Yes, You Might be an Ass!

Donkey looking over a split-rail type of fece at the camera, with a smaller donkey in the backgorund

Donkey by bagsgrove (flickr) – Licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

Autistics are not like NTs (neurotypicals) in the social arena.  We may not pick up on emotions the same way as others.  We may not be motivated by feelings of belonging in the same way as NTs, and may be more likely to go against the crowd (for good or bad).  Our emotional expressions may be misunderstood by neurotypicals.  We may communicate differently or less frequently about our feelings and thoughts.

Some of these things can lead us to being considered rude, jerks, or, yes, even asses.  For instance:

  • YOU SEE: You are someone who doesn’t care that I’m upset
  • I SEE: I didn’t realize you were upset.  I wish I did.
  • YOU SEE: Why do you have to make a big deal out of this?  Can’t you just get along?
  • I SEE: I’m not supposed to express my opinions and thoughts here?
  • YOU SEE: You’re not upset that this happened to me?
  • I SEE: I am upset!  I’ve been trying to tell you!

There’s a lot of these NT/Autistic misunderstandings in any relationship.  Heck, these same types of misunderstandings can take place among pairs of autistics or pairs of NTs – autistics don’t have a monopoly on being misunderstood or misunderstanding others!

While these types of misunderstandings exist, and they might even be more frequent when NTs and autistics mix, that doesn’t mean that every argument between an NT and an autistic is rooted in the differing neurologies.  Sometimes an autistic person is an asshole.  Sometimes they don’t care about another person.  Sometimes they are mean.  Sometimes they are selfish.  These things aren’t autism, nor are they unique to autistics (how many Fortune 500 CEOs truly care one bit about the janitor?  Maybe a few, but certainly not all).

There is a theory that “autistics are morally superior.”  This sometimes gets brought up (typically around Autistic Pride Day) to show we’re better than NTs or some such nonsense.  But usually this theory is presented in a bit more subtle way: how dare you accuse me of being a bad person, when I’m autistic!  Uh, no.  You might actually be a bad person.  You might not be.  I don’t know.  But I do know all of us are capable of evil deeds (both autistic people and generally “good” people are).

Maybe a person is being perceived as an ass because of his expression of autism – but he isn’t actually an ass.

But it’s also possible that the person perceived as an ass, even if he’s also autistic, really is an ass.  We can have the same sorts of human evil and immorality as everyone else.

So…don’t be a donkey.

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2 Responses to Yes, You Might be an Ass!

  1. Ren Thorpe says:

    I got to a point a few years ago where something clicked — I suddenly knew when, during a conversation, to explain to someone a very simple Thing that does not look like what it is to NTs.

    You see: She’s talking about herself again, she really doesn’t care about my problem.
    I See: I’m trying to show them why I understand what they are saying.

    There’s parallel play, and with me, there’s parallel conversations. It can look incredibly self-centered at times when really I’m just digging through my memory and going, “OH! I understand what you are saying!”

    Being mindful of this, I tend to tell people I know or intend to know well about this issue head on. I can’t self-monitor AND hear them AND try to help at the same time, all the time. In the event I’m somehow talking to someone casually, I just try to self-monitor and hope that the extra workload keeps me from making the age-old ASD error of oversharing.

    • Ren Thorpe says:

      To clarify, I often use my experiences at a jumping off point to understand exactly what they are going through before trying to actively help them, at which point I stop talking about myself. Until then, it tends to look like the standard NT one-up game.