26 December, 2011

okay so this is something I wonder about all the time.

whenever I read any mainstream media article about verbal people with autism, the people with autism are so rude! well not necessarily rude, but just really really insensitive to other people's feelings or to being polite.

obviously there are people with and without autism who sometimes make me go, "you're so fucking rude/insensitive!" and I'm sure some people think the same about me, but it's never to the degree portrayed in these articles. like when I'm going to hang out with a friend and I take FOREVER to get ready and delay the whole thing. not nice. or when someone goes, "it's nice to see you, you're not the person I was most looking forward to seeing, but it is nice." (yes I know someone who said this) or even just when you make an effort to do something for someone and they don't say thank you. or when someone doesn't ask how you are doing and only talks about themselves. or interrupts all the time.

stuff happens! people are rude. maybe us more for the sake of argument, but not on the dramatic level portrayed in these newspaper/magazine articles. those articles never look like me or anyone I know and I used to always be like, damn my autism is so fake! all my friends' autism is so fake!

but sometimes I wonder if it just the point of view of the article and I'm wondering if anyone else thinks that might be true. could I make people in my life sound like that if I wanted to?


  1. I'm pretty sure someone who's clever/unscrupulous enough can make anything sound like anything else.

  2. I think it's a matter of people zeroing in one aspect and exaggerating it above all else. Mainstream articles about autism tend to be written by neurotypicals, who obviously don't know what autism is like from an inside perspective.

    I mean, I could talk that way about my nephew if I wanted. It wouldn't be lying exactly, I'd be saying things that were true. But it's a matter of emphasis. He'll say very blunt things, but he'll also keep offering me things like food, drinks, whatever, which I think is something he does because he has this idea that that's the "polite" thing to do, which he cares about doing around me because he likes me. If I were going to talk about him, I'd mention a lot of other things besides his bluntness in order to give a more clear picture of who he is, but if I were a neurotypical journalist "writing about autism," I'd probably just zoom-focus on all the funny!blunt things he says and leave it at that.

    It's basically a form of flanderization.

  3. Thank you so much for this. I have been frustrated with this for so long.

    Unfortunately, it's not just non-autistic journalists who perpetuate this idea. I've seen it in many autistic autobiographical writings--John Elder Robison comes to mind instantly--and I just find it really confusing and hard to relate to. Is that really what it means to be autistic? Rudeness and offensiveness? Really? Because I can't relate to that at all. (Not that I'm perfectly polite all the time or anything like that. I know I'm not. But I do try hard to be polite, often to the point of being extremely passive myself. I rarely see that experience of autism represented, however. It's always "look at how weird and rude these people are.")

    And YES YES YES to the fact that non-autistic people are often rude, as well. I had a student ask me in the middle of class on the first day, "what is the point of this [class session]?" Really? You're going to ask that in the middle of class? I could give plenty of other examples of non-autistic rudeness, as I'm sure anyone could. If an autistic person were to do these things, though, it would be pointed to as evidence of Otherness and "social deficits."

    The more I think about it, the more I feel that the paradigm that looks at autism as being a social disability is just wrong and misleading.

  4. I know that I've been made to look ruder than I am by mediafolk. I'm direct and quirky. I am generally not a butthead unless backed into a corner.

    One dimensional characters are easier to portray though.

  5. It can also be an issue of self-report. We're told we come across x way, so that is how we describe ourselves. This also makes a journalists job easier.

    It's really a small group of people pushing that though.

  6. Kassiane I'd be interested to see the articles about how rude you are, if they are around?

    You do seem a good example of someone who people could describe as being autism-pop-culture style cluelessly rude if they picked the right quotes and wrote about them that way. But that isn't how you actually seem at all. You just don't like to be nice to people who aren't respecting you.

    I think what always bothers me the most is just that...I generally know what's going on, and I make choices. Or things happen because I don't have a choice. What I really dislike is the implication that we're just kind of tripping through life with no idea what's going on.

  7. Don't worry about not being able to relate to these people portrayed in the media. Being unable to relate to other people is what autism is all about. See?

  8. I'd have to really dig for them, or go to deep dark places of the internets that I just can't deal with. Out of context (or in really bad situations) I am kind of a butthead...and when I'm upset & on my own blog, I'm kind of a butthead sometimes...but that's not who I am or even, I think, a particularly substantial chunk of what "autism" is for me. It's more an "I'm a strong willed person born of strong willed people" thing.

  9. This was one of the lingering points of doubt when I was trying to decide whether or not I really had AS. I don't consider myself particularly rude. In fact I seem to be better than most people when figuring out how not to be rude to people who are in unusual situations (e.g., don't tell depressed people to not be sad, don't just go up and ask orthopedically disabled people what "happened" to them, don't ask people who've just been raped what they were wearing/doing, etc.).

    On the other hand, I do have a lot of experiences where people have gotten mad at me for what seemed like no reason, because they misinterpreted something I did or said. Often I'll consult friends after the fact and they'll back me up and say that it was largely or at least partly the other person being unreasonable, but I'm sure that if an observer had watched those episodes and known that I had AS, they'd have concluded that I was being rude and that the incident was "characteristic" of my disability.

    My current theory is that I'm not more likely to be rude than other people, but that I have a harder time "recovering" from social slip-ups because I'll overthink and overexplain them, which makes them more noticeable and salient.

  10. Also, like Kassiane, I think I can come off badly online if I let myself get into an argument. I'm extremely persistent when I think I'm right and I don't like doing that thing where you back off in the interest of preserving social harmony, even if you aren't convinced by the other person's reasoning. This seems to frequently get misread as my having a personal vendetta against the person I'm arguing with. As a result, I try to limit my arguing to professional contexts.