You don’t look autistic! and other bigotry - Unapologetically Autistic

You don’t look autistic!

But... you don't look autistic. I'd be amazed, nay astounded if there's a single adult autistic on this or any other planet who's never had that one levelled at them at some point or other.

And of all the dumb things neurotypicals say to us, this has to be the most obvious indicator of bigotry and ignorance of all.

The first and most evident thing is there are no distinguishing physical features identifying autistic people. I've seen claims there are subtle differences in facial features, but not only are they apparently so small it takes a computer to spot them, there's nothing to say all and only autistics have them if they even exist. Serious research on this topic does exist, to be sure.

But that's a mere detail and I mention it here just for completeness.

you don't look autistic

Clearly I do look autistic, since that's what I am and this is how I look

Saying "You don’t look autistic" is neurotypical bigotry

And my gripe isn't so much with what they're saying as it is with what they mean by it.

Because the underlying meaning hints at a glaringly inaccurate stereotype, and one I suspect isn't helpful to anyone.

See, what they're saying is if you're autistic you should look like some kind of drooling idiot and maybe spend your days sitting in the corner throwing faeces at the wall.


That's the unhelpful stereotype right there. 

Let's be clear: stereotyping is normal human behaviour and it can be useful because it allows us to categorise and classify large chunks of information, something we'd have found to our advantage in dangerous environment we evolved in. 

But saying "you don't look autistic" shows you have no fucking clue about autism and autistics, but you're still prepared to form an opinion about them.

Most autistics — the vast majority — are practically indistinguishable from neurotypicals even in their everyday behaviour if for no other reason than they've learned to mask so well.

Given perhaps 2% of the population are autistic every time you walk down a busy street you're undoubtedly passing by them all the time, and you don't even know it.

Men, women, teenagers, kids... you have no way of knowing. Chances are even if you stopped to chat to them you'd have no fucking idea, and at best you might get a feeling there was something different about them but you'd have no clue what it was (clue: this is why diagnosing autism is a skilled job and not something you can do as a layman on the basis of a chat over coffee).

Why do they say it?

I'll be generous and charitable here and say they mean well. Maybe they're telling us "You're OK. You're like we are. You don't look broken". Maybe they're trying to be inclusive.

But not only do I not need people validating me to maintain my sense of self-esteem, but what they're actually doing is casting to one side the whole of our autistic view and experience of life.

I don't want to be treated as a neurotypical because I'm not neurotypical. That could work for me only if I was prepared to mask. And I'm not. I've had enough of that and I refuse to do it any longer.

I have no wish to blend in and have some dickwad sweep my challenges and struggles under the rug of normalcy. And if I was feeling less charitable I'd be tempted to think their real reasons for doing it is to make themselves feel more comfortable.

"After all, if you don't look autistic, then we can all pretend you're not, and I won't have to make any changes to or accommodations in my behaviour towards you", something like that, you know?

My reply to this is never polite, and is usually along the lines of "And you don't look like a fucking idiot... but here we are, eh?".

For some reason neurotypicals take offence at that.





Jon McCulloch, The Evil Bald Genius

Author, speaker, business owner, and autism advocate

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I'm Jon. Husband, father, business owner, author, speaker, and outspoken advocate for autism awareness. I struggled my whole life knowing I was different, but not knowing how or why. I was finally diagnosed in 2019, but had informally self-identified as autistic for a couple of years before that. I live on a remote farm in Ireland with my wife and an assortment of cats and dogs.