Questions You Probably Want To Ask Autistics

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Some people don’t think I’m autistic, while other people may think I am. How do you know for sure?

Good question! Autism is diagnosed by clinical psychologists and psychiatrists who specialize in diagnosing developmental conditions. We can look at different behaviors and compare them to the DSM-IV (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).  

The DSM-IV is updated every few years to include advances in the understanding of autism. And here are some other questions you might have:  

Q: Can very intelligent people be autistic?

A: Yes, many extremely gifted autistics exist. However, what looks like “high functioning” autism to one professional may not look like “high functioning” autism, according to another.  

Still, it is possible for very intelligent people with autism to go undiagnosed. One reason for this is that many professionals receive little or no training in diagnosing autism in adults and adolescents; they often rely on the DSM-IV criteria for diagnosing autism in children.  

Also, when looking for signs of autism, it can be difficult to separate giftedness from autism–they are not mutually exclusive! Giftedness is another condition on the Autism Spectrum (the higher-functioning end), sometimes referred to as “autistic savant.”  

Q: How can I know if someone is autistic or lying?

Autistic people do not “lie,” but they may be confused by your tone of voice, body language, and other social clues. Traditional lie-detection methods are based on a belief system in which the person being tested has a desire to avoid punishment for lying or an existing state of dishonesty. Autistic people often lack the ability to fully understand the concept of lying and may find it difficult to comprehend why you are upset with them when they don’t know what they did wrong (and sometimes even if they do).  

If someone is autistic, there’s a chance that he or she has other things on his/her mind that you might not expect. Autistic people often struggle with sensory problems, anxiety, and depression. Sometimes they may be advanced in some areas (e.g., memorization) but delayed in others (e.g., non-verbal communication). They may lack experience navigating the social world by “reading between the lines.”    

Q: Is it dangerous to give an autistic person x? I’m worried they’ll be hurt.

No, not any more than it is for a non-autistic person. For the most part, we know what we can and cannot handle–and usually what we can’t handle because of sensory overload, anxiety, or depression.  

While it is true that some autistic people have a limited ability to communicate, they usually will let you know if they don’t want something–if not with words, then by refusing or avoiding. And when in doubt, ask!    

Q: I’ve heard people say that autism is caused by vaccines/bad parenting/not eating enough vegetables/etc. Is this true?

This kind of misinformation is frequently spread by anti-vaccine groups, neurodiversity groups, and people who believe that autism was caused by bad parenting or some other personal flaw (e.g., too much TV). Many of the most popular “causes” for autism have been debunked by scientific research.  

Autism is a condition that has a number of different causes–it affects everyone differently, and no two autistics are the same. It cannot be caught from someone else or prevented in any way that is currently known. In many cases, autism appears to be linked with differences in brain structure and development (especially in the cerebral cortex), but not always.  

Q: So, is it like having a personality disorder?

Asperger’s Syndrome is classified under “Pervasive Developmental Disorders” in the DSM-IV; therefore, it has been considered by some to be in the same category as autism and thus share the same characteristics. However, in the DSM-V, it is considered an autism spectrum condition and is no longer a stand-alone diagnosis.  

People with Asperger’s Syndrome have many of the same social difficulties as autistic people, but they do not have the language or cognitive impairments that are typically present in autism. They can often tell you what they are feeling, even if they struggle to understand other people’s emotions. They can understand social rules and navigate the world in ways that autistics cannot, but they also may be extremely literal or logical about their actions (e.g., ordering groceries in a precise way).  

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Q: What is the “Aspie” stereotype, and does everyone with Asperger’s have it?

The stereotypical person with Asperger’s is a nerdy white man in a lab coat who cannot understand emotions, just like Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory. This stereotype has been popularized in modern media by TV shows such as Parenthood and Community–both of which have had main characters who identify as having Asperger’s.  

The “Aspie” stereotype is oftentimes inaccurate; various studies show that there are more males diagnosed with autism than females (1:4). However, women and girls may be better at masking their symptoms due to gender expectations. Sometimes it takes years before autistic women are properly diagnosed.  

A person with Asperger’s may have any personality type, just like anyone else–including being popular or athletic. Some of the most successful people in various fields are believed to have had Asperger’s Syndrome, including Troye Sivan comedian Dan Aykroyd and Albert Einstein. There is no “Aspie personality” or “Aspie look.”  

Q: What are some common misconceptions about people with Asperger’s Syndrome?

Many of the exact same myths that are applied to autistics, in general, are automatically assumed about people with Asperger’s. For example, just because someone can speak and hear does not mean they do not have Asperger’s Syndrome.  

Additionally, it is often assumed that because someone has a high IQ or can “pass” as neurotypical or non-autistic (e.g., based on stereotypes of what autism looks like) that they cannot be autistic. However, there are many autistics who look just like anyone else, and some people with extremely high IQs are autistic.  

Q: How can I find out more about Asperger’s? Or how to help someone who has it?

If you want to know more about Asperger’s Syndrome, the best place to start is with these links.  

If you are looking for ways to help someone who has Asperger’s Syndrome, it is usually not a good idea to try to “cure” or “treat” them. They are just as they are meant to be. However, there are things that can be done to help with certain symptoms, such as anxiety and sensory issues.  

There are many support groups available for friends and family of people with Asperger’s Syndrome, but it is usually not appropriate to disclose that someone has the condition without their permission. If they do seem comfortable sharing this information or you feel like you need more information, then, by all means, contact your local Autism Society chapter online.

Q: I know someone who desperately wants a child, but their spouse is autistic. Is there any hope for their wish to be granted?

Of course! There are plenty of ways to include an autistic person in the upbringing of a child. Every relationship is different, and every family dynamic has to be negotiated, but there are plenty of resources out there on the topic.  

For example, a few of these organizations look specifically for children who have been diagnosed with autism in order to offer their parents a support system and education.

Q: I am autistic, but I do not have Asperger’s Syndrome. Is it possible to be autistic without being considered “Aspie” by the general public?

There are many different ways that people can learn that they are autistic. Some hear it from a doctor, friends, or even complete strangers who can “tell” they are autistic. Other people grow up with the term applied to them as a joke by their siblings.  

In terms of defining autism as a condition, it is different for everyone, and there is no set rule for who is and isn’t considered autistic. However, there are some commonalities in various diagnoses. Many autistics can be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, but not all of them are; the majority of people with autism do not have an official diagnosis at all.  

There really is no ” Aspie look,” either– just because someone has Asperger’s Syndrome doesn’t mean they look or act differently than anyone else. Some people with autism prefer to self-identify, while others prefer terms like “Aspie,” so there really is no right answer unless the person you are asking expresses their personal preferences on the matter.  

Q: Why do some people with autism flap their hands?

This is a two-part answer. First, there are many things that cause people with autism to stim, the repetitive motions or sounds that can bring comfort in stressful situations or alleviate anxiety. Flapping, rocking, spinning– all of these are forms of self-stimulatory behavior (SSB).  

People with autism stim because it helps them to cope and function in a world that can seem frightening and unfamiliar. It is like a pressure-release valve for their emotions, helping them to feel more comfortable in their own skin.    

The Internet has been an amazing resource for people with autism since it allows them to communicate with others without having to truly be “present” at the moment. Some of them avoid touching, eye contact, or speaking entirely because of their anxiety about interacting with the world. The lack of eye contact can make it seem like someone is not listening or paying attention, but often this is simply because their attention is on something else entirely– the voices in their head, for example.  

What’s more, many doctors and therapists believe that stimming is a way to self-regulate (temperature, for one obvious example). There are even documented cases of autistic children who stopped stimming after having cochlear implants installed that allow them to hear sounds they couldn’t before. Strange as it may sound, stimming can actually be helpful to people with autism by helping them improve their focus and feelings of well-being.

There are many common types of stimming, but sometimes the answer is more simple than that: Some autistic people flap their hands when they are nervous or excited– just like any other person might fidget or bounce their leg.

Q: What is the proper etiquette for interacting with an autistic person?  

This is one of those situations where it is best to just ask if you are unsure about what to do or say around an autistic person. Autistic people are individuals just like everyone else, and they have different preferences for how they want to be treated.  

Some may take offense very easily, while others are content with simply being left alone. Always ask before you try to touch an autistic person, even if they appear comfortable around you– some can be tactile defensive, meaning that they do not like their personal space to be invaded. Always ask about eye contact, as well– some autistics do not like to have it forced upon them.  

In Closing

The best thing you can do is simply be yourself and treat autistic people as if they were just normal who have neurology that operates a little differently than yours does. Respect their boundaries and try not to let them intimidate you– they are just people, after all.  

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