It’s no Excuse

excuse noun /iks-kūz’/*

1. A plea offered in extenuation or explanation, in order to avoid punishment.
2. Pardon or forgiveness.
3. Indulgence.

ORIGIN: Latin excusare, from ex from, and causa, a cause or accusation.

Excuses are emotionally charged things, in search of absolution. They are what we offer when we’re trying to “get away with” not doing something we know we should have done. They carry a negative quality; I am at fault (e.g. I’m late for a meeting with a friend) and I regret it. As such, excuses are usually preceded by an apology, e.g.: “I’m sorry I’m late, but the traffic was terrible.” If I offer an excuse, it’s because I want you to say whatever I’ve done wrong doesn’t matter, so I don’t have to feel bad about it (because otherwise I will).

reason noun /rē’z(ǝ)n/*

1. Ground, support or justification of an act or belief.
2. An underlying explanatory principle.
3. Conformity to what is fairly to be expected or called for.

Origin: French rasion, from Latin ratio, onis, from reri, ratus to think.

A reason is a statement of fact, which carries no emotional charge; I am still late, but I am not seeking my friend’s forgiveness (even if I start with the socially essential apology): “I’m sorry I’m late; there was an accident and the traffic was terrible.” As it’s clear there’s nothing I could have justifiably been expected to do to avoid being late, the issue is not one for which forgiveness is appropriate, my friend will probably say, “Don’t apologise; it’s not your fault.” It’s a good reason.

This situation is completely different from: “I was late because I didn’t leave enough time to get through the rush hour jams,” in which case my friend (however open-minded she might be) would be justified in feeling annoyed, and think (even if she doesn’t say), “that’s no excuse; you know the traffic’s always bad at this time of day.” This is an bad excuse.

Of these two forms of explanation – the excuse (unjustifiable) and the reason (justifiable) – one is seen as good, the other bad. One requires forgiveness and the other does not. How any particular explanation is received depends on the wronged party’s own life experience and generosity of spirit.

So, when I hear someone saying “he [or she] is just using Asperger’s syndrome as an excuse for not doing it…” my hackles rise. (Sure, the aspie might be milking it to his/her own advantage; but aspies, by definition, are not inclined to manipulative behaviour.) In most cases, it’s likely that the other person simply has no concept of life on the spectrum. Particularly if the aspie “appears normal,” his/her autism is seen as an excuse, an unjustifiable reason, for being unable to do whatever “it” is.

Conversely, more visible disabilities (and the issues involved) are easier for others to comprehend. You have to be pretty sheltered (or cruel) to accuse a partially sighted man of using his blindness as “an excuse”. You’d never blame a deaf man for needing subtitles, or the paralysed for being unable to walk. These disabilities are imaginable: if I close my eyes, or stick my fingers in my ears, I can get some idea of what it is like to be blind or deaf. I don’t need an analogy to explain paraplegia. I can imagine the fundamental issues, and even with my limited “empathy”, I can see any of these disabilities would have a severe effect on my life.

But you can’t temporarily rewire your brain and pretend to be autistic.

Living with autism is hard enough without being made to feel I must justify everything I can or can’t do. Or apologise for it. So it’s important to keep educating others, to gently explain that – whatever their own experiences of life – I can no more “pull myself together” than a blind man can see. Asperger’s syndrome is not an excuse for the way we behave; it’s a reason.


I recommend The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks, as a fascinating voyage into the world of neurological disabilities – conditions that are virtually impossible for the rest of us to imagine.

*Taken from The Chambers Dictionary, 12th Edition, 2011. I have omitted definitions irrelevant to this post.

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11 Responses to It’s no Excuse

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  1. Maria says:

    I am just recently looking into the idea that I might be an aspie too.
    Right now it feels like being told to be colourblind, and never having realised that what I think is blue is infact something completely different. And the advice to “just run faster” is never going to take that colourblindness away.

  2. Carrie A. says:

    I’m thinking I need to print several copies of this post to hang a copy on my fridge, keep some in my purse and mail the rest out to everyone in my family that have said “you’re just using your son’s AS as an excuse for his bad behavior, so you should punish him more.” Thank you for writing this!

  3. Dave Kelley says:

    Thank you! My 8 yr old was recently diagnosed with Aspergers and I’m just barely learning what that really means. I hate myself when I look back at the times I’ve disciplined him for “being bad”. I’m not at all abusive, but its clear I haven’t understood my son. I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t just obey and be good like is 3 older siblings, or even his 3 year old younger brother who is already easier to parent than my Aspie. I was amazed at his exceptional talent for music and math, and at 4 he could draw the United States with all the states in amazing detail. I just couldn’t understand why he was so difficult most of the time! Thank you for helping me understand my amazing child.

    • Leigh Forbes says:

      I noticed this too, with my youngest finding life much easier than the two older (aspie) ones. It’s such a long learning curve, isn’t it?!

  4. Great post and timely, as well. Have you been following my FB page about a recent Speech Path. report about my ASD son? What you wrote is exactly what I told her when she said he uses his AS as an excuse.

    • Leigh Forbes says:

      I’m sorry, I’d missed that (will look it up); but since writing this post you’re the second person I’ve encountered who’s been thinking along the same lines! It’s obviously a topical issue!

  5. Ictus75 says:

    Unfortunately, Asoergers is “the hidden disability ” for many. While many of us can appear “normal”/NT, we are not. So we are judged by the same criteria and expected to be/ behave the same. Yeah, right. If others could be inside our heads for just an hour…

    But I think Aspies in general don’t make excuses, and work harder at being on time, meeting deadlines, doing quality work, being neat & accurate, etc. it’s just that sometimes sensory issues or meltdowns pop up and get in the way – it’s these things NTs don’t understand (and we try to hide and not use as an excuse).

    • Leigh Forbes says:

      When in fact, if only others did understand, Asperger’s would be seen as a “justifiable excuse” – something for which they would forgive us (assuming they felt the need to bestow forgiveness ;o)

  6. Nils Geylen says:

    Love your blog. And this post again, is a terrific example of deep thinking that I apply as well: the right word in the right place, to the extent of etymological analysis if need be. Of course, in daily life that means my point takes a while to form and everybody else has moved on.

    (The previous post was spot-on as well and I shared it extensively. A number of people were quite surprised by how AS mental processes actually work.)

    • Leigh Forbes says:

      Thank you for sharing!
      I understand the issue of everyone else having moved on, while you’re gathering your thoughts. It’s frustrating, but nice when you’re among friends who give you time, or don’t mind you coming out with a response five minutes after the fact!

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