Recently, I’ve seen a huge rise in the number of people using ‘autistic’ as an insult. Obviously, this is totally unacceptable. Every day on the bus, around school, or in the streets, I hear it thrown around: “Don’t be so autistic and just text her” or whatever. And it makes my skin crawl. It’s so blindingly ignorant. It needs to stop, and let’s talk about why.
It isn’t a new phenomenon, and it certainly isn’t limited to school kids. 50 Cent got himself into trouble a few years ago for the tweeting that “I don’t want no special ed kids on my time line follow some body else” and saying a troll “look[ed] autistic”.
Similarly, it certainly isn’t the first time people have used something fairly arbitrary as an insult, since anyone on the Internet in 2011 will remember when every other YouTube comment said ‘GAY’ as if this was some kind of cutting insult. But, just like sexuality, neurology isn’t something that works as an insult, because it isn’t something negative.
The dictionary definition of an insult is:
a disrespectful or scornfully abusive remark or act.
But lots of famous people have autism, and you probably wouldn’t associate them with the same negative stereotypes you think of when you use it as an insult. Some of these celebrities include:
(Hover over the images to read captions)
The only reason people think ‘autistic’ is an insult is because of the stigma attached to it that isn’t attached to other neurological conditions, such as ALS or Multiple Sclerosis. Even the stigma around mental health is starting to ease somewhat, because of the huge media push to dispel the negative stereotypes. However, that same effort hasn’t been put into dispelling rumours and assumptions about autistic people, and thus it is still used as an insult. Nowadays, hearing someone use ‘gay’ as an insult is still not uncommon, but most people generally understand it’s a pretty empty insult because there isn’t anything bad about being gay – save for a bigoted minority.
However, some of the assumptions about autistic people focus entirely on the negative and not at all on the positive traits associated with the condition – and utterly ignore the obvious point that every person with the same diagnosis is different. Some of these assumptions include:
- “they can’t handle the basic things everyone else can deal with”
- “they have below average IQ”
- “they can’t be creative”
- “they don’t want to talk to people”
- “they all have a savant skill”
In fact, none of these are true. The word ‘autistic’ is not synonymous with ‘insensitive’ or ‘awkward’. Autistic is only synonymous with ‘person who has autism’, nothing else. And that isn’t an insult, so we need to stop using it as one. Because when we start understanding that words like ‘gay’ or ‘autistic’ aren’t actually offensive, we might start to be able to progress toward something less bigoted.
If you’re one of the people who use ‘autistic’ as a synonym for insensitive, uncool, or whatever, I’ve made you a helpful infographic of what you’re actually saying when you say ‘autistic’:
Stay safe, friends. x