Inspired by Therese Borchard‘s piece about 10 Things Not to Say to a Depressed Person, I thought I would write my own list of things not to say to someone when they tell you they have Asperger’s Syndrome (AS).
1. I’m sorry (you have Asperger’s).
Don’t be. I’m not. Finding out that I had Asperger’s was the best thing that ever happened to me. Yes, some days when I’ve particularly struggled with AS-related issues I wish I was better at certain things, but I am who I am, and I am where I am, because of Asperger’s, I wouldn’t change that for anything.
2. Can you get treated for that?
My objection to this question is the medicalisation of something I see as a difference in thinking. I don’t subscribe to the ‘disease’ model, so I am not enamoured by the ‘treatment’ proposal. Some aspects of my life respond to supportive therapies (for want of a better word), for example having AS makes me prone to anxiety and depression, for which I have found cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) rather helpful. But I wouldn’t say that I have CBT forAsperger’s, or that my anxiety and depression are qualitatively different to those of a Neurotypical person – yes the things that make me anxious may be different, but the experience is pretty similar from what I can see.
3. Are you sure you’ve got it?
Yes. It was a testament to our friendship that I confided in you in the first place. Your doubt feels like you either think that I am a) so un-self-aware that I may have made a mistake, or b) a fraud. You want me to be ok, but you are missing the point that I am already ok, and that this is a wholly positive and important ‘label’. I don’t want to feel like I must justify my way of being.
4. You seem so normal…
This is a related statement which usually follows No.3, and should convey a sense of praise and admiration for all the effort I put in, day in day out, to ‘pass’. However it feels like the opposite, like a denial of the hard work because there’s ‘nothing wrong with me’, and it comes with a value judgement that because I say I have Asperger’s, I am somehow deficient and abnormal.
No. Apart from the fact that there’s a reason why I try to act more Neurotypical (it reduces my feelings of self-consciousness, anxiety, and awkwardness for a start), it has become such a way of life for me that I am not sure that I would know how to undo it (or why I would want to). I would be performing for you an approximation of my perception of what you want to see, like some sort of side-show. It would be like me saying to you, “Can I watch you have an unpleasant and private Doctor’s consultation?” because I want to see what you are like when your guard is completely down. Plus there have been times when, to paraphrase another great article, My Autism was Showing and you did not respond with joy or pleasure, you felt embarrassed and awkward for me. You are asking me to reveal my very core, my true self, the self that I have spent most of my life trying to mask, even from my nearest and dearest. You are asking me to be completely vulnerable and exposed when, if you truly knew me, you wouldn’t need or want to ask.
6. You like watching TV? Get a life.
Get lost. If I’ve heard this once I’ve heard it a thousand times. I even saw in someone else’s blog (which shall remain nameless) that the No.2 way (of 9) to be ‘exceptionally boring’ is to watch a lot of TV. In fact the whole of his post was basically a description of me, largely my Asperger’s traits and behaviours, which I found rather offensive. I told him this in a tweet but all he did was follow me. Perhaps he is looking for inspiration for the second part of his post on how to be ‘boring’.
7. You should get out more.
No thanks. I have a bit of social anxiety, but mostly I really love my house. You have to realise that I have actually considered going out lots of times, and about four days a week I do leave my house. But I am always pleased to return, much as you must be pleased to go somewhere you like. Why is there something wrong with my choice of favourite venue, just because it is my house? I know who is going to be there and no-one tries to make me do things I don’t want to do.
8. You’re too sensitive, you shouldn’t let things get to you so much.
This one predates my diagnosis by a good twenty years and has got no less annoying with time. Even if I could be ‘less sensitive’, if I knew that your cruel remarks were meant to be a ‘joke’, if I wasn’t hypersensitive to sound and light and pain and heat and crowds, if I could stop myself from crying the first instant that I was remotely stressed, then perhaps your comment would be valid. I can’t, and perhaps you should be more sensitive to my sensitivity.
9. So do you not have any feelings?
I’m actually having one right now, and it’s not one of the fluffy ones. Yes I have feelings, I’m a person! I may have difficulty identifying them quickly, or articulating them to someone else, particularly when they are subtle, but I have them and they do affect me. Sometimes there is a right-brain/left-brain block and I have to work out my feelings backwards via my actions, but they’re there once I know where to look.
10. Do you think you should have children?
Let me stop you right there. Let me stop you before you make a complete idiot of yourself and I call you a “<ahem>king eugenicist” and never speak to you again.
I don’t get these questions every day, or all from one person, but these are the recurrent ones which make me feel uncomfortable and highlight some of the gap in understanding. This is one of the longer posts I have written, but it is autism acceptance month after all. Thank you for reading.