Have you ever considered that we might be harder on autistic children than we are on neurotypical children? That is, we may be permissive toward certain behaviors in those without autism, but for those with autism, we are less forgiving.
The fact of the matter is, there are double standards when it comes to dealing with autistic versus neurotypical kids, and we sometimes hold our autistic kids to higher standards and expect more from them than we do neurotypical kids. Here are a few examples of that.
6. Eye Contact
Disliking eye contact is not just a trait among autistic people. Neurotypicals may also avoid it for any number of reasons, such as shyness. I, myself, was a very shy child who could not speak to my teachers and look them in the eyes at the same time. I was never given a hard time for this; everyone respected what my eyes preferred to do. Yet people with autism are given a hard time for not making eye contact, and some therapies will try to train them to do this, even if it is uncomfortable or even painful for them.
5. Age-(In)appropriate Interests
When I was conducting research for this article about age-inappropriate interests, I frequently found myself baffled when so-called “experts” condemned things like Spongebob, Disney movies, and coloring as being inappropriate for autistic teenagers and adults, when I —along with other neurotypical peers—still enjoy these things to this day! Age-inappropriate interests and activities are not even remotely uncommon among neurotypical kids, teens, and adults, and in fact, they are often seen as endearing. Yet when an autistic person enjoys something that’s meant for a different demographic, it needs to be discouraged and extinguished.
4. Fidgeting and Stimming
If you have ever chewed a pencil, drummed your fingers, tapped a foot, bounced a leg, spun in a swivel chair, jumped up and down and squealed when excited, or engaged in any other sort of repetitive movement, you have stimmed. Just about every human alive has stimmed at some point, yet autistic people have traditionally been made to have “quiet hands” and suppress their stims for the comfort of neurotypicals around them…even though stimming is a much more important activity for them than it is for neurotypicals.
3. Social Etiquette
The way we teach children with autism social skills and etiquette is actually pretty bizarre when you consider how neurotypical children tend to interact. Autistic children are taught to shake hands and ask small-talk questions like “How was your weekend?” when their peers are not likely to do the same thing. Teaching a child the social etiquette of an adult can cause them to look more different from their peers and further alienate them.
Shyness and introversion in a child is often viewed as permissible. Of course, we may help shy, neurotypical children come out of their shell and encourage them to make friends and socialize, but if they prefer to be alone and work alone, that’s fine. When the child is autistic, however, alone time or withdrawing into oneself via activities like stimming can be seen as “isolation” that needs to be remedied or corrected.
1. Free Time
When neurotypical kids finish their homework and chores, parents will often allow them to play or do whatever they want (within reason, of course). When the child is autistic, however, parents may feel pressured to make every waking moment a “teachable” moment rather than allowing the kid to just let loose and be a kid. Additionally, some forms of therapy withhold the things an autistic child loves most to be used as a reinforcer. For example, a child who loves to play on the iPad may be allowed to access the iPad only within the context of therapy, rather than being allowed to play with it during any free time they may have.
The Bottom Line
Okay, so maybe some of these double standards are a little more understandable, as some of these traits in autistic people may be much more pronounced than in those without autism (i.e. stimming, “age-inappropriate” interests, eye contact, etc.). Still, the point stands; in many of these cases, we are seeking to “normalize” those on the spectrum and make them look “indistinguishable from their peers” rather than give them the life skills they need to be healthy and happy members of society.
And when it comes right down to it, what’s more important: making them conform to neurotypical standards or ensuring they have the skills they need to be happy and healthy adults with a different neurotype?
A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.