50 Ways Society Gaslights and Stonewalls Autistic People

Autistic people, adults and children, are infantilized, gaslighted, and manipulated regularly by society– individuals and institutions.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.


I asked some friends messages they receive from society that are gaslighting.

Note: Some of these may overlap, and some may not fit squarely within the definition of gaslighting; however, all contribute to the way in which society functions like a narcissistic parent with regards to how autistic people are perceived and treated.

1. Telling us that our sensory differences are “no big deal” and that we just need to “be resilient” and learn to deal with it. They assume their brains are the same as ours and assume we can habituate when we can’t, so instead force us to be in awful environments to try to “habituate us” to the stimulus. Which is just further traumatizing us. Thinking they get to decide what is loud, bright, painful, or tastes funny.

2. Not acknowledging that many of us grew up in environments that weren’t conducive to fostering our talents ended up as late bloomers, then assuming we’re Ne’er-do-wells or we’re unmotivated or unambitious. We just haven’t bloomed yet, and it’s a profound difference… but when we do bloom, look out.

3. When they claim to have empathy and that we don’t, but then only measure empathy in NT ways like eye contact or understanding NT behavior.

4. When ABA therapists claim that ABA therapy for 40 hours is not exhausting for small children because it’s “just play,” when social play can be beyond-exhausting over extended periods of time for autistic kids.

5. Their version of empathy is, “I accept and appreciate X, but if you become more like us, it won’t be a problem.” That ain’t empathy! And they yet tell us we’re the ones who lack empathy!

6. “You need to stop flapping your arms/rocking/bouncing your leg!  People are going to think you’re crazy.”

7. Telling us our special interests are stupid, a waste of time, or not age/gender appropriate.

8. Telling us we don’t meet the neurotypical expectations that are set for us.

9. Not acknowledging the accomplishments we do achieve that are far beyond the neurotypical markers for “high achievement” in those specific areas.

10. NT person says something and autistic person misunderstands it: It’s the autistic person’s fault because they have processing difficulties.

Autistic person says something and NT person misunderstands it: It’s the autistic person’s fault because they have impaired communication skills.

This is in spite of the fact that generally, the autistic person is the one literally stating or carrying out the desired or indicated action, while the NT person is relying on assumption, innuendo, tone of voice, body language or other things that really aren’t communication.

The idea that the NT person could have communicated unclearly or ambiguously is NEVER EVEN CONSIDERED.

11. When they know you’re autistic, they invalidate you by saying that you can’t understand basic things, or they recreate stories using the subtext they inferred and twist the narrative to claim you’re purposefully upsetting, offending, inconveniencing, or provoking them.  But, they know you’re autistic, thus they need to take your words literally, and you tell them to take you literally and there is no subtext… and they still insist the subtext is there.

12. Telling autistic kids that they are not playing “properly.” Isn’t the whole point of “play” that it should be enjoyable and free of arbitrary constraints or expectations for what one should do? Isn’t thinking in unique or unusual ways during play considered “creative” and therefore praiseworthy? It is… for neurotypical children.

13. Talking about us while ignoring that we are saying something different about ourselves.

14. Acting like we need to just “try harder” to be gainfully employed as if our work ethic is to blame for why we are not monetizing our talents.

15. I cannot begin to quantify how much I:
A. Hate manipulation
B. Am constantly accused of being a manipulator because it’s not believed that there is no subtext in my words

16. Telling autistic people that “no one else is interested in _____ except you,” as though this should be a criterion for what is a valid interest.

17. “Everyone is on the spectrum these days.”

18. Assuming that autistic people are less creative when we are really creative differently.

19. Assuming when hearing accounts of an incident from both an autistic and an NT that the NT person has a better understanding of the situation.

20. The assumption that autistic style and communication aren’t sexy; thinking adult autistics don’t want relationships or don’t make good partners.

21. Assuming that we have “black-and-white thinking” while at the same time making giant generalizations about autistic people and their “lack of theory of mind.”

22. Invalidating self-diagnosis while simultaneously claiming absolute knowledge on behalf of parents of autistic kids, or saying things like, “We’re all a little bit autistic,” as mentioned above.

23. Judging the impact of our autism based on how well we are “functioning,” aka masking, and assuming something is wrong when we take breaks to be ourselves.

24. Telling us to “be ourselves,” but when we actually are they basically say, “but not like that.”

25. Feeling sad for us when we decline to participate in social events (when the fact is that we are simply happier not participating).

26. Grieving over the fact that we are not like (their expectations for) “normal” people or mourning an autism diagnosis right in front of the autistic person.

27. Defining the goals of our “therapy” for us based on what they think we should want.

28. Treating medical/neurological issues like sensory processing disorder, dyspraxia, and ADHD like they are personality disorders or mental illnesses.

29. Assuming that we wish we were not autistic.

30. Telling us that they accept us for who we are, but asking us not to put a label on ourselves or to talk about our autism.

31.  Being treated like an adult child after disclosing autism and getting the “bless your heart” treatment, or having people tell you “you’re doing great” for being able to perform basic tasks.

32. Judging the depth of our thoughts/feelings by our nonverbal communication– or lack thereof– because this is how they choose to express themselves.  If our facial expressions and body language aren’t “expressive” enough, they insist that we are unfeeling.

33. Telling us, as children and even as adults, that we will grow out of our beliefs, style, and behaviors.

34. Not understanding why trying to “cure” us is so offensive.

35. Always being “ Too Much.” Living in a perpetual state of apology for my too-Muchness and being expected to come from a place of gratitude and deference for the rest of the world “tolerating” it.

36. Telling us that they can’t listen to us because we’re “rude” when we are giving our time and energy trying to teach them something about what it means to be autistic.

37. Telling us we need to “agree to disagree” about when they are doing things that are absolutely oppressive.  Telling us we are being “rude” when we ask them to stop doing oppressive things, or using the “both sides” narrative and telling us that we should care about the feelings of people actively harming us.

38. Saying that if I just practice my social skills more and get out more, I will be more “normal.”

39. Claiming to support autistic people but only donating to and funding NT-run autism charities.

40. Telling autistic people that they are unqualified to discuss autism because they don’t have doctorates in a social science– whilst they themselves don’t have doctorates in a social science, and often have considerably less (or zero) relevant formal education than the autistic people at whom they are talking.  Simultaneously, thinking their three years as being an “autism parent” are more valid than our lifelong lived experiences as autistics.

41. Telling young autistic children that they are smart and full of potential for qualities that 20 years later will deny them success and professional access.

42. Maintaining that we are always in the wrong as a de facto part of the autistic condition when any misunderstandings erupt and pathologizing our logical, reasoned approach to problem-solving as lacking in empathy.

43. Telling us if we don’t fit some narrow and strict criteria that we’re then not autistic and are probably just assholes who need to shape up.

44. When we try talking about its impact, tell us we’re using autism as an excuse.

45. Being regarded as pedantic or difficult by mental health care providers and physicians who have almost no idea about what it means to be autistic.

46. Being misdiagnosed as having a variety of personality disorders, mood disorders, or hypochondria.

47. Being told by diagnosticians that we can’t be autistic because we laugh at jokes, take baths (?!?), make eye contact, or “are not enough like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory,” that we can’t be autistic.

48. Conducting research study after research study based on faulty assumptions and misunderstandings about what it means to be autistic.

49. In professional literature, framing information about autistic people in a way that characterizes them solely according to perceived deficits while neglecting to acknowledge strengths.

50. Being too “gifted” for mainstream, but not gifted with the right and accurate recipe to constitute a “gifted kid,” but rather considered some freak of nature who is neither fish nor fowl in this world. You learn early your contents are somehow inherently Wrong.

It took about ten minutes to collect these responses from autistic adults and teens, and I could have made the list “500 ways” instead of 50 had I waited another hour or so.

This is important to acknowledge and validate.  Living while autistic is difficult, traumatic in a complex way, because society does this in blatant and subtle ways, in ways that are plausibly deniable.  The mental health field, loved ones, parents, siblings, employers, educators… even sometimes other autistics have internalized these messages so deeply that they become a part of a person’s worldview.

In order for autistic people to gain parity and to live without the extant trauma of constant social messaging that is toxic and destructive– non-autistic people have to take a stand and use their privilege and platforms to educate others about why it’s not okay to continue to maintain the behaviors and thought patterns which cause such unfavorable circumstances for autistic people.

Related Articles

56 Responses

  1. How about non-autistic people emphasizing that autistic people are NOT their autism, but people with autism? 🙄

    1. I was writing a letter and said autistic people and Microsoft Word literally told me I was being insensitive and it needed to say people with autism. Why are allistics.

      1. That is quite interesting. The electronic overlords will filter your words for you, and you will love them for so thoughtfully taking care of you.

  2. I’ll add one: telling us that we’re “hiding behind” our natural autistic traits and behaviors and that our masked, NT-passing self is our “true” self. They can’t seem to grasp the concept that anyone could not be NT by nature, so they interpret autistic people as NT people, just with a layer of autism on top that needs to be scraped off before you can see the real person underneath. Then, once you learn to mask (for those of us fortunate enough to be able to mask), you get a smug “see–isn’t it so much easier to just be yourself?”

  3. I think a big one that bugs me is that the neurotypical’s definition of success is an intimate relationship and therefore is the sole focus of conversation on single people with Autism. It’s not that I don’t want a relationship with another person, it’s just that I feel that the neurotypical society forces the concept onto us. I feel this causes feelings on inadequacy and anxiety in relation to being a single person. The other thing I dislike is that neurotypical people seem to dislike talking about autism with an autistic adult. I feel that my insights from experiences is actually quite useful and I will actually take the time to educate my daughters teachers about the autistic experience and how they can better understand the needs of my daughter.

    1. …Simple. As with many ASD complaints, the answer is so incredibly simple: Get better people. The problem here is not NT or non-autism, it’s that you are hanging out with either abusive people or people who support and promote, (or are), soccer moms. Try regular people instead. Even Normie’s generally don’t this, except for a certain specific kind of “special end teacher type soccer mom”.

      …I literarally had an autistic college student tell me one time: ” I have no friends because people don’t like me because I play video games.”. ….In 2016. With an apparent chosen platform of PC to boot. It’s so common online but is never seen in real life ever (except for this one kid, one time). “NTs do this thing that is bad and they yell at me for doing this.”. No. Boring people do this thing that us and and yell at you for doing X. Talk to other people who exist. Every NT on Earth is not that type of normie or bully or jock who you described. Like literally 70%+ of Generation Y is probably Not Normies, that’s why we have the term ” 90s kids” that Gen Z says “90s kids annoy me announcing their presence.”. Because basically ALL of Gen Y is happy to watch Tiny Toon Adventures. Did someone in their 30s actually literally complain just because their boyfriend watched a cartoon or anime today? They are probably either a cheerleader stereotype or a Gen X! When was your kaat conversation with a Hells Angel, a Rainbow Kid, a skateboard kid, any normal person (which by definitok means they can’t be a ” normie”) from the South (excluding “cookie grandmas”, who are in fact also normies, likely), or basically literally any geek or gamer? Not every NT is your mom!

  4. Regarding the thing where some people who have ASD but are also idiots complain about parents saying “this is what my kids needs”. …Yes, may parents are obviously narcissists, and some assholes are promoting ” fherapy”, “eye demanding”, or even ABA. HOWEVER a parent also van often sayvthis is Internet conversation without those things happening, and with no particular indication that they are mistreating their children. They are usually talking about TODDLERS, or sometimes 15-year-old 6-year-olds who are ACTUALLY OBVIOUSLY DISABLED. If the kid teenager or older doesn’t speak, then go ahead and suggest giving them a typing device to see if they understand language and communication intellectually at a normal level. Aside from that, it is obvious that many of the parents ARE correct when they say YOU DONT KNOW MY CHILD. The children are either toddlers are are literally retarded. The children may in fact REALLY ACTUALLY NEED THE THING, BELIEVETHE THING, OR BEHAVE RETARDEDLY WHEN HE DOES X. If the parent has displayed no other signs of being abusive, then there is absolutely no valid reason to believe they areying or abusing! YES it’s true that nobody should tell YOU that you have to turn on the light in your room when you don’t want to. BUT YOU ARE NEITHER RETARDED NOR ARE A DISABLED TODDLER. You are literally posting complete, properly-capitalized sentences in an Internet forum, reading the Internet forum all BT yourself and fully understanding everything that is written, have a normal job (not a special half-price “job” that’s done “just for show” like at Goodwill, and are perfectly capable of very easily living alone even if some people can that you can’t merely because you don’t cook or clean well or needed to ask a friend to call the utility company for you. THIS KID IS YOU. THIS KID IS LITERALLY SIGNIFICANTLY DISABLED, just like any other retardation disorder or injury would cause. If this kid literally never can turn a light on ever, has no physical medical problem with his eyes, and constantly gets bruises all the time because of it sometimes even breaking his head open and such. The YES he obviously DOES benefit from being fores to have the lights on for one hour per day. If you, at the age of 15, had the same problem, then it was fine for YOU to make that voluntary choice to risk frequent hospital injuries rather then have the light on. You can also see around the room as easily as anyone else can do in the dark, while 2-year-olds obviously can’t. Just because YOU woukd have been making a voluntary, informed, adult choice to do this at age 16, DOES NOT mean that this effectively 4-year-old kid is doing the same informed choice. YOU ARE NOT DISABLED AT THIS LEVEL. KID IS DISABLED AT THIS LEVEL. UNLESS IT IS SOMETHINGTHAT IS ALWAYS ABUSIVE TO ALL 2-YEAR-OLDS SUCH AS DEMANSING EYE LOOKING, OR ALWAYS ABUSIVE TO EVWN THE MOSY SEVERELY DISABLED TEENAGERS SUCH AS DEMANDING KISSING OF RELATIVES, THEN THERE IS NO VALID REASON TO ASSUKE ABUSIVENESS. In the scenario where the parent is told that they shouldn’t be doing X, but the parent actually right about the issue (or is at least not wrong about it), then sure, the correct response will be for the parent to actually expalij the situation fully so that the audience knows she is not being an asshole to her kid. However, the ASDs who have answered her, regardless of having zero signs of abuse, do not always say something like “Why do you want to do X? Don’t you know that X is bad? Here is some info on why AS is sociopathic instead of a rant how you are an asshole for asking about similar organizations in your area.”. The ASDs often instead scream immediately, even when there is something that obviously ISN’T abusive to an actual literal 4-year-old. They are just ASSUMING that the kid can have a job or write sentences. NOT ALL AUTISTIC PEOPLE CAN DO THESE THINGS. SOME AUTISTIC PEOPLE OBVIOUSLY REALLY DO HAVE RETARDATION STILL. In the past, you wouldn’t even be diagnoses ASD at all if you don’t have it! (Unless you have zero speech, which probably requires some form of abuse to you by your parents, otherwise you most likely would not be afraid to speak, but if you were afraid then any non-abusivee parents would have tried picture cards and the like and by doing so would have noticed your intelligence and gave you a laptop or other keyboard after noticing it, if it occurs after 2015 or so.)

  5. Functioning isn’t “masking”. Functioning is like you can have any (normal) job (regardless of whether you can pass the interview to get hired for it if the interviewer is NT), you can tie your shoes (or have enough mindpower to go and buy Velcro instead if you can’t and it’s also the only actual self-caused problem in your life… ” Executive Functioning” “problem” is not self-caused it’s society-caused), you can either speak or can type and also grocery shop and order at restaurants by yourself, you don’t get severely lost every single time you attempt to ride a bus and also stay lost forever and also have a 3-day-long panic attack because you are lost (but maybe you do still get lost most of the time. And then call a can or ask strangers for rides or call police for help or solve the problem of lost-ness on your own by getting back to a bus number you know eventually, just like any other lost-from-bus-routes adult would do), you don’t need help to put on a shirt, it is not literally physically impossible for you to wear any clothing at any time, OR is it but you move to a residential nudist camp and have all groceries delivered, if you see an academic lecture you can understand it to the same level of at minimum any other NT with an IQ of 80 or higher, even if the lectuee is not about the one and only one single topic that you have intellectual knowledge of due to being a “savant”, you understand the definition of every single basic word that all humans encounter at least once per week in your native language, you know what tumeric and cayenne pepper are (or if you don’t then it’s one of those strange anamolies that would surprise and entertain your friends how you don’t know it, they will show it to you or explain it’s uses and then you will go on with the rest of your day which is similar to NT’s day), etc. It has nothing to do with “masking” whatsoever. It has nothing to do with whether you laughed from the joke you just remembered in your head or whether someone looked at you strange when you asked them what time is it because they didn’t like your vocal inflection or whether some cheerleader asshole who is not your spouse said that you can’t wear that color of clothing to that type of event. These things have literally nothing to do with “functioning” unless the thing you “can’t wear” is a full-on Big Bird costume. AND you are not even aware that it’s strange to wear that at all AND it’s one of 100+ other things that are that highest level of unusual and you don’t know it at all and some of the things you can’t do are things that literally every single man and woman who has commented here can do AND the things are unusual ACCORDING TO ALL NTS NOT ACCORDING TO ONLY SOCCER MOMS, JOCKS, BULLIES, NPCS, NORMIES, AND CLINICAL NARCISSISTS, AND ARE ALSO CONSIDERED TOO-UNUSUAL-TO-BE-CONPLETE-FULL-FRIENDS-WITH BY MOST TRADITIONAL-JOB-CAPABLE AUTISTIC PEOPLE. Otherwise, you are highs functioning (appear normal at all times without masking) or medium-function (it is easy to notice that you have a strong disability, you might be confused with Downs Syndrome if they didn’t have the physical appearance, but it is still easy to live by yourself, possibly needing velcro shoes or other simple things, but enough of them that your new roommate thinks it’s a disability rather then just an anamoly that you need that many). “Low-functioning” autistics wear helmets or are strapped into chairs or start running while inside the grovery store (without knowing that they were expected to keep the running moderate if there isn’t an actual practical reason for the running, or usually even if it is – running equally as often as @ 3-year-old would run). Like why are you “masking” in the first place, other then if you would otherwise do a noticeable\”inappropriate” stim? If you have no stim (or if you have a quiet one), then there is absolutely no necessecary reason to “mask” anything ever. NTs can get happy to enjoy movement, dancing, running, too, especially if they are drunk, so waiting until you are outside to do these things is not a “mask” it’s just common, it would be expected in adult restaurants or small stores in an autism-only country too. Anything else that I can think of that is “masking” is, simply do not do it. Do it the regular way instead. Anyone who doesn’t like will possibly dislike you, and that is totally fine because depending on the reason for he dislike they might be idiots, and you can easily be friends with that group of NTs over there who actually talks to you like a human being instead of that group of NT special ed preschooler teachers who shoves their face in your face because they pretend that you are also 4 years old – or that it is even okay to do that to a four-year-old in the first place. As you leave to go ask the normal people (good definition) about the card game they are playing, the preschool teachers continue to ask retarded condescending questions like, “Are you overwhelmed?”, you continue to ignore them, never answer any of theirtexta again unless you say exactly what you want to say exactly the way you want to say it, and make sure that everyone you ever talk for longer then 3 minutes in the future does not do those things. Why do some autistics pretend like it’s okay for these preschool teacher types to exist by doing ” masking” when they are around them instead of saying “Uhh, what the fuck are you doing?” to anyone who does such a thing and never considering them to be a personal friend, a “real” acquaintence (as opposed to an acquaintance who you sometimes hope to see on purpose), or even a valid person beyond the basics (don’t rape or stab them, don’t destroy their briefcase unless they’ve done something way worse then what’s described, treat them nicely and normally if you are taking their order at a restaurant, allow them to leave the parking space whenever you would allow anyone else to leave the parking space while in your car, etc.), and like just stop pretending that the reason they are doing that is “because they are NT”. The reason they are doing that is because they are stupid! No ” masking” is required to have a friend or to be in society! Hells Angels, obvious visible hippies, really fat people with dirty crap all over their shirt, anime fans, old people with extremely lame jokes that annoy everybody, and dressed-up Satanists are all perfectly acceptable to everyone to be at karaoke night (or ateast would be if there was any possibility that all of these people likes the same music). If you can’t make an acquaintences-level friendship with NTs, it isn’t because of “masking” its because of something like “They thought that you said an insult and you thought that you did not say an insult and they don’t even believe you after you directly state to them that it isn’t an insult.”. But even then there is still other NTs to be friend with it just isn’t due to your ignoring non-soccer-mom\non-Republican\etc. cultures anymore. Whoever doesn’t believe you after you specifically tell them it’s not an insult is just a jerk about that incident, jot ” because all\most NTs do so” or because of participating in a particular culture (except maybe ghetto culture or certain foreign ones), and to be honest the case of “I don’t believe you even after you literally directly told me that it wasn’t an insult” is actually much more common for people with Asprger’s Syndrome to do that, most NTs will believe you but belittle you about it (these people are like abusive parents, clinical narcissists, etc.) if they are non-ghetto Americans and if they also have any poor reaction to you saying “That wasn’t an insult” at all!

  6. I didn’t find out I was autistic until I was 28 and right now I’m 29 and it’s been so hard to navigate the operating in society part for me so far. The diagnosis itself actually ended a decades long battle with depression thankfully (plus years of weekly therapy). But now I’m processing all the gas lighting experiences from my life and it has caused so many panic attacks so far. I feel really drained right now, so much so I had to give up my career as an accountant and move back home with my dad just so I wouldn’t be homeless.

    But this piece was amazing to read, I laughed so many times because it was just so related to what I’ve been experiencing in the past half year. Happy tears. Thank you so much Terra.

    – Jeremy

  7. I’ll add one more: convincing us that our “real” self is our veiled, neurotypically-passing self rather than our autistic features and actions. Because they can’t seem to get their heads around the idea that not everyone is NT by default, they tend to see autistic persons as NT people hiding under a thick coating of autism. Then, after mastering a disguise (for those of us who are able to disguise ourselves), we may say, “see? I told you it was simpler to simply be yourself.”

    1. Yep, that’s a common thing with NT society, any person who is not like them is by definition defective and must be ‘repaired’, i. e., be made identical to them because in the NT’s eyes, the NT way of being is the only correct way of being.

  8. I hate them and refuse to make any attempt to mask or please them. Is rather shoot them in the fucking head. I have no desire to be integrated with this trash society and hope all of these people die in agony.

    1. Ricky – I seriously believe there is something wrong with your desire to shoot them.

      Simply because of the shear scale of the project. There are lots and lots of NTs – how are you going to get enough ammo? 😀

      I pity them really, doing everything that everyone else does because they are too scared of being alone. I don’t know who said it, perhaps it was just a meme I saw somewhere – ‘they all laugh at me because I am different, I laugh at them because they are all the same’

      Most of them are so dull and unaware of their agency that they suffer at a deep level of their psyche. They subconsciously squash their desire to be different and are unaware that they even have a choice. I am sure they are already tormented enough. Save your bullets my friend. They are already punishing themselves, and will do so all their lives.

  9. I think a large part of why this is the case is because when in communication together, NT and ND (specifically Autistics) do not communicate well, but when in separated groups–do just fine. So the barrier is the learning style and enterpretation, its almost like meeting someone from another culture you’ve never seen before. And, this, combined with a capitalist system that values constant productivity–and of course the group with variability to their productivity will be the one that is oppressed.

    Not all NTs are shit, but all capitalists are–and the more NTs that are capitalists, the more shit they are going to be towards autistics and other neurodivergents.

  10. I very rarely (if ever) hear about autistic people who are late diagnosed and already have multiple co-occurring “mental illnesses”. I have had gad, ocd and bipolar since teenage. I am 67 yrs, female. Are we too difficult, too complex, too embarrassing?!

Talk to us... what are you thinking?

Skip to content