Over the last 12 months I've seen the term "Male Privilege" pop up all over social media and I never thought I'd be using the term but it unfortunately fits what I'm about to have a bit of a rant about.
As you would have read in my last post I often get the "you can't be autistic because you have social skills" statements. It seems to be a fairly common thing that women with autism hear and it got me thinking about how socially acceptable behaviour expectations are influenced by gender.
When you hear people who know a high functioning autistic male or an Aspie male talk about their frustration over their autistic males social behaviour you hear statements like
- He has no clue when people aren't interested in what he has to say and just keeps talking
- He just get's up and walks off if he's uninterested in the topic of conversation
- He makes rude and insensitive comments
- He never initiates conversations unless he wants to drone on and on about his topic of expertise
- He doesn't do social conversations
- He behaves just like Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory
- He's totally clueless on how to have a normal conversation
- He doesn't interact with others and just plays on his phone/iPad/Laptop…..
- He behaves like a child
- He will just rudely interrupt and start talking about something else entirely
- Don't bother talking to him he's totally antisocial because he's autistic
Yes all of the above are fairly standard social behavioural traits of autistic children so why is it more prevalent in adult autistic males than adult autistic females?
SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOURAL EXPECTATIONS!
The behaviour patterns you have as an adult don't form over night they start to be shaped from the time you are old enough to understand Yes, No, Good, Bad, and so on which is in infancy. Social behavioural patterns start to really get formed and reenforced when you start going to pre-school, kindy school, Sunday school and continue all the way through primary and high school and to some extent into your 20s and upwards as you learn acceptable work related or dating related behavioural patterns.
However if you are diagnosed with autism as a child, which most male autistics are then suddenly the pressure to learn "socially acceptable behavioural patterns" including things like the art of mindless chit chat is removed and you're given a free pass to act like a spoilt brat.
You will hear (and trust me I have heard all of these excuses)
- He's autistic and playing on his phone keeps him calm
- He's autistic so he doesn't communicate well
- He probably won't talk to you he's autistic
- He's autistic so he finds it very hard to be in social situations
- He's autistic and get's sensory overload so it's better to just let him be on his own
The diagnosis for females as high functioning autistic tends to happen later than with males so by the time it does happen they have already had several years of heavily reenforces socially acceptable behavioural training.
I had it happen to me and I've watch it happen countless times in every day life. Little Johnny is sitting there being totally antisocial and is ignored or his behaviour is excused with a "he's autistic….." statement from his parents. However Little Jenny who has not yet been diagnosed as autistic is constantly having socially acceptable behavioural patterns heavily monitored and reenforced as good or bad ways to behave in a social situation. The whole time the family is out to lunch at the Cunninghams her brother will be allowed to sit on his own and play on the phone because he's autistic but Little Jenny will be told:
- "Jenny answer Mrs Cunninhams question"
- "Jenny stop fidgeting"
- "Jenny you know not to eat with your fingers use a knife & fork like a proper young lady"
- "Jenny that is not our indoor voice"
- "No Jenny you can't play on the phone it's antisocial go and play with the other girls"
So by the time Jenny also get's diagnosed (if she every does) as high functioning autistic exactly like her brother she's already had a lot of Socially Acceptable Behavioural Patterns programmed into her survival tool kit.
However getting diagnosed as autistic when you are female does not unfortunately suddenly give you the same free pass to now behave like an antisocial spoilt brat, which seems to automatically be given to high functioning autistic males. The world still expects you to act like a well behaved adult female with at least the basic ability to smile and play nice with others. Even if you are hired as the token high functioning autistic female in an office full of high functioning autistics you won't be given the same free pass to act like an antisocial spoilt brat with zero social skills that the men are given. As the "girl" in the room your boss and probably everyone else in the entire company will expect you to be nice, to make chit chat, to smile, to be the only one in the "autistics team" to have a phone on your desk so you can answer the reception phone if she's busy and so on and so forth. In short your gender will exclude you from the same privileges afforded your male colleagues.
So here's a radical concept – stop giving high functioning autistic males a free pass to behave like antisocial spoilt brats and make them learn things like how to have a normal conversation even if they do find it boring as batshit. To answer a ringing phone and take a bloody message. Take the mobile phone off them at dinner time and teach them to have adult social interactions, which yes include asking how your day was. Drag them off to events and yes you might have to have your hand held in a vice like grip so they know you will not leave them alone and teach them that watching people is fun (from the sidelines not the mosh-pit).
Socially Acceptable Behavioural Patterns and Mindless Chit Chat are teachable and most high functioning autistics are quite capable of learning how to do it. They may not like doing it but it won't kill them and it might just make things like work and relationships that little bit easier and help bridge the social isolation gap many autistic adults feel.