Polly's pages (aka 'Donna Williams')

Ever the arty Autie

Do Autistic People Lie?


It’s a (disproven) stereotype that those with autism can’t lie. Some Auties and Aspies CAN and DO lie and have talked openly about how and why they did or were compelled to. Others can’t or don’t. But what defines the difference? What decides who can and does, who can and doesn’t, who can’t but would if they could, who can’t but even if they could wouldn’t?

One of the things about being functionally non verbal until I was 9-11 was that I never had to lie! I couldn’t be understood anyway. And how does one lie using a Palmolive Dishwashing Liquid commercial or the theme from Gilligan’s Island when that and a bunch of idiosyncratic words nobody understands is what you have as speech. Never really thought about that before, but I have virtually never lied. I had to think really hard how to do it twice in order to save my life. It involved having to know the truth and then imagine an opposite and say that! Although Exposure Anxiety made me commonly spout diversion responses and say yes when I meant no and vice versa, I really struggle with mental reversing… even ‘not’ statements are a struggle… I often have to get people to convert them before I can answer. So I reckon lying is a cognitive-linguistic skill as well as linked to motivation which equates with personality traits, identifications etc.

One probably needs

a) enough intact receptive and expressive speech (typed or spoken)
b) the cognition to internally juggle two scenarious (truth and lie) without losing track of one or the other) and
c) personality traits that make it easier to lie – ie lying would come more naturally with those at risk of narcissistic, antisocial, histrionic, borderline personality disorders than, say Schizoid personality disorder… but could still be driven by OCPD if one desperately enough wanted to continue something they felt an excuse would help, or in AvPD if one were scared enough of change or socialising.

So pretty much, any HUMAN BEING can lie if they have the motivation to do so.

Money is another motivation, material advantage. So any destitute person who suddenly struck it lucky could easily be targeted as a potential liar and a classist society that likes poor people to be objects of charity from above reinforces this idea that ‘they must have ripped someone off to get that’. But what’s really in this classism is a projection that ‘all poor people would want what advantages I have and would do ANYTHING to get those’. This is the classist equivalent of the racist cliche that ‘all black men want to rape white women’ captured so well in To Kill A Mockingbird.

Do all destitute people really lust, above all else, for money? I’m sure some do. But fact is, beyond needing enough to eat, clothe warmly and pay for a rented roof over one’s head, some don’t give two hoots about money. How many poor people are happy enough with sausages, mash, mince, rice and chips? Do they really all lust after lobster, prawn cocktails and avocado salad? How many poor people wish for a king size bed, chandeliers, holidays in Paris? Or are many just content with a nice warm duvet/doona, an electric oil radiator, some upturned milk crates for chairs, clothes from the charity shops, day old bread from the bakery and a holiday down the beach sleeping in the station wagon? Affluent middle class who project money lust onto those who had been destitute are ignorant classist bigots who either have no idea whatsoever of life on ‘the other side’ or THEY were the kind who DID have such overwhelming money lust they would lie to get whatever advantages they could.

It is so easy to lie, to project lying onto someone else to benefit from the flagwave of victimhood, or even rally and incite enough hatred to make one’s own presumptions appear facts by virtue of one’s number of sycophants willing to further one’s own dirty work. But in my opinion, however harmful lies and liars may be, its not the liars who worry me so much its the covert bigots who slather up to those lies because something in their speaks to their own self righteous bigotry.

Donna Williams, BA Hons, Dip Ed.
Author, artist, singer-songwriter, screenwriter.
Autism consultant and public speaker.

I acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Owners of this country throughout Australia, and their connection to land and community.