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Monday, August 8, 2011

When is an NT ally not an ally?

I've done a few essays on the gratification that NTs have when they try to do autism activism. The whole "LOOK AT ME! LOOK, LOOK IMMA HERO" shit that they seem to perpetuate no matter what they do. This isn't an essay critiquing it. This is telling my NT readers how to avoid getting the side-eye.

How to be an ally not an asshole

*) Don't compare an autist with your autistic sibling/cousin/friend/co-worker etc.
One of the biggest pet-peeves some self-advocates have is the tenancy of contrast and compare NTs do when they talk to them. It seems as soon as an autist outs himself or herself to an NT the first thing that comes out of the NT's mouth (besides "Oh I can't tell you're autistic") is: "Oh I have {insert relation} with autism!" Suddenly they have this idea that know they can relate to your issues and problems instantly because of this off-hand and distant connection. Despite whatever your relationship with this other autist is, it's not fair nor is it appropriate for you to compare or believe your in the same ball-park as the other autist. Every autist is unique. Whatever your sister/friend/yoga-instructor is like has nothing to do with the other autist.

Nor do we give two shits if you know someone with autism.

*)Telling an autist that they are doing "so well" is not a compliment
Don't try to praise an autist for passing as normal. It's not a compliment it's a constant reminder if the facade we put up every single day. It's an indication on how "other" we are in relation to you. Every time you praise an autist for passing it's patronizing and continues to divide NT from NA (Neuroatypical). You don't need to remind us that were doing a good job with making eye contact/not stimming/speaking clearly. The only time I see it as ok if the autist and the NT have been friends for years and the autist is struggling to correct a behavior (like stimming in public) only then I see the praise as genuine.

*)Don't try to pity us and say how much of an inspiration we are.
I am not your fucking "feel-good" moment for you. I am not your "precious moment", saccharine coated proverb that you can masturbate to when you feel depressed. Don't go on about how "brave" we are for being autistic, it's condescending and rather asinine. Don't fucking recount our struggles as a disabled minority like you actually understand. It only adds to your privileges as an NT and makes you look like an ass. I have had people compliment me for being brave and strong, but that's only after time has passed and one actually sees the challenges I face than assuming my autism is some-sort of "trial".

*) Do not play "Oppression Olympics"
Don't feel like your disability or sense of otherness is an excuse to invalidate an autist when they are venting out their issues and struggle. Don't jump into the discourse lamenting that having bi-polar is so hard and that autists should be grateful that we are not medicated 24/7. This is frustrating and starts a us/them dialogue that does shit. It's not rude for someone to use their otherness as a frame of reference to gain empathy, but say that you have it worse is inappropriate when the stage is set for an autist to vent. Their are other places to vent about the struggles of other NA statuses.

*)Don't correct our autistic behaviors
You're not our damn therapist. I am sick of allies trying to pretend they are helping when they remind me that I am not making eye-contact or stimming in public. I had a friend tell me that I was toe-walking and I should stop in the middle of the grocery store. It's not your god damn job. Shut the hell up. It's embarrassing to have our behavior brought up and shamed. Not all autistic behaviors should be modified, and it's not an ally's job to judge which behaviors should be modified.

*)Don't tell us we need more empathy
It only indicates you have no empathy. Allies feel it's important for them to go and say: "Don't paint us with the same brush and you should have empathy for "so and so" because of {insert issue with their autistic whatever}." It's not helpful and once again pushes the arrogance that only NTs have empathy and autists just have echoes of it. If an autist feels that they need to state phrases like "I hate NTs, I am sick of NT's making choices for us, I am sick of this NT parent treating their child like a burden" then you should shut up and let us get it out. Listen and don't judge or critique an autist for their anger. Don't play devil's advocate, don't try to make us see "another point of view" just listen for once.

We kill for NTs that just would listen and understand our anger.

*) Don't say that were better off than so and so
Don't try to ignore the issues of an autist by telling them that they dodge a karmic bullet by not being non-verbal/classically autistic/mobility impaired/intellectually disabled etc. Not only does it degrade the issues that autistic with verbal communication or those that can pass, but you're feeding the lie that having a severe disability is "wrong" and "bad" and growing the divide in the spectrum not only that but you're also continuing the constant stigma of having a severe impairment.

*)Don't use terms like HFA or LFA
Don't try to call an Aspie HFA because he can talk, far as you know he could struggle with learning how do laundry and might need guidance with doing simple task. He probably struggles with keeping a job too and deals with unemployment. Don't assume a classical autist is incompetent or LFA because they need staff and lack verbal speech, they could use AAC have skills that you probably could never do.

Don't use stereotypes to construct and feed myths that continue to do more harm than good. Get to know a person.

*) Encourage the autist to speak for themselves don't speak for them.
Don't try to assume you know our needs, don't assume you're being a good ally by telling off the jerkface that called your autie friend a retard. Don't think you're bridging the gap by bragging on how you want to be a special needs teacher and how awesome you think being a self-advocate is. I don't give a shit.

If you want to be an alley, be aware of your privilege be ware of the gaps, don't ignore them. Encourage our voices, and make them stand out in the chorus of opposition and hate.


  1. I think it comes down to respect, essentially. People who don't actually have respect for those they are trying to "help", are not actually being helpful.

    For me it's primarily that people assume {a label, usually nonverbal} means {some stereotype, often a variation on retard}. Perhaps I exacerbate this problem though, since I am so selective about who I use my words with and who gets ignored as irrelevant.

    For one part I disagree, but only in regards to myself. I am grateful for people speaking for me when they know enough to do so and when they leave "space" for me to correct them. It is a huge relief to put my pen away and let someone else talk. It is so exhausting to write. I suspect that maybe someone who can talk, even with difficulty, would not think the same about this, based on what you have written.


  2. For one part I disagree, but only in regards to myself. I am grateful for people speaking for me when they know enough to do so and when they leave "space" for me to correct them.

    I guess it's my struggle to remain verbose and articulate among my NT peers, that I have issues when NT allies think it's ok to input or to clarify what I am trying to communicate. I have very select people like you that can play "translator" especially when I drop mask and go mute. Problem is some NT allies think because they "BFF" status they have that job when I shutdown. They end up speaking for me thinking that they are being respectful and useful when I never gave them that permission.

    There is a certain feeling of nakedness when one is meltdowning or in a state of distress. I feel that any words I try to utter are drowned or ignored. I feel at the mercy at whomever is with me at the time.

    It's a reminder on how this is not my world. This is not really my home. Especially when one is exhibiting SIB and your SO is holding your arms down telling you "Just relax dear"

    TL;DR I agree it's all about respect and understanding's one's boundries. Perhaps I should make a caveat that this is mostly regaruds to me another self-advocates I've worked with.

  3. This is brilliant and I can very much relate. I become incredibly frustrated when people insist on viewing me as a disorder, or try and determine whether something I sm saying or doing is "autistic" or not. More often than not people seem to think autistic is a synonym for retarded and will try and tell me that I've obviously been misdiagnosed. - Scotty

  4. Thank you so much Scott, I have had many of the same experiences. I get rather twitchy when folks tell me. "Please make I contact Bard" because really, that isn't your job

  5. Bard doesn't hide the fact that there's frustration with this topic and doesn't hide that people making mistakes is a bad thing. It's people not learning from their mistakes that is bad. People so easily want to categorize and place those with autism in different boxes, then not allowing them to come out of it. They also have this way of not letting those with autism speak for themselves or even speaking to those with autism in a patronizing or even superior way. We seem to put autism in on this insane pedestal of "difference." And those without make it their mission to speak for those with it and to fix it. But all we see is the outside. We aren't experiencing it. How frustrating it must be to hear those who don't know talk like they know or to ignore the opinion of someone who is "high-functioning." People treat autism like it's a disease, and talk to people with autism like it's an abnormality. It's like someone said in a comment before me. It's about respect. I, a person without autism, need to listen better.