What to say to someone ‘with Autism’?

by Ethan Hirschberg

Illustrated image of a woman standing in the middle of other people but completely isolated. She has her arms folded defensively across her chest. Her face looks defensive but scared. To her left three other people are talking about her
Caption:

Sometimes the hardest part of dealing with any disability is how people talk about you or to you. Some comments can be very isolating, even though well-meaning.

Credit:

©Good Studio / Adobe Stock

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Editor’s Note: Ethan Hirschberg,  a 17-year-old Autism advocate, and blogger from California draws on his lived experience to tell us what you should and should not say to someone who is Autistic. In this article, Ethan uses the words “with Autism”, but we recognize that the majority of the Autistic Community prefers to use identity first language like “Someone who is Autistic,” rather than saying “Someone with Autism.”


Throughout my life, I have been told and have overheard many comments about Autism. These comments show a lack of knowledge and understanding of Autism. Even though people don’t intend to upset me, I still was hurt by what they said.

It isn’t all bad. I have also heard some great things that have made my day. Here are some things that I have heard people say about Autism over the years and how I feel about them.

5 things to NEVER say to someone with Autism:

1. “Don’t worry, everyone’s a little Autistic.”

No. Not everyone. According to the CDC, in the U.S. 1 in 59 children has been identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We’re not all a little Autistic. There are countless struggles that I deal with every day, and comparing Autism-related struggles, to other people’s struggles, is just plain insulting. You have no idea what it’s like… and you’ll never know.

2. “You must be like Rainman or something.”

Here we go again… not everyone on the spectrum is a genius. Rainman was about a man who had savant skills. According to the Autism Research Institute, 10% of people with Autism have savant skills. Not everyone is that smart. Some might be smarter, but not necessarily a genius. All it does is make me wonder why I can’t be a genius too!

3. “Do you take medication for that?”

This breaks my heart every time I hear it. I feel upset that people think that medication is always involved. And besides, I learned a great lesson from my cousin. She went through a recent health crisis and said “taking medication prescribed by a psychiatrist is no different than taking medication for heart disease or to fight an infection. You take it so you can be healthy and safe!”

4. “I have social issues too. I must have Autism.”

Sure, you may have social issues, or you may have sensory difficulties or something else like I do. But to compare yourself to me with all of my challenges is rude, and shows a complete lack of understanding of Autism.

5. “You seem so normal! You don’t look Autistic.”

How does someone with autism look? What physical characteristics make someone look like they have Autism? None.

Rectangular picture of six smiling children: three have autism, three do not have autism.
Caption:

Let’s play a game. Look at this photo of six kids. Three have Autism; three don't. Can you diagnose which kid has Autism? (The answers are at the end of the article).

Credit:

© Autistic Not Weird

Did you guess correctly? Not easy, right!

5 things TO say to someone with Autism:

1. “Do you need help with anything?”

I love this one. It shows that the person who is asking cares about me. I know that they are willing to go out of their way to make me comfortable. I feel respected. It often even makes my day!

2. “Oh, that explains a lot about …why you touch the ground” or “why you walk back and forth.”

Saying that my diagnosis explains some specific behaviors is a good thing to say. I know that by sharing my diagnosis, I end up answering questions of the people that I often find myself interacting with.

3. “Can you explain what Autism is to me?”

This is a great one as well. Many people decide to believe the stereotypes of Autism, which are often wrong. By asking me to explain what Autism is, they can get an accurate answer that they can share.

4. “I’m here if you want to talk.”

This goes back to the first one. I know that the person who is asking is thinking about me and is extending themselves as a resource. What a simple, but kind and generous act! Sometimes, I even use their help if I need it.

5. “Do you want to come and eat lunch with us?”

I don’t have many friends at school. So, I love it when people ask me to join them for lunch. I can try it out, and if I like it, do it again. This provides me with much needed social interaction.

And by the way, kids numbers one, two, and three have Autism. Photo credit to AutisticNotWierd


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This post originally appeared on The Journey Through Autism. It is re-posted here with the kind permission of Ethan.

Ethan Hirschberg and his Goldendoodle
Article by Ethan Hirschberg

Ethan Hirschberg is 17-years-old. When he was two, he was diagnosed with high functioning autism. Today he is an aspiring author, amongst other pursuits.

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