Jun 27, 2013
Asperger’s is not an excuse to be an online troll
When it comes to discussing autism on the internet, there’s only one group of people who test my patience more than anti-vaccine people. I’m talking about the people who claim to have autism (factually or not) as an excuse to be jerks online.
Yeah, anti-vaxxers frustrate me, but I give them the benefit of the doubt. They’re scared, they’ve heard horror stories about vaccine injuries, they’re concerned about the information they read on package inserts, and they remember chicken pox and whooping cough through rose-colored glasses. At the end of the day, they may be misguided, but they’re often loving parents who don’t want to see their children suffer. Which is why they make me far less angry than the idiots who use autism not to voice their compassion (again, however misguided it may be), but just to get away with being internet trolls.
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I have Asperger Syndrome and high functioning autism, which was diagnosed by a professional, not by WebMD. Social awkwardness is only a part of it; I also get overwhelmed by bright lights and crowds, I have obsessive interests, disruptions in routine distress me, and I had motor control issues as a kid. That’s a lot more than a footnote I can tack onto an inflammatory internet comment.
I would never deny or question the truthfulness behind someone saying that autism made them post something rude or mean. What do I know? I’m not their physician. I do, however, make this face whenever I see this type of remark.
I also get suspicious, because I have a lot of friends with Asperger’s and autism, and I’ve never seen them use their condition to justify stirring the pot in online conversations. I’ve seen them use it to explain why they may not understand sarcasm or don’t like physical contact, but to borrow a phrase from Robert Oxnam, they offer it as an explanation, not an excuse. They don’t post angry comments because they can’t help it. They do it because they believe what they’re saying is important and needs to be heard (and since my friends are super-smart, it almost always is). No, they don’t always say it in the most polite way or the friendliest way, but again, they would never hide behind their condition if someone called them out on it.
When you make a dickish comment online and then blame autism for it, you’re basically admitting that what you said was wrong but you don’t have the decency to apologize for it. If I say something either on or offline and someone tells me it was rude or mean, I sometimes admit I have Asperger’s, but I still say I’m sorry and make a mental note not to say things like that in the future. Usually, I don’t even bring Asperger’s up—I just apologize and promise to do better.
Asperger’s is not a “get out of jail free” card that gives a person license to say and do whatever they want and not get reprimanded for it. Asperger’s may sometimes make it difficult to understand why something is rude or mean, but it does not stop the rest of the world from demanding that you stop behaving that way.
The reason this excuse for online trolling pisses me off so much is that, whether or not they actually have Asperger’s, the trolls get to leave their obnoxious comment where it is, get a little sympathy, walk away from their computer, and go on with their day. People like me have to live with that image being slapped onto us. I’ve had a hard time finding a job in the past (fortunately, my current employers are wonderful and understanding) because people believe that people with Asperger’s all behave the way these internet idiots behave and can’t do anything about it. I get worried and upset every time a mass murderer is labeled as having Asperger’s, because I wonder how many times this will happen before people start believing that I too have a secret murderous streak.
People, if you’re aware that what you say online is awful and hurtful to someone, grow a pair and admit that what you did was wrong. If you believe that a comment you’ve made needs to be heard and that you don’t need to apologize for it, own it. Because you invalidate the importance of whatever you’re saying by claiming that you have no control over the angry words you’re spewing. Own up to it, or own it. It’s that simple. You don’t need to use people like me as an excuse for your horrible, offensive verbal diarrhea.