I asked some old acquaintances, from an autism forum I used to frequent, to tell me their worst experiences in communicating with NTs/non-disabled people. All of those I’m quoting also have psychiatric conditions like mood, anxiety and attention disorders. I think there’s a common thread here:
Jenny, 23, is a science major at a state university. The lab environment is often overstimulating to her, so she has numerous accommodations from the school, but her stimming and executive dysfunction have drawn the attention of her peers. One day while walking out of class, she overheard two students whispering about her rocking and the fact that she sometimes wears noise-reducing headphones. “I think she has some kind of disorder,” said one of them.
Nate, 31, an actuary, plucked up the courage to ask out a woman he met at a work function. He tried to use the skills he had learned about eye contact and small talk, but her response was to laugh a little and say, “Sorry, you’re not my type, I like more… normal guys.”
Danielle, 27, was purchasing a book while wearing an autism awareness button. The cashier held onto her book while asking prying questions about how she took care of herself, whether she could have children, and whether she wanted to be “cured.” She then invited Danielle to her church.
And my own recent story: An acquaintance and his girlfriend were at my apartment playing video games, and I was explaining the controls for a certain racing game. Apparently I started going on too long about it in ways they didn’t understand; they were silent so I looked up to see if they were paying attention, just in time to see them roll their eyes at each other.
There’s a very simple lesson to be learned here: Don’t be a dick. Don’t be a dick to disabled people, and don’t be a dick to anyone else. Don’t ridicule people, overstep boundaries, make judgments and assumptions, or talk about people behind their backs. Be a decent human being. That’s how to interact with us.