Autistic Future
June 8th, 2019

On Requests

Autis­tic adults will­ing to dis­cuss autism in pub­lic or work on autism issues get many requests for help and advice. There is noth­ing inher­ent­ly wrong with ask­ing peo­ple for help, but the type and amount of these requests can get grat­ing over time. Neu­rotyp­i­cals who want respect­ful, mutu­al­ly agree­able, pro­duc­tive rela­tion­ships with Autis­tic advo­cates and activists, and want to max­i­mize the num­ber of their requests that are grant­ed, need to learn to make them in the right way. Most of the con­flicts that come out of these requests could be avoid­ed if neu­rotyp­i­cals could apply the Gold­en Rule to Autis­tic adults, extend a lit­tle empa­thy, and refrain from treat­ing Autis­tic adults in ways they, them­selves, would like­ly find obnox­ious. That plus a very basic lev­el of cul­tur­al com­pe­ten­cy would pre­vent almost all such prob­lems. Since a num­ber of neu­rotyp­i­cals are find­ing it chal­leng­ing to do those things, here are some guidelines:

The most basic way to avoid annoy­ing or offend­ing some­one with a request for help or advice is to pre­sume Autis­tic adults’ per­son­hood and act accord­ing to the Gold­en Rule. Assume that peo­ple have full, rich lives and that their time is valu­able. Don’t assume that a dis­abled per­son does­n’t work or that a per­son who does­n’t work a tra­di­tion­al, full-time job isn’t busy and active in var­i­ous pur­suits. Under­stand that ful­fill­ing your request, should the Autis­tic adult choose to do it, will take time. This is a real cost. If you can answer a ques­tion through Google, it might be more respect­ful to do that than ask for some­one’s time, espe­cial­ly if that per­son is some­one you don’t know well. Nev­er ask an Autis­tic or oth­er dis­abled per­son to work for free when you would expect to pay a neu­rotyp­i­cal to get the job done. This insults the dis­abled per­son by devalu­ing their work and per­pet­u­ates pover­ty in the dis­abil­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty. Peo­ple will prob­a­bly, under­stand­ably, respond to requests of this kind with out­rage. Ask­ing peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties to vol­un­teer when any­one in the role in ques­tion would be a vol­un­teer is fine.

Con­sid­er, too, whether your request is cost­ly or offen­sive by nature. If you are con­sid­er­ing ask­ing a ques­tion, first ask your­self whether you would be com­fort­able answer­ing it giv­en the sur­round­ing con­text and degree of rela­tion­ship. Ask­ing an Autis­tic stranger about the details of their med­ical or sex­u­al his­to­ry is no more like­ly to go over well than ask­ing those sorts of ques­tions of a neu­rotyp­i­cal you don’t know well. Be care­ful about how you ask about the painful moments of peo­ple’s per­son­al his­to­ries, too. Con­sid­er the cost of hav­ing to repeat the sto­ry of the worst moments of your life over and over. Is the rea­son for your request worth ask­ing anoth­er per­son to do that? Nav­i­gat­ing these sit­u­a­tions will be eas­i­er to get this right if you rec­og­nize Autis­tic adults as peo­ple who are fun­da­men­tal­ly like your­self in many ways.

Cul­tur­al com­pe­tence and research on indi­vid­u­als will also help you avoid offend­ing the peo­ple you hope will help you. Do you want some­thing from some­one who iden­ti­fies with the Neu­ro­di­ver­si­ty Move­ment? Approach­ing them with the phrase “per­son with autism” and ask­ing for help with an autism aware­ness month event will prob­a­bly not go over well. Learn­ing the Autis­tic com­mu­ni­ty’s major­i­ty con­sen­sus on basic issues, and some­thing about the pref­er­ences and val­ues of the indi­vid­ual you plan to ask for help, will usu­al­ly give you an under­stand­ing of which requests are like­ly to be accept­ed and which ones just invite anger. Peo­ple will not help you if your requests don’t align with their inter­ests, knowl­edge, or pri­or­i­ties. Ask­ing some­one to help with a project that is dia­met­ri­cal­ly opposed to their val­ues will usu­al­ly be con­sid­ered annoy­ing at best, deeply offen­sive at worst. If you know so lit­tle about the per­son you are ask­ing that you have no idea how your request will land, you may want to do more research before you pose the question.

For all their sup­posed empa­thy and good social skills, too many neu­rotyp­i­cals have dif­fi­cul­ty apply­ing those things to their inter­ac­tions with Autis­tic peo­ple. Remem­ber­ing that Autis­tics are peo­ple, with all the com­plex­i­ty that entails, will go a long way toward solv­ing the prob­lem. Insult­ing the Autis­tic adults with whom you inter­act is an inher­ent­ly obnox­ious thing to do, and it isn’t pro­duc­tive. It will nev­er help you get what you want. If this is seems con­fus­ing or too hard to do, there may be work you need to do on your­self before you can inter­act with the Autis­tic com­mu­ni­ty successfully.