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How Unconscious Bias Affects People on the Autism Spectrum

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Unconscious bias is something humans engage in every day. It is programmed into us and most likely, you don’t realize you have this bias. Autistic people deal with being on the receiving end of unconscious bias all the time.

One of the biggest issues of unconscious bias we face involves diagnosis, especially when it comes to race. According to Spectrum News, white children are about 19 percent more likely than black children and 65 percent more likely than Hispanic children to be diagnosed with autism. People of color are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavioral disorder such as ODD rather than autism. This is not the bias I will be talking about, although I thought it was very important to touch on that subject as it’s something we as a society really need to fix.

My experience with unconscious bias mostly has do to with presuming competence. People often wrongly associate autism with having an intellectual disability. I’ve even had people talk to me completely normally, but when I mention my autism, their tone becomes more high-pitched and babyish. They have even stopped talking to me and instead addressed the person with me. Another bias is when people will trust my facts when it is one of my special interests, for example, what did they eat two years ago at a certain restaurant, but if it is anything else, they automatically assume I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Even my biggest supporters struggle with unconscious bias. I’ve discovered my amazing partner has their moments. Recently, we had a disagreement about a social rule. They refused to believe I was correct, even though it turned out I was. I asked if the reason they wouldn’t believe I was right was because of my autism. After reflecting on it, my partner said that was the reason. They automatically assumed because they are the neurotypical one, they know best when it comes to social rules. This has happened multiple times in our relationship and it can be very frustrating. Now that I have brought it to their attention, they will be working on it.

I’m not quite sure if there is a way to fix unconscious bias. It is honestly something that just pops in your brain randomly. I catch myself doing it all the time. I will be trying to improve my response when it happens to me. I need to learn to take it as a teachable moment instead of just having my feelings hurt.

I hope everyone who reads this will take a second to reflect upon how you view people. Try not to let stereotypes color your thoughts. Instead, remember every person with autism is different. We all have different levels of abilities and struggles. Keep an open mind when interacting with us.

Getty image by Katarzyna Bialasiewicz.

Originally published: January 14, 2020
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