Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Hillary, Alyssa. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Hillary, A. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I Don't See You As Autistic.

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.


  1. This post makes me incredibly happy. I don't know when people decided that autism is something we should be ashamed of or something we should try to hide, but that's definitely not the way I see it. I've been told by a friend that I "usually act normal" and that upset me. Because I always act "normal" - my normal is just a bit different than her's. Sorry if this comment is getting ranty, but I just hate when people try to tell me I seem neurotypical or I did a good job in a social situation or something as if it's a compliment. I don't know why they don't get that if I weren't autistic, I wouldn't be ME

  2. So, starting out, I thought this was a very good post, but I changed my mind when you finally quoted the individual who's behavior you are targeting. I'm not saying that it's a bad post, but it's worse than I originally thought, because its target is a bit less valid than I thought.

    "I don't think of you as autistic, I think of you as having autism," is very different from the isolated form "I don't think of you as autistic," the latter of which implies "I think of you as not autistic." This is one of the worst things one can say to an individual of a given class, along the same lines as "one of the good ones," suggesting that their class is bad, but they transcend it.

    The former phrasing is clearly a statement of one's own views on how mental diversity should be viewed. While I do not agree with the it, it is simply and expression of viewpoint, and not even a fringe one. It is taught in many circles (including much of psychiatry and social work) that this viewpoint is correct, and more importantly, kind.

    What I'm espousing here (which I will admit has not yet been made obvious) is an understanding of where the person was coming from when they made their initial mistake, and a policy to be sure to respond sensitively to such mistakes in the future. I'm not in a position to comment much on their further behavior, but based on your description it seems they reacted very foolishly to what I hope was reasonable criticism. If that criticism was indeed delivered sensitively, then it is solely the fault of the recipient for responding so poorly, but it is the responsibility of the critic to be sensitive in their delivery, to be effective rather than alienating.

    That's all! Sorry for the novella.

    1. @ Robert: "I don't think of you as autistic, I think of you as having autism," is not just expressing one's viewpoint, it's also an indirect denial of one's right to choose how to identify oneself. The woman then compounded the offence she caused by saying, "It was a compliment! You insult me by being rightfully insulted!" Do you see the problem now?

  3. Yeah, the first thing I said to her was, and I quote, "I know you are attempting to give a compliment, but this is not actually a compliment. Please listen to the explanations of why" and then linked to the posts the recipient of the compliment blog. I was polite, they condescended.


I reserve the right to delete comments for personal attacks, derailing, dangerous comparisons, bigotry, and generally not wanting my blog to be a platform for certain things.