Autism and Rudeness

As one on the autism spectrum for over 50 years, I have gotten into trouble for being “rude” my whole life. Rudeness is a social construct. “Social construct” is defined as “an idea or notion that appears to be natural and obvious to people who accept it but may not represent reality, so it remains largely an invention or artifice of a given society1.” If you are not born with social instincts, as is the case with people on the autism spectrum, what is “obvious” when it comes to rudeness, is not obvious to one with autism.

As one born in the early 1960’s, no one at that time in the US had the remotest clue what anyone on the autism spectrum–except maybe the severely autistic–was actually like. Nobody had a clue what to make of me. Don’t get me wrong, I was raised to be “polite” as in “please,” “thank you” and all that, but that does not mean I had a concept of what a “rude” statement was. I remember when as a child and adolescent, teachers and mothers of my “friends,” would get mad at me for, what to me, was no apparent reason. They assumed I knew what “rude” was and I was behaving badly deliberately. Problem was, I was completely mystified.

As I got older, I started to figure out what “rude” was; but still to this day, I can’t escape from being called “tactless.” Another word for tactless is unsubtle. Yep, autistic people are unsubtle. What you see is what you get and we tell it like it is. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Plus, we have enough anxiety without having to walk around on eggshells hoping not to offend people. You say what you mean, while still trying to be nice, and that’s the best you can do.


If I would give one piece of advice to people who do not have autism about the concept of rudeness, it would be to understand that being “rude” is not such a horrible thing and not all rudeness is deliberately rude. Take into account whether the person is just socially clumsy when you decide how to respond to someone you deem as rude. Additionally, remember that not everyone can finesse diplomacy, thoughtfulness, sensitivity etc. and you should think twice before you get all offended about what people say or do—whether they are on the autism spectrum or not.

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