Thin slice judgements are those first-impressions that people make that continue to define and influence how a person feels about someone. Reaearch has shown that these judgements are disproportionately negative for autistic people and that non-autistic people have an instant dislike of them.
Autistic people have a hard time explaining to the general public exactly what it’s like to be us. What people don’t realize is that we don’t just have things that we can’t do, or that are hard for us, but that our struggles are more like death by one thousand paper cuts.
Except those paper cuts which start as a “bad vibe” sometimes end up snowballing into something more akin to being stabbed with a sword.
From being suspected of being on drugs, to having echolalia and tics be misinterpreted as communication, to being suspected of being a sexual predator or school shooter, thin slice judgments wreck Autistic people’s access to community.
Thin slice judgements are a product of automatic processing. People have no idea they’ve even made a judgment. At least they have no idea until they think about it consciously. It is as automatic to them as blinking.
Thin slice judgments contribute to racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry. Basically, the brain has automated stereotypes that are efficient, but can cause serious harm to anyone at the negative end of a thin slice judgment who is totally innocent.
Doctors presume autistics are drug seeking or malingering.
Teachers presume gifted or incapable on first impression– then stick to that bias.
Peers see “creepy.”
Officers see suspicious.
All of these judgements are based on instincts most non-autistics have. While “red flag” instincts can signal “different,” a neutral word, it is more efficient to automate all alerts as a “threat,” a negative perception.
It is only “better safe than sorry” for them, though. Sometimes they’re protecting their physical safety when they accurately detect danger. Other times, these instincts are protecting their privilege, ego, and their rank in the social pecking order.
We would be a threat to their popularity.
This forces autistic people into an automatic role of defensiveness. They’re trying to protect themselves against unearned criticism. They begin at a disadvantage and it becomes their responsibility to help people people work through their biases with the autistic person doing the labor at their own expense.
Honestly, Autistic people might actually be a threat to the clear conscience of non-autistic people because non-autistics would have to consciously acknowledge the harm they cause if they actually see the impact they have. It’s inconvenient to the ego.
Thin slice judgments are why people do not presume competence for nonspeaking autistics.
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- Free PDF download: Thin Slice Judgements and The Different World Autistics Inhabit - May 5, 2022
- When a Non-Autistic Child Is Raised by Autistic Parents, Their Experiences Are Similar to Autistics Raised by Non-Autistics - February 10, 2022
- Difficult Community Dialogues: On ABA, Evolution, Weaver Communication, and Intersectionality - January 18, 2022