© 2019  Ashlea McKay

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15 More things you need to stop saying to autistic adults

June 4, 2018

 

It’s been just over 2 years since I was diagnosed as autistic and the ridiculous comments I receive about my neurodiversity never cease to amaze me. After I published the first 15 nuggets of opinion, I couldn’t help but feel that it didn’t even come close to offering a complete picture of the nonsense I’m constantly on the receiving end of. In fact, no single list could possibly contain the plethora of unhelpful comments I’ve received from people who range from being well meaning but ignorant to outright hostile. And they just keep coming! I should write a book on this. Anyway, onto the next 15 things you need to stop saying to autistic adults!

 

16. You need to get better at fixing/suppressing your annoying autistic traits

Neurodiverse or neurotypical, we’re all annoying in some way to someone and yet for some reason we’re always the problem! We’re always so much of an inconvenience and an affront to your precious authoritarian complex that you say things to us that you wouldn’t dare say to someone with what you deem to be a socially acceptable disability. You wouldn’t tell a wheelchair user to get better at taking the stairs, so how dare you tell autistic people that their disability annoys you and that they should ‘fix it’. You have no idea how much work already goes into masking our symptoms and existing under the weight of sensory overload. Autistic people already work damn hard to meet you halfway in ways that you will never fully understand or appreciate and for you to turn around and say that it’s still not good enough is just plain awful. It’s not fair. You know, we’re human beings too and it would be really nice to be safe to just be ourselves from time to time. When you give us that freedom, we’re actually a lot less annoying because we’re calmer and more able to apply the talents and unique thinking styles that you value in us.

 

17. Your activism and advocacy work offends me

Your need to sit on the fence/do nothing/spout PC bullshit/pursue self-serving agendas/bask in your ridiculous amount of privilege/all of the above offends ME. Get up and do something useful. Listening to what autistic adults (not just me) have to say would be a good place to start.

 

18. Don’t say you’re disabled

It’s our word, not yours. Autistic people have a right to choose how we refer to ourselves and we have a right to have our choices respected. Stop telling us what we can and cannot say about ourselves and stop thinking you’re clever or a hashtag social justice warrior because you want to ban the D word and replace it with ‘diffability’, ‘differently abled’ or some other ghastly term you came up with during the 5 whole minutes you spent contemplating diversity and inclusion. Not going to happen.

 

19. My autistic child learned how to be normal and you should too

There are so many things wrong with this irritating comment. Such as the word ‘normal’. What is that exactly? Socially acceptable to you? Tolerable to you? What is wrong with being neurodiverse? Nothing. There is nothing wrong with being different and not neatly fitting into the joke of a social concept that is ‘normal’. Love us for the strengths we have and the beauty of our differences or get left behind because no one has time for that.

 

20. No, I am not answering your question over email — pick up the phone!

Like a lot of people, I hate communicating by phone, but for me it’s not just a preference. I find it very hard to follow the flow of a conversation. I don’t know when it’s my turn to talk and I don’t know how to ensure I get a chance to say everything I need to. I can do meetings over the phone if it’s with someone I know really well or if there is a clear set agenda in writing that I can refer to but random calls from people out of the blue? No fucking way. It’s stressful and downright counterproductive. If you want to chat, start the conversation via text, social media DM, Slack, Hangouts, Whatsapp or email and we can go from there. Meet me halfway and you’ll save yourself some time and me a bucket load of unnecessary stress.

 

21. What do you mean our couriers can’t knock on your front door?

Ugh. Sensory differences are no joke — for me it’s loud and unexpected sounds. It feels a lot like being electrocuted by a power point (I’ve been there). It hits like a violent wave of destruction that rattles my system and trashes my focus and runs off with it for a few hours. A knock at the door can ruin my entire day. I do 90% of my shopping online to avoid the social interaction warzone that is the mall and if you don’t post to PO Boxes or allow me to authorise the courier to leave it in my very safe and conveniently located carport, I won’t shop with you.

 

22. Don’t worry — there’s plenty of food! (when they see me stressing at the sight of a large queue at a big event)

So NOT the issue here! My facial expressions rarely match what is going on in my neurodivergent brain and I’ve only met a handful of people who can read me with even just a little accuracy. The real issue? Where is the end of the line? Where do the people end and where does the vacant space begin? The way my brain processes information about people and objects can get a little hazy- it all kind of just blurs together into one overwhelming mass. My usual work around is to sneak out a little early but it isn’t always possible.

 

23. I feel sad for you

I feel sad for YOU. It must be terrible to experience the world at such a muted level of vibrance. It is stressful but there are some serious benefits to experiencing the world at a heightened level of intensity — I can get lost for several hours in art, music, textures, foods, national parks etc. You’re missing out!

 

24. Like there are everywhere else?! (when asked if there are other disabled people present in a specific environment eg within an organisation)

Disabled people are NOT represented in every way that they can and should be and it’s damn offensive and frankly marginalising for you to suggest that they are! If someone asks you if there are other disabled people present in a specific environment — just answer the question you’ve been asked and lose the PC bullshit!

 

25. I don’t care if you don’t drink coffee, you should still go out with people for coffee every day

Ah, this one plagued me on a daily basis in the very early years of my career. Why someone would so willingly become addicted to a hot beverage is beyond me. Growing up I was always incredibly confused by my parents’ consumption of it especially during summer! Here’s the thing, I don’t drink coffee (unless I’m desperate) and therefore I have no need to destroy the careful level of focus I’ve been desperately trying to maintain since you all started trickling in one at time and insisting I stop what I’m doing and say ‘Good Morning’ to you even though I hate mornings. I honestly mean no disrespect but I rely on the 20 minutes of peace and quiet I get while you’re all out! I eventually did find a workplace that was OK with people doing their own thing and I’d even join in for the occasional banana milkshake, but everyone should be able to make that choice without being shamed for it.

 

26. How was your weekend?

It’s not so much the question that’s the issue here but rather the response I get from you when I answer it truthfully. I love a quiet weekend at home. TV, gardening, exercise, gaming and maybe a Saturday night movie date with my husband. Unfortunately when I tell people about my delightfully domestic two days off each week they find it unbearably boring or worse — they think I’m lying! They think I’m holding out on them and keeping the juicy details of my fabulous weekend to myself and refusing to engage with them. I’m not here to entertain you, I rarely keep my thoughts to myself and yes, my life really is that boring but hey, it’s mine not yours. Don’t ask unless you genuinely want to know and keep any judgements about how I spend my free time to yourself.

 

27. Why are you so quiet?!

I’m one of those people who only speaks when they actually have something to say. If you can’t handle the peaceful silence that I thrive in, go sit somewhere else. If you’re that desperate to talk to someone, you could also try joining those coffee getting people. Hey, maybe you could join more than one group so you can get enough of a conversation fix to tide you over until lunch.

 

28. Calm down! You have plenty of time to get to (insert place here)!

For one, do NOT tell an anxious person to calm down because that will only make them feel more anxious! I often don’t realise that I’m coming across as stressed and when someone forcefully tells me to ‘calm down’ it introduces a whole new set of worries for me e.g., Am in trouble now? Is this environment safe? Am I getting kicked off my flight etc? As for that second part, you actually have no idea how much time I have to do XYZ because you do not know what I have to do to do it! You couldn’t possibly know! It takes me longer to gather my thoughts, plan and organise myself. It’s called Executive Dysfunction. I need space to do these things and I also like to arrive early to settle my thoughts for the next task ahead e.g., getting to an airport gate and then having ten minutes of quiet time with my noise cancelling headphones to mentally prepare for the flight boarding process.

 

29. What do you mean you need 20+ minutes to write an email/agenda/prepare for a meeting?

This one also boils down to a need for mental space. It’s not just about doing the task. It’s also about calming my thoughts, managing sensory issues, writing it out, proofreading it for errors, proofreading it for any potential perceived rudeness and finally fluffing it out with soft ‘good afternoons’ and ‘kind/warm regards’ so my directness doesn’t upset people. When you say it like that out of context and apply that thinking to a neurotypical person, it probably does sound ridiculous to you but it’s not the same for a neurodiverse person because there’s more of a process behind it.

 

30. I already answered your question (when you really didn’t)

It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, whether it’s work related or personal, I always have a lot of questions. I tend to carefully think them through, compile a list, proofread, edit, proofread again and then share them in writing. Like me, there are of course times when people don’t understand the question being asked. That’s not a problem — we can talk it through. The problem occurs when you think there’s some hidden question underneath that’s not being said and then you answer that imaginary question instead of the one actually being asked! When I repeat the question or ask for further clarification, you claim that you already answered that! It’s particularly problematic with service providers who cannot seem to provide a straight answer because they think they’re walking into a trap — airlines have a particular talent for this nonsense. FFS if the person has told you they’re autistic (I usually do in these cases) take and respond to the question at face value. We don’t do mind games. We just want you to answer the damn question.

 

To those who continue to support me and would never utter a word of this constantly growing pile of crap, thank you.

 

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