“Autistic” as an insult – This needs to stop

Insult instead of helpful connection

I am writing this post spontaneously. As you might know by now that is not something that happens a lot with me. I have been around twitter for a couple of months now but so far only within the English autistic community. What I experienced there has given me hope. People were great. Respectful. Thoughtful. Caring. Helpful.
But I am German. I live in Germany. I have the deep desire to connect with autistic people from here as well. People I stand a chance of actually meeting someday. People who understand the struggles one might encounter specifically in Germany.

Many things are different depending on the country you live in. Politics. Organizations. Therapies and services available. Healthcare. Societal rules and norms. Culture. Everything.
So connecting with people in your country is important. I was especially hoping to find autism advocacy groups. That is why I decided today to check out the German autistic community. And since I did not know exactly where to start I did what I did when first diving into the English community:
I typed “autistisch” (German for “autistic”) into the twitter search.

I expected something similar to what happened when I typed the same thing into the English search. Autistic people’s tweets. What I got instead were messages like these:

(Translation: “But they are less autistic than you sons of bitches”)

(Translation: “argh, how autistic”)

(Translation despite horrible slang: “lol that is totally not the trend man… -.- nowadays you’re only cool if you’ve got autism and are proud of it -.-“)

After a few minutes of scrolling I understood. In the German twitter community “Autist” and “autistisch” are used as insults. They are used to mock people. They are used as an equivalent for the insulting use of “retard”.

Who would use “autistic” as an insult?

It seems that most of the people using the terms as insults are young and clueless. Most of the accounts with insulting tweets turned out to be from underage teenagers.
I think we all know what “trendy insults” are, right? Remember when you were growing up? What was the term to use to insult your peers?
When I grew up it was “disabled”. “How disabled are you?” “Are you disabled or what?” is what kids said to each other when mocking, teasing, and making fun of each other.
It was not always used in actually mean spirited ways, often more like a tug of war of insults. Nonetheless, more mature and grown up people of course know how wrong insults like that are.
It seems like “autistic” is the trending insult nowadays. People using it most likely do not even understand how horrible it is what they are doing. And even if they do know they are not empathetic enough to care.
And then there are the people who use “autistic” as an insult because they are misinformed about what autism is. I read tons of tweets of people calling others “autistic” as a synonym for “coldhearted”, “not empathetic”, “mentally retarded”, “slow”, “overly sensitive”, and “aggressive”.

I was sad. And honestly speechless. I could not believe what I was reading. I still cannot. Why? Why would anyone be so careless or purposefully hurtful with their language? I now feel rather hurt by and ashamed for my fellow Germans. I am angry, too. How dare you take my neurology and turn it into an insult?

How could it have come to this?

While thinking about how anyone could do something like this I remembered my own childhood. I remembered my journey to get a diagnosis. I remembered what I knew about autism before I educated myself.
I remembered that the first thing I thought when I got my diagnosis was “This can’t be! You aren’t one of those!” I thought that way because when growing up the only representation of autism I ever knew was “Rainman”.
I had seen documentaries about “severely autistic” children, hitting their heads on the floor and screaming. I was not anything like them so how could I be autistic?
Autism is often generally associated with socially incapable people, nerds, certain kinds of gamers. Autism is also often associated with people who commit mass shootings. And finally it is associated with people who are overweight, have bad hygiene, do not dress well, and stay mostly at home.
False associations in the media but also in society as a whole about what autism is and who is autistic play a huge role in why people get all these wrong ideas.

Autism awareness is not very far along in Germany. At least not from my personal experience. Given my very own experience it was not such a mystery anymore, how “autistic” could have become an insult. There are too many misconceptions floating around the autism awareness void in this country.

However, that is just an explanation. Not an excuse. It was wrong of me to call other children “disabled” when I was little. Despite my ignorance which was not my fault. It was still wrong.
It is wrong of anyone to use “autistic” as an insult. You may not know that it is wrong. But the second someone tells you that it is and why you are responsible to apologize and never do it again. No matter your age. No matter how “cool” you want to be in front of your friends. No matter how funny you think it is.

Using “autistic” as an insult is detrimental to autistic people’s life experience. Using “autistic” with such negative connotations can only lead to people making those negative connections when hearing about somebody being autistic. If everything you ever hear about something is negative, how are you supposed to feel anything else than negativity towards it?
Imagine a 15 year old at school. He is autistic. His classmates continuously use “autistic” as an insult. How is that 15 year old autistic teenager going to feel? How is he ever supposed to be open about his diagnosis? How is he supposed to fight the stigma?
Now imagine any autistic person growing up in a world where “autistic” is frequently used as an insult. How is that person supposed to develop a healthy sense of self, self-esteem, a positive outlook on their own diagnosis, a sense of pride, and so on and so forth?

Autism is real for us. It is a part of us. We are not worth any less than non-autistic people. We deserve the same respect they deserve. There are plenty of insults to go around for an entire lifetime without using people’s neurology or diagnosis. This goes for “autistic” as well as any other ableist insult.
We call people out for sexist, and racist comments. We even call them out for using “retard” as in insult these days. It is about time to call them out for using “autistic” as well.

“Autistic” and “Autism” are not acceptable insults for you to use. It is not cool to do it. It is disgusting. Just stop.

And here is what other actually autistic people think about using “autistic” as an insult:


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