My mum is autistic. When I was a kid she was a handy translator and conduit between me and the neurotypical folk whose ways completely baffled me. However one thing my mum really struggles with is honesty. My mum has been described as being ‘brutally honest.’ She will tell it how it is regardless of the consequences. My mum is an extremely devout Christian. When I was a kid I was told from the get go that there was no such thing as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. I don’t remember this but I imagine I made myself very unpopular with my classmates by telling them Santa Claus wasn’t real and that the presents were probably from their parents! As an autistic kid I was also very honest. I think it is a very common autistic characteristic to be straight-talking and honest. It isn’t just about telling the truth but is a core part of our approach to life.
Autistic people are forever getting in trouble for our honesty. Kids say things like commenting that a person is really fat and get in no end of trouble. And adults might answer a question honestly when it is not expected that they should, such as if someone asks if their butt looks big when trying on a new outfit.
I should stress that autistic people are generally not trying to be hurtful with our honesty. It is one of those areas where our approach to life is very different to what is expected. An autistic kid commenting that someone is fat is probably saying it with no judgement or prejudice against fat people. They are just commenting on something that they notice.
The issue is that the neurotypical / allistic world does not operate in this manner. It is one of those things where we are misunderstood and judged for it. I have a theory about this which I might think of as the cultural theory of Neurodiversity. I like to imagine that autistic people, metaphorically, speak French and neurotypical / allistic people speak German. If you only speak French and you try to make yourself understood to someone who only speaks German, they will really struggle to understand you. But the cultural theory has a twist which is that the German speakers (neurotypicals) have no understanding that the French speakers (autistics) are speaking another language. They just think we are speaking German really, really badly. One of the key parts of making life easier to navigate for autistic folks is to make the people metaphorically speaking German aware that we are not speaking neurotypical badly but we are speaking our own language and that language is completely valid too.
It can be so hard to understand neurotypical people. I have spoken with my mum about the honesty issue and she said she simply doesn’t understand why neurotypicals have to be dishonest. I tend to agree with her but they do not think they are being dishonest, it is just the way they communicate. For autistics our honesty is not usually a choice but is how we interact in life. Often neurotypical people think I am telling jokes or being comical when I say something which I later reflect as being maybe more honest than something they might say. I have learned to accept people thinking I am a comedian just for stating my observations of the world.
I find that autistic people often operate on only one level in terms of our thinking and communication style. What you see is what you get. Neurotypicals often work on several different levels. They tend to assume that everyone is doing the same thing (see point above about cultural differences). I find this really difficult as they read things into my communication which aren’t actually there.
I think this issue is a key issue for autistics trying to make our way in a world which primarily doesn’t really understand us. Those assumptions as to our motivations for things like honesty can lead to some very challenging situations for us. So I am keen to promote the cultural theory of Neurodiversity because I think it is a key part of how we can be respected and understood.