Jason's View

"I Can't Believe You Have Autism": The Compliment That Isn't

01 Jul 2015 by Jason Harris
Image: 123RF.com

I have talked a bit before here in our magazine about disclosing your disability. The thing that I think you most think about when you’re about to do this is, How is this person going to react? Are they going to start talking really slowly and in a high- pitched voice? Are they going to act like I have no value or couldn’t possibly understand them? This is the problem I encounter when someone has never met me before or has just barely met me, and has a perception of what I am supposed to be before they get to know me.

I have had people ask if I shake hands, talk, give hugs. I once had a person who knew a bit about me tell me people like me are book smart but have no common sense.

Some people just barely get to know me and are shocked that I could be someone who has a disability at all, let alone that “horrid” autism. They say things like, “But you don’t seem autistic.” Or, “But how are you able to function so well?” This always presents an interesting challenge, because they are trying to be complimentary, but instead come off as belittling, and saying that somehow I am not who I should be.

“People…say things like, ‘But you don’t seem autistic.’ Or, ‘But how are you able to function so well?’ This always presents an interesting challenge, because they are trying to be complimentary, but instead come off as belittling.”

Some people want to know what it is like to be on the spectrum. Could they know someone on it, or even be on it themselves? This question I enjoy, because they are open to the experiences I have, but also because I love to teach about things. Whether it be history, sports, psychology, etc.; I love expanding my knowledge and I love talking to people who are like me in that. This is not something everyone will be okay with, but personally I love it.

My favorite experience of all though is when people act and treat me like what I said was and is completely normal. The reason is, while I will tell someone about my experience of being on the spectrum or dispel images that don’t always fit, in the end, who I am is a person. A multifaceted person. And being on the spectrum is just like being gay, or black, or Muslim, or a woman in this regard–it is part of who I am; it helps define me, but it is not who I am alone or my sole definition. To be able to have a normal relationship with people is something that is very important to me.


Jason Harris

Founder of Jason’s Connection – an online resource for those with disabilities, mental health, aging and other needs. Jason was awarded an M.S. in Cultural Foundations of Education and Advanced Certificate in Disability Studies from Syracuse University.  Jason is also a Project Coordinator and Research Associate at the Burton Blatt Institute, an international think tank for Disability Rights and Human Justice at Syracuse University.  He regularly contributes to the blog in his own series called Jason’s View and travels the country consulting and speaking about disability issues and rights. To read more from Jason Harris, read Jason's View