What is Ablesplaining? (and How to Avoid It) (The Autistic Feminist Ep. 5)

Most active feminists and everyone else on the internet are all-too-familiar with the phrase, “mansplaining.” Mansplaining is defined as a man explaining something, typically to women, in a manner regarded as condescending and degrading. It’s one of the most talked about buzzwords when it comes to feminism, but there is one more buzzword that is surfacing in recent years regarding disabilities: “ablesplaining.”

Ablesplaining, much like mansplaining, is when something is explained in a patronizing manner, however, it involves an able-bodied or able-minded individual explaining something to someone with a disability in a degrading manner.

Ablesplaining is often done by people who call themselves allies, but tend to act like they know absolutely everything about disabilities even though they have not experienced what it’s like to have one themselves.

Ablesplaining is actually a lot more widespread in real life, with organizations such as Autism Speaks actively silencing autistics and most support groups focusing more on parents than actual autistics, but it’s not as talked about as mansplaining.

One of the most well-known and common examples I can think of is how a neurotypical parent with an autistic child tells another autistic that they’re issues are not as bad as their child’s issues and that they should stop complaining.

As mentioned before, neurotypicals who ablesplain really don’t know what it’s like to live with a disability, and with the scenario in mind, many people attempt to explain how a condition is supposed to work just because of their own personal experiences, which does not speak for everyone.

Ablesplaining can actually invalidate one’s experiences with a disability and can assume that there is only one way to experience a particular disability or mental disorder. That just because they know someone with that disability that means they know how everyone with that disability works. In all reality, this is not the case. Every case of disabilities, and even specific disabilities like autism and ADHD, are different for everyone. When a neurotypical makes these comments, they’re basically saying that they know nothing about the disability, and that’s just not right.

A few examples of comments that would be considered “ablesplaining” include, but are not limited to:

“You were able to walk yesterday, so you should be able to walk today.”

“My cousin has bipolar disorder and he doesn’t have the same issues you do, so you clearly don’t have it.”

“You’re too young to have arthritis.”

“But you don’t look disabled.”

“Ableism doesn’t exist.”

“Just think positive. It works for everything.”

“You’re outside. You must feel better.”

“If you lose weight, you won’t be disabled anymore.”

“Don’t let your disability define you.”

“You’re just a hypochondriac.”

These problematic phrases are not only extremely common phrases in many neurotypicals’ vocabularies but also they feel the need to say these phrases when they are not welcome or wanted.

Not only an ablesplainer passionately believes that someone’s experience with a disability is “wrong”, but also feel that the person with that disability needs to be corrected and that there’s a right and wrong way to experience a disability.

Many neurotypicals who want to be good allies are scared to walk into this territory by saying the wrong thing that could potentially pass off as “ablesplaining”, so the question is, how does one avoid ablesplaining?

It’s actually a lot simpler than most neurotypicals make it out to be. The one thing that you have to do is… listen. Yes, avoiding ablesplaining is as easy as listening to the disabled. Just like any other marginalized group out there, the disabled deserve just as much of a neurotypical respect and undivided attention as anyone else.

The average argument that most neurotypicals tend to make is that many disabled people, particularly those with social disabilities, have difficulties when it comes to speaking up for what they believe in, which gives neurotypicals an excuse to speak over them or assume that they’re right.

Like I said in my previous episode, “Does Neurodiversity Shut Out the Lower End of the Spectrum?”, limitations on social skills don’t mean that autistics are unable to communicate altogether. It just means that they need more attention when it comes to accommodations so that they are able to communicate better.

When a neurotypical interrupts or speaks over a disabled person, it gives a lot less attention to their accommodations and needs, which can limit them even more in the long run. A neurotypical that struggles with interrupting and speaking over others can start with asking themselves one question: ”How would I feel if I was in their position?”

This is a question that people on the autism spectrum and who live with other social disabilities are taught whenever the subject of interrupting others comes up, but that doesn’t mean neurotypicals are excused from this. It is a social skill and many people do have trouble with it, disabled or not.

This, however, does not mean that this is something to automatically ashamed of. It just means that you are willing to improve yourself enough to acknowledge it, and it just means that you have to make more strives in order to be a good ally. I will admit that I still have to stop and ask how would I feel if I were in someone else’s position whenever I am listening to someone who is not as privileged as I am.

In general, ablesplaining can be hurtful and upsetting, and while it’s a massive talking point within other marginalized groups as well, ablesplaining still needs to be talked about just as much as others.

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