How to Answer Awkward Questions About Your Autism

Two Methods:Handling Questions WellScripting Useful Responses

Autism can be a confusing subject for non-autistic people, and when you decide to share the news, they may put their feet squarely into their mouths. It's rarely personal, but it can be frustrating, perplexing, or even insulting. Here is how to respond with grace.

Method 1
Handling Questions Well

  1. Image titled Man Relaxes.png
    Take a deep breath. It is normal to pause in conversation, especially if you need a moment to collect your thoughts. There is no pressure to answer right away.
  2. Image titled Man Listening to Woman.png
    Assume the best. Most people who ask awkward questions do not mean to confuse or upset you: they genuinely do not understand autism, manners, or both. If what they said was insulting, they may not have realized it.
    • A well-meaning person will use a casual or inquisitive tone, and wait patiently for a response. They will act normal because they don't know it's awkward.
    • Sometimes it takes a moment for them to realize this is awkward. If this is the case, they might blush, grimace, smile, fidget, or avoid eye contact. (Many non-autistic people show embarrassment this way.)
    • A mean person will use a patronizing or sarcastic-sounding tone of voice. They might tilt their head back to look down at you. You might feel belittled.
  3. Image titled Confused Woman.png
    Decide what sort of response you want to give. This depends on both your own preferences and the type of question it was.
    • An honest answer always works (whether it's an infodump or an "I don't want to talk about it.")
    • A joke might work for a loved one you like to joke with. It can also defuse serious rudeness.
    • A sarcastic response can work for people who are being rude on purpose, or who don't care if they're rude. (Be aware that some people don't understand sarcasm.)
  4. Image titled Jewish Guy Says No.png
    Decline to answer any question if you don't know how to answer, or if you plain don't want to answer the question at that particular time. State that you'd rather not say, and refocus the conversation. Most people will realize their comment was unwanted, and will move on.
    • "I'm not sure how to answer that."
    • "That's an odd question. Anyhow, a corner seat would help me focus."
    • "I'd rather not talk about that. Did you see the Packer game?"
  5. Image titled Smiling Relaxed Man.png
    Don't worry too much about it. You are not burdened with the responsibility of teaching everyone about autism. If someone is mean, or you fumble, or they just don't get it, it's okay.
    • If you worry a lot about it, consider getting screened for anxiety or telling a therapist. Many autistic people experience heightened anxiety levels ranging from mild to severe.

Method 2
Scripting Useful Responses

Answering awkward questions is always difficult. When you're autistic and may have trouble with processing speech, generating spontaneous speech, or being put on the spot, it can be even more difficult. These scripts may help you.

  1. Image titled Relaxed Woman Talking.png
    Handle assumptions about functioning labels with grace. Despite the negative implications, most people who use functioning labels truly don't understand that they can hurt.
    • "Yes, some days I am high-functioning. And you?"
    • "Actually, I don't like to label myself like that."
  2. Image titled Man Tells Autistic Woman She is Not Autistic.png
    Handle comments that you "don't look very autistic" with care. Sometimes this is said because the person is confused. If it is intended as a compliment, then it comes at the expense of other autistic people, so you might feel insulted on behalf of your peers. Keep in mind that even though it is very rude, the person probably doesn't mean any harm, so a calm dismissal or redirection is usually best.
    • "Well, I'm an autistic person, so this is what an autistic person looks like."
    • "Yes, I like to confuse my prey that way." (joke)
    • "Actually, science shows that autistic people tend to have bigger eyes, shorter noses, bigger foreheads, and basically super cute faces![1] I like to think that I look very autistic." (lighthearted)
  3. Image titled Woman Helps Sad Man.png
    Challenge or refute pitying questions or remarks. Some people do not know how to respond to your autism, and may think that they are supposed to feel sorry for you. You can gently remind them that you're an ordinary human being, or directly challenge their assumptions if you think they can handle it.
    • "You're sorry? Why?"
    • "It's really not that bad. I get up, eat cereal for breakfast, and drive to work just like everyone else."
    • "Everyone has challenges. Other people have bad parents, low incomes, or difficult relationships. I have sensory issues and executive dysfunction."
    • "Well, the social difficulties can be rough. But I do have a good mind for patterns and computer code, and that's pretty cool."
  4. Image titled Two Girls Talking about Neurodiversity.png
    Be patient with mentions of brothers, nieces, best-friend's-cousin's-nephews, and other autistic children. When they hear that someone is autistic, non-autistic people frequently like to mention their autistic relatives. Usually they are just trying to establish common ground. You might acknowledge it and move on, or talk with them about their relative.
    • "Oh, good for you."
    • "Oh, really? I have a non-autistic nephew." (lighthearted)
    • "Sixteen? That can be a difficult age. Has she found the autistic community yet?"
  5. Image titled Shrugging Cheerful Man.png
    Laugh off comparisons to other autistic people, whether they are famous adults or random children. If a person uses this, they are simply showing that they don't know much about autism, and this is their only frame of reference.
    • "Like Temple Grandin? Well, I can't say I like the smell of cows..." (lighthearted)
    • "Autistic people are very diverse. Some of us are like Rain Man, and many of us are not."
    • "Yeah, I've seen the Big Bang Theory. Amy is the absolute best! She's so clever and funny and... (etc.)"
    • "Well, of course I don't seem like those autistic children. I'm an autistic adult."
  6. Image titled Peeved Woman.png
    Keep your cool if Autism Speaks is mentioned. It may be very upsetting to you, but it is unlikely that the person has deeply considered what the group actually supports. You may not want to ruin your day thinking about it, so you can give a quick answer and change the subject.
    • "Actually, Autism Speaks is really mean to autistic people, so I'm not a fan."
    • "Please don't light it up blue; that's run by a bad group. Would you like to participate in #RedInstead?"
    • "Ugh, that organization is really gross. So tell me about your new puppy!"
    • If they try to turn the conversation back to Autism Speaks, you can suggest they look it up, or change the topic again. They will get the message.
  7. Image titled Man Covers Mouth.png
    Assume ignorance before malice if they use the r-word. Some people genuinely do not realize how much that word can hurt disabled people. A quick, one-sentence explanation is enough to make most people realize that this word is not appropriate, and they will stop using it.
    • "That's actually a really hurtful word. Please don't say that."
    • "Please don't use the r word. It's very derogatory towards disabled people."
    • (if they press harder) "Wait, I'm confused. You want to use a word that is derogatory towards people with disabilities?"
    • If someone insists upon using the word after you explain it, then they are probably not a nice person. You are well within your rights to avoid them.
  8. Image titled Blushing Man and Woman in Wheelchair.png
    Reassure someone who is getting embarrassed. Non-disabled people may feel uncomfortable around the idea of disability, so it can be helpful to make them more at ease.
    • "It's okay. It's not a big deal."
    • "Autism isn't as bad as a lot of people think it is. There's no need to tiptoe around the subject."
    • "Don't worry about it."
    • "For me, autism is just a fact of life. I'm used to it."


  • When in doubt, assume that they mean well, and choose an honest answer over a more sarcastic one.
  • If someone is dismissive, cruel, or continuously rude, you might want to consider whether you want to be friends with them. You do not have to hang out with someone who doesn't treat you well or respect your disability.
  • If someone hurts your feelings use "I" language to explain why.

Article Info

Categories: Autism Spectrum | Managing Conflict and Difficult Interactions