I’m so late with this, but it’s still April, so it counts! April is autism awareness month. Except us autistics are done with the awareness, and thus we call it autism acceptance month. Because it’s about bloody time there is some acceptance. Anyway, in this blog I want to point out a few things neurotypical people (people without autism) can do to help us, autistic people. Because sometimes you guys try, but you’re just.. not really helping at all (despite the good intentions).
Don’t put us in a box
Autism has a massive stereotype that’s often enlarged in the media. When thinking autism, people think about these weird unsocial aliens who don’t speak much, don’t like to be touched, are obsessed with trains and never grow up. While I do refuse to grow up, I’m nothing like the stereotype. I’m social! I speak a lot (sometimes too much)! I like hugs and I don’t like trains (though I do have other special interests, more about that later). Autistic people are so incredibly diverse! In fact, none of us are the same. Seriously, I have two autistic siblings and a bunch of autistic friends and we’re all so different. So please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t put us in a box. Do something bold like, I don’t know, get to know us. Like you would do with any other person
Don’t make decisions for us but ask us what we need
You know, I really appreciate all the good intentions people have sometimes. But when we’re going on an excursion and you tell me you’ve made a day planning for me because “autistic people like to know what’s gonna happen in advance”, then that really tells me what you don’t know me all that well. It is a waste of your time and brings me an awkward conversation. It’s kind of like going to a bar with a Russian girl and ordering her a glass of vodka because Russians like vodka. It’s just a stereotypical assumption.
While some autistics would love a day planning, I personally am not a fan. So what can you do to help me? To help us? Well.. how about you ask us what we need? Again, get to know us. We will gladly tell you how you can help make the world a little bit easier for us. For example, my friends know me well enough to know I don’t like crowded places. So when they go ahead and take me to a quiet restaurant, I don’t mind them having made that decision for me. It shows they care about me and know what I need (or don’t need). Another example is the fact that my employers gave me a work space of my own. They did made the decision for me, but they did so because they know it’s what I need. Because they have asked me before.
Give us the time and space we need
For autistic people, the world can be very overwhelming as well as tiring. And sometimes we just need to be completely alone to recharge. It’s not that we don’t like hanging out with you, it’s that we love hanging out with you and in order to continue to do so in the future, we need to be alone. It’s nothing personal.
I’ve had people call me a buzzkill for leaving a party early, or boring for not going clubbing. It hurts, because I don’t want to miss out on the fun, but I have to. I have to take care of myself first. Luckily I now have a lovely group of friends who understand that I will usually leave a party after three hours. They understand that I am now saying I’m staying for dinner, but later change my mind because I’m tired. Don’t force us to cross our boundaries. Being social is very tiring for us and it’s even worse when we’re forced to do things we can’t handle.
Allow us to be ourselves
Society often considers autistic people to be weird. And well, maybe we are. But maybe we’re just different. I’ve had people try and push me into something I’m not. Telling me not to do things or to do things differently. It doesn’t work. We have our own methods, methods that make sense to us. When you try and change that up, it greatly distresses us. So yes, I know that the way I’m solving a problem is with a huge ass detour, but it’s a detour that makes sense to me.
Also, please let us do whatever we need to calm ourselves down. The thing I’m referring to is stimming. Stimming means self-stimulatory behaviour. This is often a repetitive movement or noise or anything that we’re doing or are occupied with, often to cope with an overwhelming feeling or a need to stay calm. For example, I bounce my leg, rub my nails against my lips, flap my hands and rub my hands against smooth surfaces. I also hum in a consistent tone when I’m really overwhelmed. Some people like to listen to certain sounds or look at something that’s moving or glittering. I’ve had people tell me to stop stimming because it was annoying, resulting in me doing other things to stop feeling overwhelmed. Harmful things such as picking skin until it bleeds and biting my hand. Never interrupt an autistic person from stimming. More on this subject is explained perfectly in this short video.
Lastly on this subject, please allow us to talk about the things we’re passionate about. Small talk is incredibly difficult for us, and we tend to find socialising a lot easier when we can talk about our (special) interests. I know this can sometimes not be interesting at all, but it shows we’re attempting to engage with you. If the subject we’re talking about doesn’t interest you, try finding common ground. But for the love of god please stop talking about the weather. It’s shit, we know.
Don’t praise us for doing simple things
Okay, this may sound vague, but I can clear this up for you real quick and easy. Imagine being me (scary, I know). Imagine having been independent for about 4 years, meaning living on your own. Then imagine someone saying to you “Wow, it’s so cool that you manage to live on your own without any help.”
Feels odd, right? Well, I’ve had it happen to me. Sure, not every autistic person is able to live independently (and that’s totally fine!), but we’re not toddlers. We can do things. Things neurotypical people do too. Sure, they’re a little harder for us sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we want a medal for it. I don’t need a medal just for existing and living my life, nor want you to praise me for doing things just because I’m autistic. I want you to see my accomplishments and praise me like you would praise someone without autism. Of course I don’t speak for everyone on the spectrum, but most people I know feel this way. Bottom line is: if you wouldn’t praise a neurotypical person for it, don’t praise an autistic person for it.
Autistic person vs person with autism
At some point somewhere on this planet, someone who’s not autistic, said “hey, we need to separate the autism from the person!” and thus said that saying “autistic person” is bad. Why is it bad, you ask? Because people view autism as a bad thing. Because you wouldn’t say “cancerous person”, but “person with cancer”, so it works the same for autism, right?
Wrong. Autism is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s woven into our personalities. You can’t separate me from my autism. Most autistic people prefer “autistic”, but not all. So always be sure to ask. But when in doubt, go for “autistic”.
And for the love of god please stop supporting Autism Speaks
Lastly, before this is getting waaay too long.. Please stop supporting Autism Speaks. They have done nothing but harming autistic people, yet they are the biggest autism charity there is. they call people with autism a burden to their families, people who use too much of the tax money, a disease.. With a quick google you can find out all about their harmful antics. Don’t use the puzzle piece they use to represent autism, because the idea behind it is that we’re missing a piece. We’re not missing a piece, we’re a complete person. Also, don’t “light it up blue”, for it is an Autism Speaks campaign. Use #RedInstead.
And now I’m done talking. For now. Time for me to vanish and write another blog post in a month or so (yes, this is a self-call out).