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When a Bank Employee Treated Me Differently After Learning I'm Autistic

This happened to me several years ago, but I still remember it pretty vividly. It was such an unusual and unexpected experience that it stood out to me. In retrospect, I probably should have expected this to happen to me at some point… but I didn’t. I guess I was naïve like that.

It started on a day when I had no school, no homework, no anything. I wasn’t planning on leaving the house, and I wasn’t planning on taking off my pajamas to be honest. I like these days and really truly need them at times in order to recharge. Unfortunately, my dad ruined this day by telling me we had to go to the bank. He’d been meaning to get me my own credit card and the bank was offering an incentive to sign up for one at that time. I reluctantly agreed to go, throwing on a sweatshirt and putting my hair up because I didn’t want to shower.

We got to the bank and, fortunately, there was no line or anything. We sat down with an employee who started walking us through the process. He was a very lively, jovial young man who, quite frankly, was getting on my nerves. I was being a “typical” teenager, still pouting a bit about being dragged there in the first place. He didn’t seem to catch on to my attitude, however, and seemed baffled that I wasn’t excited about the nifty t-shirt I could get by enrolling in their rewards program, or the camping grill I could earn as part of that program. (Does anyone get really excited for those things?)

After a while of his enthusiasm and cheesy jokes, my dad pulled him aside to talk to him a bit. I figured he was saying something along the lines of “Look, my daughter’s had a long week and doesn’t want to be here, we should probably just get to the point.” Sure enough, when he sat down, he was much less obnoxious.

But there was another shift in his behavior as well. Suddenly, when asking questions, they were all directed at my dad. If I said anything, he seemed surprised. Now, that’s not totally unreasonable. Up until this point I had been deferring most questions to him anyway. Yet now, when he talked to me, his voice was slower and softer. Almost as if he was talking to a small child or even a dog. I was very confused by this, but in the end, I just wanted out of there. So when we finally finished my dad and I got into the car to leave, and that’s when my dad told me what he had actually told the man — that I’m on the autism spectrum.

I was immediately taken aback. All of a sudden I realized why he had started talking down to me. I’d say it finally made sense, but it really didn’t. The reason my dad told him I have autism, in my dad’s mind, was to let him know I don’t much care for idle chatter (at least, not when I’m in a bad mood) and that we should hurry this along. But the bank employee seemed to take it to mean that I was incapable of understanding what was happening or what he was saying. Maybe he thought that’s why I didn’t laugh at his jokes, too (rather than realizing they were extremely cheesy).

When my dad said “autism,” it seemed to me like his view of me changed. The change was so drastic and misinformed that it really bothered me. Autistic does not make me a child, or anyone else deserving of that slow and methodical voice. It doesn’t mean I’m incapable of answering questions, I just didn’t want to. I was being a grumpy teenager. Now, I understand everyone is different. But, in my opinion, it’s always better to assume people can do something, and risk correction, than assume they can’t and risk offense.

Now, I don’t hold it against this man (the cheesy jokes, I do, a bit). He meant well. More than anything I’m sad he appeared to be misinformed. And I’m also sad that, at one point, I was misinformed, too. Before I was diagnosed with autism, I had no idea what it really meant. I’ve obviously come a long way, but that’s because I was essentially forced to. It bothers me that there are people out there who are ignorant about how to treat those with autism, or disabilities in general, who won’t have an opportunity to learn better.

There are those who say we don’t need more autism awareness, but is that completely true? We’re making progress, there’s no doubt about that. But we can’t stop now. The fact that we’re making progress is proof that we shouldn’t stop. There are still people we still need to make aware that disabilities come in all shapes and sizes, and being “disabled” doesn’t mean you’re not able to do anything. Maybe then people can see those of us with disabilities as we really are  people.

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Thinkstock image by utah778