6 Ridiculous Reasons Why Asperger Syndrome Is "Socially Unacceptable"

Biting nails

The vast majority of people on the autism spectrum have one or more qualities that make them look, sound, or behave "differently" from the American cultural norm. 

In some cases, the behaviors that set autistic people apart are severe and even potentially dangerous.  Aggression or self-abuse, for example, are rare but very real -- and because they have the potential for causing harm, they really are a problem to people with autism and those near them.

In other cases, the behaviors are so obvious to others and so necessary to the person with autism that there's no feasible way to change or overlook them. These would include a need to rock, flap, pace, or vocalize most of the time.  While the behaviors hurt no one, they are unusual and obvious enough to attract stares.

But how about people with very high functioning autism who have, in many cases, worked hard to fit in with the "neurotypical" crowd? 

Bizarrely, for some people with autism, even apparently "perfect" behavior (or behaviors that are almost invisible) can be a barrier to acceptance.  How weird is that?!  Here are just a few of the behaviors that should, by all rules and customs, be terrific -- but, somehow, aren't:

  1. Being Too Polite.  Here's a weird one!  Kids with autism are often given intensive "how to behave nicely" lessons, while typical kids are not.  As a result, teens like my son Tom, when greeted by an adult, shake hands, give direct eye contact, and say, "it's a pleasure to meet you!"  How bizarre is THAT, when a typical teen stares at the ground, grunts "hullo," and passes on by!
  1. Making Too Much Eye ContactFor years, children with autism are taught that they should look others in the eye when talking with them. Finally, they develop the ability to do just that -- and are told that they are "staring people down," and should avert their eyes!  How much eye contact is too much?  Who the heck knows?  Apparently you're just supposed to intuitively know when "enough is enough."
  1. Being Too Interested.  Dale Carnegie taught us that taking an interest in others' lives will gain us friends and influence.  But heaven forbid that a person with autism be interested enough in another person's hobbies or job to ask a series of questions in a social setting!  For example, hearing that another person works for Google, a typical person might say "do you enjoy it?" and move on -- while an interested autistic person would ask "what's it like there?  is it true that they're working on X?  what do you think of the Google glasses?"  Within just a few appropriate and interested questions, the person with autism is marked as an oddball!
  2. Asking the Wrong Question.  If there's one thing autistic people hear over and over again in social skills groups it's -- "you need to ask questions of other people, not just talk about yourself or your own interests."  Fair enough.  But as soon as an autistic person asks an interesting question that's ever so slightly "off," the stares begin.  "What's it like to be adopted?"  "How much did your beautiful house cost?"  "Didn't your wife get mad when you wrecked that car?"  Everyone wants to know the answer to questions like these, but when they're asked a wall goes up.
  1. Having the Wrong Nervous TicHere's one that has always baffled me.  Neurotypical people in America bite their nails, twist their hair, tap their toes, and even pace at a walking speed to let off steam when they're anxious.  Autistic people might wring or flap their hands, rock in their seats, or pace rapidly.  For reasons that make absolutely no sense whatever, hand wringing is weird while nail biting is not -- and, as a result, the wrong nervous tic can set an autistic person apart from the crowd.
  2. Enjoying Hobbies Too Much.  How often do we hear that "it's important to have recreational hobbies?"  Hobbies let us relax, find new interests, and even connect us with new social groups.  But what happens when you actually want to talk about your area of interest to people who don't happen to share it?  While it's fine to say "I collect model trains," actually describing your model layout and the process by which it was created is considered to be absolutely weird and off-putting!

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