How to tell someone I know politely, that I think they might be autistic?
I received as reader feedback the following question I thought for a great topic for a blog post:
”My friend/colleague/this person I’ve met appears to be autistic. Because learning about my autism has helped me a lot, I’m wondering if N could also benefit from such knowledge. How could I bring the matter up respectfully, ethically and politely?
This is a good question! Size of autistic population is measured in %s, but due to underdiagnosing most of us are unaware of our being autistic. Mistakenly assuming oneself for a neurotypical person causes all sorts of troubles and challenges, as many of us (including myself) know from experience. It would indeed be great if there was a kind way to express our thoughts. It feels difficult, though. But why? Let’s start by lining up the relevant facts.
Fact #1: I’m as sure as one can be (without a full diagnostic process) , that N is autistic.
Fact #2: Every autistic person is likely to benefit from knowing their neurotype. On the other hand, I have good reasons to believe, that not knowing about one’s autism is harmful in many ways.
Fact #3: I want to avoid being rude. I want to behave ethically and with respect.
1+2+3: Because I strongly suspect that N is autistic, it is morally right for me to inform them. In principle, anyway. But how could I do according to guidelines I set myself in #3?
The problem is, that autism is strongly stigmatized. That is one big reason why simply saying ”I think you might be autistic” won’t likely go very well, but will be taken as an insult insetad of the sort of neutral statement we mean it. Most people think they know what autism is, though they really don’t. Their ”knowledge” is nothing but prejudices, combined with misunderstandings and outdated beliefs. So in fact, they do not know what autism really is. So when we utter the word ”autism”, it is not understood correctly. The message we are trying to send won’t make it to its intended destination uncorrupted. If I say: ”Your neutral, value free neurotype is Autistic. I am telling you this because I believe this knowledge will be very useful and good for you to know. For example, it enables you to look for important information and find friends.” It’s likely that instead of this, the recipient of this message will hear: ”You are mentally ill and developmentally delayed, horrible and unlikeable person destined to be a loser.” Even if we actually said nothing like it, it is well possible that stigmas associated with autism will corrupt the message.
Solution: The root cause of this problem is lack of knowledge. In order to get our message right, one must know what autism really is. They must have adopted a far more positive understanding of autism that is currently the mainstream conception. Therefore, N should be supported until they reach this epistemic position. Only then can the message be delivered and understood right. Spend time with your acquintance and be your nice, autistic self. Don’t mention the A-word right away. Instead, help N to conclude that you are a nice, sensible adult person (this shouldn’t be super difficult if they indeed are autistic). Little by little, open up about your autistic traits and allow them realize for themselves that you are not a homemade version of the Rainman or Saga Norén, just an exceptionally nice and reasonable person. If you note that they are dealing with autism typical difficulties, give them tips -but don’t mention that they are the kind of ideas that work particularly well for autistis. Autists are not stupid. When there is enough evidence, the person will likely get interested, start thinking and seeking knowledge on their own, finding out for themselves that they are, indeed, part of your whanau.
Have you encountered problematic situations relateded to autism understanding? Kaiao can help you to find solutions! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll see how could I assist you!.