Things Autistics Wish Neurotypicals Knew
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Things Autistics Wish Neurotypicals Knew


The title of this page is a bit of an odd one, and I spent a lot of time contemplating about changing it as I was writing this, since everything I write on this section is something that I wish neurotypicals knew. With how sprawling and difficult to keep up with this section has now become however, I thought it would be good to dedicate a page to the general theme of things that I and other autistic people wish we could just slap on a metaphorical worldwide billboard for all the rest of the world to see in order to better understand us. As a result, some of the things mentioned here may sound a little repetitive to any reader who has read most or all the rest of the pages on this website.

Please keep in mind that, while I have tried to take into account and include many common sentiments that I have encountered in the autistic community and avoid only speaking on behalf of myself and my autistic friends and acquaintances, I cannot pretend to cover every possible base. As I'll explain in my very first point, there exists an incredible cognitive diversity in the autistic community and nothing in this article is relevant to every single autistic person.

As I usually try to do, I have included links to other articles, both on this website and elsewhere, in order to provide further clarification on topics for anyone interested.

Autistic Pride Symbol. Autism stereotypes are nothing more than stereotypes - "If you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person", as the popular saying goes. Due to the way that our brains develop, there exists an astonishing level of diversity in autistic people's brains that is largely absent in neurotypicals. While everyone understands the obvious futility of trying to reduce all non-autistic people to a single convenient stereotype, many people still believe that all autistic people are either the television trope of a male mathematical genius with no social skills, or a special needs person who does nothing but rock back and forth and line blocks up all day.

Stereotypes exist because the brain is an incredibly resource-intensive organ, consuming about 20% of a person's energy, and it is far more energy-efficient to find patterns in groups of people and utilise them to make preemptive judgments, than to burn energy on analysing and getting to know everyone one encounters. Nonetheless, many stereotypes are largely untrue and even the rare accurate ones have exceptions due to human diversity. Just as most Chinese people are not martial arts masters and most Russians are not alcoholics, most autistic people do not fit into any of the well known stereotypes.

Many people who are used to the stereotype of "classical" autism, which was limited to extremely intellectually deficient people, may be surprised to know, for instance, that autistics tend strongly towards having high IQs. Lamentably, even "higher-functioning" autistic people such as myself often unintentionally make terrible first impressions either due to our unorthodox mannerisms, our difficulties with eye contact, or our difficulties with maintaining an appropriate tone of voice or volume. All of these are things that can, understandably, lead people to negatively judge our competence, at least initially.

In addition to this, a great many autistic people, especially children, have dyspraxia, which cause great struggles, especially in children and teenagers, with anything that requires fine motor skills, such as handwriting or tying one's shoes, regardless of how intelligent a person might otherwise be. A sizeable chunk of people on the spectrum are also non-verbal, which is something I will cover later on this page. They key point is that none of these behaviours, as off-putting as they may be, are necessarily a sign of either low intelligence or high intelligence for that matter.

In my own life I have encountered both people who assumed that I was far more intelligent than I actually am, apparently due to me being autistic and being able to hold down a job. Just the same, I have encountered people who were convinced that I was mentally challenged based off of a quick first impression. I even had a co-worker who believed I was non-verbal because they never saw me stopping to make smalltalk with anyone. I cannot hold any sort of animosity towards any of these people for their mistaken assumptions however, considering the disheartening lack of accurate information about autism in the mainstream. That leads me to my next point...

Autistic Pride Symbol. Listen to autistic people if you want to learn more about autism - I cannot overemphasise just how much mainstream discussion of autism is dominated by neurotypical people and organisations that are hopelessly clueless about autistic people and have no desire to actually learn something about the subject they spend so much time pontificating on. Usually these people will claim that they are experts on the subject simply because they happen to have an autistic family member, relative, or classmate.

Beyond the more obvious issues with this state of affairs, it has been repeatedly proven that most (not all!) neurotypicals are simply not very good at empathising with and reading autistic people. Not only are our natural communication styles different from those of neurotypicals, but most of us are taught from a young age to hide our sensory distresses and natural behaviours to avoid being reprimanded, ostracised, or worse. As a result of this, neurotypicals typically only see whatever autistic behaviours and tendencies cannot be kept below the surface, and have no idea what actually causes us to behave and react to things the way we do.

Most neurotypicals who have autistic acquaintances, co-workers, classmates, family members, or friends, thus usually just see a little bit of the autism and usually have no real context for understanding it. The Indian parable about the blind people who discover an elephant and proceed to each start touching a different part of the elephant's body and coming to completely different conclusions about the nature of the elephant based on what part of the body they touch, is a very fitting metaphor for this phenomenon.

Autistic people are currently estimated to constitute less than 2% of the world population (this may change as understanding of the neurotype grows however, since many autistics, especially women and girls, are still going undiagnosed), which still means there are well over 100 million of us alive in the world today. Many of those 100+ million autistics have taken advantage of the power of the Internet and come together to form a thriving autism community online consisting of a cornucopia of informative websites, such as this one.

As part of autistic efforts to combat neurotypical-spread disinformation about our neurotype, many autistic people have begun using the "Actually Autistic" term and "#ActuallyAutistic" hashtag on websites and social media in order to distinguish articles and websites created by the metaphorical elephant, from the metaphorical blind person convinced they've discovered a living being whose body consists entirely of a tusk. You may have noticed this term in the title of the main Autism section page, and it can be a good search term to filter out neurotypical-written and potentially inaccurate autism information on an autism-related topic both on the Web and on social media.

While I'm on the subject, I should mention that the dominance of ignorant and malicious neurotypicals in autism discourse stretches all the way to autism-related organisations, most notable of which is the utterly dreadful organisation "autism speaks", which openly states that its goal is to rid ("cure") the world of autistic people, and constantly demonises autism as something to be feared. Thankfully, in 2006, a group of autistic people created the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) to fight for autistic inclusion and rights, and to combat disinformation. Their wonderful slogan - "Nothing About Us, Without Us" - reflects their goal of turning the discourse about autism over to the people who are most affected by it and most understanding of what it is.

Autistic Pride Symbol. Non-verbal autistics are also thinking, feeling people - An estimated 25% of autistic never develop the ability to speak, which leads some ignorant people to believe that they completely lack intelligence. Yet, much as no one witnessing a tree fall in the forest does not negate the event having occurred, a person not being able to vocalise their thoughts does not in any way imply that they do not have thoughts. Many non-verbal autistic people can still understand what other people are saying, and are perfectly capable of communicating via other methods such as writing or typing.

In cases of lower-functioning autism, methods such as Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) can be used to communicate, with the autistic person tapping on words or pictures on a mobile device to express themselves. Speech isn't the only communication method that exists, and no one's needs or feelings are less valid simply because they need to use a different method in order to express them.

Autistic Pride Symbol. Text, not speech, please - Despite the majority of autistic people being able to speak, many of us still often struggle or at least are uncomfortable with verbal/in-person communication for a myriad of reasons. The Web is filled with articles and posts from introverts expressing their disdain for extroverts insisting on communicating via phone call instead of texting or e-mailing, and this frustration is even more elevated for autistic people. Our hyper-active brains make us take in a ridiculous amount of information when looking at a person's eyes and face, which then causes our brains to work in overdrive to process all of this information while still focusing on maintaining proper eye contact ourselves and monitoring our tone of voice and facial expressions.

Dealing with all of this while still trying to keep track of what is being said to us can make many of us start to short-circuit and do odd things like looking away for no discernible reason or speaking in a strange tone of voice because we can't juggle everything that is going on in our brain in the moment. This is made even worse if there are other conversations or other sounds occurring in the vicinity, causing us to struggle to filter out the voice of our conversational partner.

Even beyond these issues, many autistics may need extra time to process things that are said to them, and may struggle or be entirely incapable of keeping up in a regular conversation. In my case, while I do not believe that I have this particular issue, I have noticed that I am consistently incapable of learning how to do just about anything from listening to someone explain how to do it. I have sat through entire mathematics classes and learned absolutely nothing despite my best efforts, only to go home and master each concept that was covered after quickly reading the textbook and doing a few practice problems on my own.

I wrote an entire comedic article on the reasons why writing/typing is objectively superior to speaking as a communication method, and while I can admit that I have some bias due to being autistic, I feel that most of the points I made hold true even for neurotypicals.

It has annoyed me for a long time that there exists such an obvious double standard between people who struggle with or avoid verbal communication, and people who struggle with or avoid text-based communication. Bumbling a verbal interaction automatically causes most people to assume that a person is lacking in intelligence, yet such judgments are rarely made about people who are completely incapable of communicating intelligibly via text or writing. Similiarly, it is considered normal and acceptable to respond to an e-mail or a text message with a demand to talk over the phone instead, yet doing the exact opposite would be considered extremely questionable at best.

Autistic Pride Symbol. Don't assume we can't understand you or empathise with you - One bizarre and insulting phenomenon that I experienced multiple times in life, including before even discovering I was autistic, that I later learned happens to many autistic people, is someone talking about me to another person as if I wasn't there, while I was clearly in the same room as them. I still have no idea what causes people to engage in this sort of behaviour, and from what I gathered, the person being talked to me about me was usually as taken aback by it as I was.

Just because autistic people can oftentimes communicate or carry ourselves differently, does not mean we are not cognisant of what other people say, and as mentioned, this applies even to many autistic people who cannot speak themselves.

Most autistics try to mask as neurotypicals to avoid accidentally intimidating or offending people, but this is a stressful activity that we may not always have the mental energy to engage in fully, or at all. Just because we're not constantly sending out signals about our feelings does not mean that we aren't feeling anything. Most people I assume do not constantly emote when they're having a conversation over text because there is no reason for doing so, and much the same, many of us do not see any reason to be constantly sending out these signals even in in-person conversations.

As a result of taking in a large amount of information when looking at people, many of us are actually arguably better at reading people than many neurotypicals are, even if we might not be able to communicate "appropriately" ourselves. I inadvertedly memorise countless tiny details about how everyone I know speaks and carries themselves, and can instantly detect when some tiny thing is suddenly off. Usually that will make my brain start furiously trying to determine why this is so. This, of course, winds up leaving me with even less mental resources to delegate towards policing my own tone of voice and facial expressions.

Beyond daily stress, another consequence of having to learn to mask in early childhood, is that many of us are unusually good at hiding how we feel. I daresay that "still waters run deep" is a phrase that is extremely applicable to the majority of autistic people. In my case, I have been able to maintain a pleasant facade through an entire sudden unexpected phone call, while bawling my eyes out due to depression right before the phone rang. While masking, if we are unable to determine what the proper way to react in a delicate or emotional situation is, we will simply not show anything, our actual inner feelings be damned.

Autistic Pride Symbol. We don't "have" autism, we are autistic - I mentioned this on the Autism Myths page but thought it was also worth mentioning here. The term "person with autism" was invented by neurotypical activists who decided on autistic people's behalf, without ever consulting one of us, that referring to us as "autistic people" was offensive because it put the word "autistic" before the word "person". Despite how pervasive this belief has become in mainstream autism discourse, autistic people nearly universally prefer being called an "autistic" or "autistic person".

The term autism refers to the unique ways that our brains are wired, which is what determines how we view the world through all of our senses, and how we interact with it. It is fundamentally who we are. Many autistic people have pointed out the comical absurdity (source:AspiGurl) of referring to autism as if it is a service animal that follows us around, or perhaps some fashion accessory that we put on sometimes, and presumably have a place in our closet to hang when we aren't wearing it.

Aside from being an objectively nonsensical phrase, "person with autism" also evokes memories of hysterical and mindbogglingly ignorant claims from so-called "autism parents" (the linked article title is satirical and it is actually a very good read) and campaigns from hateful anti-autistic organisations of autism being some monster that steals children by taking over their bodies. Autism isn't some evil fairy sitting in a person's ear and pushing a demonic agenda of convincing them to flick their fingers to relieve stress. It is a fundamental and completely inseparable part of who an autistic person is.

Autistic Pride Symbol. Autism isn't a "disease", and we don't want or need to be "cured" - The notion of autism needing to be "cured" is something that is offensive that I am genuinely shocked that autism organisations are still allowed to get away with uttering it. Regardless of how so-called autism "advocates" may try to spin it, a call for a "cure" is a call for the genocide of over 100 million people. By definition, removing a person's autism would destroy who that person fundamentally is.

This sentiment is made even more repulsive by the fact that so many of the difficulties that come with autism aren't inherent issues with autism, so much as the modern neurotypical world. I have explored in the past how the so-called "autism epidemic" came hand in hand with the world becoming increasingly louder, brighter, and more extroverted, which in turn caused more and more autistic people to have difficulties functioning.

Many autistic people today would've lived a quiet, routine, and successful life on a farm surrounded by people who they knew their entire lives and who accept their eccentricities had they been born in the 1800s. Instead, they find themselves living in an unbearable sensory hell where they are unable to find employment due to every job being locked behind an indomitable social gauntlet where they must make a perfect impression on people they've never met before.

Only a genuine psychopath would argue that if changes in society are causing drastic negative effects on a group of people, then the solution is to exterminate those people, instead of making changes to accommodate them. I do not see any difference between this mentality, and the mentality that led to the heinous historical (and ongoing!) genocides against Native people and their cultures for the sake of expansion. Indeed, as I have previously argued, the heinous so-called autistic "therapy" of ABA is eerily reminiscent of the boarding schools where Native Americans were abused and brainwashed into giving up their culture and identity and assimilating to Anglo norms.

It is certainly true that not all autistics are "high-functioning", and it is undeniable that many simply do not have the cognitive ability to live a normal life, now or in centuries past. As mentioned previously however, autism skews towards high IQs far more than it does towards low IQs. Special needs people won't cease to exist even if autism goes away forever, but many creative, empathetic, and intelligent people will be prevented from ever having been born.

Autistic Pride Symbol. Sensory sensitivity is a very real thing - Sensory sensitivities are something that many autistic people, especially ones who escaped diagnosis, spend their entire lives struggling to make other people understand. While it's easy to look at a wheelchair-bound person and understand that their condition prevents them from going up the stairs, or to look at a blind person and understand that they can't read, there is no visible or obvious reason that clues people into why autistic people can be so distressed by things that no one else seems to even notice.

As explained on my page about the Intense World theory of autism, autistic people's brains are hyper-connected and hyper-active, producing around 42% more information at rest than neurotypical brains. This means different things for different autistic people, but it often results in an overwhelming overload of information coming through a person's various senses. I often link to the UK National Autistic Society's wonderful series of videos on the subject when discussing the issue, as they are an excellent and frightening representation of just how intensely this can manifest in some autistics, especially children, whose not-fully-developed brains are even less able to cope with this overwhelm than those of adult autistics.

Many autistic people can not only clearly hear fluorescent lights but some are overwhelmed by not only the light from them but even the sound itself. Extreme sensitivity to clothing tags and some fabrics to the point of not being able to wear them also occurs in quite a few autistic people. Quite a few of us cannot eat in public because of how offputting the odors of other people's foods and the sounds of them chewing are. Loud noises, especially sudden and unexpected ones from events such as someone slamming a door or a drawer, can be both physically and emotionally painful for us.

It's not always negative. My sense of touch for instance, is so powerful that I can almost "taste" things when I touch them, and can feel when someone touches my things and instantly detect exactly who it was by the texture and how it compares to the person's odour. Although, as you can imagine, this makes shaking hands with people very unpleasant.

Many autistic children may have full-on meltdowns due to sensory overload, which a lot of people seem to mistakenly equate with tantrums. Unlike tantrums, which are deliberate acts of misbehaviour, meltdowns are more akin to a fight-or-flight response caused by extreme stress. An autistic child having a meltdown isn't doing so to cause problems for their parents or other people, so much as they are frantically trying to do something, anything to protect themselves, like a drowning person desperately flailing in the water. The solution isn't punishment, but removing them from the situation that is causing them to have a meltdown.

There is a notion that autistic people just need to "toughen up" and stop being so "sensitive", which completely ignores the fact the fact that these sensitivities are inherently rooted in how our brains are wired, and impossible to change. I have said it before and will say it again: whenever I hear this kind of sentiment being expressed, I fantasise about locking the person saying it in an elevator with a person who has no nose and is constantly passing gas and expressing bewilderment about the mysterious "stench" thing every time a complaint is raised about it.

Autistic Pride Symbol. We have very strong boundaries - Due to the aforementioned sensory sensitivity that autism often brings with it, coupled with the extreme aversion to change and attachment to routine and predictability that we develop as a result, many of us wind up developing extremely strong boundaries that can cause meltdowns if they are violated.

Many of us, for instance, will ferociously defend our homes and other personal spaces and items from any intrusion, even by family members, relatives, or friends. If such visits cannot be avoided, we may feel the need to thoroughly clean and restore every little thing to how it was before they came over, even using fragrances to remove their smells from the area and cleaning items they touch to remove the sensation of their fingers from it. Many of us can also be strongly averse to being touched in any way.

It's not you, it's us. As mentioned earlier, we feel smells and other sensations far more strongly than you do, and even pick up on ones that you may not be aware exist. As such, it takes far less stimuli to offend or overload us. Even a non-autistic person may feel a strong need to do some freshening and cleaning if a person who hasn't washed in two weeks decides to spend several hours occupying their home.

The bigger issue however, is that our fear of change caused by constantly being overloaded by the onslaught of information that it brings, makes it so that we crave stability and control over the few areas where we can guarantee it. As hostile and unpredictable as the outside world can often be, it gives us comfort that at the end of the day, we can return to an area that is entirely under our control and thus fully predictable. Having anyone enter our domain, especially if they do anything to physically modify it, can almost make us feel like a polar bear stuck on a rapidly shrinking piece of ice surrounded by endless water.