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Monday, September 25, 2023

Neurotypicals Isolate Autistics

In The Politics of Autism, I write about the everyday struggles facing autistic people. Social isolation is a big one.

Steve Silberman at Scientific American:

A recent study by Rutgers University’s Annabelle Mournet and colleagues concluded that autistic people may be even more powerfully motivated to seek out friendships and community than nonautistic people. These desires are often frustrated by widespread misconceptions about autism, particularly the assumption that people on the spectrum aren’t interested in seeking comfort and support in the company of others. “Autistic adults cannot be assumed to have fewer social connections—or less desire to have social connections,” Mournet wrote in Spectrum. “Our field must work to dismantle these damaging and inaccurate notions.” Dismantling these false notions matters urgently, Mournet points out, because autistic adults are at high risk for suicide, and having a network of supportive connections protects against suicidal ideation.

The tendency of neurotypicals to stigmatize autistic behavior as weird and off-putting also hampers the formation of relationships. This process unfolds subconsciously—even in the first few seconds of interaction, observes Noah Sasson, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Dallas whose work is deeply informed by the insights of autistic colleagues like Monique Botha. By conducting a study of neurotypicals’ first impressions of autistic people (known in psychology as “thin-slice judgments”), Sasson and his colleagues determined that negative reactions to autistic adults’ atypical body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and frequency of eye contact lead neurotypicals to be less inclined to pursue further interactions. These thin-slice judgments pervasively harm autistic adults’ attempts to find employment, build networks of support and navigate the social landscape in ways that lead to happy, secure and successful lives.