May 30, 2020

I’ve noticed a communication pattern among autistics, myself included – we often try to express solidarity through similarity. “I’ve experienced something like that” is the most natural way for me to tell someone that I support and sympathize with them.

Unfortunately, this contributes to the false stereotype that autistic people lack empathy, because it can make people feel like we’re minimizing their struggles by turning the focus on ourselves.

If you’re autistic, you may be tempted to respond to current events by saying, “I’m nervous around police too! They’ve killed innocent autistic people who couldn’t answer their questions, or didn’t understand their directions – and I struggle with both of those things under stress.”

No. Stop. While technically true, this fails to acknowledge vast differences, so it probably won’t come across as intended.

If you hear an autistic person say something like this, please forgive us. We’re trying to be kind, but our communication style is so different that it can have the opposite effect.

I don’t know what’s best to say instead. I feel like anything I say has the potential to make a mistake, like the one I pointed out above. But silence will not bring justice, peace, or comfort – so I’ll keep trying, keep stumbling, and keep learning.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.