After someone would hear of my diagnosis, they tended to remark, “You don’t look autistic.” If someone was to ask me, this sounds like one of those dismissive phrases. I never figured out how I’m supposed to appear to someone that says that. Our bodies aren’t going to magically conform to a design you may have in mind based on your assumptions on what my disability and many others would look like. I am not sure if describing myself would be the most proper thing to do currently considering what you may easily find online based on what information I could tell you. I don’t like the idea of where it originated from. It is like telling someone they are passing for something they are not or would rather not be.
I wonder if people in the world actually hear themselves when they say, “You don’t look autistic to me,”. If they hear it, do they cringe? It sounds so much like a back handed compliment. I’m never sure if it is a compliment or an insult. A typical response I use is “Oh, thanks?” as if to state that I have no idea how to respond so it ends up rising into a question rather than simply accepting it at face value or what is supposed to be such. The phrase itself sounds like I didn’t fit in and now I do which is strange. It is such a dismissive phrase and is used constantly in many different aspects, not just in mental health. “You don’t look __” is such a generic phrase and seems completely mocking and scornful. Why do people think I want to blend in when I simply want to stand out? If we’re trying to create a world where more people are being included, we should drop that phrase once and for all.
Hollywood seems to show autism mainly through people who are considered lower functioning or non-verbal. This could have formed some of the basic constructs for how people on the spectrum are viewed. It is not always “Rain Man” or Shaun Murphy in terms of how much of an exceptionally intelligent person he was. Savant, in autism, is “someone who displays remarkable abilities or skills in one or several domains.” The famous “Rain Man” character was known for being able to do math like a human calculator. I feel a closer representation for myself in terms of character would be Sheldon Cooper from the popular T.V. show Big Bang Theory. Another point is that Hollywood doesn’t always use “high functioning” people on the spectrum which appears dismissive to me and not inclusive at all.
I don’t look like Dr. Temple Grandin, Susan Boyle or even Dan Aykroyd. I’m not famous, nor do I have something that would set me apart from them. I do, however, have many things that keep me following in their footsteps as poor or misguided as they may have been at the start of their varying careers. I wish to emulate such people as listed even if that means figuring out certain things I am not understanding. The standard of being autistic was put in place by Dr. Temple Grandin; however, a lot of uninformed people think that others on the spectrum are good with animals. There’s another lumping together which many people on the spectrum don’t appreciate.
My overall point here is stop putting people in boxes. Not everyone has that specific skill or that specific trait. We are all individuals, whether you are on the spectrum or not. If you have questions, make sure the person you are talking with is open to discussing their experiences before overwhelming them with questions. Talk to me as if I am an equal human being, because I am. And, please stop saying, “You don’t look autistic”.
Author, Teal C. You can read more of her/their previous post here
CA Human Services is a statewide non-profit organization that advocates for, enables, and creates change for Virginians with developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder. Our Adult Programs guide and coach individuals to navigate and transition smoothly from their family home to independent living such as an apartment, college dorm, or co-living situation.