"You don't look sick" is the kiss of death for anyone with a mental illness. It's also why mental health isn't taken as seriously as physical health. Anyone can see when you've broken a bone or gotten the flu, but mental illness doesn't have such noticeable physical markers.
While some might think that telling someone that they don't reflect their mental state is a compliment, it actually undermines that person's illness.
It's the equivalent of saying "you must not really be sick. You must be faking having special needs."
This type of thinking is extremely prevalent with people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It's hard enough to identify a person on the autism spectrum as the disorder presents itself differently to each person, which explains the existence of the spectrum. However, there seems to be an "autism stereotype" that the general public expects people with ASD to reflect. There are the typical characteristics such as repetitive and jerky behaviors, difficulties in maintaining eye-contact or sustaining a conversation, or an inability to handle being touched or being in a social situation. Theses symptoms are very common for many people with ASD, but, depending on the severity, these symptoms are not visible.
"You don't look autistic" is not a compliment. It not only implies doubt that you as a person with ASD must not actually have ASD, but it also makes your needs as invisible as your symptoms. You wouldn't ask a person with a broken arm to help you move; therefore, you shouldn't ask a person with ASD to accompany you to a music festival if they have sensory issues or very easily become overstimulated. Furthermore, assuming that autism has a look, not only makes it difficult for people diagnosed with ASD to get the same consideration that a person with Down's Syndrome or a broken arm gets, it also makes it difficult for people who have yet to be diagnosed to get the treatment that they need.
If you would like to learn more about autism and related topics, visit the Behavioral Health section of our blog.
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