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I have a friend from college who I think may have mild autism. He is extremely intelligent knowing all manner of world affairs, trivia, etc. and generally witty and fun to be around. However, he says things that are wildly inappropriate at times that are often denigrating to me and really upsetting. For example, sometimes he might make a joke about the holocaust that is incredibly rude in polite society but is hilarious in context. When he takes it too far however it is enraging. He can say things like "Oh [me] said it was OK later if we take [my girlfriend, not present] out back and roll train (gangbang) her." He does not seem to say this about other people and genuinely believes he does nothing wrong when saying them. When confronted about his actions he says things like "I didn't say that!" or "What did I do?" Or things of that nature.

The line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior is hard to draw sometimes because of the sense of humor that our group of friends has but clearly there are circumstances that are upsetting to me and I've made it clear about it before. We're both men in our late 20's.

How can I confront my friend about his inappropriate jokes without being immidiately dismissed?

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  • I'm not quite sure what you mean by "mitigate the impact". I'd usually take that to mean "smoothing things over with people who got upset", but the rest of your question sounds like you want to know how to get across to him that his joke was not ok. Is that accurate?
    – Em C
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 1:14
  • Yea that's accurate. Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 1:22
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    Hi, since your question is asking how to confront your friend about his joke not being OK, we will need to know what you said when first attempting this. "When confronted about his actions" is too vague for us to give any proper answer about. The more detail and specifics about exactly how you tried to confront him the better! :)
    – Jesse
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 6:06
  • Well I pretty much lost my cool when he said that and hit him in the mouth but in the past I've pretty reasonably talked to him about "hey man, that is not cool." when he's toed the line for things. Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 3:52
  • speaking as one, people with (even mild) autism do really need pointers. Keep picking up on them. He might be embarassed and so batting it aside to minimise the embarrassment Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 13:17

2 Answers 2

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From your details it seems like the confrontation isn't right after the offense was made, which complicates things. In this case, with an extremely inappropriate joke, do not hesitate to reply instantly that this is off limits (family, girlfriend,...). It might make things awkward for half an hour and you might even get temporarily treated as a killjoy, but he has to know that this isn't ok. If you're with friends, they might even join you a bit like "yeah, not cool man" or even by not saying anything, as silence is a form of approval in this case.

I've encountered friends like this who go too far or put you down to make themselves look better. You'll be better off handling this situation right on the moment and establishing boundaries, even if you have to sacrifice the fun for an hour or so.

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  • Yes, don't save up the offenses to complain about later. Complain on the spot, and in detail. For that one I would suggest "first, rape is never funny, so a joke involving rape is never a joke. Don't ever do that. Second, my girlfriend is a human and she doesn't belong to me, so it is not possible for me to give permission to other people to rape her. Don't ever talk that way. Third, after making up this double unfunny thing, you claim I said it? Don't do that. It's not funny. It's really hurtful. And it's not just "too far" - there isn't a milder version that's ok. It was just wrong." Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 16:50
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Confront him and be very stern. Put on a serious face and make sure he knows you mean business. Reinforce this in any way you can be it by saying "I'm dead serious" or if he makes a joke, tell him to stop and that he needs to pay attention. Depending on the type of autism, I know some have issues reading social cues so don't assume he assumes anything.

Now that you've got his attention on a serious subject, let him know that what he is doing is wrong, or at the very least, inappropriate. Tell him what is wrong and why it is. If you want to tell him you're okay with X in private company, but it's not appropriate in public, then do that (but maybe it's better to just have him avoid it all together, your call). Take the rape joke for example. I would say, "Hey dude, that's not cool. I get it may be a joke, but that's my girlfriend you're talking about. It's disrespectful, lewd, and frankly not tolerated by many people. It encourages sexist behavior and can cause emotional issues for people who have dealt with actual rape.

If he is receptive to the idea that maybe he is being a stinker, perhaps you can come up with a plan to stop him in his tracks. Maybe you can give him a signal or say a codeword when he starts to get out of line, which will give him the hint that he needs to reevaluate his words/actions. Also explain to him how to think about what he's about to say/do.

  • What am I about to say/do?
  • Will it offend anyone in this context?
  • Could it offend anyone in this context?
  • Is there ever a situation where this will be appropriate?

If it works with him, maybe even have him ask himself if he would do/say X in front of his mother.

If it become way more serious, give him a sort of ultimatium. Say that you don't want to be see with someone who is making lewd and socially unacceptable remarks like he is. It may also be helpful to get the support of a few peers to reinforce what you're confronting him about.

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