Tone policing autistic people is not ok

Tone policing autistic people, or any member of a marginalised group, is not ok. I’ve mentioned this topic in a previous post, but it probably deserves its own post.

What is tone policing?

Tone policing is when a person tells another person that they should be

  • more polite, more courteous, more gracious; and/or
  • less angry, less hostile, less combative, etc.

Can you see why this could be a problem?

It is often used as a form of derailment by members of a group that holds more privilege than other groups. It tells people who experience oppression that no one will listen to them unless they’re nice. They won’t be heard unless they package up their message into a nice, pretty, little, palatable packages.

It is not ok to tone police any marginalised group, but it has wider implications when autistic people are tone policed.

At this point, I’m going to quote Autistic Hoya fully because they explain a reason why tone policing autistic people is especially problematic far more effectively than I could:

“When the victim of tone-policing is Autistic, it’s particularly insidious because we Autistics are frequently fed the message that we’re the ones with a social impairment (though we frequently do have communication and language impairments), and quite often, have difficulty integrating intent and tone of voice, whether in person or online. This leads to the implicit assumption that the reason we need to be scolded (oh, did I mention that this is paternalistic and patronizing, too, if not outright infantilizing?) is because we’re Autistic and therefore because we’re disabled it is autism that means we can’t communicate “at your level” because obviously we are like little children being rude, defiant, disrespectful, and noncompliant rather than adults with agency, competent to make our own decisions about how we’re going to express ourselves.”

In addition to that, some of us may be able to package our message up using polite words for you all of the time, some of the time, or none of the time. It depends on a variety of factors including communication differences and spoon availability.

Can you see why this could be a problem now?

Not only is tone policing a tactic used by oppressors, but you’re expressing ableist attitudes if you tone police us. You’re telling us that you’re unwilling to accommodate differences in communication in order to hear us. You’re saying that unless we make our messages palatable, you won’t listen.

But you know what? Some of our messages simply aren’t palatable. Sometimes, the effects of living in societies that are overwhelmingly ableist are intolerable for us. Why should we make the effort to make it nice and digestible for you?

Next time you see an angry autistic person on the Internet, try to look past their anger. Don’t tone police them: Try to listen to the reasons behind their anger. You might find that their reasons would make you angry too if you were in the same situation.

2 thoughts on “Tone policing autistic people is not ok”

  1. *stirring ovation*

    FINALLY! I’ve been feeling so frustrated by this behaviour from neurotypicals online and offline for years(actually the last 2 decades). I’ve often described it but I’m delighted to hear that there is a term for it. Because I a male, and white, and straight, and cis, they think that tone policing me about autism is “stickin’ it to the MAN” since autistic people aren’t fully recognized as an officially oppressed group yet. The worst part about this is the fact that it has also happened many times on A social networking site ostensibly created by Aspies for Aspies…’s so infuriating. I’m happy to see you speaking out on this but still I wonder, why else can we really do about it? I’m still brainstorming ways we can get neurotypicals to start to listen to us.

    1. It is common along autistic-non-autistic gradients, yes.

      But oppression is never really as simple as you either are or you aren’t. All autistic people are oppressed due to our neurodivergence being different to the dominant social norm, but some of us may hold privilege along other axes. For example, me being white means that I still hold that privilege which means when POC are talking, I need to be mindful of my whiteness and ensure that I’m not overstepping, if that makes sense?

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