📆 December 26, 2022 | ⏱️ 4 minute read | 🏷️ autism

I Am Autistic, Not Retarded

The autism spectrum is very broad. In this entry, I’m exclusively referring to high-functioning autistics like myself.

The Word Retard

The word retard depresses me when used against autistic people not just because it’s said in a hateful way, but because it shows misunderstanding on the part of the one saying it. So I’ll spend some time debunking it here.

Sensory Sensitivity

As a high-functioning autistic person, I cover my ears to block loud noise and close my eyes to block bright light. That has nothing to do with any common definition of intelligence. I simply can’t filter out those types of environmental noise like neurotypical brains can.

Specialized Brains

The word “retard” means someone slow at performing mental tasks. Slow relative to what? Relative to neurotypicals’ social abilities? There are mental faculties that I possess which most neurotypicals and other autistics don’t. Should I then consider all of them retarded too?

Calling autistic people retarded fails to acknowledge that our brains are highly specialized. Neurotypical brains are like CPUs. They’re good for general-purpose tasks. High-functioning autistic brains are ASICs. Generality is sacrificed in exchange for being highly optimized for a few particular things. Saying high-functioning autistic people are retarded is like saying an ASIC is slow because it can’t do the job of a CPU. It wasn’t made for that and autistic brains weren’t made for socializing in a neurotypical way.

The word “retard” implies a deficit without a trade-off, so a person who is markedly mentally slower than average in every domain may be accurately called retarded, but hopefully not in a hateful way. But with high-functioning autism, there’s usually a trade-off. We’re slower than average in socializing but faster and more intelligent at other things. Just because others don’t recognize our strengths (our special interests) doesn’t mean we have none.

Functioning in Society

“But the skills autistic people lack are important for functioning in society.”

That’s because society is built for neurotypicals. Everything is twice as hard for us not only because our abilities differ, but because we’re set up to fail. Employers won’t hire us unless we maintain a fake neurotypical alter ego. Our coworkers refuse to work with us. We struggle to find acceptance everywhere we go. Social predators target us. We’re expected to understand passive aggressive 4D social mind games we don’t relate to and we’re scolded when we show our real self.

We’re not broken. Our progress is stifled by a society which could accommodate us, but refuses to. As a traveller, I can say with confidence that some regions are easier to function in as an autistic person than others. If being retarded means functioning poorly in society, then where I happen to be geographically makes me more or less retarded. That just seems absurd. Not to mention all the neurotypicals that function poorly in society.

Social Abilities

For high-functioning autistics, there’s a fine line between disability and capability. For example, I speak and understand English and Spanish. I can hold conversations with hundreds of millions more people around the world than monolingual neurotypicals. So if we’re just talking quantity, I’m more socially functional than many neurotypicals.

To say I or other autistic people are “socially retarded” is inaccurate. It’s more complicated than that. There are specific social deficits we have that differ from one autistic to the next. Those deficits don’t necessarily influence other aspects of our intelligence. For instance, there is some evidence supporting the idea that autistic people make better social scientists. Since we perceive social situations differently, we may be able to analyze them more objectively. In that sense, we’re more socially intelligent than neurotypicals.

Social Expectations

Another reason neurotypicals mistake autistics for retards is we don’t emotionally respond in the ways they expect, so they think we don’t know what’s going on. There have been times when neurotypicals were angry with me and tried to upset me. What they didn’t understand is that I don’t process emotions the same way. What my facial muscles are doing doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how I’m feeling. Deprived of the emotional satisfaction of upsetting me, they proceed to escalate until I feign the facial expression they’re looking for just so they leave me alone.

When I and other autistics don’t respond the way neurotypicals expect, that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with social or emotional intelligence. Often we do know how others want us to react. It’s just that we wouldn’t naturally react that way and putting on a fake personality all the time is exhausting. We don’t always feel like doing it just to please others.


Some autistic people are clinically diagnosed as mentally retarded, but they’re usually low-functioning autistics. So please, do not call high-functioning autistic people retarded. It’s offensive and spreads confusion about what autism really is.