? And what does autism look like? Do tell.
2. My friend’s kid/cousin/sister/etc is autistic and you’re nothing like them.
It’s called a spectrum for a reason.
3. Are you getting treatment for it? Is there a cure?
A lobotomy? My brain and how I thrive with it is none of your business. I also quite like my brain just the way it is- I’ve got skills and talents you wish you had.
4. Your autism must be mild- you seem normal to me.
There is nothing mild about experiencing the world at a heightened level of intensity and not instinctively knowing and understanding the intricacies of human interaction. Autism is autism.
5. No, you’re not ‘autistic’, you’re a ‘person with autism’.
How I refer to that of brain of mine is also none of your business. My autism lies at the very heart of my identity- it is who I am. I prefer identity first language over person first language and that is my choice to make.
6. I heard that EVERYONE is on the spectrum.
You heard wrong. Those symptoms are clinically significant for a reason.
7. What do you mean you don’t understand? You were standing there the whole time?!
I sure was and I caught the beginning and the end but the middle didn’t quite get processed for me. Written instructions really do help.
8. An autistic person travelling overseas alone?!
They do let me out from time to time and with a little assistance from the airline, I’m your dream passenger. I follow instructions, arrive early, plan ahead, never exceed luggage weight limits and I rarely remove my seatbelt.
9. Are you travelling alone? If yes, does this frequently lead to aggression?
Speaking of travel — check out this delightful question I had to answer on a travel insurance application form last week. Did an actual human being write that? Yikes!
10. Oh, I feel so sorry for your parents.
Actually, since getting diagnosed, my relationship with my parents has never been better. They understand me, which means they understand how to help me understand them.
11. Were you vaccinated as a child?
Sure was and I make sure I get my boosters! FYI getting vaccinated has nothing to do with my neurodivergent brain. I was BORN with it. I didn’t ‘turn autistic’ one day because the school nurse stuck me with a needle.
12. You can’t (insert activity here)
Do not tell me what I can and can’t do- I will be the judge of that. Take your assumptions elsewhere please.
13. You can do anything you put your mind to!
Yep, this one is just as bad as number 12. It’s patronising and ableist. Sometimes it takes me longer to learn or do things and there are some things that I genuinely can’t do. I spent more than 15 years trying to learn how to drive a car and no matter what my instructors and I tried, my Executive Functioning capabilities couldn’t cope. In that time, I renewed my Learner Licence 7 times and in August 2017, I let it expire. I didn’t ‘give up’ and I’m not a ‘quitter’. I’m a realist. I’m a pragmatic individual who realised her efforts (and money!) were better spent elsewhere. I don’t need your permission to decide what I should and should not be doing and I’m certainly not going to sit around and achieve nothing because you said it was OK to be me.
14. You’re married?!
Yep, 4 years this November and we’ve been together for 12. He thinks he’s the lucky one. Autistic people can and do form meaningful relationships of all types.
15. You’re so brave.
I’m just living my life and fighting for my rights and the rights of other people like me. It’s not bravery, it’s survival. I’m just trying to make room for me and my differences in this world. Questioning and challenging the concept of ‘normal’ shouldn’t be seen as an act of bravery- we should all be doing that.