my very nice coworkers talk to me like I’m a child – and I think it’s because of my autism

A reader writes:

I am a 28-year-old professional woman and I’ve been at my job for two years. I am also on the autism spectrum. Everyone in my office, from coworkers to managers, knows this about me. I usually disclose it freely in case I seem a little “off” to people. My autism usually displays itself with sensory issues, struggles picking up on social cues, and an inability to pick up on “coy” hints. I also struggle with verbal communication, so I communicate by email most of the time at my job, which is fine because it’s what most people do anyway. None of this affects my work, though. I manage myself well, do good work (my manager gives me great feedback!), and take breaks when I need to so I don’t overload myself. I have also asked people to be explicit with me about what they’re trying to say instead of hinting, which people gladly do.

The reason I am writing is I frequently get the impression that people think I have the mind of a child because of my autism. This is because of the way people talk to me. For example, if I help someone finish a project, instead of saying something like “Hey, thanks for your help on that,” they’ll say, “Look at what good job you’ve done!” Or they will compliment small, menial things about me that seems to be an attempt to boost my confidence. If I wear makeup, someone will say “I like your pretty makeup!” One day, I was wearing a blouse with some flowers on it and someone said I looked like “a beautiful spring day!”

There are also other things — like one day while running out to grab lunch, I got caught in a sudden downpour and got pretty drenched. Luckily I keep a spare set of shoes at my desk, so on my way to change someone saw me and said, “Awww, I’m sorry, sweet girl!” It’s just rain. I wasn’t dying or upset or in need of pity.

As far as I can tell, none of these comments are meant to be condescending. They are genuine and trying to be nice. That said, though, I’d just like to be treated as an equal adult. No one else gets comments like these. None of the women comment on each other’s makeup besides mine. No one else gets called “pretty girl” or the other names I get.

I can only assume this stems from the association with autism and children. But how do I tell someone, “Hey, you know I have an adult brain, right?” This is something I’ve been struggling with for a while now and I just don’t know how to address it, especially since I struggle with verbal communication. For the record, my manager does this to me also (it’s pretty much everyone in the office at one time or another) so it isn’t just strictly one or two people.

That does sound really condescending. They mean to be kind, but yeah, they’re talking to you like you’re a child.

If other people were getting similar comments, I’d say you just work in a slightly odd office. But if you’re the only one on the receiving end, that’s hard not to read into.

How’s your relationship with your manager? If it’s decent, it might sense to start with her. You could say something like, “There’s something I’ve noticed that I’m hoping I can talk to you about. I know everyone here means well and wants to be kind, but sometimes people talk to me as if autism means I’m more childlike. I’ve gotten comments like ‘look what a good job you’ve done!’ and have been called ‘sweet girl’ and (fill in a couple more examples). It’s unnerving to be talked to like I’m a kid rather than an equal. I’m not sure about the best way to address this without making people feel bad, since I know they’re trying to be kind.”

If nothing else, this has a high chance of getting your manager to be more aware of the comments she’s made and stopping her from making them in the future.

You can also try to address it in the moment when it happens. It’s possible that a response that conveys “that was weird” in the moment will get people to reconsider what they’re doing. For example, if someone said “look what a good job you’ve done!” to me, I would probably laugh and say “uh, thanks” in a tone that conveyed “you forgot I am not a puppy.” Other options: Cocking your head to one side, furrowing your brow, and looking quizzical (kind of like this, but not quite as exaggerated). Or just saying “did you just call me ‘sweet girl’?”

With people you get along with especially well, you could try addressing it more head-on: “Hey, can I tell you something? I know you mean it kindly, but when you say things to me like X or Y that I don’t think you’d say to someone else here, I feel like you’re not treating me like an equal. My experience with autism tells me it might be related to that — like that on some level you’re thinking of me as more like a kid. I know you’re just trying to be nice and might not even realize it’s happening, but I wanted to point it out.”

What other thoughts do people have? I’d especially love input from people on the autism spectrum themselves.

{ 387 comments… read them below }

  1. Clorinda*

    If you think you’d have trouble expressing this issue in a face-to-face interaction, you could just send this exact text to your manager, because you’re right, this is weird and condescending even if it’s well-meant.

      1. Specialk9*

        I’d actually talk to someone who’s very social and talks to a lot of people, that office social hub if you have one.

        “Janet/Jake, I was wondering if you had a couple of minutes – I have a problem and I’d like your advice because you really seem to be good with people.” [Key points: ask for advice, it’s like crack, esp to us who are extra sociable ;) and gently flatter them.]

        “I think this office is filled with really kind, thoughtful people. But I’ve noticed that some people seem to think that autism is an intellectual disability, and so treat me like a child. Which would be kind if that were my situation. But autism for me isn’t like Rainman, it mostly just means I am super literal and don’t like noise [or whatever pithy description fits]. I got good grades in school and do good work here.

        But people have called me “sweet girl” and other baby talk, and give me elaborate praise for mundane kinds of tasks. But I think they’re trying to be kind, and so I don’t want to be too harsh in responding. But it really undercuts me as a professional at work, and it makes me feel pretty bad. What do you think I should do or say?”

        You’ll likely get 2 things from that: immediate advice, and a lot of backdoor ‘guys cut that shit out’.

        As an aside, it might be useful to make a patter when you talk to people that tells them directly what you need that’s outside the norm. ~~ “I’m autistic, but it’s not like in Rainman, like at all. It would help me if you use direct words when you want something from me, as I don’t pick up on unspoken hints or body language. But I really care about being thoughtful, so let me know if there’s something I’m missing.” [Or whatever fits your situation.]

    1. Secretary*

      Maybe sending it and talking to manager in person? Might want to be careful with email so that it doesn’t come off unkind and critical of manager.

      What if you and your manager worked out an office-wide email? Or if you have morning meetings maybe you can have a moment to educate people on autism?

      1. Nita*

        I definitely get the lure of using email to get this awkward message across, but am worried that an email along the lines of “Everyone, please stop treating OP like a child!” will come across very oddly. That said, having the conversation face-to-face and getting the tone just right is also not easy, especially with autism.

        I don’t know if this is a good solution either, but maybe it’s better to work out some kind of script for these situations and add a little note to whatever unrelated email OP is sending to the offender, so it sounds more casual. Something like: “here’s the file you requested. Oh, and please don’t call me sweet girl if you can – I prefer my name!”

        1. Ozma the Grouch*

          Yes. I can understand how in this instance email may feel safer for you OP, and that you communicate better with email than in-person. But it still isn’t the best course of action. You are trying to education your co-workers. Therefor you need to reach out to them in a manner that is most effective for them. OP, If you need to write out a script, workshop that script with someone, and have that script in front of you when talking to your co-workers, so be it. This still needs to be an in-person conversation. This will ensure that your co-workers hear you, take you seriously, and hopefully see you as the adult you are, and will have the best chance of giving you the outcome you want.

          1. Tassie Tiger*

            This is a little rough for me…I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t know if I can agree that the co-workers’ needs are the ones that should be prioritized. Scripts, workshopping, practice…that’s a lot. If OP is most comfortable emailing, I think that’s what’s going to be the channel that she communicates in most clearly. I do hear what you’re saying. And, ultimately, it really might be best to do it in person. It’s just, as someone also on the spectrum, it’s disheartening to always have to be the one to make the effort and be the one to have to go farthest out of our comfort zone.

            1. Anon for this*

              Yeah. While I don’t think an office-wide email is the way to go (didn’t we just have a thing about how everyone hates those and they don’t work?), dismissing the sending of an individual email out of hand doesn’t sit entirely well with me either.

              As someone who sometimes reads Alison’s advice and thinks “that’s a great script, but would I be able to have this conversation in person?” (in my case, because I stutter and thus am more likely to get steamrolled or derailed by someone)…yeah. This is really hard.

            2. Else*

              Also – does she need that? She sounds like she’s got a really good handle on what the problem is and why it exists. The co-workers are behaving in a way that is pretty common when an office cohort decides that a new member is young and in need of care rather than normal work relationship. This is not ill-meant, but it is ill-conceived, and it’s always a problem no matter why they decided this. I think Alison’s advice to address it as it happens is probably all she can do, but usually this kind of thing just goes on and on. Good luck, OP! This would be so irritating for me.

            3. RUKiddingMe*

              Agreed. I don’t think the need to educate coworkers should fall to the OP. The manager needs to knock it off right now and to be proactive educating staff on how to behave without putting the onus on OP in any way whatsoever. Full stop.

      2. Nanani*

        LW specifically said they have trouble with in-person communication.
        Going with the medium where they are best able to communicate their needs is exactly right, in my opinion.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          I’m not sure I agree.

          Communication is about both parties. If this is a message that isn’t likely to be understood well via email, it may be worthwhile for the OP to try to have the conversation in person. (Or maybe both — have the conversation and send a follow up email?)

          1. AliceBlueGown*

            People with autism who are better at communicating in writing than verbally face-to-face don’t just have a quirk of introversion that makes them prefer writing things out — they have a neurological condition that can make face-to-face communication especially challenging. It’s not something they can just willpower through or choose to set aside, any more than someone with hearing loss or a speech impediment can.

            1. Rat in the Sugar*

              Plenty of autistic people figure it out, though. The world isn’t going to adapt to us most of the time and so we must adapt to the world as much as we can or be left out. Yes, face to face communication is difficult but we are capable of learning. OP should consider what is likely to have the best effect on the people around her, not just which method is most preferable for her personally.

              1. Caroline*

                OPs abilities are important. It seems like a few of us here are on the spectrum but I will still state the obvious – every autistic person is different! Some of us struggle more with certain things, and it can vary from day to day.

                The trouble with “awkward” conversations is that tone can be important. Allison’s advice above I could apply in conversation with some people, on some days. Other days I would be able to say the words, but would be afraid with some people that they might take issue with my tone or exact phrasing, which is not always well controlled. On those days I might choose to send a well-phrased email instead, as although in person would be better all other things being equal, it’s not worth the risk of someone getting offended (particularly if they have power over me, which they might and have been quite happy to abuse in the past). Sometimes I would wait for a day when I can discuss the message in person – which might be days or even weeks. Other times the message can’t wait.

                OP knows best her own capabilities, so she can judge best the pros and cons and which approach to take.

                1. Rat in the Sugar*

                  Yeah, I kinda struggled with wording my comment; I had a line acknowledging that some autistic people really do struggle so much with face to face communication that it’s not really something they can ever adapt well to. It’s hard for me to give any advice to the OP, because in this kind of situation my own approach would be to just steamroll ahead and kind of ignore people and their comments, which has somehow (??) worked out for me in the past but I know isn’t good advice. In really bad situations I’ve resorted to “using my words” like a blunt object. “Hey, when you call me sweet girl it feels like you are talking to a child. I am not mad at you, I assume you mean it kindly but that is how it makes me feel. It does not make me angry or upset but it makes me feel like you view me as a child. I know you do not view me as a child but when you say sweet girl you sound like you are talking to one. If you do not want me to feel like you are talking to a child do not use the word sweet girl. I am not mad at you. I’m sorry. Thank you.” Having this kind of conversation makes me feel like I am dying every second.

                  Mainly I’m just worried that since OP’s coworker’s are already treating her differently, responding by email when the usual response would be verbal would just further serve to “other” OP. But talking in person isn’t good either if your tone is awkward…geez. What the heck are we supposed to do?

                2. RUKiddingMe*

                  People not on the spectrum can have a lot of trouble with face to face communication around sensitive issues too. I think it’s best to let OP handle it however works best for her.

    2. Triple Anon*

      Having been in this kind of situation, sending out an email can make it worse. Some people will read it as, “Handle this person even more delicately,” or, “This person is too defensive.” Even if the complaint is 100% justified. So the email has to be worded carefully. The tone has to be one of, “I am a strong adult and I expect the same respect as everyone else.” It’s not an easy thing to do.

      1. MatKnifeNinja*

        My cousin is 57, and has level III autism. He was diagnosed at 50, after a huge meltdown at work. It was bad enough 911 was called (EMS). You can imagine the humiliation he felt, being strapped on a gurney and taken to the ER.

        He came back to work right after a Sandy Hook happened. People tipped toed around and handled him with kid gloves. It was horrible. People were actually afraid of him. They were scared they’d trigger another meltdown. They were scared they’d get written up violating something under the ADA laws. They were scared he would come into work one day do something awful. People either flat out avoided him or treated him like a small child.

        Disclosing is a double edge sword. It gets you the accommodations you need, but with issues like Autism, Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia, you are dealing with other people’s biases.

        I think scripting and practicing what you (OP) want to say when people treat you differently is really the way to go. My cousin’s emails were all used against him the second time he went on a mental health medical leave. Do not think those aren’t going to be stored in a file.

        I think it’s trash people are treating you differently. Some might be scared and figure over the top will placate you. Some want to help/be nice but it just comes off over the top weird.

        You (OP) saying, “Please don’t comment on my appearance.” “Please don’t
        call me small girl/honey/nick name, my name is Samantha.” etc will get the results quicker than going to the boss or writing an email that may be misunderstood. You are letting them know EXACTLY how you want to be treated.

        Good luck. It’s hard breaking people from thinking in stereotypes.

        1. Scaramouche Scaramouche*

          This x 1000:
          “Disclosing is a double edge sword. It gets you the accommodations you need, but with issues like Autism, Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia, you are dealing with other people’s biases. ”

          This is so true. I have found it to be true for ADHD.

          At a friend’s office, when a new employee joined who brought her seeing eye dog with her to work, even though everyone knew about in advance, they’d come over and pet the dog and talk to the dog and not even address their new coworker. The office manager put a stop to this quickly with an all staff email about etiquette with service animals: that you don’t pet them without permission, and that you focus on the person, not the service dog. This saved the new employee from having to say “um, can you please not pretend I’m invisible?” over and over. Your boss, ideally, should be doing the same for you: addressing with coworkers how they should treat you with respect.

          My advice: spend time writing out an email to your boss, and then decide if you want to say it in person or send them the email (I know people have a lot of opinions on this, but my advice is to write it out first either way!). And remind them that you communicate best directly and without hints, so you won’t beat around the bush: people are saying things to you that you find condescending and you’d like it to stop.

  2. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    I’m short and baby faced so I can get similar comments. Where I can, I just give a deadpan stare and say “woof.” :)

    1. Doug Judy*

      I’ll have to save that for an appropriate time! Ha.
      I’m also short, and look about 10 years younger than I am (I’m closer to 40 than I am 30) and people assume all the time that I am very young and new to the business world and sometimes treat me like a fresh out of college newbie, especially clients. I hate having to disclose my relative age, but it does help clarify that I am an experienced professional.

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        Apparently I look 15-20 years younger than I am…

        I’ve found that dressing up helps getting taken seriously in a work setting.

        I don’t care about the rest. Cashier wants to card me when I buy wine? The faces they make when they see I’m way older than 16 are great.

        1. Doug Judy*

          Everyone dresses up in my industry, so I just look like the newest intern or assistant. They about fall over when they see pictures of my kids, and I have to clarify I did not have a baby when I was 13.

        2. AliceBlueGown*

          Ha, I just had a humbling moment at a liquor store this weekend — I just turned 40 and got carded at the store, so naturally I felt flattered and said so, and then the cashier told me they card everyone as a matter of policy, even if they look 90. Oop.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Ha, my husband always makes some comment on this and I always burst his bubble and tell him it’s policy. I appreciate his youthfulness, but seriously, he is 42 and no one thinks he is 20 unless they’re visually impaired.

          2. Lynn Whitehat*

            Argh. I worked as a supermarket cashier in high school. One time, we ran afoul of the liquor laws, so we had to card *everyone* for a while. Even 90-year-olds who had been buying wine since Prohibition ended, and didn’t even *have* a license anymore. It was terrible.

      2. AnonEMoose*

        Also short and look relatively young for my age (in the last few years, a coworker was absolutely shocked to learn I’m over 40…she’d assumed I was 35 at the most).

        I used to get the condescending treatment, too. Not as relevant in this job, as most of my interaction with people who don’t already know me isn’t in person.

        The coworkers probably are intending to be kind, but it is weird and condescending. I don’t have a lot of advice, but I think others have made some good suggestions.

        1. Clorinda*

          I don’t know why people read obvious adults as “younger” just because they’re short. Most of us reached our adult height in our middle teens. In the adult world, height has nothing to do with age. People’s assumptions and prejudices are really odd when you take a close look.

          1. Alienor*

            It is really odd, and it works the other way around too. My daughter has always been tall, and when she was a child, it made sense that people thought she was older than she was, but now she’s an adult and people *still* think she’s older because of her height–she’s almost 20 and regularly gets mistaken for being 5-10 years older, despite having a round face and other markers of youth.

            1. I'll think of a clever name later...maybe.*

              I saw this in play just this weekend. My 13 year daughter has a friend that is nearly 6′ tall. We were out this weekend and somebody we didn’t know looked to this poor girl for information on something and she just stood there with an uncomfortable “someone please help me” expression on her face – her very young looking face.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          I am especially troubled by the “look at what a good job you’ve done” comment. That’s what we say to a two year old!

          1. PhyllisB*

            OP, I get the not liking the “pretty girl” and the “I like your pretty make-up” business, but the compliment on the flowered blouse was probably just that; a sincere compliment. I have a beautiful flowered shirt that I love to wear because it cheers me up to wear it, and I get compliments on it every time I wear it. Without fail someone will make a comment similar to what was said to you. “How pretty!! Looks like a Spring garden!!” Or, “I love your flowers!!” I know compliments can make us feel awkward sometimes, but the best response to a sincere compliment is a smile, and “thank you.” Or I sometimes say, “Yes, I’ve really enjoyed this shirt.” On the other, I think you’ve gotten some good advice.

      3. Les G*

        It kind of feels like y’all are hijacking OP’s post to humblebrag or complain about looking young. It’s kinda offensive when you think about the fact that this is a problem OP may have to deal with her whole life. It’s not going to go away when she turns 50 and finally looks like she’s old enough to drink.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I don’t think folks are humble-bragging. I think they’re trying to sympathize with OP based on prior experience and to share how they responded to inappropriate workplace comments. It may not be as apt as OP’s specific struggle, but I don’t think the purpose is to extol looking younger than you are.

          1. Bones*

            Agreed, I don’t get a humblebrag vibe either (also hard to humblebrag about something that’s almost always more annoying than flattering)

            1. boo bot*

              In fairness, “this flattering thing is so annoying” pretty much represents the Platonic ideal of the humblebrag! (Like mathematics, it needed only to be discovered.)

              That said, I agree with Les G. I do think people are trying to empathize, however I also suspect that the comparison is not as apt as it might seem. There is a different, more insidious root to this kind of condescension, and the OP can’t resolve it with a quick clarification.

              It’s not a quick, “actually, I’m 35,” it’s more like, “actually, all of your assumptions about autism, autistic people in general, and ME specifically are wrong, and the way you’re treating me, while well-meant, is incredibly offensive and rude. Let Me Interrupt My Day AGAIN to Tell You Why.”

              It’s a longer, weightier, and more exhausting conversation, and not one she should have to enter into just to be treated like the working adult she is.

              1. Les G*

                Yup, this. Plus I’m pretty dubious that the folks doing this are genuinely thinking the OP could do the same thing they do. Dressing up and wearing makeup are the two most cliche pieces of advice for looking older. But when OP does these things, that’s actually when she gets the condescending comments, so.

                1. Princess Peach*

                  It’s also coming from an entirely different place. Like, yeah, I look young and I’m a woman; of course I get irritated when people treat me like I’m a dumb kid. But OP’s problem is stemming more from the fact that people in her office seem to think that autism is an intellectual disability and are talking to her in that weird, high, false praising tone that you use when the puppy remembers to go potty outside instead of on the carpet. It’s really, really ableist.

              2. Thursday Next*

                Yes, this. LW faces a much more pernicious situation than being mistaken for being younger. It’s really not analogous.

              3. Socks*

                It’s only flattering if you accept the premise that we all, deep down, WANT to look younger than we are; which also means accepting the premises that a) women are most valuable for their appearance, b) women are most attractive the younger they are, and c) we baby-faced women value looking attractive (read: young) more than we value being taken seriously or treated like adults.

                So I guess if you just unquestioningly assume those things are true, then, yeah, we ARE lucky to look so young and it IS a humble brag. I, personally, don’t find it remotely flattering to have my education and experience erased because I hit my adult height in middle school, and that is not a humble brag. The conversation about autism is undoubtedly longer and more exhausting (I have ADHD and I hide it as much as possible at work for similar reasons), but I think one can clarify that the two situations are different without feeding into the super obnoxious assumption that we are secretly flattered by being treated like children because it means we’re still, I don’t know, pretty.

                1. Les G*

                  Nitpicking my choice of the word “humblebrag” is a handy way to ignore the substance of my comment about how offensive this is.

                2. Traffic_Spiral*

                  I agree. Not every woman wants to look like a teen, and it’s rather presumptuous to assume they’re humblebragging.

              4. Ennigaldi*

                It’s not flattering. Like the OP said, it’s demeaning when your coworkers and managers treat you like a kid or like it’s your first job.

                It’s common on this site to have discussions like this at the same time as more tailored advice like you and Les are getting at, it’s not meant to erase OP’s experience but broaden the discussion. I usually skip over those threads by collapsing them.

              5. batman*

                I agree with your point about autism vs. looks, but I can tell you that it’s not flattering when you’re in your early 30s and people think you’re 24. To me, it implies that people think I also ACT immature, which is insulting. Plus, they treat you like you’re dumb because you’re young and I’m like, dude, I know what I’m talking about. It can be frustrating.

                1. Jacki*

                  I feel this so completely! I keep hearing that I’ll appreciate this when I’m older, but that’s from my mother who hasn’t worked since she was in her 20s. This makes it so, so much harder to be taken seriously by my peers because they assume they have more experience or the same amount experience in some cases. I got passed up from a promotion last year when my market manager said the guy they chose had more experience than me. I spoke with the new guy and he had a few years less than me and started in our company at a later time. He does the jobs well enough, but it’s just frustrating. And to hear from people how appreciative I should be to look like an inexperienced, young adult all the time when I can not just adds to the frustration. I’d 1000% rather look like my age any day of the week.

          2. Tau*

            This is fair, although at the same time I’m not sure the comparison works as well as they think (saying this as someone who both looks a lot younger than I am and who’s on the spectrum). For instance, dressing more formally has been suggested but I’m not at all sure that would help – since age isn’t the issue, attempting to get coded older isn’t really addressing the problem, and it seems much more likely to end in “oh, look, she doesn’t understand the office dress norms because of her autism!”

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          They face the same kind of comments that OP faces, and are sharing how they’ve dealt with it:
          – More formal clothes
          – Age signaling (explicit, or via ‘here’s my kids’)
          – Return awkward to sender (“woof”)

          OP, I’m probably on the spectrum (my sister is formally diagnosed, with stuff we both do) but no formal diagnosis. I don’t recommend the ‘return awkward to sender’, it takes a lot of skill to do in a way that will send the message you want to send. I do recommend:
          – More formal clothes
          – Stop mentioning it to anyone other than your manager (they don’t really need to know)
          – Use your ‘direct explicit communication” skills – it’s great to say “please don’t call me x” or “yes, look at what I’ve done – it’s going to save the company $ / reduce the time you spend on that task by y / make your life better somehow.”

          It’s scary, but professional people respond well to it. Try to focus, at work, on “OP, who does x, y, z great things” and just let “OP, who is autistic” fade some, the way I let ‘Jules, who is a mom’ fade.

          I’ve been complimented for ‘Please no practical jokes, I don’t like them’ and felt very brave for ‘Don’t use crazy as a joke to describe a tough customer.’ But he’s stopped joking about ‘20% of Americans have a mental illness’ at least.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            Exactly. I’ve faced condescending comments and treatment, for a different reason than the OP, but what I’d like the OP to “take away” from my previous comment is that she’s not alone in experiencing the condescending treatment and comments or in being frustrated by them.

            It sucks to be taken less seriously by your coworkers and treated as less than adult because of something that you can only do so much to mitigate (whether it’s something that will eventually change, like age, or something permanent, like height).

            I think the advice to return the awkward to sender has potential. For the things that seem to happen repeatedly, would it help to practice some phrases ahead of time, so that OP doesn’t have to think up something to say in the moment?

          2. Thursday Next*

            The difference is that one can counter the explicit assumption (expressed through requests for ID, etc.) that one is young by disclosing one’s age or signs of age. Boom, done.

            But for LW, the assumption is implicit, and the strategies young-looking people use to demonstrate age are not going to be adequate. Because what is implied is not a mere lack of chronological age, but a particular inability to relate in a typical adult fashion. LW is going to have to do more to address this situation than someone who mistaken for a teenager.

        3. Indie*

          While the OP unquestionably has greater hurdles to leap than ‘woman who looks young’; her situation has a lot of intersectionality about it with ageism and sexism. After all her colleagues are basically pigeonholing her as ‘at least youre pretty!’

          Her autism also blocks off the route of ‘just be brusque and authorative’ because of the risk of being labelled awkward, but every woman knows that play comes with the risk of being called a bitch anyway.

          I don’t think the sexism angle should be dismissed out of hand. In lots of places women of fifty are still called girl and it’s ok for the OP to signal she doesn’t want to be one of them.

          Also, unless she’s feeling like a pioneer the language of anti sexism is better understood than the language of anti ableism.

          1. hayling*

            Agree! There are several angles here. I wonder if she were a man, if they’d say “good boy!”

            1. Specialk9*

              “awwww sweet boy”. Ennnh not ever gonna happen.

              Intersectionality is important. This is the intersection of female and autistic. (And it sounds like maybe also young.)

        4. Rae*

          It can last for a long time, however, and it can be devistating to your confidence.

          I just celebrated my 27th birthday and my manager sent me on an errand to a campus office I’d never been to before. I was so lost. This office was primarly male scientists who (ironically) were TERRIBLE at picking up social cues (and giving directions). I finally found an older female secretary and said that I was lost and was looking for Professor X’s office.

          She looked at her co-worker, dropped her stuff dashed to the phone and goes, “Oh, sweetie, I think the bus is leaving. Your classmates spoke to Professor X a half hour ago. Let me try and get campus security!”

          I stammered out that, no, I wanted him for another reason and I worked over in office X. She told me I looked way too young to be doing that.

          As it turns out the school trip wasn’t even high school seniors but MIDDLE schoolers. I made friends with the chief of security that day and we both laughed, but at home, I cried. Getting mistaken for a student at the college constantly was bad enough, but it was awful to have been mistaken for a middle school child when I was 27. I’m 35 and still get mistaken for a college student.

          1. Cheapskate*

            Yes. I remember I was on a plane once when a stewardess put her hand on my shoulder and asked if I was an “unaccompanied child”. I was 21 at the time. Seven years later I still cringe. No adult wants to be mistaken for a child that needs supervision.

        5. chickaletta*

          I think it’s just a problem that a lot of young-looking females can relate to because we get the same shit. Believe me, it’s not a humble brag when it starts to feel like your career and conversely your paycheck are suffering because of other people’s stereotypes of what a younger looking female is capable of. It quite sucks, actually, to have your coworkers ask about your age and weight more often than they ask about things like where you went to college or how you got to where you are career-wise.

      4. SeluciaMD*

        I have exactly the same problem. I’m 42 but have a very baby face and generally look like I’m in my late 20’s. By and large I am grateful for my good genes but when you are trying to be taken seriously as a professional it can be a real challenge to not want to scream when people basically pat you on the head or make it sound like you’re a kid who skipped a grade for generating work product or solving a problem that, at my level of experience, is pretty much par for the course. I don’t like feeling like I need to wear a sign that says “no, really, I’ve been at this for the better part of two decades” or tell people my age to recalibrate their expectations but sometimes an off-hand comment that alludes to my age or the number of years I’ve been in my industry is an easy short-hand that cuts some of that off.

        I just keep reminding myself that when I’m 80 and people think I look 60 I will not mind it one bit. :)

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Ugh, this is so awful, and I’m frustrated on OP’s behalf.

      I am more of a jerk. Now that I finally look over 21, I get these comments less often, but they were frequent when I was in my 20s. I give people a blank look and say, “ What an odd thing to say to a [coworkee/adult].” That may be less effective for OP, though, if folks already assume she’s not processing certain info :(

      1. MI Dawn*

        One reason I’m very happy letting my hair go gray and don’t color it is I’m finally being taken to be my age. I have a baby face (and I’m in my 50’s) so don’t look any older than 30’s or 40’s. I gave some coworkers a huge shock a few years ago when my eldest married (they couldn’t believe I was old enough to have a child getting married). But I understand the condescension. The recommendations given by Alison and the others are great!

      2. Engineer Girl*

        I like this. The other thing I’ll do is look confused and say “excuse me?” At a minimum it makes them rethink what they just said.
        The other tactic is to look concerned and ask “may I ask why you are saying that?”
        Both open up an opportunity for dialogue.

        1. Trig*

          Hm. “May I ask why you are saying that?” might be a good approach, actually!

          Even if the coworkers think “oh, OP doesn’t understand this compliment because of her autism!” it still opens up the chance for them to explain that they were just trying to make a nice compliment because she did such a good job on her job/makeup/is trying so hard only to get rained on, and her to come back with something in a nonconfrontational way, like “Oh, I see. Thanks, but you don’t need handle me with kid gloves when you give me compliments, I’m an adult with an adult brain, and that was just part of my job/it’s not a huge acheivement for me to do my makeup like everyone else/it’s just some rain.” or “Oh, you meant it as a compliment. I don’t know if you realise when you use that tone of voice/particular expression that it comes across as pretty patronizing. I’m an adult with an adult brain; you can compliment me like you would anyone else.”

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            This is another example of what I mean when I say ‘use your direct explicit communication skills.’ I might shorten ‘adult with an adult brain’ to just ‘adult’, the repetition’s not good in conversation, but otherwise, I like these scripts.

            Though I would never say ‘just part of my job’, I’d say, ‘yes, it will have [some business benefit].’ Never downplay your impact.

      3. RUKiddingMe*

        I’m not sure it would be less effective. In fact I think it might be just exactly a perfect thing to say.

    3. Frankie*

      Once in a workplace bathroom (that we had to swipe our ID cards to get into), a woman I’d never met before asked me, out of the blue, if I was there with my mom that day.
      My ID badge was right at my pocket and I was wearing business casual. ?!

    4. Allison*

      I’m also short and babyfaced, and while I haven’t gotten a diagnosis putting me on the spectrum, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was since I am kind of anxious and awkward and sometimes a little, I dunno, out of touch with what’s “normal.” So at my old job, one coworker in particular would speak to me like I was a four year-old, praise from her felt like the praise you’d give to a small child who could recite the alphabet. It was terrible. And I get a little of that from one coworker in my current job, but we don’t work together that much. There’s something in her smile when we talk that looks like she’s suppressing frustration with me, but trying to be all nice so I won’t have some sort of meltdown.

      I have no helpful advice for this, but I find it helpful to know that I’m not alone, and I’m not “crazy” to think this is actually a thing that happens.

      1. Ennigaldi*

        I had a coworker who would do this to everyone! We worked at a graduate school that trained teachers for pre-K and elementary schools and I always wondered if she just picked it up as a habit from working with kids.

        1. Specialk9*

          Oh gosh teachers of young kids can sometimes be the WORST with adults. I remember the director of a prospective daycare took a full half-hour to stop sing-songing loudly and enthusiastically to me like I was 3. My responses to her got quieter and more reserved, and she finally got the hint. But dude, you do know I’m checking this place out as THE PARENT, not the infant, right?

  3. Database Developer Dude*

    Autism is something you have, not something you are. You can assume ignorance, the first time, but you should bluntly say “Hey, you know I have an adult brain, right? No need to talk to me like you would to a child.”. After that, it becomes A Problem ™.

    There is no universe in which this is right.

    1. WellRed*

      “Autism is something you have, not something you are.” Beautifully put. I wish people would do the same with diabetes (she has diabetes v.s. she’s “a diabetic”).

      Letter writer, I am cringing on your behalf. Sweet girl? Just, no.

      1. Hull & Oats*

        Also, people use a wheelchair/hearing aid/screen readers etc rather than being wheelchair bound or needing various devices.

        1. NCKat*

          I am in a wheelchair and also am deaf. I can hear via a cochlear implant, but it’s not always accurate. My wheelchair is low to the ground as I am very short, 5 feet tall, and a lot of time people don’t see me. In any case, I’m all too familiar with the “baby voice;” I wish I could tell you it goes away but even now after 30 years in my job, I still encounter it every once in a while.

          Here’s my strategy, for what it’s worth:

          1) Speak with a low pitch. A high-pitched voice tends to make you seem more child-like. I also try to speak as clearly as possible.
          2) Don’t emote. Be as factual as possible.
          3) Engage in small talk. This one is hard as I’m not the more sociable person in the room, but I fall back on the weather if nothing else comes to mind.
          4) Be cheerful. Smile at people. You don’t have to grin, just smile.
          5) When meeting someone, I tend to shake hands first, looking at them in the eye and smile at them. I have found this tends to break the ice, because a lot of times people don’t know how to approach someone with a disability.

          As for people talking to you with a baby voice, I’d just look at them and say “I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understood that.” That makes them repeat what they said, and nine times out of ten, it forces them to realize how silly it sounded.

          1. boo bot*

            “I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understood that.”

            Awesome. Ah, the power of forcing people to realize what they just said out loud!

      2. Just Me*

        And bi-polar and schizophrenia. “He has” vs “he is” makes a big difference in how much we see a person as a whole instead of just list of symptoms and meds.

        Also feeling sympathy for the op. I can only begin to imagine how demoralizing it must be to put up with that level of condescension every day.

      3. soon 2be former fed*

        I am diabetic and say I’m a diabetic because it is true. Anybody should know that’s not all I am. Same with autism. Sometime language parsing can get to be too much, most people do not have bad or harmful intentions.

        Having to give OP very explicit instructions may have altered perceptions a bit regarding her maturity, as unfair as that may be. Some may view that as communicating in a childlike way. Not saying, but just a possibility. OP should decide if this is a hill she want to die on since everything else seems to be going well.

      4. ThatGirl*

        Disclaimer: I am not autistic or on the spectrum.

        But I do know that many people who are actually do identify that way – much in the same way someone who’s black or queer or Deaf might identify that way. There’s actually a real debate about person-centered language among the autistic community, who do see it as an integral part of their identity. But, everyone’s mileage and experience varies.

        1. Tassie Tiger*

          Thank you for understanding and speaking up! Spectrum Support! :) Yes everyone is different. My personal linguistic choice is to say I AM autistic. But I understand not everyone identifies with that verbal choice.

      5. Shrugged*

        This is kind of a personal thing, and it varies from person to person. I prefer “I’m an aspie” or “I’m on the spectrum” for myself. Adults (heck, children, too) really get to decide for themselves whether they prefer person-first language or to define their identity as… well, their personal identity. I wouldn’t presume to dictate to a person in a wheelchair that they must say “I use a wheelchair” if they prefer (as my mother does) “I’m handicapped.” We should extend the same courtesy to non-neurotypical people.

      6. Rae*

        No. I’m severely ADD. I think it’s stupid to say that I *have* ADD. It’s not a cold. If I wasn’t ADD I wouldn’t be me. If you asked me to describe myself I often start with my attributes (hair, eyes, and ADD). While I’m also dyslexic and deal with auditory processing differences, I don’t often talk about it mostly because people have a hard enough time grasping that losing your keys once a month isn’t ADD.

        1. Specialk9*

          It’s not STUPID to make a different choice than you did. You get to make your choice, but no need to insult a perfectly valid option that other people also choose.

    2. Knitting Cat Lady*

      Actually, a lot of autistic people prefer to be referred as autistic people.

      My autism isn’t a separate illness. It’s a integral part of my being.

      Generally speaking, take the lead on whether or not to use person first language.

      There are communities that prefer it and communities that don’t.

        1. Lawtistic*

          Another autistic person who came here to say the same thing. Disabled people/people with disabilities have strong preferences as to the language we use to identify ourselves. Always defer to the person’s choice of preferred language.

      1. Lana "Dangerzone"*

        +1. I’m autistic and I wouldn’t be the same person if I weren’t. It is not something I “have”. I can’t leave it behind or put it away, and honestly, I don’t want to. I also don’t want other people (particularly if they’re not autistic themselves) telling me how I should or should not define myself.

      2. AspieGirl*

        This. My autism is part of who I am and I would not be the person I am today if I were not on the spectrum. It’s my choice to identify this way, and others living their life are free to express themselves in a way that stays true to their identity and life experience.

    3. DashDash*

      For the sake of discussion, I’m on the autism spectrum and heartily disagree. It’s 100% part of my identity and shapes everything about me, so I say I am an autistic adult. I find that the implication of it being something I “have” equates it to some type of illness or “cure”-able/”treat”-able disease, when it’s just a difference in my brain wiring.

      It’s even hotly contested among the autistic community (community of people with autism? I’m genuinely not sure of the preferred term on that one, apologies) whether it’s a part of our identity vs an addition to it, but for me, autism IS something that I am. It’s kind of like hair color – I’m a brunette, that’s what’s in my head, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

      1. Ramblin' Ma'am*

        Yes. Imagine someone saying, “My son isn’t gay. Homosexuality is something he has.” It doesn’t read as a pro-gay statement, that’s for sure. Referring to autistic people as “having autism” carries a similar connotation for some folks.

        1. Thursday Next*

          Although, as Knitting Cat Lady notes, there are differing preferences among autistic people/people with autism, and powerful reasoning behind each term.

        2. AKchic*

          A friend once told me that when you label it as something that they “have”, it makes it seem like something they can “give away” or “get rid of” at some point, which is why she says she “is” rather than “has”.

          I know that it is a hotly debated issue within some realms of the community. I will always identify a person as they wish with regards to their diagnosis if I know both their preferred diagnosis identifier and have their permission to disclose that diagnosis. Of course, knowing how they wish to identify their diagnosis isn’t always the case, so sometimes, I can only be apologetic after the fact if I screw up.

          1. boopolar bi-bot*

            “When you label it as something that they ‘have’, it makes it seem like something they can ‘give away’ or ‘get rid of’.”

            This, along with the person below who said it suggests something that can be fixed or cured, is something I never thought about in these terms, but that instantly made tons of sense to me. I gravitate toward the “I am” language regarding mental health and illness, and I’ve always felt a bit guilty for that, like I might be letting down the side.

            The comment above is a really good articulation of why I feel that way, and as a queer person the comparison to sexuality above also resonated (not to mention, being queer isn’t considered a mental illness… at least, anymore… at least, in the US…)

        3. Detective Amy Santiago*

          As an LGBT person, I have to admit this comparison makes me highly uncomfortable, though I’m not sure I can articulate exactly why.

          1. PugLife*

            As a queet person the comparison makes sense to me. Being queer isn’t something I chose, it’s an integral part of me that impacts how I interact with the world. At the same time, I am a person beyond my queerness.

            The is/has debate isn’t quite the same with LGBT identities, since “they have queerness” isn’t really how we talk about it. But with medical diagnoses, it is – you see this same comparison happening in fat spaces, where some argue that “you aren’t fat; you HAVE fat – you are more than your body” vs. the counter that “I’m fat, I’ve always been fat, and I will always be fat – fat isn’t a dirty word.” I’m not trying to equate fatness and autism, obviously, but it’s an example of this kind of language that is more common. I also don’t have a side on which is better – I think that is/has can both be beneficial, depending on the circumstance and the person.

            In any case, I don’t want to derail the overall topic!

          2. Ramblin' Ma'am*

            I’ve heard LGBT autistic people use the same comparison, FWIW. I do think it relates to autism being on a spectrum. For some people, it’s a part of their identity–something they are, not something they have.

            1. AdvoKid*

              It makes me uncomfortable because usually, people say the “you’re not a ____ person, you’re a person with _____” to refer to disabilities, and I am absolutely not an authority on this but autism is more differently-abled than disabled. It’s like calling yourself a writer instead of calling yourself someone who writes–calling yourself a writer implies it’s part of your identity that informs your interactions, calling yourself someone who writes makes writing an activity separate from who you are.

              1. MatKnifeNinja*

                Write Autistic person on some forums instead of a person with Autism, watch the thread devolve into a bitter drag of a scream fest.

                My cousin has level III Autism, and hates being called Autistic. He’s 57 years old and was diagnosed at 50.

                The people in his support group also prefer not being called Autistic.

                As a NT, all I can do is ask what is preferred and not guess.

          3. Narise*

            Maybe because LGBT has become the new chicken. Whenever we compare anything these days there’s always the argument of ‘Well if a gay person xyz everyone would object.’ Everything that is different or unique does not need to be compared to the gay community. No alligator doesn’t taste like chicken it’s tastes like alligator.

            1. Whit in Ohio*

              Even within the LGBT community, being a gay man is different from being a lesbian, and both are very different from being trans (though of course you can be gay or lesbian and trans at the same time). Being bi is kind of a special case- being a bi man is kind of like being a gay man except when it’s like being a straight man, and there are a few unique things only bi guys experience. Both good and bad. I assume that for bi women it’s similar but I can’t tell you for sure because I’m a man. But my big point is that the various identities within the LGBT community share a common struggle against homophobia, but often little else. Don’t assume that we react to things in the same way.

          4. AspieGirl*

            It very well could have to do with the connotations of the comparison for why it is making you uncomfortable. Within the context of autism, it is a medical condition with various treatments options to help bridge the “deficiencies” compared to someone not on the spectrum. For too long, being LGBTQ was considered a medical condition to treat or manage. Autism is still very much something that many groups are trying to treat or cure, and we’re just starting to get to a point (at least in the United States) where being LGBTQ is viewed as something that doesn’t need treatment by the majority of the population. Comparing an identity with a complicated social history to something that is largely regarded as a medical diagnosis is a little off putting on the surface. I say this as someone who identifies as LGBT and someone who is on the spectrum. It’s a lot easier to be out about being married to a woman than it is to try and be out about my ASD and what that means for me because the level of acceptance and understanding on the surface level is so different. People know what being LGBTQ means on the surface, but they have no idea what to do when I say I’m autistic.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          The “have fat” thing seems particularly absurd because *everyone has fat*. That phrase wants to pretend that fat is some separate thing that only Obviously Fat people have rather than an integral part of the human body that some people have more of than others.

          1. Lissa*

            The way I usually hear it described is really trying to be cute with language, IMO. “You aren’t fat, you have fat! You aren’t fingernails, you have fingernails!” is the most recent meme I saw along these lines. I mean…ok, yes. But this is willfully ignoring for memeableness the fact that we use words differently. “Fat” refers separately to adipose tissue material that is part of every human, a macronutrient, and a person/animal/object that is large(r than average). (I am vaaaaastly oversimplifying obviously and all these definitions are not nearly complex enough I know.) “Fingernails” is just a part of the body. When someone says “I am fat” they are not talking about fatty tissue, and I think it’s kind of disingenuous to act like they are. Nobody would ever say “I am fingernails” because that is not an English sentence construction that makes sense.

    4. Secretary*

      Tone is really important here. “Hey you know I have an adult brain, right?” can convey different things based on tone.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        I think it really has to do with how much “it” defined your childhood and identity.
        For some people not so much, for others it was a huge part of their life.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Sure, but the point is: there’s not a single ‘You Must’ way to address this. Taking your lead from the person with / about whom you are talking, and being aware that there’s different views on this, is a better approach.

      2. Pollygrammer*

        Is it different when you’re referring to groups and not to someone directly? I worked at an advocacy organization which really emphasized “people experiencing homelessness” instead of “homeless people.” And clumsy as it is and as many raised eyebrows as it got, the person-first terminology seemed really important.

        1. Lamb*

          That’s not about person vs. group; that’s about whether it is an inate quality. Someone who is homeless stops being homeless if they get a steady place to live (putting aside the structural barriers that make that difficult). Someone who is autistic/has autism does not become neurotypical under a change of circumstances.

        2. Jennifer Juniper*

          “People experiencing homelessness” sounds really weird. Nobody would know what that even means at first glance. It’s also way too long to say and type. “Homeless people” scans much better.

    5. moosetracks*

      The debate is person first language (PFL for short) vs. identity first language (or IFL for short) and it is a personal preference. There’s no one correct answer, except to use the terminology that the person you’re talking to/about prefers.

      Though, for what it’s worth, most autistic advocates I’ve read (I’m allistic) tend to prefer IFL.

      I’m disabled. My personal preference is IFL because I find PFL very euphemistic: We don’t tend to say “person who is tall” or “people with blonde hair.” (vs. “tall people” “blonde people”) Those things are just facts about the person, and they don’t negate personhood or need to be padded any more than “disabled” does. (However, I do use PFL when there’s no good IFL equivalent, eg ADHD)

      1. Kj*

        I agree. I’m a professional who works with kids on the autism spectrum- and I use that language unless the kid tells me they prefer different. I refer to myself as a dyslexic woman and will often say “I’m dyslexic” becuase for myself I prefer IDK. I think thst this is good debate for people to have within their communities and that each person gets to decide how to refer to themselves.

        PFL is more popular for people with intellectual disabilities IME- I suspect that is becuase more often caregivers make that choice for the individual and caregivers are less likely to have the more positive association with disability that people who see themselves as part of a community, with strengths and weaknesses in equal measure, have. Not universally true of course, but more common.

        1. soon 2be former fed*

          A lot of people don’t know anything about person first language. I wish people would cut some slack, not everything intended as a slight.

          1. Tara R.*

            I don’t see a single comment on this thread that comes across as rude or unkind. It’s simply people sharing their feelings and experiences with person first language, which is exactly how people can get to learn more about it.

          2. Kj*

            If you don’t know about this, can’t you welcome the opportunity to learn? Neither moosetracks nor I were angry or accused anyone of being bad for not knowing about this. But living in a world where thankfully we talk about disability more and more and more people with disabilities are in the workplace, this is good information to have. No one is bad for not knowing something, but the defensiveness is worrying.

          3. Specialk9*

            I only knew a little about it, and I really welcome the education, and feel blessed that so many people are willing to share their knowledge and the broader debate going on. I don’t want to hurt people if I can help it!

    6. MicroManagered*

      Yep! I think this is one of those where LW answered her own question in her question.

      Just say “You know I have an adult brain, right?” No need to sugarcoat it. Once will probably be enough for most people.

      1. Specialk9*

        Yeah. If OP can manage it, take Alison’s advice on the confused head tilt, so it doesn’t come across as rude, just… Hunh?

      2. Jennifer Juniper*

        I would be very, very careful with saying that, especially since OP is female. She can come off as abrasive. Her gender plus her disability are already two strikes against her. If she says that to anyone with power or seniority over her, she could be written up or fired.

    7. Caroline*

      Sorry but as an autistic adult – autism is something I am. It’s widely misunderstood to be a social interaction disorder; in reality it is much more than that. A large part (not all) of the autistic community identifies as autistic (as opposed to “having autism”), with the various “good” and “bad” traits that come with that. It is a difference. Some of that difference is disabling.

      Although I fully agree with your advice on what should be said in response!

  4. JokeyJules*

    as difficult as it may be to directly address this, i think that would have the most effect. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. As kind as their intentions are, it’s still demeaning to be spoken to a child in any capacity, let alone the workplace.

  5. Holly*

    The makeup/outfit compliments sounds like something my young female colleagues would say to each other (unless it’s said in a condescending or sing song voice) but the others… yikes. Yeah, I would try to look confused or say “oh, thanks, just doing my job…”

    1. all aboard the anon train*

      I’d normally say that the makeup/outfit comments aren’t anything bad if they’re genuine, but if OP is the only woman receiving them in the office, then it’s about singling her out and that makes it a problem, even if the comments are well meant.

      1. sunshyne84*

        Yea I’ve told my coworkers they look like a spring day before when they wear a new brightly colored shirt, but to be the only one getting those comments I can see how that would be weird as if OP doesn’t know how to dress herself. Maybe OP could respond with a “thanks I bought it at such n such, it was on sale”, that may help them see her as a fully functioning adult.

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          Definitely. On their own, they’re pretty normal comments for a lot of work relationships and offices, but it becomes weird when you’re singling someone out and I know in OP’s place, I’d wonder if the commenters were lying or mocking me (the “pretty makeup” comment could definitely come off as fake imo).

    2. Bend & Snap*

      I (a woman) compliment women on their makeup but it’s usually “I love that shade!” or whatever. A normal compliment is not what’s happening here.

      1. tallteapot*

        A question–if the OP doesn’t interact too much with other people in the office and mostly sticks to email, how much does the OP know about whether or not people make these sorts of comments (complimenting makeup/clothes) to other people in the office?

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          This is kind of a rude assumption. Just because OP prefers to communicate by email doesn’t mean she’s incapable of observing other people’s face to face interactions. I notice all manner of interactions around me, even when they don’t involve me.

          The comments are odd and off, regardless whether they’re in person or by email.

            1. Cat Herder*

              I have the same question. I’m neurotypical and pretty observant, my office door is usually open and near the staff breakroom, and yet I cannot say how others in my office who share my gender (or age or race or ethnicity or class, etc.) are spoken to most of the time. I just don’t hear and see everything, and it’s reasonable to wonder if the OP can be sure as well. I do think AAM’s suggestion for OP to talk with their manager, using the script provided, is the way to go.

              1. designbot*

                If you asked me I probably wouldn’t be able to give a clear overview of it, but I know there have been times at work where an interaction really jumped out at me as being unusual and then I’d have to think hard about why that was. Like for example when a coworker interuppted my conversation about another coworker to tell me she liked my hair that day, I kind of paused and looked at her, and then went back to the original conversation. I later asked the coworker I’d been talking to “was that weird?” and he was like “omg yes! I wondered too, but why on earth would she think that was the important thing to focus on at that moment?”
                When you have that instinctive reaction, I think you can generally trust your gut.

            2. boop the first*

              Yeah, but OP says “no one else gets…” not “Well, I don’t think anyone else…”

              If she’s so certain, why not just believe her?

          1. loslothluin*

            How is it rude? It’s an honest question considering OP specifically states she does most of her communication through email. Just b cause you don’t like a question doesn’t make it rude.

            1. boop the first*

              Because it’s directly questioning OP’s honesty and ability to observe, and for no good reason either.

          2. Tau*


            There’s a general rule that we should take OPs by their word. In this case, OP has said other people don’t get treated this way. It would be nice if we could assume she, who knows her office best, knows what she’s talking about and don’t force her to defend the foundations of her question instead of actually giving her useful advice.

            I admit that the skepticism that OP is actually experiencing what she says she’s experiencing for the reasons she says (not just in this thread, but in a few “are you sure it’s not you looking younger?” comments) is really bugging me. I know the comments section is often very skeptical of OPs in this way, but in this context – even if not intended that way – it plays into a really unfortunate tendency to invalidate autistic people’s experiences and perceptions. Because hey, social difficulties are part of the disorder, therefore obviously everything we say about social situations is untrustworthy and probably wrong, amirite? /very-bitter-s

            It’s also worth noting that Alison asked particularly for input from people on the spectrum, and as far as I can see none of us who’ve explicitly identified ourselves have said this behaviour is in any way surprising or suggested it’s more likely to be a misunderstanding or due to something else. (Please tell me if I’m wrong on that one.)

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Thank you for saying this much better than I did!

              This is exactly why I found the question rude. OP is already being undermined and treated as though she’s infantile at her workplace, and that treatment in part assumes that she’s developmentally delayed or unable of assessing her surroundings. Asking how she knows what she’s observed is real (or if she’s even making observations) suggests that she doesn’t know, or isn’t capable of categorizing/describing, what’s happening around her. In the context of this letter, that skepticism not only departs from the commenting rules, it perpetuates the kind of benevolent-yet-condescending bias she’s experiencing from her coworkers.

              In addition to the problematic framing of the question, asking her to explain or prove that her observations are accurate reflections of her treatment:
              (1) takes focus away from how she’s being treated, which is deeply problematic and not ok; and
              (2) has no bearing on advice about how to address the problem; and
              (3) derails us from helping OP problem-solve.

              1. tallteapot*

                But my question, not assumption is “what are you observing?” Just your own interactions? Or other people’s interactions? I don’t comment much, but this is one way to ensure only a few people ask questions.

      2. Murphy*

        Agreed. I’ve had lots of people tell me that my eyeshadow looks cool or they like my lipstick, but never just “pretty makeup.”

        1. EddieSherbert*

          Yeah, I see how the compliments COULD just be normal compliments, but they seem a little weird to me.

          I almost never wear makeup (no dress code, not customer-facing role, bike to work and get ready here), but even those are just “Hey! You’re wearing makeup!” rather than saying it’s “pretty makeup.” And even that only comes from my close work friends.

      3. AnotherAlison*

        Exactly. These sound like comments my grandma would have given me, because you are forever 12 to your grandma.

        1. Clorinda*

          I wish! I was forever four-and-a-half to mine, which was awkward when I lived with her while going to college.

      4. Kelsi*

        Agreed. The tone of “I like your pretty makeup!” is not something you use on a fellow adult. “Wow, your makeup looks great!” Or “You look really pretty today, love the makeup!” might be ways I’d phrase it (depending on how well I know the person), but something about that particular word order/tone makes me think of crouching down to talk to a toddler who has done their own makeup and has kool-aid mouth and electric blue eyelids.

    3. BlueWolf*

      The outfit/makeup compliments don’t sound that weird in a normal context (as in other people receive the same type of compliments), but since the LW says she’s the only one getting these compliments, it definitely seems to fit into the large pattern of condescending comments.

      1. Holly*

        True, it definitely could be! I also want to take OP at her word that it is condescending and she finds it unusual. I just wanted to point out the possibility that it’s not intended in the same way (especially if the compliments are not the same people that say “wow good job!!”)

      2. Lizzy May*

        Exactly this. One of these comments on it’s own is relatively normal depending on the environment in your office. All of them however are suspect, especially if you’re the only one getting comments like this.

        1. Tau*

          And some of them are truly egregious. People have highlighted “sweet girl”, but honestly I find “look at what a good job you did!” even worse – I would’ve considered that one condescending and treating me like a child when I was twelve. I cannot fathom thinking this is OK to say to a coworker.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      *Every* time I have received compliments on my makeup, they have been an attempt to push me towards wearing makeup more often / becoming a more femme presenting person (trust me – prior and later interactions with the complimenters confirm this). Unless OP is doing something serious with her makeup, like ‘smoky cats eye’ or ‘glitter lips’, she’s totally right to view these comments suspiciously.

      Hair or outfit comments are more likely to be sincere, friendly attempts to show that you notice a person. There, I would have to pay attention to context to assess purpose.

      1. Holly*

        I’m really sorry that you’ve been experiencing that – that’s really frustrating and extremely rude. But normally, makeup compliments are not insincere/inherently suspicious – my coworkers and I will compliment each other’s makeup all the time. She doesn’t have to be doing anything bold with her makeup to get a compliment. What would make it a problem is if those compliments were condescending or treating her as child like.

  6. MuseumChick*

    Oh man, I would be really annoyed with this is I was in your shoes. I think you can handle it by calling it out in the moment.

    Them: “Look at what a good job you’ve done!”
    You: “Umm, it’s only a small task. I handle more complicated stuff everyday. A thank you is just fine.”

    Them: “Awww Sweet Girl!”
    You: “Did you just call me sweet girl? Sorry, but I don’t like that, please don’t call me that again, thanks!”

    1. Secretary*

      ^^I like this. I would respond well to this if I were doing what your coworkers are doing.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Especially the response to ‘sweet girl’. I think you definitely should tell them directly not to call you that.

    2. PugLife*

      Yeah “sweet girl” is particularly egregious! I think OP could say “I’m an adult, not a child” and it would be a totally fair response and not rude at all. The coworkers are being rude by treating her like one.

      1. OhNo*

        Especially re: the “sweet girl” comments, I think the OP would be perfectly justified in responding with “I’m a woman, not a girl” in a short, even slightly annoyed, tone.

        1. Bend & Snap*

          I did this to a guy at work one time. “I’m a woman, not a girl or a ‘girl.'” (he had been using girl and “girl” for some reason.

          his response? “Ooh it’s a lady.”

          There’s not enough eye rolling in the world to do that justice.

    3. AdvoKid*

      I love this, except the “sorry”…calling an adult woman sweet girl is weird and I think apologizing makes it seem like LW is the one with the weird opinion.

      1. rldk*

        I think this is a case of “sorry” as a softener, not an apology. It’s not really saying that OP is in any way at fault, but it lets it sound like more of a request than an order. Especially if nuances around tone and verbal communication can be difficult for OP, using explicit verbal softeners can make it more likely that the message is being received the way you intend it: ‘I don’t think you’re being rude/condescending on purpose, but I do need you to stop doing it.’

        1. MuseumChick*

          Yeah, that’s way I included it. But I think the OP could ever say what you have here: “I don’t think you’re being rude/condescending on purpose, but I do need you to stop doing it.” That’s not a bad script.

          1. rldk*

            It’s very direct! But unfortunately, being very direct can easily put up other people’s hackles unless the tone/facial expression is easy enough to really reinforce the “i know you’re not TRYING to be a jerk” sense. I have many friends on the spectrum who have fallen off the thin line into “overly brusque and rude” territory because the small softener cues weren’t there. Spoken softeners are easier because it’s easier to be able to tell on one’s one if it’s coming out right, where with nonverbal signals you’d need a socially-sensitive friend to test on.

            1. moosetracks*

              Maybe something like, “I know you don’t intend it this way, but that comes across as really demeaning. Please stop.”

              Even if they do intend it that way, you’re starting a little softer because you’ve never addressed this with them before.

      2. AliceBlueGown*

        Yeah, the only person who calls me “sweet girl” is my husband. I think my eyebrows would shoot clear off my forehead if someone I worked with called me that.

        1. Jill*

          Yep. I’m 42 and the only person that can call me “dear girl” is my 92 year old grandmother, because at her age, she’s earned the right to call me whatever she likes.

          A colleague. Not. Appropriate. At. All.

    4. Tin Cormorant*

      “Sweet girl” is the kind of phrase my mother-in-law uses towards my daughter, who is not yet two years old. I’d be weirded out if she still uses it when my daughter is in elementary school. Using it on an adult is just… I can’t even imagine.

    5. Essess*

      I’d respond light-heartedly with “wow… that makes me sound like I’m 3 years old. What an odd thing to say.”

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yep. I’m big on polite shock to convey this sort of thing the first time. It give the other person an opportunity to try again but lets them know they should reexamine their choice of words. If they continue, they didn’t get it and should be told directly that you’d prefer not to be called something so infantilizing.

    6. designbot*

      I think I’d probably be like, “I’m not a ‘sweet girl,’ I’m your colleague, and I’d appreciate not being talked down to like that.”

    7. OhBehave*

      OP may find these responses very awkward to say. I would recommend they practice beforehand to be a bit prepared.

  7. Lilo*

    You say you struggle with verbal communication, but based on this letter it appears you are excellent at written communication. Maybe you could express your thoughts that way?

    1. Rat in the Sugar*

      Personally I wouldn’t put it in an email; putting things in writing can make seem more harsh, while a quick comment to someone’s face can be more light and casual, which I think will have a better effect for OP.

      1. Trig*

        While I agree that putting it in an email might seem really formal and harsh, the problem might be that OP struggles to get the right tone/facial expression to keep it light and casual. It’s often hard enough for neurotypical people to get it right!

        I do think it’s worth addressing head-on. No matter how perfect the expression and tone, a breezy “just doing my job!” probably won’t convey “I am an adult with an adult brain, please don’t infantilize me.”

        1. NewJobWendy*

          I think Trig is on point here. People need to be bluntly told their behavior is inappropriate and driven by their bias and assumptions. You can find a way to communicate this diplomatically. Will it be awkward? Yes: but that’s on them. They are the ones who are treating you differently because you have disclosed your autism. Decent people will get over the awkwardness, sooner rather than later if they just start treating you like the peer you are.

      2. Jill*

        But if she emails only her manager and prefaces it with soemthing like, “As you have seen, I do better in writing than speaking in person so I thought I’d put my concerns in writing. I’m hoping we could discuss them when you have a moment” then go into it.

        One of the best maangement moves I ever saw was when my manager gathered us all together to deliver a particularly emotional bit of information and instructions on behalf of a co-worker who just couldn’t face us to do it herself (she had a miscarriage and didn’t want to talk about it at work). I think if OP”s manager was equally as great, she would work with OP to message on behalf of OP how inappropriate some of these comments are and perhaps cleear up some of the stereotypes that may be at play here.

        1. Rat in the Sugar*

          I agree that a combo of email and face-to-face with the manager sounds like it could work really well.

    2. Chriama*

      I agree. I think this letter was well written and you came across as kind and eloquent. Something like this, where you acknowledge how kind they’re being but how it comes across to you, is great. I think that in their desire to be accepting and accommodating they just don’t realize what they’re doing. For example, when I worked in retail I remember how so many women had a “customer voice” that was really high-pitched and sort of like talking to a child. We’d be having a regular conversation and then someone would walk in and we’d go “hi!” in a voice that was like 2 octaves higher. I guess it’s a socialization thing.

      1. Cat Herder*

        Yes, exactly. I would for sure say something that acknowledges their good intentions and THEN stating what is bothersome or inappropriate. Speaking from my experience as a prickly person, who has to consciously remember that in general my co-workers are not trying to be bothersome/hurtful/whatever. Assume good intentions until you learn otherwise — particularly in an office where the co-workers are already making a genuine effort to understand and work with the OP’s needs.

    3. Specialk9*

      Which is why I think it would be effective to team up with someone who is good at communicating, and who can do the kind of back-door spreading of the word. I suggest asking someone social for advice, partly for the advice, but mostly so they can spread the word.

    4. anon for this*

      As a person on the spectrum, there are times that I can *not* talk. Not “don’t want to”, not “find it difficult”, but simply “am not able to speak words”. At a previous job, I spent some time on medical leave for a related issue. A coworker simply couldn’t get it that I was not able to talk, and insisted that a phone call would clear up a couple of questions that they had for which I was the subject matter expert. My boss and grandboss got involved, insisting a call would solve things. I got my doctor involved, and I gather doc, um, created new orifices in some pretty high-level people. Coworker asked questions by email, I responded, and all was well.

      1. only acting normal*

        Me too, usually when really stressed or ill. It’s beyond being tongue-tied or a bit stuttery (which I also get); it’s going full on non-verbal.

  8. Let's Talk About Splett*

    LW, if you confront your coworkers in the way Alison mentioned, they may feel embarrassed (rightfully) and get defensive and say that they were “just being nice”. It’s totally okay to calmly point out that other women in the office aren’t getting praise for putting their makeup on well or doing a basic function of their job correctly.

    1. Washi*

      This is a great point. OP, if that happens, it doesn’t mean that you are wrong about this being condescending, because it totally is. I think if someone says “I was just trying to be nice” you could respond something like “Of course! It’s just that the nicest thing for me is to feel like I’m seen as a competent professional by my coworkers. So thank you for understanding!”

      And it’s worth keeping in mind that the goal of this interaction isn’t for them to admit they were being condescending, because they may not, but (maybe after a few reminders) to have them think twice the next time they are calling you “sweet girl” or whatever.

      1. Shirley Keeldar*

        “It’s just that the nicest thing for me is to feel like I’m seen as a competent professional by my coworkers.” This is a great way to put it. You want to be nice to me? Great, thanks, I appreciate it, this is how I’d like your niceness to be packaged, please.

        OP, I also think your own statement that “I have an adult brain” is a really good one.

      2. It's Pronounced Bruce*

        I’d bet anything that it’s self-perpetuating, too. You’ve asked people to speak with you very directly, and then some people see other people doing this kind of thing. They pick up that this is how they’re supposed to be talking to you, so they start doing it. Then other people see it and pick it up… So on and so on.

        When people find out this is way off they’re probably going to be mortified, so in the moment it might be weird. But they will (hopefully) move away from this kind of infantilization after that, which is the point. It’s ok if it’s weird at first, though.

        1. Mad Baggins*

          +1 I also think your colleagues may not know much about neurodiversity or people with various special needs–are they the kind of people who talk more loudly and slowly to someone in a wheelchair? Their ignorance might be leading them to think speaking directly=speaking like how you would to a dog or child. If you’re willing and able to do some educating, it sounds like there is an opportunity here to model how to work with autistic people/people with autism.

    2. Workerbee*

      This. I had a head-patter in an early job: An older woman who somehow thought this was an okay thing to do. I pointed out that she didn’t do that to any of the other, older-than-me women in our department. I actually saw her stop and think, and then she said, “You’re right, I don’t!” –and she never did it again.

      I wish you as much luck and no awkwardness when addressing things of this ilk, OP!

      1. CM*

        That’s great! I love that you were direct AND your coworker responded so perfectly by listening to you and changing her behavior.

        I think it’s also useful to begin with, “I know you’re trying to be nice…” to acknowledge that you see their good intentions. I would say something like, “I know that you’re trying to be nice, but I feel like a child when you call me ‘sweet girl’ or tell me I did such a great job. I don’t want to be treated differently because of my autism, so I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t say things like that.”

        Pointing out that they don’t talk to other people that way is also good, but to me that feels more confrontational and would be a second step. (Personal preference. I think it can be very effective if you can pull it off in a way that feels natural to you.)

        1. Specialk9*

          Also, a gentle hint up that they’re treating you differently based on your diagnosis, and they could get in trouble for that.

    3. Caroline*

      I’m really glad you added this! As an autistic person I have gone into difficult conversations knowing what I need to say, but getting completely stuck* at the first response, as I struggle to think quickly in the moment anyway and especially when I’m anxious. The next likely step in the conversation is a really useful thing to have so I can think out what I will to in advance. (I’m not OP but I will probably use this…)

      Thank you :)

      * PS when I say “stuck” I do mean that literally – I will just … stall. Which means the investment in preparing for that first step is completely wasted! Which can be a little frustrating…

  9. alice*

    I’m on the autism spectrum myself, and while I haven’t experienced anything this blatant, similar enough things have happened to me. It affects my verbal communication as well, and I also resort to email and written messages as much as possible. If someone is saying something to me (in a meeting, one-on-one, as a passing comment), I try to repeat it to them as a “let me make sure I have this right” and try to write it down as soon as I can. There have been two (only those, thank goodness) occasions in which someone has said something to me extremely slowly and clearly, kind of like how you’d talk to your nearly deaf grandmother. Something like “I can hear you, I’m just forgetful and want to make sure I have everything before I let you go!” in a cheerful voice has made it stop.

    This is pretty different from your situation though. The only advice I can give is to continue to do excellent work. In the moment, you could say something like “I’m 28, and I know it’s not a big deal to some, but I’d prefer to be called a woman” or “It’s just rain” or “Thanks for complimenting my makeup, but I don’t think it’s any prettier than [female coworker]’s, so you don’t need to do so next time!”

    It may also be worth asking your manager to have some sort of autism-related training as part of an inclusivity thing. I have friends who requested to have a course or talk as part of other events on gender, race, etc. and this showed their coworkers that autism isn’t a mental handicap.

    Lastly, I think you’re handling this really well. When people treat me differently outside of work because of my autism, it really drives me crazy. However, most people just don’t know anything about it or how to interact with people with autism. It’s a big awareness issue. Good luck!

    1. Lance*

      ‘How to interact’ is the biggest problem I find, most especially because autism is on a spectrum, and people I think most frequently see (and assume) the lower end of that; the obvious cases, who may not be as functional, rather than folks like the LW who are perfectly functional, when it comes to it, but still have little things like discomfort in communicating that ultimately puts them into the spectrum. I think the best things you can do are to, like Alison suggests, address it directly with your boss so that they realize this is happening, and address it in the moment to state, effectively, that you’re a capable adult just like them who doesn’t need to be spoken to like that (which is, frankly, patronizing and severely annoying).

    2. Specialk9*

      I agree. It’s likely ignorance rather than malice. Rainman is most people’s understanding of autism, which is so unfortunate.

      My recommendation for people with A Thing is to tell people upfront what you need, in a short little patter. My mom’s BFF was blind, and she told all of us kids never to grab her, to offer our arm for *her* to grab with a quiet comment and a small nudge, and to quietly explain something important in the movie if it was only visual. Cool, 3 things to do/not do, we can do that. We picked up on other advice by her stories.

    3. Mad Baggins*

      +1 This summed up my thoughts better than I could!
      Sometimes people assume what languages I can speak from my appearance, and then they try to communicate something and just kind of throw words at me. I’ve said things like, “are you asking me something or telling me something?” or “can you repeat that as a full sentence?” and then they realize they can use full sentences like an adult. The stories in this thread have helped me realize that most people are pretty ignorant about others, so I’ll try to take these interactions less personally (and use some of the scripts here to deal with them).

  10. Amber Rose*

    “What an odd thing to say. Of course I did a good job.”
    “Hey could you please not call me pretty girl/sweet girl/[whatever]? I prefer to be called by name. Thanks.”

    Much like with anything else, it’s not unkind to set some boundaries on how you’re talked to or called. You don’t have to be rude to call it out in the moment. I know autism makes communication harder for you, but this kind of communication is hard for a lot of people for various reasons, so I think the usual strategy of memorizing a couple handy scripts and practicing them until you feel comfortable should still work out pretty well.

    Ableism is so pervasive and I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this. Even if they aren’t malicious it’s still demeaning and frustrating.

    1. Van Wilder*

      As others have suggested below, I think it might help to be more explicit so that they don’t chalk the “what an odd thing to say” response up to autism. Maybe something like “I know it’s not your intention but compliments like that come across as a little condescending. I think that because of my autism, people sometimes go too far with direct communication so sometimes it sounds a little child-like.”
      I don’t know the exact script. Trying to come up with wording that is soft enough that I could actually imagine saying it. But she could un-soften it if she’s more direct than I am.

      1. Ladida*

        YES these coworkers have just taken “direct” too far into to “simplistic” and they need some guidance. If the OP doesn’t correct them, they think that they are being super cool great communicators! But also being like “I’m not a child don’t talk to me that way!” won’t be well received as others have said because they will get defensive but I would imagine most of the them would be able to redirect once they realize the way they are coming off.

  11. The Rat Catcher*

    I think you’re dead on with this being autism-related. I’m only a mild sufferer and I don’t deal with this most of the time, but occasionally when I get overwhelmed and react badly, I notice this kind of kid glove behavior for a bit afterwards. I have never addressed it simply because it’s so temporary, but in your shoes, I might try something like “I’ve been doing this for a while!” for the project stuff. My MIL says “sweet girl” or “sweetheart” to me all the time but not other people, and I haven’t found a great answer for that one yet.

    1. Specialk9*

      What’s wrong with your MIL calling you sweetheart? Your her kid’s other half. It’s a pretty standard familial endearment that has nothing to do with diagnosis.

  12. BRR*

    I hope this isn’t too speculative but I’m wondering if the LW responds with a “that’s odd” tone, will the other person chalk it up to autism?

    1. Tau*

      Actually, I thought this too. I think it may be worthwhile to use the more direct scripts because LW’s coworkers may assume she’s incapable of the more subtle social stuff and therefore ignore or explain away any she tries to use.

      I have to admit that I really like Alison’s idea of speaking to the manager about it. Forced teaming to get one of the people who is contributing to the problem to help you deal with the problem – very elegant!

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I grappled with that too! I actually discarded a bunch of other suggested responses because I tested them all against “will the person hear this through the lens of ‘oh, that’s her autism speaking’?”and thought some of them played into that more than others. Very frustrating.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        As an example of one I discarded for that reason: Normally in this situation I might suggest using the language back to the person to highlight how weird it is — like “thanks, you look like a beautiful spring day too!” (delivered while kind of laughing). But I’m worried the point won’t be made in this situation and instead they’ll hear it as charmingly naive or something. Ugh.

        1. Lance*

          Yeah, given all the circumstances, I think that sort of response would come off as more childish for the LW than anything else; almost backing the coworkers’ assumptions of how she should be spoken to.

        2. Bea*

          Yes, exactly! They’ll just double down and assume that it’s her verbal communication issues, arghhh.

        3. It's Pronounced Bruce*

          Yeah, usually when people are being weird you can reflect the weird back to make them see it. In the OP’s case that seems likely to get misinterpreted at best and reinforcing the condescension at worst.

        4. Shrugged*

          For that one, I think I’d choose “A spring day, huh? and beautiful no less!” And I’d pair that with a pair of highly raised eyebrows (one, if she can do it) and a skeptical look. Maybe I’d add a slightly off-center turned down mouth, if it didn’t look overboard when I practiced in the mirror. Less “this is amusing” and more highly skeptical than another person would be saying this to me.

        5. Caroline*

          I think that’s a really good call, and I like the approach you suggest in the article. As an autistic person I prefer to be direct anyway, and would probably struggle with tone doing it in a more “snarky” way, so that the message would get lost. The recipient I think would be rather confused, and would probably avoid me thereafter! Not ideal for working relationships.

          BTW can I just say thank you for writing this column? I have not commented before this article, but I have been reading for some time. Your advice to many people has helped me build an understanding of how to be assertive, setting boundaries and what is reasonable in the workplace. It’s great for filling in the gaps where I haven’t picked up social rules from the behaviour of people around me.

        6. AspieGirl*

          When you’re on the spectrum, people will definitely look at your attempts at “normal” through the lens of “oh it’s the autism talking!” when it doesn’t jive with their perception of you, and it is incredibly frustrating to overcome. Ironically enough, direct, no non-sense to the point language with a happy face can be a lot more effective to help people understand even though we’re often criticized for being too direct. Sometimes something as simple as “Hey x, y, and z makes me really uncomfortable. Would you mind not doing/saying that please” is enough to get people to stop. I try to leave the autism out of it, because it just highlights to them that I am different and I don’t want to give them room to think and get creative on how they should treat me because I’m different.

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      This is the thread I was looking for. I think if OP replies with a quizzical look, it will backfire. “Aw, she doesn’t understand that I’m complimenting her. Sad.” and then double down on it.
      Use the truth to set you free.
      “When you compliment me/address me like that it sounds like you are talking to me like I’m very sensitive*, I’m not. I can handle a regular “good job” like you tell everyone. I don’t need special handling.

      *I was going to write “like a child” but you don’t want to put people on the defensive if you don’t have to. And I think that they would focus on their motives instead of their words and that’s not going to help.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        +1. Direct and explicit.

        I think the conversation on softening words above is interesting and worth reading, OP.

      2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        I agree with this. Being direct doesn’t necessarily mean being rude or harsh. Just something like, “That’s very kind, but you don’t need to handle me with kid gloves.” Or, “Thank you for trying to brighten my day. You are sweet. The compliments I like best, though, are ones I’ve earned by excelling at my job.” Or, “I love positive feedback. I don’t think I really earned it here, however. I hope you would expect just as much from anyone else in this position.” It acknowledges the other person’s good intentions and also coaches them about the kind of interaction you prefer.

      3. RES ADMIN*

        Responses like:

        “You know I’m not a puppy, right?”

        “You know I’m not 8 years old, right?”

        “You do know I am an adult, right?”

        Accompanied by a light laugh and a “we both know you can’t be serious” look.

        It is direct and light-hearted at the same time. And the phrasing encourages them to agree with the statement–which helps refocus them on correcting the issue. It may take a few reminders, but it should sink in eventually.

    4. Persimmons*

      The people I know on the spectrum struggle with sarcasm and other figurative language, so this was my instinct as well.

    5. Mints*

      I think one answer that works with autism is “Why wouldn’t I X?” Or “Why would I X?”
      Even if they’re like “Sweet autistic baby doesn’t get it,” it’ll prompt a little reflection.

      Like the rain thing “Poor girl got rained on! You’re so smart to have a spare sweater!”
      “Why wouldn’t I have a sweater?”
      Them, externally “Oh I dunno seems smart”
      Them, internally: “Because she’s an autistic baby…” and hopefully works in the long term.
      It’s the same tactic for racist jokes “I don’t get it. Please explain”

      1. Tau*

        I’d be really worried this one would reinforce the “oh, poor autistic baby, doesn’t understand normal interactions” attitude that’s the whole problem. Playing oblivious can be a great strategy in a lot of situations, but in this one it doesn’t seem like a good way to go.

    6. Project Mangler*

      I also had this thought. They might focus more on what they see as an odd mannerism and miss the intent completely. I like some of the suggestions above for just being matter-of-fact when responding (the “I prefer to be called by my name, not sweet girl” type responses). I think it’d come across more professional and also you can rehearse your responses ahead of time to the more common occurrences, so you’ll be ready when they occur.

  13. dramalama*

    As somebody who’s occasionally accused of being on the spectrum just for being so socially inept, I wonder if this is the coworkers thinking they have to be more over-the-top with their compliments and just failing stupendously.

    It’s still ridiculous, hopefully they’re the kind of people who will realize how ridiculous it is as soon as it actually gets pointed out to them.

  14. Sara M*

    I think you’re better off with Alison’s direct wording than the more subtle things. If you try to be subtle, you risk coming off as more or less aggressive than you mean to. (Only because subtle facial and verbal things are not your best talent. No judgement here!)

    So I’d stick to a) talking to your manager, and b) addressing it with people you’re close to. See if the message gets around with a little time. If not, you can try talking to more people.

  15. Bea*

    Wtfffff these women are awkward at very least and insufferable at worst. Even a child shouldn’t be spoken to like that so frequently. My nieces would be unimpressed by being called “sweet girl” and such.

    I think going to your manager is reasonable. Ask her how to address it. You mention not being good with verbal communication and having management step in to use their voices is good in my opinion. They can use the proper wording to express that they need to stop speaking to you like that.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Fair point. My mom likes to call my son sweet boy, as in, “Come here, Sweet Boy” or, “AnotherAlison, Son is just the sweetest boy.” He doesn’t love it, and I really don’t either because I think it should be a comment for a baby or toddler, not a 14 year old. . .or an adult.

      1. Blue*

        My mom, who was never one for pet or nick names, started calling the grandkids “sweet boy” and “sweet girl” a few years ago, and then transferred it me and my siblings (in our 30s and 40s, for context). I don’t love it, but I let it go because she’s my mom. Literally anyone else…no.

      2. Bea*

        There are so many endorsements and this always sounds condescending. Even from a grandma.

        I call my youngest nieces sweet pea when putting them to bed and accidentally called my partner that after a long day. His face was too much, he just repeated it and looked so confused. I had to laugh because I realized it was so ridiculous to say to a grown man. But a “love”, “dear”, “babe” not a problem.

        Sweet girl sounds like you’re rocking a baby or petting a kitten. “She doesn’t bite! Sweet girl.”

        1. CMart*

          I call my toddler a “sweet girl” when she’s being sweet to her stuffed animals, or does something nice like pat her dad on the back when he coughs.

          My dad sometimes will remark upon my “sweet spirit”, which I think is a lovely thing to say about a person you’re close with. Far less condescending than “sweet boy/girl”. But even that would be very weird to say about a colleague.

  16. LuckySophia*

    I have to wonder if there might also be an age and/or seniority gap that’s contributing to this. If the manager and colleagues are all significantly older than the letter writer… or if she’s been in the job two years but most of the other people have been there for 10+ years…they might (maybe unconsciously) see her as “the sharp new kid” or a “young rockstar”– i.e., a kind of backhanded compliment where they are impressed at how well she is doing “despite” her youth/shorter tenure. (That doesn’t make the co-workers’ comments any less irritating or inappropriate…just to say that their comments might be prompted by factors other than “medical diagnosis.”)

    1. Lance*

      Speaking as someone on the spectrum, who’s seen and dealt with this sort of thing… tenure/age as a reason for this is possible, but I’m leaning very heavily toward it being almost 100% (if not in fact 100%) about the autism that they’ve been made aware of.

  17. Dust Bunny*

    I’m on the spectrum. I appreciate the desire to be open about it, but I would stop bringing it up. People get weird ideas and you don’t want to be labeled The Autistic One.

    The thing is, you are functional enough to do this job just like anyone else can, and plenty of people who are not on the spectrum have quirks. You don’t need to explain yours.

    1. alice*

      I’ve never disclosed my autism at work because of prejudices that exist, but I hate to tell someone else what to do. I agree with what you’re saying completely and subscribe to this in my own life, but it’s also important to recognize that what OP is doing (being open about it) is slowly chipping away at those prejudices and barriers.

      1. Specialk9*

        I totally get not telling people or being more judicious in who needs to know.

        I know for me, it helps. Someone saying they’re on the spectrum pops me out of the “arrrgh they’re such a jerk, I just TOLD them X” into the “ohhh I was actually hinting and using body language, I should use my words, they probably had no idea I was even communicating what I wanted!”

        So my main shift is to shift to what I call “Israeli mode” – if it’s not said out loud in very direct terms, it wasn’t said. (But I’ve worked in special education so this may not be the usual reaction.)

        1. LilySparrow*

          I was raised in the Deep South but spent about a decade in New York and have relatives from all over.

          Sometimes when I’m irritated with my husband for not “getting it,” I realize I was being oblique. I have to backtrack and say, “Sorry, I was speaking Southern! Let me translate…”

    2. Tau*

      Also on the spectrum, and I feel bad about this but this is also where my mind went. I’m not out at work, and the more stories I hear from other autistic people on this site the more I feel like I made the right call on that one. :/

    3. S*

      This is why I don’t tell people I’m on the spectrum. Understanding of autism is limited to pop culture references for a lot of people. Maybe I should be doing my part to change that but I can only see it making my work life more awkward.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        My wife and I were talking about this last night. About how we’re always exhorted to “act as though the change we want in society has already happened” but that’s really overly simplistic, and puts an awful lot of pressure of individuals to make choices that are harmful for *them* because it’s “good for society” or something.

        1. Specialk9*

          Oh gosh yes! That’s terrible. It’s not your fault that there’s misinformation and discrimination out there. What ugly blame-shifting.

    4. Jules the 3rd*


      We all pull back on certain parts of ourselves at work; I don’t talk much about my husband / kid, for example. It is helpful to reinforce ‘OP, the competent coworker’, and let the ‘OP, who is on the autism spectrum’ fade out of the spotlight. It may be useful for your manager to know, but it’s probably not useful for the rest of the office.

    5. Caroline*

      Yeah, I think it depends a lot on the workplace and it’s always a risk. I disclosed at my old job and although it was the better choice, I felt really uncomfortable about it, during and after. One person in particular treated me differently afterwards, and not in a good way. I can certainly envisage places where I wouldn’t want to disclose at all. But at my current job I was matter-of-fact about it straight out, and I just treat it as “not a big deal” – because I’m lucky enough to have coworkers who are fine with it.

  18. ZSD*

    I’m sorry they’re doing this to you. I get that it’s well-intentioned, but yes, it’s quite condescending.
    I’ll note that I don’t find the comment about your shirt making you look like a beautiful spring day condescending, though. I think that’s a fairly normal way to compliment another person’s shirt. I’d leave that example off your list if you talk to your manager about this.

    1. ZSD*

      P.S. I realize the tone of voice may have made it more infantilizing than it sounds in print, though.

      1. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

        I had a coworker who would say stuff like that and it wasn’t weird. She just enjoyed playing around with language and was somewhat over the top in general. My personal favorite was when she was thanking someone by saying they were “the Hulk of kindness, just bursting at the seams with generosity.” But that only works if everyone gets the same treatment.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Really? This compliment reminds me of the Cottonelle commercial where the kids describe the clean feeling they get with the t.p. as being as clean as a shimmering mermaid and other ridiculous phrases. I did once have a much older male coworker tell me I looked like a beautiful flower, but he was generally an inappropriate creeper.

    3. Like what even*

      I think tone makes a big difference. I’ve definitely made comments like that (“you look like a fantastical beam of summer joy!” “You look like a beautiful sunrise angel of tulle magic!” “I literally feel like I’m in the secret garden you’re so floral and magical” as some examples) and I don’t think it comes off as condescending, just effusive and silly! I’ll also say that I do it to everyone and that is very on brand with the rest of my personality and communication style, which errs towards whimsy and extended metaphors. I could imagine it coming off as really condescending if said in a different tone though.

  19. Matilda Jefferies*

    I just want to point out that most neurotypical people would find this conversation difficult as well! It’s a hard conversation for anyone to have, because of the power dynamics with your boss, and the dynamics of “just being nice” with your peers. It’s really hard to tell people that their efforts to be “nice” are having the opposite effect.

    So it might be a bit harder for you because of your autism, but it’s definitely not *only* the autism that makes it hard. Good luck, and I’d love to hear an update if you don’t mind sharing when the time comes.

    1. Lizzy May*

      Yes! This conversation would be as awful as having teeth pulled for me. Being polite and not making waves is so ingrained in my being that I would really have to prepare myself to push back on what are totally uncool and unprofessional comments.

    2. Formerly Arlington.*

      I agree…and also will say that when I was younger, I got this overly effusive type of compliment a bunch of times and found it very flustering as well.

    3. Project Mangler*

      Totally. I remember years ago when working with an older female colleague who frequently referred to the help desk group (all 20-somethings) as “the kids” until one day when she asked us for help with something and I said “sure, if you’d stop calling us kids.” My heart was in my throat! I’m sure I ruffled some feathers but she did stop.

  20. blink14*

    OP – are you on the younger side for your office? If you are, that could be partially why these comments are made, not necessarily because you have autism.

    My office was located with a larger department for a couple of years, and for most of that time, me (female) and a couple of other people (male) were younger than everyone in our office space by at least 10-15 years and more in many cases. I noticed similar comments like this to both myself and the guys who are around my age, and I just figured it was because I was younger than most of the people in my space, but I also look younger than my age.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      OP told us she is 28 – but that’s true if she looks young for her age as well it could affect how people interact with her. There is a guy in our office who’s about 28 and has major baby-face when he totally shaves his face. He gets teased for being young a lot… even though we have like 3-4 younger people in the office at this point.

      But no one would ever call him “sweet boy”…

  21. Nita*

    If your office has a decent HR department, maybe they can talk to the worst offenders? Our HR is usually very on top of things like that. We’ve had similar problems. For example, an admin who talked to a number of coworkers (mostly young women) in very childlike terms – a little like your situation, but there was only one person doing it to many. I’m suggesting HR because that may be more efficient than addressing every single comment as it happens, and also because HR hopefully has a lot more experience dealing with this kind of just-slightly-awkward situations.

    And speaking of that admin – some people just talk that way. It doesn’t make it less irritating, but it may not be anything you’re doing, or anything to do with your autism. Just being young, a woman, soft-spoken, or all of the above will put you in that little pigeon-hole in their mind where they’ll never quite treat you like other adults. It’s so subtle that often you can’t even point out a certain comment and say “hey, you’re treating me like a child, stop it!” I suppose the best thing you can do is roll your eyes and ignore them, unless one of them is your boss and has the power to decide whether your career advances. If the boss is doing it too, that’s worth pushing back on.

    1. drpuma*

      If you email or talk to your boss/coworkers and they don’t change their behavior, I strongly encourage you to talk to HR (but first maybe confirm that autism is covered under the ADA, I’m 99% sure that it is). The last thing your HR department wants to hear is “My coworkers treat me differently because of my disability.”

  22. Ginger Baker*

    Personally, I would practice saying “I’m autistic, not a child…” with either a smile or a deadpan look, depending on what was said and how many times that person has now been told this, repeat as needed. It’s okay to sometimes just call people out directly, and is definitely not an indication that you are Socialling Wrong (I say as someone who is fairly NT and has done similar things many many times as needed). It can be worth reminding yourself that if it was awkward, THEY were the ones making it awkward, not you – you are merely, to quote my beloved Captain Awkward, Returning Awkward To Sender.

  23. Bones*

    As someone with ADHD who very often gets the same treatment at work (road to hell etc etc), I wanted to wish OP well.

    1. Bones*

      And if anyone else has any tips/strategies for how to best deal with stuff like this I’d love it!

    2. Bea*

      In your case I would throw it back at them.

      “You did so good!! Thanks for this easy task being done so well!! Darn you’re good at making photo copies!”
      “Aren’t I the best! Do I get a tummy rub and treat???”

      It calls them out on how ridiculous they sound.

      1. OhNo*

        I have done this, and can highly recommend it as long as you have coworkers that you think would take it in the joking spirit it’s intended. At my current workplace, it works great because we’re pretty casual and comfortable joking with each other, so when I respond with a joke about being a “good boy” or “I can roll over, too!”, they take it with a chuckle at their own expense and (usually) adjust their behavior.

        At my last workplace, though, I had one coworker who exclaimed about how rude I was being, because she was only trying to compliment me, and was huffy for weeks about how she wasn’t “allowed” to praise my work (often followed by, “but if I was, I’d say…”). So YMMV.

      2. Triple Anon*

        Exactly. Raise one eyebrow and say, “And aren’t you so good at receiving copies! Carrying paper across a room! It takes great strength. I so admire you.” It calls them out, but it also gives you both something to laugh about.

  24. NewJobWendy*

    I don’t think we need to second-guess the letter writer’s experience by suggesting this is agism or seniority or something else. LW was pretty clear they are the only one being treated like this.

  25. JS*

    While I don’t think they are trying intentionally to talk down to you I think what is making some conversations awkward and condescending is they are trying to simplify their communication. You said you don’t pick up on social ques, hints or coy language and that makes up a lot of how people interact in the day to day. Even without the challenges of being on the spectrum communication is a definite learned skill. Many adults who are not autistic don’t even have the effective skills as they should. Therefore when trying to be direct without coming across as rude, many cannot articulate this without regressing back to how they would speak to a child. The fact that you are probably also working with people who are your senior in age and have kids your age only amplifies this challenge for them. This is definitely not your fault though and more of the fault of society not putting enough weight on really training us on being effective communicators, especially to those who cannot communicate using every method.

    I would be direct with them. I would say that you appreciate the care they are taking in simplifying their messaging but they do not need to sugarcoat, baby you or soften the message. It will be more effective if they are direct, even if they feel they are being a bit brash. Its probably going to be awkward and a bit embarrassing for them when you call it out but it will help them be able to catch themselves in the future. This will also discourage the random babying comments as well.

    1. OtterB*

      I was thinking along these lines too. It might be deliberate condescension or the assumption that autism makes someone less than a full adult, but it could also be an imperfect attempt to adjust communication. OP says “I have also asked people to be explicit with me about what they’re trying to say instead of hinting, which people gladly do.” and I wonder if sometimes that’s what people are trying to do but getting wrong. They have this mental model of “Be clear and direct when you speak to OP” and that’s coming out as “Simplify everything!”

      This is hard because no one thing is awful by itself (although some aren’t good), but the real problem is in the pattern. Which means that addressing it case-by-case may be harder, because it can sound like you’re overreacting to any one statement. You might try to have a fairly mild comeback ready – instead of the “what an odd thing to say” response, for the job-related things I’d be more likely to use “I” language: “When you say something like that, I feel like a kindergartener,” or “I feel like you don’t see me as a competent adult.” I don’t have any suggestions for dealing with the makeup comments.

      I agree about talking to your manager about the pattern, or if there’s a coworker you get along with particularly well maybe start with them.

      Good luck with it.

    2. Marthooh*

      “Sweet girl” and “I like your pretty makeup” are not simplified versions of appropriate professional communication. These people are being condescending.

      1. Specialk9*

        “Therefore when trying to be direct without coming across as rude, many cannot articulate this without regressing back to how they would speak to a child.”

        You may have skipped over this part.

        1. Marthooh*

          No, I didn’t miss that. “How they would speak to a child” is pretty much the definition of condescension. The point I’m trying to make is that there is no professional, respectful way of telling the OP that she is a sweet girl or that her makeup is pretty.

          1. JS*

            But you did because I also said “This will also discourage the random babying comments as well.” You are missing the point of they are equating simplifying their speech to condescension since most people take that to mean dumb-down rather than being more articulate and direct.

  26. Binky*

    One thing to consider may be to talk to your manager, but phrase it as a question or request for advice. Say that you’ve noticed that people treat you as if you’re very young (calling you “sweet girl,” saying “look at what a good job you’ve done”) and you’re not sure the best way to encourage your peers to see you as a competent adult. Then you can ask if your manager has any advice, or could speak with the worst offenders to tell them to knock it off.

    I would be very careful about suggesting that the behavior is linked to their misunderstanding of your autism though – especially since your manager joins in on the infantilization. She’s likely to get defensive because what she’s actually doing is so offensive (even if totally unintentional). Basically the question is, how will your manager process the issue? I think the suggestion that you’re a young woman being treated as younger than your years fits into a social trope where young women are treated as beginners far past their actual entry years, which is sufficiently common that the boss is unlikely to feel too much shame over it, but will likely still feel like it needs to be addressed. Whereas she’s much more likely to feel ashamed at treating a 28 year old like an 8 year old. No question that’s what she’s doing, but if she fits her thinking into the first model, you won’t need to get into a discussion of your autism and its impact and forgiving her for messing up, etc.

    TLDR – basically treat it like it’s a super easy and not super offensive issue and maybe it’ll be treated as one.

  27. Miranda*

    One problem I have seen, that you may not be able to get around, is that they know you are on the spectrum. This can sometimes, but thankfully not always, mean that in any interaction where you call others out for acting oddly towards you, they will assume you misread them unless you have a witness who agrees with you. It is sort of like if you’re usually forgetful, and a person knows that about you, but you do remember they said X time because you put it on the calendar right away, but they’re sure they said Y, and you must be the wrong one because you’re “the forgetful one”. Calling out specific behavior very clearly is the best way to get people past this bias if they’re willing to listen but it doesn’t always work. So just be prepared for that possible frustration. Best of luck to you!

  28. I'll think of a clever name later...maybe.*

    Oooooooh…this steams me up! LW, you have my sympathy in having to handle this. Frankly I think direct works best, especially in the work place. I definitely think that if it continues then it’s okay to get your manager or HR person involved. I lived with my blind-from-birth grandparents as a child and it never ceased to amaze me at how rude people could be when they thought they were being nice or concerned. I distinctly remember being five years old, walking to the barber shop alone with my grandfather, and being stopped by a woman who asked me, not the fully grown man whose hand I was holding, if an adult knew where I was. I kind of gave her a baffled “I’m with him” gesturing to my grandfather. My grandfather, bless him, reached down to our joined hands, acted as if he just realized I was there, and dramatically reacted “K–, is that you? Damn! I thought I grabbed the umbrella!” The woman didn’t think it was funny when we both burst out laughing.

    1. Bea*

      Your granddad rules. You know that though.

      I still recall and am scarred by the lady who yelled at me for going to the women’s restroom as a kid. I had short hair and looked boyish.

      The assumptions on things made by others are often outrageously out of proportion. Like assuming a blind man with a child is an issue, JFC.

  29. Rude Woman*

    Whenever someone calls me a “girl,” I just very flatly say “I’m a woman.” It definitely makes them think twice about the comment. I guess I don’t care if I come across as rude, though… ;)

    1. CleverGirl*

      I feel like in this case, since the coworkers are already infantilizing the LW, that could backfire. When my younger brother Austin was very small, my parents used to say “Good old Austin!” and he would indignantly respond with “I’m NOT old!”. And of course all the adults in the room would laugh. So they would do it a lot because they thought it was so cute. If the LW starts responding to being called “girl” with “I’m a woman!” every time, it could turn into this type of circus act, since they already apparently think of her as a child.

      1. Specialk9*

        I would be very surprised if people did that at work, given the legal implications of repeatedly, deliberately calling a woman “girl” a lot after she clearly stated to call her a women.

      2. Rude Woman*

        Yeah, I totally get what you’re saying. I think the difference is that people saying “Sweet girl” etc are usually not joking around with the understanding that the person is actually not a sweet girl (whereas the whole reason “Good old Austin!” is funny is that everyone knows Austin is actually young) but trying to comfort or encourage, so when you respond in a way that lets them know that it was not comforting or encouraging, they usually stop. Plus, like I said before, it has to be said very flatly, with no emotion – no exclamation points. But you’re totally right that if the person is prone to teasing, then it could very well backfire. It’s not a method that changes anyone’s minds or educates them – it’s more a last resort to just get them to stop doing the annoying behavior. After looking through other comments, I think others have found more diplomatic ways that I might try out for myself!

  30. Anonforthis*

    It sounds like these coworkers have a fundamental misunderstanding of what autism is. My mom has Asperger’s and we relate way better now that I know a lot more about autism than I did before. It’s not your job to educate other people, and ideally your coworkers would do this on their own time, but it sounds like they really have no idea what autism is.

    1. Hmmmmm*

      I get that it’s not her job to educate other people, but considering how complex of a condition autism is and how it affects many people differently, it seems that OP would be the best at communicating her needs to others?

      1. Specialk9*

        Yeah I don’t think they need to educate everyone on what the full spectrum is and all the issues of the extended community – but it really is their job to advocate through some medium for what they need. Accommodations need to be reasonable and not undue hardship, so work having to guess would be right out.

  31. Amy*

    OP, I don’t really have any advice, just sympathy. In my previous position here, I shared an office with a woman nearing retirement. She, too, complimented me a great deal – I didn’t really mind the comments on my appearance (my clothes ARE very nice) but the comments on my work came to really eat at me over the years. I began to notice that she only complimented my work when it consisted of very simple tasks that pretty much anyone could do (like sort a spreadsheet by first name instead of last name, or answer the phone politely). Whenever I did something that she wouldn’t have been able to do (she had zero computer skills), it was ignored or criticized harshly. Three years of this really hurt my self-esteem because I began to think the only thing I was good at were simple tasks. My therapist thinks she did this on purpose because she was threatened by me! I have since transferred out of that department and I’ve flourished in an environment where I’m not condescended to, and although I’m still the youngest employee (at 33), people are encouraging in a genuine way. I hope that you, too, are able to find a solution!

  32. McWhadden*

    A lot of those individual comments are things I hear in my office all the time. Especially the rain thing. Whenever anyone gets caught in the rain it’s like a national tragedy in this office and gets lots and lots of commentary. But there is also a lot of commentary on clothes or makeup. All positive commentary but super weird. I’ve been wearing dresses lately, which I don’t usually, because it’s been so hot and it’s like every day is walk on the catwalk. It’s a weird place.

    Butttt taken as a whole and not just the comments that I hear singled out there is clearly more going on here. And I’m sorry you have to deal with it.

  33. ella*

    I’m a neurotypical person who’s had autistic coworkers in the past (and present), and OP, if there’s someone you work with that you’re friendly with who treats you as you want to be treated, I would bring them in if you can. They can model better behavior, can be another person acting confused/quizzical or confronting the way that people are talking to you, and can challenge anything that might be being said when you’re out of the room. People copy behavior, and I think the problem may have aggravated itself because your coworkers see how everyone else treats you, and they unconsciously mimic it. (Especially since your boss is doing it, ugh.) Neurotypicals who haven’t had a lot of experience interacting with autistic adults, and who don’t want to look condescending or stupid, look around to see how other neurotypical adults are behaving around this person and copy it, but unfortunately your workplace is full of bad models.

    If all else fails, you can start making mock ups of the Us Weekly “Stars–They’re Just Like Us!” feature only with autistic adults instead of Hollywood Stars. “Autistic Adults–They Pay for Parking! They Eat Food! They Enjoy Sunsets! They Perform Work Tasks!” Might help to inject some humor into the whole decidedly un-humorous situation.

    1. Tau*

      if there’s someone you work with that you’re friendly with who treats you as you want to be treated, I would bring them in if you can.

      This is a great idea! It’d neatly circumvent the “coworkers might not take signals this treatment isn’t OK seriously because of the autism” problem that was identified upthread, for one.

  34. Shrugged*

    Hi, fellow person-on-the-spectrum!
    Please note: I haven’t had time to read all the comments above, so hopefully I’m not repeating anyone.

    In order to improve communication speed and receptive language skills at work, I signed myself up for an Improv class at my local community center. I disclosed my autism to the instructor after class the first day, and explained why I was there. I got lucky there; she was really a great instructor and welcomed my challenges. She paired me up with more skilled actors at first, and over time, I really did see a lot of improvement, both in class and at work. Don’t get me wrong, it was HARD, especially at first, but it did get easier. I’m lucky that in my line of work, it’s not only acceptable, but encouraged to say “I need to think about that” for work stuff, write down the question, and come back hours or even days later with an answer. What I really learned from the class was how to respond in the moment for social stuff. Improv helped me with the social aspects of my job; over time I’ve gotten promoted enough to be managing a team of 5 and I now have a lot of client contact. I couldn’t have done that without some coaching on verbal skills, and I didn’t have insurance that covered adult speech therapy (or at least not for autism-related issues).

    That said, I still don’t disclose at a new job until I’ve been there a year or two and built up a track record. But I’m really privileged to be able to mask my autism that long, and I know it. Also, it gives me terrible anxiety, and makes me prone to panic attacks. THOSE I disclose, because I kinda have to – it’s hard to hide the fact that I’m hanging out in a telephone booth for half an hour, or going out for random walks. Oddly, panic attacks are far more accepted (acceptable?) in my line of work than autism is. Typically the response to a panic attack is: oh, I get those too! Take care of yourself.” And the response I get to disclosing being autistic is: “no you’re not!” That said, I fell into this method, because I wasn’t diagnosed until 18 months after I’d been at my first professional job. It worked so well, I just kept using the same disclosure timeline at my next 4 jobs.

    (Just in case not everyone knows what I’m talking about when I say “masking,” here’s a handy comic that explains it, and how it’s connected to anxiety:

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Heh – I just got the ‘but you’re very personable!’ when I disclosed to a new co-worker that I am, in fact, a geek. (not claiming geek = autistic! just giving a recent self-description situation) I do so wish people would take self-descriptions seriously.

    2. LQ*

      Thank you so much for “masking” and that link. It is a great word for something I have done all my life and why I hesitate to try to explain or talk about what I’m experiencing. I have described it as a bunch of things, mostly I have an intricate algorithm for how to respond in a given situation based on the available variables, but I have to do the manual processing of what those inputs are and what the output should be and my calculations are both, frequently incorrect due to insufficient inputs and also requiring a bunch of my processor power.

      1. Specialk9*

        Autism forces you to use so much raw intelligence and memory and observation, for tasks us neurotypical folks have an inbuilt computer to do. It’s pretty darn impressive.

        There’s a character in Eileen Wilks’ book Mind Magic who’s on the spectrum, and she’s both utterly delightful, and also really lays out there complex web of rules required for people with autism to function. It was a really positive depiction.

    3. Rat in the Sugar*

      Thanks for the link about masking! I’ve always called it mirroring when I do it, and I actually have been struggling with the fact that before I started using it I felt very honest but had terrible relationships, and now people like me/want to talk to me but I feel like a huge phony all the time.

      Also +1 to the whole “No you’re not!” thing, that drives me crazy. It was such a relief when my psychiatrist brought up Asperger’s, and it’s just a smack in the face when I mention it to people and their very first response is to deny it. I usually shoot back with “Well, my psychiatrist disagrees with you and I’m sorry but I think I’ll take his opinion on it.”

  35. l*

    Maybe I’m just a lot more cynical than everybody else here – I also have autism (and am not interested in an argument about whether that’s the proper wording, that’s how I see it personally in terms of how it has affected my life), but my immediate reaction was that they are bullying you in a plausibly deniable way and that, if possible, you should find another workplace.

    This is a large part of why I don’t disclose and don’t recommend disclosing until the ADA actually has teeth. Either they assume you’re a child or they assume you’re part of the alt-right, which may actually be worse.

    1. soon 2be former fed*

      I don’t see bullying here at all. OP is not being treated as a child in the actual performance of her job, which she seems to be contented with otherwise. Leaving over this would be extreme.

      1. l*

        Bullying doesn’t have to involve job performance. In fact, most bullies know better than to explicitly interfere with work (or school, etc) because that’s more likely to be concrete and actionable in terms of consequences. And unfortunately a lot of bullying takes the form of “compliments” that are fake and running jokes. A good example is Regina George in “Mean Girls” (based on a nonfiction book about bullying) complimenting a girl’s skirt and then turning around to her friends and making fun of her — which is honestly what the clothing comments reminded me of.

        SO if someone condescendingly is telling an adult woman “look what a good job you’ve done!” and similar comments, and doesn’t do it for other people in the office, then unfortunately I would say there is a good chance it’s bullying. This goes beyond “trying to be nice.” Most people know the difference between talking to someone like an adult and talking to them like a toddler.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        I actually see how this could be perceived as bullying. Fauxpliments are a major weapon in the Deniable Mean Person arsenal, and ‘sweet girl’ to a grown person is icky.

        However, OP’s manager seems to support her. Instead of leaving immediately, I would try some of the scripts here and see what happens.

        1. Nita*

          Yes… hard to tell without being there, but everything they’re saying could read as bullying. Then again, it might not. The devil is in the details. I was once quite surprised by a movie based on a book I remember very well – there was one character that the movie turned from a stodgy, unlikeable bore into one of the most sympathetic characters just by changing his tone and body language from the way they were described in the book. The words he said were basically quotes from the text, but the effect could not be more different.

    2. ArtsNerd*

      Oh god, I didn’t even consider people assuming someone is part of the alt-right simply because they have autism / are autistic! That’s just awful (and also terrible logic, but we know how well people do with ‘logical conclusions’).

      1. l*

        yeah, it doesn’t happen AS often but it is an unfortunate side effect of the media latching onto it in reporting about shooters/incels/etc. the heavy metal of the 2010s I guess

        1. MatKnifeNinja*

          My cousin gets that alot. Being on the spectrum and having an interest in tanks, guns, WWII and Vietnam. He plays a lot of table top war based games.

          Every time someone kills a boatload of people, we pray the person isn’t on the spectrum.

  36. Asperwoman*

    As a 31-year-old with mild autism, may I suggest a strategy that might work well in a professional environment especially: You could tell your coworkers, “I think you’re trying to adjust your behavior to suit my autism, but that actually isn’t helpful. What would help me is if you treated me normally, as if I didn’t have autism, except for specific situations where I asked to be treated differently. A few situations where I’d like to be treated differently are no surprise parties, no pranks, please send me super-detailed information in written form instead of telling me where possible” or whatever it is you prefer. “Other than that, please just treat me exactly like you would Jane or Fergus.” And these sentences are extra/optional depending whether you think it would help with your specific coworkers: “It’s actually better for my social skills, processing skills, and stress levels to be treated normally by others 99% of the time. If there’s something I need to be different, I’ll let you know.”

    This approach has a couple of advantages in my experience:

    (1) When people want to help, they want to know how to help. So they fall back on whatever basic idea of autism they have, which more often than not means “child” and “mentally ill.” If you give them a specific way to help, even one that amounts to “don’t do anything” (“treat me normally, it’s better for me”), then they have a way to feel like they’re meeting their moral obligation to treat you well.

    (2) “Treat me normally unless I say otherwise” sets you up with default agency on how you’re treated in the workplace, which is very important. It’s a lot harder to get someone to stop a behavior than to start one, and this way, you have an “in” for later on if you do need to ask for something: “Hey Fergus, can I ask a quick favor? My autism means I have a hard time with auditory processing sometimes, which background noise can make worse, so would you mind listening to your music on headphones? I really appreciate it.” And if he freaks out because oh no he was doing a thing that wasn’t ideal for you, you can just smile and say, “Don’t worry, this is all I need! Everything else you’re doing is still fine. Thanks again.”

    1. Hmmmmm*

      I think this is a great comment, and it’s sort of what I was thinking but much better and with actual experience! I know that many media portrayals of autism are not accurate, so they might just not even realize they’re in the wrong. I do hope that clears it up. Hopefully it’s that they want to help but just don’t know how.

      Have you ever had trouble with people not changing their behavior?

      1. Asperwoman*

        Nope! What’s funny is that I developed this approach well before I could use the word “autism,” because I was only diagnosed last year. But I always knew I was weird, and other people could tell that too, and I was diagnosed with sensory processing problems as a small child. I found when I knew I was going to need something unusual, or act in an unusual way, it worked very well to get out in front of it, reassure the other person as to what they needed to do and that everything else they were doing was fine, and explain the situation. This came up in college a lot — “When I plug my ears it’s to cut out background noise so I can hear you better, not that I’m not listening to you.” “I’d love to listen to this song you want to show me, but I can’t do it in the car because of my auditory processing problems; can we listen to it once we’re back in the dorms?” “I don’t want a hug right now, though I know you just want to help; it’ll make my tactile issues worse.” What I’ve found is that when you’re confident and factual about what your situation is and tell people how to handle it, they’re usually fine. It also teaches people that if you *aren’t* bringing up something “weird,” then everything’s fine and they don’t need to worry — they know the burden isn’t on them to figure out how to treat you differently, you’ve got it covered.

        There is at times that one person who doesn’t get it or doesn’t care, but isn’t there always? Once in high school my sister (also autistic) had several other friends instruct a new girl that she shouldn’t touch my sister, especially by surprise or without permission. Said new girl said, “Wow, really?”, immediately poked her in the back without warning, and ended up in a headlock. So … don’t do that, I guess. :-) But with adults, I have never had a problem.

    2. ThatAspie*

      Here’s the trouble, though: some people will take “don’t treat me any differently except in certain circumstances” as “seriously don’t do anything special just for me, even if I ask for it, unless you get it in writing that I need something else”, which they then turn into “punish me however you please for every little mistake I make, don’t let me have things I need if others don’t also need them, and make sure to make a big deal out of it when you’re doing something to me that you would do to anybody else”. I made the mistake in middle school with one of my teachers of telling him not to treat me differently, and it ended up a case of “be careful what you wish for” where the guy would make me leave the room for even tiny mistakes, wouldn’t allow extra time even though my IEP said I needed it, and always made a big deal of “I’m treating you exactly like I treat everyone.” Of course, when I gave him the spiel about “I’ve got Asperger’s but don’t treat me any different unless I ask for it”, I just meant “be nice to me, don’t treat me like I’m a baby, and put aside your negative assumptions”. But it backfired all year long.

  37. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP, since you mentioned that you struggle with verbal communication, does this mean that you are struggling to formulate quick responses when these comments occur? I wasn’t sure if that was part of the issue, or if it was just knowing exactly how to respond in order to get the comments to stop. By the way, a couple of weeks ago, I told a co-worker that she looked like “summer itself” in her nice outfit because she was wearing a bright flowered outfit. I totally understand that you have a legit issue here, with the condescension, but please don’t automatically rule out all compliments as suspect. Some of us are just… more poetic than others?

    If someone called me “sweet girl”, I would call them out instantly (while my head was exploding). Not appropriate.

    1. Shrugged*

      A client’s contractor (m, 60s) wrote me (F, 30s) an email today that started with “Hello Sunshine.”

      So when I responded I started with “Hi Cherry Pie!”

      I don’t know whether he found it funny, but I had a good laugh.

      …silly stories aside, as an aspie, I have trouble with judging verbal tone: until a few years ago I automatically assumed that people whose words might be sarcastic were definitely being sarcastic and that people who complimented me/my clothes were doing it so they could be mean later and lull me into trusting them. It took a long time and a lot of therapy to work through that.

      Flip side: since the OP says she reads these as condescension, I’m going to take her at her word. Another thing it took a lot of therapy to move beyond was my parents’ assumption that I didn’t have empathy for others or feel things to the same degree as my nt siblings, which meant I often discounted my own impressions/feelings/thoughts – my own opinion of my life was somehow suspect. It’s super important to me to take another person’s words about what’s happening to them at face value.

  38. Raphael*

    I got diagnosed with ASD (Asperger’s) a few months ago. I am in my mid-forties and work as a manager in a small government department. I’m sure that my coworkers have noticed quirks in my behaviour. But I have not “come out” to any of them, especially superiors. I don’t particularly need any accomodations at work; I chose a job where I can work mostly independently. After reading the OP’s letter, I wonder if I should disclose my ASD. I don’t see the benefits and the OP has shown some potential costs. What do you think?

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      If you see an issue that directly involves your workplace, then weigh the pros / cons and what you want from a disclosure. OP wants to prevent or reduce miscommunications, and thinks it helps her. But if you don’t see a burning need, why bother? We all have quirks.

    2. Tau*

      Like Jules, I’d recommend against unless you really think it’d be a benefit to you (e.g. there’s a particular accommodation you need or service you want to access that you can’t get otherwise). I was out to my PhD supervisor (who was great!) because I had a lot of problems due to executive function issues during my PhD and ended up needing an extension for disability reasons. There’d have been no way not to have him in the loop. I’m much more functional in a standard work environment, so I haven’t been out and am generally happy I’m not out. There’s this horrifying thing that can happen when you come out to people where they begin to filter every single thing you do and say through some distorted lens of what they think autism is; in my social life, I can drop people who react that way, but I can’t force my coworkers out and I’d rather not deal with that at work.

    3. Bea*

      It’s such a personal choice. If you don’t need any accommodations and haven’t had any “quirks” pointed out as an issue that jeopardizes your placement, your privacy is the most important thing, in my opinion.

      You don’t owe anyone anything when it comes to who you are unless it’s impacting their lives/jobs in a way. Like if you need things in writing instead of verbally kind of thing.

    4. moosetracks*

      Not autistic so I hope this isn’t derailing, but I’ve told my manager about the physical component of my disability (when I had to) but not about having ADHD and GAD.

      Pros: I know that the people I work with have some massive prejudices against ND people
      Cons: When I have brain fog it can mess up my speech, and people may assume that I don’t know what I’m saying. Also, people don’t know that big crowds are a nightmare for me and I occasionally have to try to schmooze while all of my cells are shrieking.
      Usually I can crack a joke about / make an excuse to cover up my symptoms, though. And my physical accommodations can help alleviate some of my non-physical symptoms.

      If you feel like you don’t need any accommodations and don’t really foresee needing them any time soon, I don’t really see the point in disclosing right now. Especially not to your coworkers, I don’t think you owe them any explanation on not exactly fitting arbitrary societal norms (although I understand why it feels necessary).

      1. moosetracks*

        I should clarify because I think my last comment reads kind of like I’m saying no one should ever disclose: in some situations being open about it is absolutely the right thing to do (and in an ideal world you could without any fear of repercussions), but it doesn’t sound like you want to, which is the key.

    5. Ciela*

      I’d sit with your diagnosis before deciding whether or not to come out. I also have AS, but can pass for NT some of the time. Most of the time? I came out at work a few years ago because it was eating me up inside keeping it in. Big Mistake. The only accommodation I asked for was clear instructions if I needed to do something differently, especially with customer interactions. What did I get? “You need to stop being autistic at work.” At least that’s useful info for me to have about my boss.

  39. Indie*

    I would allow some faces to be saved in the moment just cause its easier for you.
    “Sweet girl? Thats odd. Do people say that to adults now?”
    “You might not know this but saying girl instead of women in the workplace causes all kinds of issues. Just FYI.”
    “Good job? Oh you seem surprised. If you were uncertain about the outcome, I wish you had shared your thoughts earlier.”

  40. Autistic Farm Girl*

    Like Dust Bunny and others, i don’t disclose at work (my manager knows though) because i don’t want to be “the autistic girl”, or anything like that. Although i am autistic, i don’t have autism (but i do have an auto immune disease) bc autism is a big part of me.
    I think i’d rather be the weird/rude/not sociable one than the autistic one. But Everyone makes their own choices.
    Comparing that with “i do get told that i look young” is pretty patronising, there’s a massive difference between looking young and being disabled (outside the obvious fact that one of them will go away with time, the other one not).

    How to react is a difficult one, i think i’d just stare at them and go “do you think i’m stupid or something?!” But i’m quite blunt and it might not be necessary if your colleagues are otherwise nice. Discuss with your manager first and ask them to deal with it. If they don’t, or if it continues, then i’d probably send a general email to colleagues explaining the situation.
    Another solution, if your colleagues are in contact with the public and behave like that with other disabled people (patronising, condescending) call them out on it once the customer is gone. Hopefully, if we start realising that this is wrong they’ll stop doing it with you too. Although that only works if they do customer work.

  41. Master Bean Counter*

    OP I’d suggest one of two strategies. The first one is to ask, “What do you mean by that?” If it sounds off, make them explain it. Puts all of the awkward back on them, with the bonus that it’s a valid question. The second one is to just repeat the offending phrase as a question, i.e. “Sweet Girl???”
    Saying you look like a beautiful spring day is just an awkward compliment. I would just say thank you and walk away from that.

  42. ArtsNerd*

    What strikes me as particularly bizarre about this is how freakin’ sophisticated OP’s writing is. It would be disquieting enough to do this in a first interaction with you, but to have traded emails and written correspondence and still have this “she’s like a child” mode of conversing? WTF.

    I’m sure you don’t do anything further that impression in your spoken conversations either, but we have extremely clear evidence here of your being an adult professional, communicating very clearly what is happening to you, and responding in a way entirely appropriate for someone completely neurotypical.

    My goodness, I’m sorry.

    p.s. I occasionally work with an autistic teen in my volunteer gig, so these comments are all helpful for me, too.

    1. Caroline*

      This is an interesting one. Also being autistic, I have not problems writing very clearly, a lot like OP. (Writing gives us time to choose our words.) But in spoken conversation I can be hesitant, fidgety, fail to string a sentence together (I will literally repeat the first few words several times to get past a particular word, or will just spout nonsense the first time), involuntarily substitute words, and many other things that could be read as inexperienced or even juvenile. I hate it, and I try to avoid people as much as possible when I’m struggling with words. But the fact is my colleagues have seen both extremely eloquent written work from me, and whatever it is I look like when I’m having a bad day in person. If I were them I’m not sure what I’d make of me. So although I have every sympathy for OP I can see where the confusion might be coming from. I like the suggestion of tackling it head-on, and hopefully that will clear things up.

  43. Plague of frogs*

    This is so obnoxious. Honestly, it would be an annoying way to talk even to a child. Talking that way to an adult in the workplace it is stunningly rude. The only person I’ve ever called a “sweet girl” is my pet rat and I intend to keep it that way.

    1. Quill*

      Yeah, that would be over the top for a preschooler.

      I mean, I tend to treat kids like sheltered adults with smaller vocabularies to begin with, but…

  44. somebody blonde*

    I think you should definitely address it head on with your manager. If you want to use a light touch to show what’s going on to your coworkers, you might try just giving them a taste of their own medicine. If they say “sweet girl” to you, try “sweet girl” back at them while looking confused. They probably won’t like it, and it may take a minute for them to figure out why, but it should come to them eventually.

  45. caryatis*

    I would reconsider whether you need to disclose the autism at your next job. It’s not something you should be ashamed of, but why subject yourself to this sort of weirdness if you don’t have to? You can communicate that you’re slow at picking up on hints, or that you prefer email to phone calls, or whatever else you need to about your modus operandi and preferences, without making it explicitly about autism.

    (FWIW I’m autistic too and have never felt the need to tell anyone at work. People have different personalities, and if you don’t frame your personality as an “illness” to them it won’t usually occur to them to think of it that way.)

  46. Asperger Hare*

    Yeah, I also get this. I came out as autistic to my coworkers and sometimes get that strange infantilising behaviour and those kinds of comments, as if they’ve suddenly remembered I’m autistic and worry that they have to dumb things down.

    When my manager started doing it, I went to her as if to ask advice regarding other coworkers’ treatment of me (so that she wouldn’t get defensive). I said that I usually wait a few weeks or months so that people can get to know me, otherwise they tend to pathologize my behaviour as “autistic” instead of just getting to know me as Hare. I believe that her realisation (that I’m a competent, knowledgeable human who is aware of being mistreated or patronised) shocked her a little into reframing her concept of me.

    It’s frustrating. I wholly empathise.

    1. Asperger Hare*

      And before I get a comment – yes, I’m queer as I also refer to disclosing my autism as ‘coming out’.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        “Coming out” is a perfectly cromulent way to phrase this kind disclosure in my book.

        Signed, Fellow Queer’un.

      2. Quill*

        I’m ace and aromantic, and I used to be kinda eeeeeeh on this terminology… but enough people have jumped down my throat on the internet at this point about referring to myself as queer or coming out or whatever that I’m just going to say take it and run with it and hang the exclusionists. ;)

        1. Sylvan*

          Sorry to nitpick here, but “queer” is a “reclaimed” slur that was applied to lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender people, and not to asexuals.

          Please don’t call LGBT people “exclusionists” over the use of the term. Straight people get all the credit for that!

        2. Asperger Hare*

          Eesh, sorry people keep invalidating your identity. That’s like the key central thing of being queer – having to constantly restate our identities! (And that’s exactly what I’ve found with the autism, hence relating it so strongly.)

  47. Lawtistic*

    Argh, this is a perfect example of one of the downsides of disclosing. Disclosing can be really helpful (and super freeing!) but it does open you up to other’s weird assumptions, even if they’re not actively discriminatory or meant well. I’m autistic and have ADHD and a couple of other conditions, and I tend to avoid disclosing the actual condition. I’ll often say “I’m sorry, can you look at me when you speak? I have sensory processing issues” or “can you send me an email instead of coming in to ask while I’m working? it breaks my concentration when you interrupt my work.”

    I think one of the hard things about being autistic is that you’re often not sure if the weirdness is your “fault,” or on the other person. I’m so glad you’ve been able to identify that the issue is with the people making the weird comments, not on you!

    I like to use scripts that assume the best of intentions but also communicate clearly how the behavior impacts me. For me that’s easier than trying to communicate through social cues (particularly if it’s been established that I don’t do great with social cues.) I’ll write it out in advance, even, and practice it. For instance, you might say “Hi, I wanted to check in about something that happened the other day. When you called me “sweet girl,” it made me feel really weird, and like you viewed me as a child. I don’t think that’s the way you meant it, but I just wanted to bring it up- I really like working with you and want to be treated as your peer, not a child!”

    Good luck, OP! It sounds like you are rocking your job, and based on what you’ve described, people will probably be very apologetic and supportive.

  48. Student*

    If it’s possible within your job’s purview, you might want to assess whether you’re getting assignments that are on-par with your co-workers, or substantially junior to your co-workers. If your manager is talking to you like a child and thinking of you like a child, then you are probably not being given “adult” job responsibilities, either.

    Turning in high-quality, on-par work is one of the easiest ways (that’s largely within your control) to get a manager and co-workers to take you seriously. If you always get the easy tasks or the make-work as part of this child-like treatment, then you aren’t going to change perceptions of you without also doing something to take on more responsibilities.

  49. Rae*

    I think the OP should probably handle this one on one. Start with the most egregious offenders and have a very clear message, “It is very uncomfortable for me when you call me a girl. That’s not appropriate for the workplace and I’d appreciate if you talked to me like you would anyone else.”

  50. River Walker*

    Stop telling people you are autistic. They are taking their cues from you. I’m bipolar, but rarely tell coworkers the extent because I don’t want to be treated like I’m broken or unstable. (Also, its none if their business as long as its not affecting my job.)

    When it’s a factor – I also have sensory issues, hate being touched and don’t like crowds – I leave it as ‘I don’t like being touched, don’t like crowds, needed a moment to breathe, etc.’

    I understand wanting to lessen the stigma associated with mental illness and autism, but it sounds like instead of making autism normal and accessible, you and your coworkers are in fact reinforcing the most common misconceptions about autism i.e. that you are not capable of being an independent, capable adult.

    1. Quill*

      I wouldn’t put the “reinforcing misconceptions” on OP, more on her coworkers. Autism is just a brain difference (like being left-handed) not a disease.

      Besides that, the coworkers already know and it’s not productive to try and make OP invent a time machine – if they treat her like this when they’ve been explicitly told she has autism, I bet you dollars to doughnuts they’d either do the same or treat her with annoyance for acting “different” if she’d never said anything.

      (I’ve never been diagnosed as on the spectrum – the family brain-weird tends to a different direction – but my entire school career people refused to treat me as a peer because I was different. People, if they are in an environment that permits it and don’t consciously think about doing better, tend to gravitate towards people who they find easiest to understand. And addressing unintentional exclusion from well-meaning people is doubly hard when your social cues or emotional reactions don’t sync up with them to begin with.)

    2. Triple Anon*

      I had a different take on that. I think OP is being uniquely mature and worthy of respect for being open about her autism. She’s not just being open about it, but she’s being open about how it affects her and what accommodations she uses. So she’s going the extra mile to communicate and make it easier for her co-workers to work with her. At the obvious risk of it backfiring because of the stigma. The co-workers seem to be taking all of that for granted and falling into the, “People with any kind of disability or difference need to be condescended to,” mindset. They need a reminder that this is juvenile and that OP deserves respect for being so open about everything.

  51. Triple Anon*

    I’m not on the autism spectrum, but people have thought that I was. I don’t mind; I think of autistic people as equals. I’m gender nonconforming, have weird body language at times due to physical issues, and I can be socially awkward because of past experiences (and lack there of – not socializing much until I was older). I’m read as “not normal” and I get the same thing from people, especially if they don’t know that part of what they’re reacting to is a physical thing that’s beyond my control (so I’m trying to be more upfront about that, but that’s another topic). Often, they act normally at first. Then something changes. It’s like a light switch. They suddenly become really condescending. They talk to me the same way a lot of people talk to children and people with intellectual disabilities. (Which has actually inspired me to make more of an effort not to talk that way to anyone. I talk to kids almost the same way I talk to adults, and they seem to appreciate it.) There is no excuse for talking to people this way. It’s demeaning. But I think a lot of people don’t realize that.

    Here are some things that might work:

    – Respond in kind. If they say, “Thank you, pretty girl!” say, “You’re welcome, pretty girl / nice boy / etc!” Hearing it back will help them to realize how it sounds.

    – Say something very direct like, “You sound condescending.” If that by itself is too harsh, follow it with, “Did I do something that bothered you?” Or, “How are things? Rough day?” That gives them a chance to apologise, explain it away, and hopefully do better the next time around without any hard feelings.

    – As a last resort, maybe try writing something about it and sending it to the people you work with the most closely. Ideally, it should be a well thought out piece that inspires people to do better. But the underlying message should be, “Please stop talking to me condescendingly just because I’m open about my autism. I am an adult and we all deserve the same respect.” Or maybe something simple and direct just like that would be better. It really depends on the office and how people communicate there.

    But you have a right to be upset about this. They may mean well, but they shouldn’t be acting like this. Finding out that it comes across as condescending and that you don’t like it should be a good wake up call.

  52. RUKiddingMe*

    Aside from the assumption that OP isn’t a fully functioning adult, these comments have more than a whiff of sexism. I can’t really quite articulate why/how just yet, but the more I read it and the more I read the comments, the stronger it feels. I think I need to take a nap and think it through for a while…

  53. Avalon Angel*

    I have a daughter who is both on the spectrum (PDD/NOS) and has Tourette’s Syndrome. She is 22 years old.

    Your situation has a very good chance of being resolved positively, because it sounds like your co-workers genuinely care about you and are trying to be supportive…they just don’t have a good understanding of what that support should look and sound like. My daughter’s occupational therapist taught her that people like that need your help and guidance, and will almost certainly be grateful to get it. The way to do that is BDBK: Be Direct and Be Kind.

    The next time someone praises you like a child for a minor accomplishment, smile and say, “Thank you. I appreciate your compliment, but it makes me feel really uncomfortable to get attention for something that’s no big deal.” That is in keeping with BDBK, and a co-worker who really does want to support you will appreciate and respect that boundary.

    Likewise, with the nicknames based on your appearance: “Thanks! It’s nice to be complimented, but with autism, it can make you feel very uncomfortable and self-conscious. I know you didn’t mean it that way, because you are such a nice person and a great co-worker! But if you could not do this in the future, I would really, really appreciate it.” Again, you are BKBD, and setting a strong boundary. A truly respectful co-worker will respect that.

    Now, with some co-workers, you might need to remind them once or twice, simply because habits can be hard to break and sometimes people legitimately forget. But if the third time is not a charm, you should consider talking to HR or the equivalent in your company. And as is often the case, if you give a BKBD statement to an Office Chatterbox, word can spread a bit faster and spare you more repetition. The Office Chatterbox can often be a blessing in disguise!

    I would also advise practicing your BDBK statements in front of a mirror, and with family and friends. This will help you use the best body language and social speech patterns when setting those boundaries, and it can also make you feel more confident and at ease with saying them. My daughter says it is sometimes like a movie script: it’s important to remember your lines AND the way you’re supposed to say them!

    Good luck!

    1. Avalon Angel*

      I just realized I mixed up the order of the Be Kind and Be Direct acronym a time or two, and I apologize. I’m fighting a cold and I am not the best proofreader when I am under the weather!

      1. DKMA*

        Just commenting that I love the “Be Kind and Be Direct” formulation. I also specifically love your script for exaggerated praise. I’d question the need for as long explanations on some of the others “Thanks, I appreciate the compliment, but I’d prefer you called me [Name] not pretty lady” is more than sufficient and sets clear professional boundaries.

  54. AspieGirl*

    Fellow person on the spectrum here who also greatly struggles with verbal communication. I have found when I’m in situations like this using a multipronged approach is best. First I’d speak with your manager one-on-one in some capacity. If you’re lucky and your manager is really receptive to e-mail, I’d write a soft e-mail to them basically creating a shit sandwich where you compliment their open-mindedness in working with you so you can excel in your role, but you feel you’re being singled out by comments no one else is receiving that is making you uncomfortable and you’d like people to stop, and follow up with some other pleasant comment on how appreciative you are to work in such an understanding and accommodating environment. Clearly tact is not my strong suite, so a lot better language than that.

    I would also strongly encourage you to practice the phrase “I know you mean well, but comments like that make me uncomfortable. Please stop” with your co-workers or a strong grimace whenever they say something infantilizing. I have found what is most successful in my own workplace is my physical reaction to people to getting them to stop with a behavior.

    I don’t know how formal your workplace is or how much people are inclined to share from their personal lives, but if you have any kind of newsletter or watercooler talk about news or personal interests, I’d use those opportunities as vehicles to educate people when appropriate, like mentioning successful people on the spectrum and what they’ve accomplished, powerful TED talks you’ve seen, books you’ve read, etc.

    It’s kind of interesting how ill-informed people are about those of us on the spectrum, well intentioned or not, in the day and age of Google.

  55. LadyCop*

    Wow…just wow. It’s not like I’m surprised people associate autism with children…or some type of mental handicap… but to straight up talk to someone like that…
    Hell, I have a cousin who has cerebral palsy, is wheelchair bound, has limited speech, and is now 50 years old. I talk to him like I would anyone else. I know we’ll never have a conversation more deep than whether he likes his coffee, or if he’s excited to see me, but I feel like it’s respectful not to talk down to him. For all I know, he’s just as smart as you or me on the inside, and he can’t express it.

    Sorry people are dicks OP.

  56. DKMA*

    Hi, I’ve read through the comments and I don’t think I’m being duplicative here. For what it’s worth, I’m allistic, but having two autistic kids at home has made me consider these issues more than may be typical.

    My advice dovetails with Allison’s. OP, I think I would split this into two separate goals, with different strategies. First you need a strategy to address the widespread, in-the-moment, condescension in order to reshape your broader professional reputation. Second, you need a strategy to communicate with your manager and make sure you are being proactive on managing your own performance.

    I’m going to attempt to offer advice that accounts for your preference for written communication, the potential difficulty in managing tone in awkward conversations, the fact that certain actions may be inaccurately attributed to autism, and the fact that people can react poorly when called on on rude/ablest behavior.

    Goal 1: Addressing ongoing condescension
    I’m writing this assuming your goal is to reshape your professional perception and stop annoying behavior. I’m going to align with a lot of commentators and recommend creating a small portfolio of scripts to use in the moment. These scripts should be short, blunt, and delivered in a cheerful/neutral tone. Your goal is to get people to knock it off without getting their backs up. Treat this the same way you would if someone used the wrong form of your name (“Actually, I prefer Sam, thanks”).

    Possible examples:
    -“Please don’t refer to me as [insert insulting diminutive], I prefer Samantha”
    -“I’d prefer it if you don’t comment on my appearance, thanks.”
    -“Just doing my job” [The exaggerated praise is the hardest to address, other people probably have better suggestions]

    Be prepared for potentially weird responses. The good news is you don’t really need to engage with them, you can have two, or three canned responses based on how it goes:
    -[Person says it was a compliment] “I know, thanks!”
    -[Person apologizes / is defensive] “Not a big deal, just wanted to let you know”
    -[Person continues apologizing] “As I said, no big deal, see you later”
    -[Person does something weird / you can’t parse what they are saying] “[Brief pause, pretend interaction never happened and return to previous conversation] We were talking about X”

    You will have to calibrate what works for your own comfort / communication needs. I think it’s important to note that there is no need to educate and convince people what and why they are doing something wrong, you are just communicating how they should interact with you. It would be satisfying to address the issue more deeply, but you run too much of a risk of become the one who “is making it weird”, which sucks, but is probably not worth solving.

    Goal 2: Addressing with your boss
    I think it’s worth doing more here for two reasons. First, you have a more important professional relationship with your boss, which gives you greater flexibility and need to address. Second, the fact that your boss also engages in this behavior sends up red flags for me.

    I’d have three purposes: 1) Make sure I’m getting accurate feedback about my performance; 2) Address any negative/limiting impressions my boss has of me; 3) Prepare the ground in case the tactics you use to address widespread condescension have any negative ramifications.

    Since this is your boss, I’d frame the topic as one where you are looking for feedback on performance and advice on professional development. You can raise all of the issues you have here as ones you are concerned about. I would ask for feedback on how you come across as a professional, and I would explicitly confirm there is no underlying performance or professional development issues he hasn’t shared with you. You need to make sure your performance reviews haven’t been sugar-coated because your manager is treating you like a child rather than an employee.

    I would also not necessarily explicitly tie it to your (almost certainly correct) belief that it’s related to being treated differently as an autistic, but instead that “you are concerned you are not being viewed as a serious professional, and are looking for help addressing that perception”. Also, I’d avoid using your interactions with your manager as examples. They’ll get the point and it will keep the tone as joint problem solving rather than contentious.

    Finally, I’d outline the approach you are planning to use with your coworkers. Your manager may have suggestions, but also if he later hears that “OP was rude to me”, he’ll know the cause and have your back. Unfortunately, people can be assholes and react poorly people puncturing their sense of self-righteousness.

    This is a big weighty conversation to have with your manager, so I think it’s perfectly appropriate to conduct this in writing. I would schedule time for a professional development conversation, type out all of your thoughts ahead of time, hand it to your manager at the beginning of the meeting saying something like “As you know, I find I express myself best with written communication, so I typed out my thoughts on what I wanted to talk about ahead of time. Do you mind reading through it before we talk? I can wait here, or you can come back when you finish so we can discuss.”

    Good luck! As other commenters have discussed, I think it’s worth rethinking the extent of your disclosure in the future, focusing specifically on your communication style needs and being more selective in who you share details of
    your neurology. But for now, your issue is that people are (hopefully) unintentionally being assholes and you need them to stop for your sanity and professional reputation and it doesn’t really matter why they are doing it, the solutions are the same.

  57. Drama Llama*

    This letter makes me cringe. Ugh. Why do people think this kind of talk is appropriate in the workplace? Unless you’re a puppy trainer or a day care worker?

    It seems like there’s an unspoken expectation to tolerate inappropriate behaviour if only that person didn’t have “bad intentions.” I don’t care how nice you are or how nice your intentions were. It’s not okay to talk like that at work. To anyone.

  58. Audiophile*

    This is tough.

    While I’m not on the autism spectrum, I do have learning disabilities and ADD, and while I do manage at work, I haven’t disclosed my disabilities.

    I’ve noticed when I have, many people have scoffed or questioned whether I was being truthful. But, I’ve also noticed it’s changed how they interact with me. They will frequently check in that I understood something we discussed, and whether they intend it to or not, it does come off as condescending.

    I feel my professional life is much easier by not introducing my disability into the equation.

  59. LGC*

    Oh man, LW. That really sucks! But there is so much that’s going on with this, and I’m not sure if it’s all about your autism (for lack of a better term). Also, I apologize in advance for sticking my foot in my mouth because I am totally going to do this multiple times.

    So, background about me: Male, 30s, autistic. (So, different gender from you, LW, and slightly older.) But…I’ve actually gotten the same thing where I feel like people talk to me in a slightly childlike tone. Usually, this happens because of a few things:

    1) It’s someone I’ve disclosed to…
    2) …that isn’t that experienced with dealing with ASD, and…
    3) …I look like I might actually need help with stuff.

    And they’re usually really well-meaning! But I think that for a lot of people, autism is something primarily experienced with children – and that’s their frame of reference as to how to deal with it. (And to be fair, it is something that usually first comes to the forefront in childhood.)

    So, basically, here’s what I’ve done:

    1) I…actually don’t disclose that often anymore, and I’m pretty strategic about it. (I might disclose earlier with people who I know have ASDs to show camaraderie. Otherwise, I’ll disclose later on.)
    2) Going back to the previous paragraph, sometimes I have to be “aggressively competent.” That is, I do need to show that – yeah – just because I’m not able to maintain eye contact for more than two seconds doesn’t mean I’m completely incapable of human interaction. (And likewise, just because I can do math in the middle of sprints doesn’t make me totally weird. Just a little weird.) A lot of times, it means going out of my comfort zone – using the phone as needed, being more aware of my body language, so on and so forth.
    3) …and yeah, as a lot of people noted, you’re allowed to set boundaries! Granted, this definitely includes my own priors, but I prefer starting at a low level of forcefulness and escalating as needed.

    And it’s frustrating because it’s a lot of managing other people. But my personal approach is to try to meet people at least halfway (I’m a people-pleaser, which is a weird thing for someone with autism to say about themselves). And…honestly, as I’ve gone outside of my comfort zones, it’s gotten a little bit easier to do so.

    Although…now that I think about it and now that I read your letter again, I’m not sure if they’re talking to you like a child because of your autism…or because of your age and gender. (And, like – it’s text and again, I’m on the spectrum myself – but some of it could read as fairly generic! Although the rain incident is just really bizarre phrasing no matter what.)

  60. Lamb*

    A lot of the above advice involves “using X tone” or “making Y face”, which can be tricky for some people on the spectrum, and tricky for people who are distressed (as you understandably are), or “acting confused”/“asking for an explanation” which these coworkers may take at face value as a part of your autism.
    My suggestion for being called weird things like “sweet girl” is simpler; respond by saying “‘sweet girl’ sounds like something people call their pets.” You can say it happy, sad, confused, distracted- basically anything but angry is completely professional and stays on message.
    Bonus: it’s boilerplate you can use in every “that’s not my name” situation, so you don’t have to come up with something new in the moment. And people call their pets all kinds of weird things, so no one can argue with it.
    Good luck!

  61. MaryB*

    Do you have a friend at work that you can talk this over with? I have several friends on the spectrum who have asked me for my opinion on work stuff a couple of times because I might perceive things they don’t pick up on. For example one friend was definitely being taken advantage of by a coworker, but he wasn’t sure he was reading the situation corrrectly, so I helped confirm his gut feeling and helped strategize how to avoid the bad person. It can be helpful to have someone who knows everyone involved observe and get their advice, assuming you trust their judgement of course.

    Also, if you have a work buddy who can help in the moment of something weird happening by rolling eyes or saying something, it can be helpful, especially if you have trouble with quick comebacks.

  62. Dee*

    If you’re not up for a big-picture conversation (which, honestly, I probably wouldn’t be!), affecting a sort of mild, dismissive amusement can work well here. I’ve successfully addressed strangely condescending comments/compliments thusly:

    “Wait, did you just call me *sweetie*?”
    “Wow, that’s a new one.”
    “Oh, it wasn’t difficult! Just a normal part of my job.”
    “Haha, okay . . .”

    (Am not autistic, but am a socially awkward, quiet, task-driven, baby-faced woman with a low tolerance for suspected condescension who’s sometimes gotten this sort of thing from office social butterfly types.)

  63. SRH*

    OP has my sympathies. I get this kind of treatment all the time at work. I’m not autistic, but I work in a second language and am a minority race in a country with a 98% homogeneous population. Because of the way the language and society works, I also have some trouble with complicated verbal interactions, I sometimes miss social cues, and I prefer to communicate by email/instant messenger. And I am CONSTANTLY treated like a young child.

    I found that being completely deadpan and responding in a clipped, professional manner to condescension has helped “train” people I interact with regularly. However, people sometimes don’t interpret that deadpan affect in the same way that I mean it because they’re too distracted by the fact that I’m foreign to even listen to me or look at me properly. Plus, our company is enormous and my work has me interacting with lots of different departments, so it ends up feeling like every day is a new battle to extract even an ounce of respect from a new group of people.

    I’ve discussed it in a gentle way with some coworkers, but due to the total lack of diversity here, people refuse to see anything wrong with their behavior and insist that as long as everyone else’s intentions are good, the condescension is my problem to handle on my own.

    Because I was hired as kind of a “diversity/globalization effort”, I knew to expect this going in, but after 8 years of building a career this way I’ve finally decided to leave the country and go to a different one with more ethnic and linguistic diversity. Having to, every single day, educate the people around you to afford you a basic amount of respect is mentally and physically exhausting. I’m just done with it.

    It seems like a lot of the advice given here is from people telling OP to do exactly that–do this or that to keep fighting for your rightful place. But it’s SO tiring to do that kind of fighting, especially when those sorts of interactions don’t come naturally to you!!

    I don’t have any real advice for OP, but I hope that your workplace eventually respects you more.

  64. ActuallyAutisticWoman*

    How’s your stone face, OP? If you trend flat affecty, a blank look with “i don’t understand why that’s appropriate in this context” can embarrass them. They often justify themselves in the moment (people tragically lacking autism do the weirdest most dramatic gymnastics to “save face”) but they’ll often learn to not do the thing bc explaining makes them feel weird.

    Also, if you tend to get shrill or cry-y when people are failing at understanding, emailing like one person who is empathetic like “I don’t like this. Can you ally with me in retraining our coworkers on how adults talk to each other?” Goes a million times better than a difficult in person conversation. (Ask me how I know!)

    Best of luck. I’m sorry people are like this.

  65. Milvus milvus*

    In my last job, I had a supervisor who occasionally called me ‘baby girl’. Once I immediately turned around and said “Could you please not call me baby girl?”

    She got huffy and told me she was just trying to be nice (well, maybe she was…her management style really did not work for me), but she didn’t call me that again.

  66. ThatAspie*

    I’m an Aspie, and so far, I have yet to deal with that kind of crap in the workplace. But I have dealt with similar things in other environments, and it sucks.
    Here is the thing, though: I’m also someone who sometimes likes to be treated like I’m younger than I am, but not the way that they are doing to you at work. More like “let me do fun things and if we’re close a hug once in a while would be nice.” My parents are allowed to call me pet names like “sweetie”, and a few other people too, but if I came into work after getting rained on and someone said, “Awww, I’m sorry sweet girl” like that, it would not fly. That said, I was okay with my boss calling me “honey” when I had to call in with a sprained ankle – I was crying and in pain, we’re very close, and he did it in a nice way, plus, you know, I had a serious injury and that’s always a major bummer.

    Even worse than the “sweet girl” and whatnot is the “Oh my goodness, look at what a good job you did!” Ugh. That is _so_ not cool. My own mother would not be allowed to talk to me like that. Next time you get that “oh, look at what a good job you did” garbage, treat them like they just tried to force-feed you a piece of paper or something.

  67. JSPA*

    Been debating whether to post this, because tone does not translate, and I’d hate for it to come across as any sort of “blame the OP.” But I’ve got a lot of spectrum-y folks among family and friends, and this may be useful. Note that this addresses “what, besides lack of regard for OP’s intellect, may be driving the process.”

    Some people on the spectrum, as well as not reading other people’s facial expressions, have…broader, less granular, less guarded, less filtered, less considered and/or more idiosyncratic facial expressions of their own. The overall results are highly variable, from “stone faced” to “open in the way a young child would be open.”

    If the OP is on the “open expression” end of the spectrum, they may (for example) look more distraught or more miserable, upon getting soaked, than someone normally ever would, at work, unless they were nearly at melt-down stage. This could trigger a reassurance that’s far in excess of what OP’s actual internal mental state requires. In contrast, if the OP is on the “expressionless” end of the spectrum, yet people have come to know OP as warm and caring, they may tend to over-project onto OP. Or they may be reacting as one would to a stone-faced (read, sullen, unhappy, needing-to-be-cheered up) neurotypical person–which, again, mostly happens with kids, as adults–especially adult women–are strongly socialized to put on a bit of a smile.

    Insofar as someone on the spectrum is unaware of how other people’s delivery modifies the content of their speech, they can also remain unaware of unintentional quirks of delivery (or the implication of certain turns of phrase) that they’ve picked up. It’s worth keeping an open mind after asking, “is there something I’m doing that encourages you to speak to me like a child.” There actually is something–likely a parroted phrase or intonation–and it would be better to get feedback about it sooner than later.

    Alternatively, the issue can be worked into the introductory spiel. Parroting is a classic spectrum behavior, part learning tool, part coping mechanism. It can be very valuable because it brings range, color and verve into one’s verbal repertoire. But sometimes there’s additional subtext (often in the intonation) that not always 100% suitable for a professional environment.

    It’s useful to remember that people are not used to having to verbalize their non-verbal communication except maybe when dealing with very small children. They may be giving other people non-explicit, non-verbalized complements for all kinds of things (including makeup); when they try to put that into verbal comments for OP, it may…come out wrong. OP, is it possible that other people are being given props on their makeup and clothes with a wink? A bit of body bobbing? A “looking good” finger point and a smile? A “double-take” (which is done as a comment)? A more indirect comment? Someone catching someone’s eye, touching their own skirt, looking at hers, and smiling in appreciation? People give each other props about stuff nonverbally all the time. If you’ve asked people to verbalize the nonverbal stuff for you, then you…may have to specify what sorts of stuff you’re just as happy missing out on? Deal with the weirdness of realizing that there’s a low current of nonverbal stuff happening all the time? Decide that you do like being included, even if it sounds a bit childish, when said out loud?

    Or yeah, they may be confusing “limited nonverbal emotional communication” with “limited internal emotional skills / something that can be helped by lots of random, positive emotional feedback.” It may be worth emphasizing that having somewhat rudimentary skills at reading (or manifesting) emotions does not equate to having rudimentary skills at feeling those emotions. It’s actually pretty easy for people to confuse those things.

    As far as clothing, I don’t know if it’s possible that some of your clothing or makeup choices are unintentionally unconventional (as opposed to being either conventional, or intentionally unconventional). It’s amazing how combinations of normal clothing can surprise people by “not going together” in ways that are almost impossible to define (but that neurotypicals start to pick up on somewhere in their early teens, if not before). One elderly aspy friend gets constant cheers as she bikes along because her default clothing, hair and makeup choices come across as “expressing great exuberance,” even though her intention is no such thing. It’s mostly very positive, “you go, girl!” feedback. However, one soon-to-retire doctor said that she’d do better at finding someone to do her knee replacement if she “dressed more quietly instead of trying to put her attitude and identity on display.” (She had tried to dress nice.)

    TL/DR, people normally share some level of emotional feedback. When warned that an autistic coworker doesn’t process non-verbal information, coworkers will try to put non-verbal information into words, which shifts them away from their comfort zone, their skill set, and some of their standard set of office norms. It’s reasonable to expect that further fine-tuning will be needed.

  68. Tom*

    As suspected Aspie (Autism spectrum – Asperger) and with a son that is a confirmed Aspie.
    I think bottom line is – people are strange. They call themselves normal, yet their behavior is, at best, illogical.

    I have issues picking up social ‘ things’ too – but thankfully I have learned to ‘ translate’ certain expressions and tones to respond with appropriate responses and/or behavior. Apparently, I also have above average intelligence – but due to the processing power required to appear normal – for other people I am normal. (at least, not standing out).

    Downside – I have a very, very strong conflict avoiding personality – which is really bad sometimes (unless they hurt my child or my wife) so I kind of understand your reluctance to ‘talk back’.

    That said – my recommendation would be to find the person on your team you are most comfortable with, and ask his/her advice. Explain that you get the impression they try to make it easier by ‘ talking simple talk’ – but that that sometimes translates to you as ‘ they don`t take me serious as an adult’ – chances are that they do not even realize that they are ‘ sending you that message’ – or they do not understand autism. (But then, neither do I – i`m making life up as i go along). By finding some quiet time – and explaining this to the colleague of your preference, he/she could be your ‘ champion’ in helping others realize how they appear to you – and it may get better from then on.

    Just don`t expect overnight miracles – after all, they are ” merely neuro-typicals” :)

  69. The Doctor*


    No, they are NOT genuine. They are NOT trying to be nice. Their comments ARE meant to be condescending and patronizing. They DON’T treat you as an equal adult because they DON’T see you as an adult and they never will.

    The best way to tell them that you have an adult brain is to just say it. Make sure you have another job lined up, then use your line, “Hey, you know I have an adult brain, right? In fact, Other Company hired me for my adult brain, so I’m out of here.”

  70. Girl friday*

    People who have speech impediments confront this kind of thing all the time, especially if they are impediments that make them sound sort of adorable. Both are special needs that don’t really entail any kind of intellectual effect, certainly not a negative effect. Maybe if you treat them like you would treat anyone who is patronising? Make it their problem, smile benignly, raise your eyebrows and wait for them to finish. Deflect and don’t answer all questions that make you uncomfortable. Continue making a case to your boss about why you are great at your job; acting in every way like the competent person you are. Ask for and achieve more responsibilities. Just focus on yourself. Everyone in the workplace has to deal with annoying people.

  71. Kit-Kat*

    Another short woman. Recently I’ve been into a dispassionate “no” or “ok” as a full sentence when people make inappropriate comments. For example, someone at work recently came up to me, pointing in my face, and exclaimed “I saw you walking to school!” as if she was pretending to conspire with a child. I had my badge/professional clothes on. I simply said, “No” and walked away. I couldn’t think of anything else to say at the moment but it worked well! This wasn’t anyone I know or regularly work with, but I’ve used “ok” when people I do work with have gotten weird (“I just CAN’T believe you’re an adult!!!1!1” Me: “ok”, goes back to what I was doing or whatever we were originally talking about) and it hasn’t ruined my relationships with them at all. For the “sweet girl” I like the idea of saying you prefer to be called by your name though. I also like the idea of talking to your boss (or an influential coworker) about it first. This has been an issue my entire life, not just comments but I’ve had teachers try to kick me out of classrooms and stuff like that, and it’s been really hard to deal with at times.

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