There is a wealth of information I could provide about my fiancé: his thick head of hair, tall stature, love of languages, but what he chooses to withhold from most of the people in his life is that he was diagnosed with autism at age 3. As he’s nearing his 20th birthday, I’m the last of three people that he’s ever mentioned this to. I’ve asked him the question before, almost already knowing the answer in my head: Why didn’t you ever tell anyone else? Past girlfriends and teachers came to my mind. His answer? “I don’t want to be treated any differently, like I’m less of a person or stupid.” Being as elusive as it is, autism is a diagnosis that is often misunderstood by others and from this a stereotyping of the group has developed. So here is my list of 8 questions you should never ask an autistic individual, and yes, these are real questions and assumptions that I’ve heard of people before.
1. Why do you get sad? I thought people like you didn’t have emotions.
Individuals with autism are very capable of experiencing emotions, the difficulty lies in processing, identifying, and understanding them. And even when they become aware of this, communicating what you are feeling is another beast entirely. That being said, if you remember anything from this article, remember this: everyone has feelings, especially those with autism, so be considerate and patient.
2. How are you so smart? I thought autists were supposed to be mentally handicapped.
What some diagnosed people can lack in social skills, they can make up for in other skills. Sometimes they have intense interests in specific things, which can make them sound very intelligent. While we’re on the subject, not all autists are into outer space or chess. However, not all of them are exceptionally skilled at something. Some diagnosed individuals are quite average and that’s okay.
3. How can you be autistic if you act so normal?
Autistic children are taught what is socially appropriate and expected of them. Just because they learn these norms does not mean that they are comfortable acting them out. Many people diagnosed with high functioning autism refer to it as faking, since they do not feel like themselves when behaving as such.
4. When is the wedding date for you and your Nintendo DS?
There seems to be an assumption that objectum sexuality (a sexual attraction to objects) is an autistic trait. This has yet to be proven, so far the relationship between objectum sexual and autistic people is merely a correlation. In fact, Erika Eiffel, the world’s most famous objectum sexual, was not diagnosed with autism. The only thing that the two groups would have in common is the feeling of not fitting in socially, but the reasons differ. For objectum sexual, it is because they cannot relate with humans on a romantic level, while individuals with autism have difficulties relating with others on many levels. Aside from objectum sexuality, the sexuality of people with autism can run very broadly, from heterosexuality to homosexuality to bisexuality to asexuality.
5. How could you possibly be interested in me if you barely make eye contact with me?
If an autistic person gives off a rude vibe, don’t take it personally. If they say, “it’s me, not you,” take their word for it. Many are prone to feeling extreme discomfort when attempting to make eye contact with those they don’t know well enough, so just shrug it off.
6. Why do you have such a hard time letting me touch you?
It is common for people with autism to get sensory overload. This means that things like sounds, smells, lights, and touch can all be too strong of a sensation for them.
7. Are you sure you didn’t suffer some traumatic abuse that stunted your development? Maybe your parents failed at raising you.
This is a possible explanation for certain behaviors and is always asked of an individual before they are diagnosed with autism. At the same time, a diagnosis and the experience of such an environment can also be an unfortunate coincidence. More unfortunate is the fact that is not uncommon for autistic children to be picked on at school and at home.
8. Why are you nothing like that autistic kid on that T.V. show (i.e. Degrassi, Skins?)
Autism exists on a spectrum, which means that not every person diagnosed with it is identical in the traits they display. Of course, there is a checklist in order for a diagnosis to be given, but every person is different. So while it very well may be that some individuals are misdiagnosed as autistic, keep the idea of the spectrum in mind as well.
Of course you should be allowed to be curious about autism, but before you ask something, try doing your own research first or just be tactful and sensitive in what you do ask.