I’m a geek of many different kinds. I’m also autistic.

My ability to sharpen my focus on one particular thing, sometimes to the point of obsession, and become very knowledgable about it or skilled in it is a trait I share with many on the autism spectrum and makes me fit right in with geeks, who are also often absorbed in their own interests. Being a geek and being autistic are very similar to each other and discussions of the social skills (or lack thereof) of geeks seem to inevitably lead to mentions of autism spectrum disorders.

Let me make one thing abundantly clear: I am a geek because I’m autistic, not the other way around. Being a geek fits well with my natural traits.

I become irritated when discussions about geeks with poor social skills lead to somebody making a remark about those geeks having some kind of autism spectrum disorder (usually Asperger’s Syndrome). Are we to presume that all people with autism have terrible social skills? Or that “normal” people would never make social mistakes and that those who do must have some form of autism? Social gaffes that I would never commit because I have long since learned better are being ascribed to me on the basis that I’m autistic. I’ve worked hard to attain the social graces and communication skills that I have and so have many others I know who are on the spectrum. I wish that the people who made these remarks would think of us.

Marissa puts it quite well in her post, “Don’t blame autism, dammit” (bold emphasis mine):

A kid I love is on the autism spectrum. He is 8. And you know what? He gets that you do not make remarks at school about other people’s bodies. He gets that, as hilarious as he finds bodily function humor at this time in his life, other people’s butts are off limits to him. You can explain to him that remarks about boobies are going to make girls uncomfortable and make it hard for them to learn at school, so he cannot do that stuff or it will make school a sad, unfriendly place for the girls in his class. Because he is not stupid, he’s autistic.

And he’s eight years old. The almost two decades between his age and mine is plenty of time to learn in great detail what is and isn’t appropriate in many social situations. While we may not pick it up as naturally as neurotypicals, we can and do learn. So the next time you’re about to make a remark about autism in a discussion of the poor social skills of geeks, think twice. We’re not all abysmally bad at socializing and there are more than enough neurotypicals with horrible social skills out there.

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