For the purposes of these tips, I’m going to assume that the social situation is between a neurotypical and an Autistic person. A neurotypical may meet an Autistic person in college and wish to get to know them or maybe you are friends with a recently diagnosed and want to get to know about the condition or you are a parent of a child/teenager who has just been diagnosed. These won’t necessarily work for every situation as every Autistic person is different with different needs and different skillsets. I’m largely basing these lists of Do and Don’t on personal preference and generalised commonality through researching into the Autistic Community.
- Learn their preferred terminology if you are going to refer to their Autism and the Autistic community. Most Autistic people prefer identity first language such as ‘I am an Autistic person’ as opposed to ‘I am a person with Autism’.
- Make sure the situation is comfortable for the Autistic person as we can be overwhelmed by busy places that are crowded and noisy, so if you are going for coffee, grab a take out and go somewhere quiet.
- Another sensory issue, although not every Autistic person will have issues with senses, but make sure you are not wearing overpowering perfume/deodorant, the area you are meeting in has a neutral smell, if outside that you are in the shade if its too bright and for inside that the space isn’t overtly bright.
- Be prepared that the social back and forth conversation between a neurotypical and an Autistic person may not function as you’d expect as we read social cues and understand them differently. We may butt in over you or speak at length about our areas of interest. This is not us being rude but rather our area of interests makes it easier for us to communicate.
- Allow time for answers as it may take some Autistic people time to process what we want to say. If the person you are meeting has issues with social or communication, it may be an idea to learn their special area of interest(s) in advance to find either a common ground, or for you to know what they like and to ask questions based off that. This will build a rapport while also easing the nerves of the Autistic person.
- In the case of non-verbal Autistics, many can use ways of non-verbal communication, this may require more time for them to either write or input a response. Though some non-verbal Autistics will have a co-occurring learning disability that may not be able to write or input a response. The idea of language is a neurotypical thing, they will have their own way of communication by pointing or gestures, some may even be able to sign to a degree. Some may be able to use picture cards or possibly learn how to use them with time.
- Do not, for the love of *insert deity*, say things like ‘were you vaccinated?’, ‘you don’t look Autistic’ or ‘sure, everyone’s a little bit on the spectrum’. Sure buddy, but you’re on the stupidity spectrum.
- Do not initiate touch greetings, like handshakes, hugging or kissing, these can be very uncomfortable for some people on the spectrum. Also don’t force eye contact.
- Assume that we don’t have a love or sex life. Autistic people can be anywhere on a the sexuality spectrum, and it’s even reported that their is a significant number of Autistics on the LGBTQA+ spectrum. Whether they’ll be open about it is another thing, we are generally deeply personal and don’t often give information like this freely so do not press.
- Assume that we are ‘dumb’ or don’t understand stuff or have a learning disability. We do understand, we just respond differently. Around 40% of people on the Autistic spectrum of an IQ that is Average or Above. Learning disabilities only occur in Autistic people if it is co-occurring with something else.
- We are not all good at maths, or science. We are not savants or like Ray Man or that kid in the newest Predator. And most importantly, do not mention Sheldon Cooper.
- Do not use functioning labels, high, mild and low functioning labels are generally perceived by Autistic people as harmful and misleading and are mainly used by Diagnosticians as determining the levels of support one may need. For example I am diagnosed with high functioning classic autism. It’s high functioning because I am smart, can read and write, can communicate, I got a degree but on the other side, I am extremely social anxious, avoidant and indifferent to human and social interaction. It takes me about 15 minutes to tie my shoelaces, I can barely cut my nails and despite my communication skills, I may only utter a few words or sentences per day.