We need to talk about stereotypes. Like, now. I

‘ve noticed a lot of stereotypes online amongst the Autistic community-mainly unhelpful comments from people who don’t necessarily have understanding of the condition. These are nine stereotypes I have counted, and sometimes experienced:

“You’re a liar because you can’t look me in the eye!”

Apparently not looking someone in the eye is a sign of guilt. It may well be. However, I think that this is slightly unfair; if a hallmark is that you find eye contact incredibly hard, I think it’s unfair to be automatically deemed a liar. (I’ve written more about this in “The eye contact problem.”) But please: don’t force eye contact with me. It’s unpleasant and invasive.

“Naive”

Yes, I can probably be naive at points. And it sucks, really; it’s not something that I enjoy, as this often comes from not understanding the world around me. But it’s not helpful in some of the contexts used: “She’s so naive it’s embarrassing!” I also think it brings in connotations of being an ‘Airhead’; it can be dismissive in a way.

“Rainman”

We’re all familiar with Rainman, aren’t we? Remember: Autism is a spectrum condition. We are not all the same, with the same hallmarks, same reactions. (But then again, that’s like being human.)

“Obsessional”

There is a difference between a special interest and an obsession. (The latter is something that you can’t step away from, and it consumes everything. ) But why be stereotypical about it? I feel very indignant when people have said to me, “You’re so obsessional!” And I’m pretty sure that if I was neurotypical, this would not be a criticism; it would be embraced. (And it has been an asset to me, over and over again.)

“No friends”

Talking from a personal experience here: a “friend” to me is very different from what someone neurotypical would count as friendship.

But: I think it’s damaging, in a way, to write individuals off as having “no friends.” Online friends surely count towards this; they may also show friendship in a different way. Then again, I also wrote The Friend Application. 

“Emotionally redundant”

Yep. I’ve been described as being like this. (But surely from my blog alone, you can see that I am very passionate? I am curious about the world around me; I care for ‘just causes’, to borrow an expression from My Paperchase. ) Music also is highly reactive for me. (I love the sound of “Help me find a way… c’mon everybody!” in the clip below.)

In spite of being on spectrum, we are more alike than you think. 

“No empathy”

Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

“Must have no life quality whatsoever”

And I mean this in a sort of pitying way; a few times when I have met people with a diagnosis, their parents react in (what I think is) a bad/non-constructive way. They forget that there is a person underneath a label, and set about reducing their activities, staging more intervention, managing their hours. (They also sometimes think “it’s my fault!” and “I wish we could cure it.”)

I have also seen this online; individuals, sometimes self-appointed experts, make horrible assumptions about ‘quality of life.’ And it makes me sick to my stomach.

“Loner”

I see this in the American press, particularly around the times of a school shooting. (And then, sometimes, there is an Autism diagnosis afterwards.) Now, I’m not disputing this, or the need to report on this; this is very important. (And why would I say otherwise? I’m a journalist, albeit in training.) But, I think the facts around diagnosis need to be clearer; I have seen a few reports using this label, but then using it almost like a stick to describe other people on spectrum.