You don’t have to look far to find derogatory descriptions of the communication of autistic people. Terms such as ‘disorder’, ‘impairment’, ‘deficit’ and ‘dysfunction’ abound in the research literature which, when you drill down into it, offers multitudes of negative conceptualisations of the ways that autistic people do, or don’t express themselves. In simple terms, autistic people are considered impaired whether they are speaking, or not speaking, for the words they choose, or don’t choose, for talking too quickly, or too slowly, for doing so at the wrong time, in the wrong way, or in the wrong place. Indeed, as I wrote in 2018, when I explored the intersection of autistic communication with noise and silence in schools, autistic people are simply considered to be making ‘the wrong kind of noise’.
Have you ever heard a seemingly successful and ‘high-functioning’ Aspie try to explain how exhausting a day at work can be, or say that Asperger’s ‘ruined’ their career? In this article, I will provide just one detailed [real-life] scenario along with a commentary and analysis from an objective standpoint. Aspie’s and neurotypicals (NTs) both can benefit from having a deeper look inside to gain an understanding of what’s happening on both ends.
On top of that, among the things that autists tend to be no good at conforming to are gender norms. It is increasingly widely recognised that there is an intriguing correlation between autism and variant gender identities, but this is a far broader thing. Boys are expected to be competitive, in social games that are often beyond us. We are expected to enjoy team sports, when teams are baffling and most of us are dyspraxic or at least clumsy. We are expected to be part of a universal boys’ club by default, when for the most part other boys are no less alien to us than girls are.
All of this means that the average autistic boy suffers a good deal from the patriarchy. Male privilege means something quite different for someone able and willing to dominate others than it does for a socially confused autistic boy who just can’t get a handle on masculinity. It’s something else again for someone who’s got enough of a handle on masculinity to reject it outright.
Many of the things that men do, to the detriment of women, are things that autistic people are particularly prone to. Men too often talk over women, and fail to listen to what they say; autists tend to find it hard to know when to stop talking on topics of personal interest, and can be slow to process what other people are saying. This can manifest as extreme forms of what men do to women all the time. On the other hand, in autistic women and, to be fair, a large number of men, it can go the other way: staying quiet for fear of imposing or offending in some way.
Countless micro transactions take place on a daily basis in which invaluable commodities are exchanged. Good will is perhaps one of the most important commodities of all. In so very many contexts good will can be converted (somewhere along the line) into hard cash. Social fluency (of the dominant kind) creates the conditions for this powerful ‘alchemy’.
Without the means to wield this power autistic people can fall prey to a form of ‘social’ poverty which can create a devastating impact on a person over a lifetime, from infancy onwards, from the point at which a child’s babbling is labelled ‘not functional’.
I think, particularly from our study, it shows the importance of things like autistic-led spaces and the value that can have, and that the need to create these spaces where autistic people can be comfortable amid themselves and talk to other autistic people is really important—whether that’s as part of schools and education, whether that’s in post-diagnostic support, opportunities for adults, things like that.The Problem With Autistic Communication Is Non-Autistic People: A Conversation With Dr. Catherine Crompton
I think it’s really important to make sure that opportunity is available for people. The last thing I want people to think we’re suggesting is that we should ghetto-ize autistic people. “You go and talk to the people who are like you.” That’s absolutely not what I’m saying and not what we would want at all. But I think creating these spaces that aren’t led by someone who’s telling you what to do, who doesn’t know what your experience is, is really, really important.
The autism at work initiatives are failing autistics on a variety of fronts, as highlighted in this article: Neurodiversity Hiring Initiatives: Are They Failing Autistics? Despite some good intentions, we remain a marginalized minority that is continually misunderstood and repeatedly compartmentalized. When we aren’t being mistreated, we are being told how to improve ourselves and become more non-autistic. We aren’t broken people. But we live in a broken culture.The Dark Side of Autism in the Workplace