I’ve always gotten feedback from a third party that someone thought I was rude or that I “hurt her feelings” even though I hadn’t tried to. I’m autistic.

I refuse to blame my autism, and instead I label these people as overly sensitive neurotypicals.

Before I proceed, I used “high functioning” in my article title because it’s a popular search term among neurotypicals and even some autistic googlers.

Plus, many people will know much more easily precisely what I’m referring to, vs. if I use a term such as “low support needs” or “Level 1.”

High functioning autism (HFA), nevertheless, is still a commonly used term.

My latest incidence of being accused of being offensive involved a middle age woman who, for 20 years, had been working with “low functioning” developmentally disabled adults.

This includes a few with only Down syndrome — so not necessarily exclusively autistic individuals.

The third party arranged for us to have a discussion over the accusations. Towards the end, the overly sensitive NT confessed, “I need to learn more about high functioning autism.”

We’re not Rude; We’re Direct and Often Inquisitive

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Unfortunately, one common misconception surrounding HFA is the tendency for others to perceive us as rude or displaying offensive behavior.

This misunderstanding can lead to a myriad of challenges for individuals with HFA as well as those around them. 

Individuals with HFA often possess strong intellectual abilities and may excel in specific areas, such as mathematics, science, music or art. Often, the giftedness is in more than one area.

I don’t mean savant-level skills, but rather, giftedness. There’s a difference.

Despite their cognitive strengths, Level 1 Autistics frequently struggle with social cues, nonverbal communication and the nuances of social interactions that are often taken for granted by neurotypical individuals.

So I asked the NT woman at issue with my latest feedback if she had noticed, while we had interacted the day prior, that there was a mismatch with my facial expressions and the words coming out of my mouth.

She confirmed this. She also confirmed that the tone of my voice came off as insulting or condescending — even though I had not felt these internal experiences when enaging with her.

But this was how she had read me. I had been matter-of-fact and straightforward with my questions and comments to her. SHE failed to read ME. 

But since Autistics are in the great minority, we end up getting the short end of the stick.

She told the third party that throughout the time we had engaged, she had gotten the impression that I thought she didn’t do her job (working with low functioning DD adults) good enough.

Ironically, I actually had thought she did a great job — but somehow, someway, the opposite impression had been broadcasted by the type of questions I asked, my tone of voice, choice of words and facial expressions.

No, I’m NOT going to say, “Damn that autism.” Instead, it’s “yet another overly sensitive neurotyp.”

Social Challenges in High Functioning Autism

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One key aspect contributing to the misunderstanding of HFA is the social challenges.

Social interactions involve a complex dance of verbal and nonverbal cues, reciprocal communication and shared understanding.

Autistics with minimal support needs may find these social intricacies overwhelming, leading to behaviors that are perceived as aloof, disinterested or even rude.

Or, as often in my case, we may not even realize that we are missing a cue or reading one incorrectly, or coming across in a certain negative way.

At no point during my engagement with the woman did I feel overwhelmed or stressed. Yet I had no idea that all along, she was seeing me as rude and disapproving.

Adding to the dilemma is that I do not present — to the average person who doesn’t know much about HFA’s presentations — as stereotypically autistic.

Because I don’t outwardly stim in public, don’t walk oddly, don’t have strange vocal pitches and perhaps especially because I give good eye contact when someone is talking to me — it’s easier for NTs to view me as rude and blunt (though also maybe odd, weird or unusual), rather than, “Oh, she’s obviously autistic, so that’s why she said that; she didn’t realize how it came across.”

Difficulty in Reading Social Cues

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Nonverbal communication, such as body language, facial expressions and tone of voice, plays a crucial role in conveying emotions and intentions.

For high functioning Autistics, deciphering these cues can be like navigating an intricate maze, often resulting in unintentional misinterpretations or a lack of response altogether. Without us realizing it.

Literal Thinking and Social Misinterpretations

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Individuals with HFA often exhibit a tendency towards literal thinking.

This means they may struggle with understanding sarcasm, irony or implied meanings, which are prevalent in social interactions.

As a result, they may respond in a straightforward manner that could be perceived as tactless or inappropriate, contributing to the misconception of rudeness.

Sensory Sensitivities and Social Withdrawal

Sensory sensitivities are another common feature of autism.

This includes heightened sensitivity to lights, sounds or textures, which can range from annoying to overwhelming in social settings.

In an attempt to cope with sensory overload, Autistics may withdraw from social interactions or exhibit behaviors that are perceived as dismissive or rude.

The Masking Phenomenon

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Many individuals with high functioning autism, particularly women, learn to mask well.

Masking involves consciously or unconsciously mimicking neurotypical behaviors to fit into social situations. It also involves suppressing autistic traits such as stimming.

While masking can help individuals navigate social settings, it can also be exhausting and unsustainable.

When they can no longer maintain the mask, their true social challenges may become more apparent, leading to misunderstandings and misconceptions.

Throughout my adult life, whenever I started a new job, I’d make a point of “acting normal” to avoid being thought of as weird or strange by coworkers.

This masking never lasted more than a few weeks.

Societal Expectations and Stereotypes

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Societal expectations regarding social behaviors and norms often contribute to the misinterpretation of autistic people — particularly those who present to others as “normal” in that they don’t display any peculiar body movements, have a normal sounding voice and don’t come across as robotic or otherwise overtly odd.

Stereotypes about how individuals should express themselves socially may lead to unfair judgments when someone with HFA does not conform to these expectations.

Breaking down these stereotypes and fostering a more inclusive understanding of social diversity is crucial in dispelling misconceptions.

Educating and Building Awareness

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To bridge the gap between the perceptions of rudeness and the reality of Level 1 autism, education and awareness are paramount.

By providing information about the challenges faced by Autistics, society can develop a more compassionate and understanding attitude.

Training programs in schools, workplaces and communities can raise awareness about neurodiversity and promote inclusive environments.

Building Empathy and Support


Empathy plays a crucial role in fostering understanding between Autistic people and their neurotypical counterparts.

Encouraging open communication, actively listening and seeking to understand the perspective of someone with high functioning autism can go a long way in building empathy.

Additionally, creating support networks and providing resources for individuals with Level 1 autism can empower them to navigate social situations more effectively.

And let’s not forget that neurotypicals can be rude AF, and this includes towards parents of autistic children, as presented in my article, “Neurotypicals Say Rude Things to Parents of Autistic Children.” 

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical and fitness topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. In 2022 she received a diagnosis of Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder. 


Top image: ©Lorra Garrick