I remember one time when I was shopping at a local supermarket. I was browsing alone, occasionally checking my phone and taking my time.
Once I paid for my products, a staff member suddenly came to me and asked me to open my backpack. I obeyed and opened it, and once the staff member saw inside, he said “Okay” and let me go on. No apology, no explanation, nothing.
Now, I was only aware he suspected me of shoplifting because I’d previously read a similar post by another autistic person in the same situation. But it got me thinking, what if this was an autistic person who was unfamiliar with what’s going on?
For some autistic people, they may have initially been confused by the request. They may have refused, because in their eyes it’s a complete invasion of privacy. This in turn could be misinterpreted as refusing to obey orders, resulting in the person getting in even more trouble for something they didn’t even do.
A lot of the behaviours that are deemed as suspicious behaviour can be common for autistic people. Including avoiding eye contact, hiding away from others, as well as struggling to answer questions thoroughly.
Many autistic people have also been arrested because the other person was unable to recognise they were having a meltdown, and mistook it for criminal activity. It is important to remember that meltdowns are uncontrollable, and are not an intentional act.
Meltdowns may present themselves through different actions. These can include screaming, punching, crying, self-harming, shouting and breaking things. (Click here for more information on autistic meltdowns.)
Autistic people also often feel mistreated due to lack of awareness. This is often due to misunderstandings about autistic behaviours, and misconceptions about how autism can manifest in people.
For example, an autistic person may find it hard to cope in an area that’s loud or bright. With the way autistic brains are wired, the person may react differently to others. However, these behaviours are often overlooked, or seen as “exaggerating” because people are not aware of how it affects us.
What can organisations do?
First and foremost, it is of the best interest of any organisation/company to learn more about autism, and train their employees to understand it. With the number of people being diagnosed rising every year, it is becoming increasingly more likely that a company will hire an autistic employee, or serve an autistic customer/client at some point.
However, here is a list of what can be done to better understand autistic behaviours:
- Train workers to understand and recognise autistic behaviours, and to not immediately treat them as a threat
- Listen to autistic people and take what they say seriously, even if you don’t understand how it affects them
- Talk to autistic people, learn to see things from our point of view
- Learn to recognise autistic meltdowns, and how to treat them
- Be willing to take accommodations into account when hiring autistic employees
With more autism awareness and acceptance, we can help make the world a better place for autistic people.