A Spectrum Women Compilation, edited by Becca Lory Hector, Jen Elcheson and Maura Campbell.
Contributors: Barb Cook, Dena Gassner, Renata Jurkevythz, Lisa Toner Morgan, Liane Holliday Willey, Christine Jenkins, Terri Mayne, Kate Ross, and Anita Lesko.
We received such an AUSOME response to our list of things you should NEVER say to an autistic woman that we had to compile a sister list for it of some really great things you could, and should, ABSOLUTELY say to an autistic woman (or any autistic adult regardless of gender). And since you guys finally felt the burn of being left out last time, autistic men, let us know if these things work for you too.
1. “I’m listening and I hear you.”
When you tell us that you are truly listening and hear what we are saying, you are giving us validation, access, and space to share something with you. A lot of us do not feel heard, so this truly means a lot to us.
2. “I believe you, and I believe IN you, even if I don’t always understand you.”
Listen, even we autistics do not expect non-autistics to understand us 100%. Half the time we are trying to understand ourselves. We appreciate when you presume competence in our abilities and encourage us to be and do our best.
3. “What does it mean to you to be autistic? Tell me about it and how I can learn more.”
Asking questions always beats relying on stereotypes, assumptions, and hearsay, and it can help you avoid saying something potentially offensive. If you are unsure about something pertaining to autism or how an autistic person experiences their neurodivergence, just ask us! Allow time for processing and give us the option to answer in writing. Bonus: you can also save us the spoons and do your own Google search, too (on reputable sites, of course).
4. “You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to. You tried your best.”
We do not mean to be killjoys and party poopers at outings. Sometimes we go out and, upon arrival, may immediately wish to vacate the premises. Please allow us the option to exit gracefully. Do not guilt us into staying or shame us for being unable to stay. We could be experiencing sensory overload, stomach problems, social anxiety, and who knows what else? If we need to leave, we need to leave.
5. “No need to explain, it’s fine if you can’t come to the party. I’ll still invite you next time, but no pressure.”
Giving us the option to attend an event means a lot to us, even if we may not show up. It is considerate and inclusive, and it gives us options without the pesky obligation. Knowing you want us there enough to keep asking means that when we have the spoons, we will want to spend them with you.
6. “I don’t think I understood. Can you clarify? And I don’t mind if you ask me for clarification on what I’ve said if you don’t understand it.”
This is very important because sometimes our ways of communicating can get lost in translation. Asking for clarification, or for something to be re-phrased, puts both parties at ease and clears up confusion. It also lets us know that we aren’t the only ones who feel confused. Knowing it goes both ways is a giant relief to us.
7. “Let me know if you need ANYTHING.” (and mean it!!)
We know our requests can be unique. So, when you say anything, be prepared not to judge. Also, make sure you follow through. Words are meaningless without action to back them up. Show us you mean what you say, and you will have a loyal friend for life.
8. “How can I help you?”
If you want to be helpful to an autistic person, ask us HOW you can do that. It’s really that simple! We know what we need best. Instead of trying to guess, be direct and ask us. Chances are we will know exactly how you can help us best. And try not to be offended if we say it’s by leaving us alone. Many of our struggles are complicated by not having the time and quiet to process them.
9. “You don’t need to talk if you don’t want to (or can’t), but I’m here when you do want to.”
When the mutism kicks in and the spoons are nowhere to be found, give us space. If we are unable to produce functional speech, let us text. Many of us prefer it anyway. Knowing alternative communication is an acceptable option is HUGE. Many of us have been judged for these struggles through the years. Knowing you are trying not to repeat that for us means everything.
10. “I’m sorry.”
So you royally messed up? Apologize, already. Believe it or not, other people use OUR autism as an excuse to not be accountable for THEIR actions. It’s gross. Not sure exactly what you did wrong? Ask. Then, through actions, make sure the mistake isn’t made again. You know, manners!
11. “That’s really cool what you did.”
Going on and on about how talented or inspiring an autistic person is makes many of us uncomfortable. Keep compliments light and brief and focus on the cool thing the person did or achieved. If you think we did something worth recognizing, give us the compliment like you would anybody else. A lot of us do cool things that are plain cool, not just cool because we are autistic.
12. “This is Jane and her professional credentials include…”
Just like with any other person who has credentials, introduce autistic people by name, and by what we do in a respectful and professional manner. Do not introduce us as an autistic person unless we have given you our consent to disclose. Like everyone else who has achieved anything, we want to lead with what we have earned, not our status at birth.
13. “I can’t imagine how exhausting it is to work so hard to figure life out.”
When someone takes into account how hard being autistic can be it is extremely validating. It lets us know you … what’s the word for it? … empathize with how tiring it is to live in this loud, fast world as an adult autistic. Only people who genuinely love us say THAT and mean it.
14. “I love how you see things differently than I do.”
Appreciate our differences and let us know it!!! We are amazing exactly how we are and it is so nice to hear that you think so too. If you spend some time enjoying what makes our brains different, you might just see something from a brand new perspective.
15. “There will be cats there.”
With us, there’s never a wrong time to bring up cats.