It’s more than likely that the first person/people who you will tell that you are autistic will fall under the category of ‘friends’. And why not? They are the people you see most often. They are the people you trust. They’re reliable. They’re relatable. They’re there for you when the chips are down. But with all things considered, do they even care if you are autistic? And how do you tell them without making them look at you like you just announced you’re carrying the T-virus from Resident Evil?
Today’s article begins the ‘How to tell someone you are autistic series’, and it deals with the most common question: how do you tell a friend you are autistic?
Should You Tell A Friend You Are Autistic?
For most people, autism is pretty much a ‘do not remove’ label on a quilt: they know it exists, they’re pretty sure it is important, but they will stay well away from it because they don’t want to do anything wrong.
To many this may have you asking: ‘does this mean I don’t have to tell my friends I am autistic?’ and I guess that, if I’m being truly honest with you, the answer is: no. However this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
Telling someone you are autistic isn’t just about widening your friend’s understanding of the spectrum, It’s also about how it can benefit you:
- You will have someone to go to when you need to discuss your autism.
- It will prevent any misunderstandings which may take place between you and your friends.
- It may be a relief to know that you are not holding anything back from your friendship.
- It’s good practice for when you choose to tell other people in the future: such as at work, or with a girlfriend/boyfriend.
And finally, whether you like it or not, your friends are probably well aware of your ‘quirks’ by now, so it’s better to explain yourself than leave them in the dark.
How NOT to Tell Friends You Are Autistic:
Before we take a look at ways in which you can tell a friend you are autistic, let me give you an example of what can go wrong. This is the tale of the first time I told someone I was autistic, and it went kind of… ermm… how do I say this?… maybe I will just tell you the story, and then maybe the word will come to me:
So the first time I told someone that I was autistic was during break time in the last year of primary school. I can’t remember why I had decided to tell my friend I was autistic, but I can remember the words I used clearly:
“I’m autistic, which means I ask lots of questions because something in my brain doesn’t work right”… oh yeah, now I remember the word to describe how it went: badly.
Rather unsurprisingly, my schoolmate looked extremely confused, but ultimately didn’t say much in return. We carried on where we left off and I had that young naive feeling that everything had gone rather swimmingly. Ignorance is indeed bliss.
Time then cracked on and later that week I was arguing with another ‘friend’ in class, and during the debate, I remember the boy pulling the rug from under my feet when he said “what do you even know? Your brain doesn’t work right”... Ouch!
Turns out, the original person I had told didn’t have a clue what I meant when I told him I was autistic. As a result he had gone around the class telling people what I had told him, in order to get help.
How to Tell Friends You Are Autistic:
So yeah, the first time I told someone I was autistic was a bit of a disaster. However, it quickly taught me the lessons I needed to ensure that it didn’t happen again in the future. Luckily for you, I can share these lessons today (minus the crippling humiliation which they originally came with).
1. Ensure that there is as little room for misunderstanding as possible.
This one doesn’t just apply to explaining how autism affects you, but also how your autism affects the person you’re telling. Let them know this won’t affect anything about your friendship and, more to the point, let them know what autism actually is.
Truth be told, I knew very little about autism before I started writing this blog and this may be the case for you too. Protect yourself from any misunderstanding by planning for it with lesson number 2.
2. Do Your Homework.
It may sound stupid (and it’s also kind of a pain), but do some research before you start talking to people about your autism. Because be prepared, they probably will ask questions…
I’m not saying you should prepare an intensive report on the minds of autists, but maybe just read around the subject of autism, to a gain a general idea of how to answer any questions that may come your way (might I recommend this incredible autistic awareness site called Autistic & Unapologetic for your revision?).
3. It’s your decision who gets to know.
Remember if you don’t want things to end like my first time (and trust me, you don’t), then it’s worth noting, that you should always tell the person you are talking to that you want this information to be private (if that is what you want).
It’s not like you are some super spy and the safety of the world is at stake, it’s just that, like I said before, many people don’t really know what autism is, and if those people who don’t fully understand are then telling other people, who know just as little, you risk misinterpretation: you tell one person that you are on the ‘autistic spectrum’, and three people down the line think you’ve had an ‘artistic tantrum’.
Before moving on from this point, I feel it’s crucial to mention that, telling someone in private is not the same as telling someone you want to keep something private (I learnt that the hard way too).
4. Timing is Key.
When it comes to telling someone you are autistic, timing can mean a lot of things: Is it the right time in the friendship? Do they have enough time to hear a full explanation? Are they in right mind set to be told this information?
I find it’s better to wait and get to know someone before fully opening up to them, as it allows me to tailor my explanation in a language more familiar to them. However, if you want to tell someone straight away, then go ahead! It may lead to a stronger foundation being built at the start of the friendship.
5. Don’t hold back
Unfortunately, as this is only a blog I can’t stand behind you, like a boxing coach prepping you for the most important match of your life. So, when it gets down to it, you’ve got to tackle the ‘telling’ on your own.
But don’t let this deter you – just go out there and take it head on. Sure, no one can say how your friend is going to react for certain, but, honestly if they do respond negatively, then you probably don’t want that jerk as your friend in the first place. In one sense, you are finding out just as much about who your friends really are, as they are you.
Carry on the Conversation:
But that’s all we have time for today and now I want to hear from you. Do you think telling someone you are autistic should be a big deal? Do you think it’s better to tell someone you are autistic straight away or later on in a friendship? Also, have you got any stories of trying to tell someone about autism that you are willing to share? Let me know in the comments below.
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Thank you for reading and I will see you next Saturday for more thoughts from across the spectrum.