We all have things that seem to annoy us to no end. Traffic, a never-ending conversation, or hearing someone loudly chewing their food. When it comes to those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, we also have our own set of pet peeves, just like everybody else. However, from my experience, I’ve acquired quite a few through my interactions with (mostly) well-meaning neurotypicals. In hopes to bring about change, I will detail exactly what my pet peeves are. Neurotypicals, please pay attention and think before doing the following:
1) Making Fun of Our Quirks and Eccentricities
It’s never okay to make fun of someone just because he or she is different. It’s unkind and insensitive to point out an autistic individual’s words or behavior out of a warped sense of humor or arrogance. Newsflash: It’s bullying! Yes, we might have “odd” facial expressions or ways of saying things, or some of us might have a narrow set of interests, but we’re just as human as anyone else! Last time I checked, jokes were supposed to make us laugh. Humor should never come at the expense of someone else and certainly not at the expense of someone with autism.
2) Portraying Us on Television Inaccurately
This one really gets on my nerves. People with autism have enough trouble without being misrepresented on popular TV shows. There’s several that regularly show (or have shown at one point) a character with autism for either entertainment or a misguided attempt at education. In my opinion, here’s the worst offender: The Big Bang Theory. One look at Sheldon, the main character, and you can clearly tell he’s supposed to be autistic. His voice is different, he stims, he loves science, he takes things literally—the list goes on. Every time he says or does something, it’s almost always shown as “funny.” Why? Oh, right, I get it, because he’s obviously not “normal” like some of the other people on the show—that’s why they put the laugh track over his stuff! When it comes to showing people with autism, or even the questionable practice of having actors pretending to be autistic, we need enlightenment, not entertainment.
3) Misunderstanding the Term “High-Functioning”
Why do some neurotypicals think that Autism Spectrum Disorder isn’t a problem just because it can be high-functioning in some people? Stage one cancer is still cancer, and high-functioning autism is still autism! No, I’m not in any way comparing autism to cancer, I simply mean that having a lesser version of some condition will nevertheless cause more problems than not having the condition at all. To anyone who believes those who’re considered high-functioning have it “easy” or “the best of both worlds,” let me keep this short and simple: You’re wrong. I still have difficulty to this day in certain social situations and understanding others’ points of view, to say nothing of trying to manage my finances and stay independent. I hope society tries not to make such hurtful assumptions in the future.
4) Not Appreciating Our Need for Alone Time
People on the spectrum, despite what you’ve been told, are not antisocial. Many of us do want friends and enjoy interaction with others. However, there’s a crucial fact about us that many neurotypicals don’t consider: We need alone time, and a lot of it! Those with autism usually need much more time to recharge their batteries, even more so than your run-of-the-mill introvert. The reason for this is it takes far more energy for us when we’re trying to be social, which is complicated by the fact that we tend to have less energy (and go through it a lot more quickly) than others. Throw a part or full-time job into the mix, and this becomes especially true! It can mean that we’d want to spend days or weeks alone. That’s why I sometimes don’t enjoy it when my friends want to hang (or even simply chat). I don’t want them to take it personally, so I’ve made sure to communicate that to them. However, there’s been conflict about it in the past, which doesn’t solve anything. It’s not that I don’t want any friends, I just need to rest and relax! Let me do that, and I promise our friendship will go a long way.
5) Dismissing and Invalidating Our Struggle
There’s been a lot of improvement in helping people with autism: specialized curriculums, greater awareness, increasing levels of technology to tackle learning and communication issues, and much more. However, the fight is far from over because many people still don’t understand our struggle. I’ve heard them say that we’re spoiled, that we’re selfish—and perhaps worst of all, that we “don’t need that much help.”
At the risk of sounding like a broken record and spouting off a bunch of statistics, I’ll just keep my blood pressure to a minimum and link to one of my previous articles here. Please note the title: “The Struggle is (Really) Real.” Please also note the objectively proven, in-no-way-made-up data about suicide and unemployment!
Sadly, when it comes to common misconceptions about autism, I have a lot more to say. That’s why this article will be split into two parts. Anyway, this wraps up part one—stay tuned for part two!