I am on the Autism Spectrum, and have difficulty in interpreting people's reactions. An unintended side effect is that the trademark literalism makes me come across as a bit of a smart-a$$ when I don't intend to.

This is exacerbated by the fact that learned to actually hide behind the autistic literalism, because it's better to be thought of as a jerk than a freak (I even picked my online handle based on that). While this helped me growing up to avoid bullying, as I am now decades older, it causes a bit of trouble.

Also, now that people are far more aware of ASD, I feel more comfortable bringing it up and addressing the issue head on so...

How do I explain to people that I am not intentionally being rude?

Note: I understand that when I am, I need to apologize, not excuse it, but I also want to use it as a teaching moment.

  • Are you asking how to respond in the moment, or for something you can say pre-emptively? If in the moment, how (and how quickly) after saying something that went wrong do you realize that it did? Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 2:48

3 Answers 3


When this sort of thing comes up for me, I usually just acknowledge it and move on with a short:

Oh, sorry I misread that.

Or if I deal with the person more often and think that disclosing may be helpful:

Oh, sorry I misread that. Sometimes I take things too literally or misread social cues because I'm a touch autistic.

Usually people seem to understand that, so a more detailed explanation isn't really necessary. When someone doesn't seem to understand, I sometimes get into the more specific details of theory of mind and how I'm personally affected by it.

The more detailed explanation, for me personally, usually looks something like this:

I know I can come across as a little rude or disinterested at times. What you're probably seeing is what I call "autistic burnout" For me, being autistic means that I have to consciously process a lot of the social cues that "normal people" handle naturally. This means that my brain is usually trying to consciously multitask on responding appropriately to nonverbal cues and the actual topic at hand, which can get a little exhausting at times. I'm usually pretty good at it, but please be patient with me when I burn out. I usually don't mean any offense.

Fortunately it seems like most people know someone on the spectrum, or at least about it, so I don't often need to get into the detailed explanation.

  • The explanation in this answer coupled with an apologetic look on your face, should have the desired effect. I've got a friend who's on the spectrum and when we were going from 'barely knowing the other person's name' to 'interacting with some regularity' he took me apart and said something similar to what apaul writes here. Understanding where his 'abrasive' behaviour came from took all the 'sting' out of it.
    – Cronax
    Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 14:40

How do I explain to people that I am not intentionally being rude?

Taken straight from your profile: Black-belt in sarcasm, sardonicism, and dark humor.

As it's part of your personality, why wouldn't you just use that, and be yourself?

Issues of no importance should be dealt with seriously, and serious matters should be light-heartedly dealt with,(1) said French writer Alphonse_Daudet.

Once you realize you miscued, you could go along the line of:

  1. Really?! That's what you meant? I'm glad I'm on the spectrum, otherwise, I would have understood right away, and missed that lovely and funny staring look you just gave me :)

  2. Wow! The best part about being ASD is that it allows me to miss a lot of stuff, like I just did. Although it can seem weird to some people, sometimes, I love it and couldn't live without that anymore, you know. Wait! But that's me, so I can't anyway... :)

From there, and depending on the person's reaction, you can tell them more, apologize, explain... It's entirely up to you. You don't have to excuse it, but you can choose to let people know. With your own words. At the time you decide to bring it up.

You can't do that with everybody, though. But it shows that you:

  1. Understand and acknowledge you made a mistake / were rude.
  2. Inform the person why it happened, out of your control.
  3. Let them know you can't change, because it's part of you.

Why would it work? Maybe because "self-mocking" jokes are usually so awkward that people are stunned. It stops the flow. It's distracting the attention of those present and divert the whole focus of your "mistake" and points to your disorder.

From there, you can take the lead, and tell them what you want/need to.

I do this quite often. And it works quite well, if people are first stunned, then smile. Just replace "ASD" with "selfish and arrogant idiot" in my case, which is a much more deprecating disorder :)

Last but not least: it's not your fault if you suffer from a disorder. You have to live with it, deal with it. But I know by experience that people are more willing to listen and show empathy if you let them know with some wry humour. That's life... shrug...

1. roughly translated, as best as I can, to keep the spirit of the quote.

Off-topic, but you do a great job at TWP.SE and I enjoy reading your answers. Are you different? Yes. Sometimes. Like all of us. Does it make you less valuable? NOT AT ALL. Different people, different POV, different cultures, different level of skills and experience. All valuable. All respectable. Period.



From your statements:

trademark literalism makes me come across as a bit of a smart-a$$ when I don't intend to.


This is exacerbated by the fact that learned to actually hide behind the autistic literalism, because it's better to be thought of as a jerk than a freak

It seems like you are at least partially aware of what the problem is, as you sometimes do it on purpose, yes? Sounds like you're saying you do it both on purpose and by accident. Okay, we can work with that.

Step one -- stop doing that. You probably don't want to deliberately practice habits which you know are getting you in trouble.

Step two -- be reactive. Per @apaul advice in another answer, apologize when you realize you've crossed a line and annoyed someone. "You know I'm a little ASD, do call me out if I start being annoying" might be a good phrase for your arsenal. Serving up a smile with your apology or disclaimer will go a long way, too.

Step three -- training! There is training available for autistic adults. Search on "social skills training for autistic adults" and see if you can find something in your area. Possibly these guys can help with the "teaching moment" angle.

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