One of our autistic community members, who was frustrated with being treated dismissively by non-autistic people, asked us this question via email. Another of our autistic community members answered the question, with both thoughtfulness and strategic advice. The two then gave us permission to post their exchange.
We hope readers who are not autistic will show respect by listening, learning, and asking questions if appropriate; and that those who are autistic will find (and share) their own strategies and advice.
Question for autistic people: How do you not have hate in your heart?
I got into a discussion with several people who are not on the spectrum, and was just battered from all sides by ableism, willful ignorance and ad hominem attacks. No one was interested in what I had to say. I was called selfish, stuck up, angry, and expletives I can’t repeat here. I was even told by one person that clearly I didn’t know how rude I was being “because of my autism.”
I have never been an autistic elitist and don’t intend to start. But I’m finding it impossible at this point to see any hope for most NTs [non-autistic people]. (There are always exceptions, of course.) It seems pointless to me to bash my head against the walls of their hatefulness. And I’ve caught myself making snide comments about “normals” and the like, which is just not productive or helpful in any way.
How do you as my fellow autistics remind yourself that there are neurotypicals who understand and care? How do you shrug off the gaslighting and paternalism and accusations? Because I don’t want to become that person, but right now it’s hard not to give up hope.
Your question is an excellent one.
I’m not the best advisor on keeping hate out of my heart. I find all strong feelings — love, hate, sadness, joy — out of my control. But living a bitter life is also not an option for me, so long ago I decided to focus on what I could do: choose reactions and follow through.
As an autistic I have an aversion to dissembling, but I came to understand that what NTs view as minor deceptions can help me protect myself. Using what most autistics would call lies or half-truths under certain circumstances, distasteful as I find it, has provided me with effective but non-aggressive self-defense, which is always the priority for me. As you pointed out, many NTs behave in an acceptable manner, but when they don’t as one didn’t with me yesterday, or worse yet when a group of NT gangs up as they did with you, my first consideration is an unobtrusive escape.
There are very few situations in which escape is truly impossible, but depending upon the context and the importance of the relationship, escape can have greater or fewer consequences for you. Clearly a strategy that works well with a stranger or acquaintance will not work with your boss, or roommate, or with a relative on whom you are financially dependent.
I don’t know the details of the discussion you described, so I’m going to make a few assumptions. I’m assuming that there were few or no individuals involved whose friendship you particularly value, or have power over your livelihood or your living situation. In these situations, I excuse myself very briefly in a socially acceptable way (to use the bathroom, get a cup of water etc.) just to give myself some escape-planning time and space.
The scripting that comes so naturally to us is an autistic’s best friend at these times. Always carry around in your mind, on a piece of paper, or on an electronic device, a few polite but vague stock phrases. You can find some really good ones in etiquette books, such as “This is certainly an interesting topic, but I’m afraid I’m feeling unwell, and must go lie down for a while.” NTs may ask a for a detail or two (“Oh do you have. a headache?”) but what I have found is that most of them are so caught up in their socializing, they will quickly be too distracted to question you closely. Your mileage may vary, but in my experience NTs have shorter attention spans than ours for anything that does not directly benefit them, particularly by somehow scoring them social points.
The moment you recognize you can extricate yourself from most interactions, you take your power back, which I have found lessens my resentment in both the short run and the long run.
As for resources, I would place the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network at the top of my list, with the understanding that it can’t provide you with a magic solution to the problem of finding friends, autistic or non-autistic, who are worthy of your time. What it can do is expose you to such a large number of autistics that you stand a good chance of finding a few with whom you click. Once you’ve found some autistic friends, ask for introductions to some of their NT friends. That way, the NTs you come into contact with have been vetted to some extent, and are less likely to behave badly. I agree with you that cutting yourself off from NTs is not useful. It’s probably not even possible. But using a filtering network of trusted autistics may help.
You may end up with a smaller circle of friends than is considered desirable in NT culture, but is both common and satisfying in autistic culture. The whole world is worthy of neither your respect nor your contempt, but I think that’s true for everyone, not just autistics. Knowing whose respect is important to you, and continually deepening mutual respect with those people may help you strike a better balance.
I hope my perspective was helpful.