Free PDF download: Thin Slice Judgements and The Different World Autistics Inhabit

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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8 Responses

  1. This seems to make the story of my 5 decades old life start to make sense; and I have never been diagnosed, although all my siblings had autism. All through my past and still in the present, people seem to act as if they are creeped out by me; not everyone, but quite a few people do. I was always made fun of in school but couldn’t really figure out what I was doing to cause that. I believe at least once, I was turned down for a job because of this.

  2. This is so useful! I teared up a bit reading it because it fits so much of my social experience. I greatly appreciate the way you’ve framed slice judgements as shortcuts and even as sometimes being helpful for us to keep safe and establish healthy boundaries. I tend to try to override mine every time I notice them, and this has led me to interact with or even befriend individuals that sometimes I might have been better served by steering clear of. Those quiet voices are sometimes right, which is a tricky thing for someone who’s had a lifetime of rejection due to others’ slice judgements to accept. I really like the approach you present of being aware of and examining slice judgements to develop an ability to discern and at least be aware of what is influencing us.

  3. Everything you just said is exactly why I’m single, unemployed, all alone with no friends, and otherwise unsuccessful at life. As long as neurotypicals are this ignorant and closed-minded, I don’t know how I can ever accomplish anything.

  4. Can I include this in a neurodiversity affirming EMDR therapy training I am giving with all cites going back to you, of course.

  5. Teachers presume gifted or incapable on first impression– then stick to that bias.

    Not just teachers. I live in a residential home and am highly disabled not because I’m an Autie, but because the manager doesn’t realise how extensive my needs are just because I can talk and am an author and lyricist.

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