Jokes about autism are growing more commonplace in the age of memes and social media. If you found yourself clicking this article, then you are likely familiar with the ‘autistic kid’ comments or memes, the trope of many jokes on the internet, the chaotic, loud and irrational child with a nonexistent sense of danger who no one understands or the socially awkward person in the group.
It is easy to tell that ‘autistic’ or ‘special ed’ is used intentionally as the punchline of many of these jokes for the purpose of some shameless shock humour, and in many cases, the severity of this so-called ‘autistic’ behaviour is also scaled up to extremes to serve the purpose.
The Impact Of These Jokes
Everyone knows how difficult secondary school can be, especially from a social standpoint: friendships, crushes, relationships, rivalries, falling-outs and all the rest can make the environment feel very toxic, but it can be especially difficult for a student with autism. Whether their autism is more or less easy to tell, through resource hours, special needs assistants, light sensitivity glasses, headphones, or other sensory aids, it is easy to get ‘outed’ because of it, and this can leave you vulnerable to verbal or cyber abuse, among other things. And when these memes or comments are widespread enough to become the norm, it is easy for them to feel as if people will hate or dislike them from the get-go, without so much as a first impression, which can lead to feelings of alienation and isolation.
Are There Exceptions?
So, is there any other purpose to this trend of memes or jokes other than to stigmatise neurological conditions for shock value? If so, what are these exceptions and where do they lie?
The one exception that comes to me is if a person with autism who already has a solid grasp on humour and meme culture decides to appropriate (take a tradition or trend out of one context and use it in another context) the ‘autistic kid’ punchline to make fun of themselves in an ironic fashion among their friends. Their own friends may also choose to use this punchline in a similar way around them. What makes this exception valid is the fact that the person with autism is enjoying and also adding to the jokes, and understanding why they enjoy them. Another important detail is that their friends are not slagging them or saying the jokes to their disadvantage. This totally depends on the individual person and it’s important that they are the ones who set the boudaries.
What If You See This Type Of ‘Humour’ As A Person With Autism?
While it can be very disheartening or upsetting to feel like the butt of a joke all of the time, the most important things to do in that situation are to hold your head high and remember that the opinions and actions of a few should not define you or what you are capable of. By not letting yourself be held down, you will eventually find your own group to take comfort in and who will all love and appreciate you for who you are, not because you have autism, but despite it. And if you are still not finding any luck in school, reach out to a youth centre or any extracurricular activities you find out about who will likely understand your struggles.
Sean Mulligan is a Transition Year student and an intern for KISS, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three.