“You’re autistic? but you look completely fine?”
“Everyone struggles with those social problems, that’s nothing special”
“Autism? That’s just an excuse”
Phrases I’m sure many people on the Autistic spectrum have heard all too much. My personal favourite is “Everyone is slightly autistic”.
Comments like this do more damage than people realise. Put yourself in the position of someone who is High Functioning Autistic - for most of their life they can feel that they don’t fit into social dynamics. Birthday parties come and go and they feel extremely anxious or uncomfortable in large social settings. Most the time they just dismiss this as being “socially awkward”.
Maybe on one hand they are diagnosed and all they really know about the condition “Autism” is what they’ve heard from their parents. So naturally it’s easier to just dismiss it, In reality who wants that sort of label over their heads at an age where you’re meant to be going and meeting as many friends as you can.
What people don’t see is that having a large friend group whilst being autistic is difficult. After a few days of social interactions I would be exhausted and would need time to process a lot of what’s happened throughout the day. I’d sometimes do this over the weekend alone. It took me a while to realise that I’d have to push myself out of my boundaries and comfort zone too fit in.
One of the biggest issues I faced would be sensory, I’d often find being out in public and loud settings would be really difficult. I’d almost get a fuzz around my head and found it hard to focus - this would make me more uncomfortable and I’d often feel like people were looking at me and judging my behaviour.
I’d push myself to go out and talk and discuss with other people the little mundane things they’ve been up to in the week and try show interest. Trying to fit into a social group can be exhausting If you’re not yourself, you often feel like you’re holding back things about yourself with fear of being judged.
Learning the language of being social is extremely difficult. Studies show that up to 80 percent of human interaction is based on nonverbal cues and body language. It takes a long time and it’s not taught by schools or colleges. It’s something that is expected you pick up naturally. We go to school from an early age and are almost thrown into the deep end and expected to swim.
My concern with this is what if you don’t know how to swim during those social interactions? No one really throws you a life line. You either learn to communicate with your peers or you’re just labelled as awkward or difficult. Now what if times goes on and you learn that you’ve actually got a developmental disorder, after seeing countless doctors and psychiatrists you discover you are on the Autistic spectrum.
The Aspergers Syndrome is a disorder which leads to significant difficulties with social interactions and nonverbal communication. Which means that you suffer from a kind of social blindness where verbal and non-verbal communication is extremely difficult to read and understand.
Those failed relationships where you could never understand what your partner was thinking or what he/she wanted. Those moments of severe anxiety when someone would ask you to call them on the phone and you had no idea what to say because you couldn’t see them. Confusing interactions with the local cashier who was just simply making small talk. Or the dread of going food shopping on a busy Sunday, the noise and the lights are something you’ve grown to always dislike.
For so long I felt isolated from my friends and the rest of the community, when in reality I just needed people to be more aware and understanding. After lots of support from my family and understanding friends I felt much more confident in myself despite the struggles which I was determined to not allow to hold me back from living a normal life. I worked extra hard to learn the details of social interactions. Little things like nodding your head in acknowledgment after someone has said something or knowing when I’m going into a tangent of a favourite subject didn’t come easy to me.
I had to learn these things like many people on the Aspergers spectrum as it doesn’t happen naturally. These are the struggles and hurdles that often people do not see.
So when I finally built up the courage to not hide my disorder and openly discuss it with people I didn’t know too well, you can imagine how it feels to have my struggles dismissed so flippantly.
The first couple times people would say these things to me I often didn’t know what to say, It was almost like I was in a play and everyone had the script except me.
I would try and begin to explain how difficult I would find socialising, reading peoples emotions and blending in but this was completely dismissed by the comments made above. Making someone feel like their problems are insignificant and not that important is extremely dangerous and it occurs all too much. This can make a person with Autism feel alone and outcasted more than they already do.
We live in a world where we are encouraged to be more understanding of peoples differences and struggles. You would never tell someone who is diagnosed with Bipolar disorder that “Everyone has those feelings, nothing new” or someone who suffers with Epilepsy that “You look normal to me, that’s an excuse”.
People would be mortified to even say such a thing, but why is it acceptable to say these things to someone who suffers with Autism? Is it because we don’t look like someone who suffers with a disability?
In that case, what exactly does someone with a disability look like? Especially someone on the Autism spectrum.
There is a huge stigma around people who have disabilities, we hear all the time about how not every disabled person is in a wheelchair, yet time and time again I’m met by the same comments and the same judgement by people who say they are being understanding and caring. I wish people could see the damage their comments make and how it can really set someone back through the struggles they’ve worked so hard to overcome.
I think the importance of educating people on Autism and the affects it has is key to stopping this, there needs to be more awareness of what not to say to someone who is on the spectrum.
I believe with time and patience people will begin to understand, just because someone with Autism looks functional and able doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering to try and fit in. Just by understanding and refraining from making throwaway comments would make a world of difference. It would stop them from feeling cut out from society and social circles and instead make them feel more apart of it.