I legitimately saw a person write to an Autistic friend of mine that she didn't think this friend was autistic, that this friend was intelligent and beautiful and that she thought of this friend as just having autism. This person thought that a they were complimenting my friend. Anyone who has ever read anything my friend wrote on the topic would know that this was not going to be taken as a compliment, and yet she was surprised. She insisted that everyone who was explaining why this was actually insulting and offensive was just over thinking it, and called them all kids. (All were over 18.) There is so much wrong with this exchange that I'm not even sure where to begin. I will try to sort through this.
Compliments may be given by the giver, but if they are not received as such by the receiver, it doesn't somehow stay a compliment. The idea is to make the person you are complimenting feel good, and if it doesn't have that effect, the correct response is not to insist that it's a compliment. It's to not try to use it as a compliment for that person. If they are so good as to explain why it is not a compliment, they are not over thinking it. They are doing you a favor.
Separating a person and their positive traits from their neurology is suggesting that the positive traits are somehow incompatible with the neurology, intended or not. If you think that "I don't think of you as autistic, I think of you as having autism," is a compliment, you are saying that being autistic is not good. That's not over thinking, that's looking at the words that were actually said.
Referring to a person in a way that they have asked not to be referred to on several occasions is not a compliment. It is a denial of their ability to decide how they want to identify. In the case of identifying as Autistic, it is also refusing to acknowledge a cultural identity. What would you say to someone who told you that they don't see you as a Jewish person, but as a person who had Jewishness, and they thought that it was a compliment? (I'm Jewish, by the way, and I would be very upset.) This is a denial of a cultural identity in addition to a denial of self-identification, and it was somehow a surprise when it was taken badly? I do not understand people, sometimes.
I told this person that it was not actually a compliment, and I asked her to please listen to the explanations that I was sure she was about to hear of why it's not a compliment. Others began to explain. I pasted in the paragraph that was on the front page of my friends blog addressing this exact issue. She called us kids, insisted we were over thinking things.
There is so much wrong there.
First, this is the part where I actually get to the calling us kids thing. None of us were kids. Infantilization of Autistic adults and other adults with developmental disabilities is a thing. It's a big thing. If you are familiar with disability politics at all, you know that you should never refer to a disabled adult as a kid or a child. We are adults, and we demand to be treated as such, spoken to as such. Infantilization is a method of keeping us quiet, of reinforcing the oppression of people with disabilities as being less, as not being able to decide for ourselves what is and is not in our best interests.
Second, if it is over thinking when we decide that one side of the distinction is preferable (A/autistic), then it is over thinking when she does the same. If it was over thinking when we continued the distinction,then it was already over thinking when she started looking at the distinction. She had an opinion on which was better, and anyone who disagreed was just over thinking. That's not how it works. Either the distinction matters, or it doesn't. By claiming that having autism as opposed to being autistic is a compliment, the distinction has already been stated to matter. We didn't start this, but by golly, we will be the ones to end it.
Third, telling someone that they are overthinking things or that they are too sensitive is a classic silencing tactic. Not a note of this is new, and we won't be silenced, even when you pull out several methods at once. We've read Derailing For Dummies. We have been playing this game far longer than you have, and we will be playing this game long past when you give up, deciding that we are just too mean.
For a final trick, this person deleted the thread rather than take the time to read even the single paragraph that could be found by simply going to my friends blog. This wasn't a complicated issue. It was a "look at the front page of my website, here's what I think!" issue. People would seriously rather cut off contact, pretend things never happened, act as if there were no issue, than deal with even basic issues of calling people what they want to be called. If that's not an attempt at silencing Autistic people, I don't know what is. If you want to help a person, you have to help them in ways that they say are helpful, not by insulting them and calling it a compliment.