People can’t help but label other people. Our fundamental labels of “friend” or “foe” are essential to basic survival, and the rest lead on from there. Subconsiously, we are asking ourselves “is this person going to hurt me?” or “is this person someone I want to become acquainted with?” or “is this person a potential partner?” In order to answer these questions, and calculate the potential threat-levels posed by other people (on all kinds of levels), we first work out how well they match with us: we look at their education, the way they speak, their ages, their clothes, their jobs, their interests, etc. And we label them in our minds. Ask anyone to describe the person sitting next to him, and he’ll say something like, “she’s thirty-something, brown hair, well dressed, middle manager…” or whatever. He can’t describe her (to himself or to other people) in any other way. He has to use labels.
The problem arises when people apply the wrong label. And I fall foul of this as much as anyone else: a mother at my children’s former school spoke in a particularly clipped manner, which I interpreted this as snobbery (the wrong label). I disliked her just for that reason. When someone told me she was foreign (the right label) – a fact that had been impossible to see through her impeccable English accent – my whole attitude towards her changed.
So, having said all that, some people worry that I allow myself to be defined by the “autistic label”. On the basis that I’ll never stop people sticking labels on me, I much prefer to be called “autistic” than all the other descriptives I’ve had stuck on me over the years.
So, there’s nothing wrong with labels, but there’s a awful lot wrong with the wrong labels.
|Typical Autistic Characteristics||How Society Choses to Label Them||How Society Could Label Them|
|Keeping oneself to oneself||unsociable||private|
|Doesn’t get the joke||thick||differently humoured|
|Laughs more loudly than others||annoying||gets your joke|
|Says the “wrong thing”||rude||mistaken|
|Identifies ways to improve||critical||useful|
|Doesn’t understand teasing||oversensitive||differently humoured|
|Prefers not to make eye contact||guilty||retiring|
|Likes routine and organisation||awkward||organised|
|Free thinking||dissenting||thinks outside the box|
|Keeps odd hours||creepy||polyphasic|
|Wears comfortable clothing||scruffy||self-caring|
|Interested in detail||pernickety||attentive|
|Uncertain of how to interact||standoffish||shy|
|Sticks to the rules||dogmatic||law-abiding|
|Keen to share ideas||opinionated||contributing|
|Happy to talk about interests||boring||sharing|
|Prone to anxiety||weak||has a lot going on|
|Likes to plan ahead||fussy||organised|
|Wary of others||paranoid||bullied|
|Hypersensitive to light/noise/etc.||intolerant||amazingly tolerant|
Please help by not perpetuating negative terms, but by encouraging the positive terms instead.