There are a variety of terms that are used to describe many autistics and they are often not compliments. One such term is “know it all.” When I think back on my life, this is a term that as been used so often to describe me that I can’t even keep count. It’s still used from time to time in my adult life, but these days its people making the accusation “You think you know everything don’t you.” Well, if you have ever said this about an autistic, then this post is for you, because what you interpret happening isn’t exactly what is going on.
Autistic people typically have special interests. How many and to what extent they have them varies from autistic to autistic. A special interest for an autistic person doesn’t have the same meaning as an interest with most non-autistics. For us, those special interests become an obsession. We spend a great deal of time studying our interests and we can gain such a deep insight in to the topic that it shapes how we perceive the world.
For instance, I have a great many special interests. In my case, long ago I had a special interest and to understand it entirely meant that I had to study something else. To understand that something else, I had to study something else and so on. I literally used to sit down and read encyclopedias following the “See also:” prompts for hours on end. That is how my special interests work. I study something to death until I hit a roadblock and need to learn something else to understand the other better. So, I tend to do a very large circle around a multitude of topics. For me, they are just one big topic that is interwoven. This process is called “synthesis.” But, exploring that deeper is for another post.
When a topic comes up that is in the purview of my special interests, I tend to have a lot to say. Politics is one of my special interests. My view of politics is informed by more than what is being said in the news and what my social circle might say. I legitimately study political theory, political history back to Plato, various government formations throughout history, their success and failures, etc… My political views are intertwined with economics, history, science, sociology, anthropology, religion, philosophy, etc… So, when I go to talk about politics, I have a ton to say. I also have an extremely refined understand of the topic that is supported by mountains of evidence.
As you might imagine, if someone wants to talk to me about politics, there is a good chance I’m better informed and have taken into consideration how the issue on the table may affect multiple different things. You may also imagine, especially if you have experienced an autistic person doing this to you, that it’s overwhelming for the person who isn’t interested in more than a 5-minute sound bite from the news of their choice. I can imagine, based on people’s reaction to me, that it can be extremely frustrating to debate with someone who can thoroughly defeat every argument you give by presenting a mountain of evidence. In my case, that frustration is compounded because one of my strengths is logical reasoning, which it seems people don’t appreciate or understand as much as they like to think they do.
This is often where the “know it all” label comes from. We tend to know a lot about what we are talking about when we talk about it. That doesn’t mean we can’t be wrong or have an incomplete idea. We are human, and we make errors. For many of us, we don’t see ourselves as a know it all. We aren’t trying to “wow” people with our knowledge. Often, we are trying to share what we know because it excites us, and we are hoping you will be excited too. We want to share an experience with you that involves something we enjoy and might very well be extremely important to us. In that way, we are sharing part of ourselves with the other person. We also may just want to set the record straight if we know that you said something that was wrong. It isn’t an attack on you. It’s really a gesture of kindness to make sure you don’t walk around being wrong in front of other people. We won’t judge you for being wrong, but the next person might.
In my case, I’m also very aware I don’t know everything. If I did, there would be no reason for me to incessantly study the way that I do. I’m aware that I can be wrong, and I am willing to listen to people and consider their arguments and evidence in good faith, because I don’t want to continue to be wrong if I am indeed wrong. I am far from a know it all. I think it’s important for people that are facing this with an autistic person in their life to put their own biases aside and consider that what is going on might not be what you think it is. You might be upset about something that is happening that is done with the best of intentions. I’ve said many times in my life, “the greatest insult I can give a person is to not talk to them. It means that I don’t think they are worth my time and effort.” I will let people fail and get hurt if I think they won’t listen to me if I explain something to them. I’ve allowed people to make a fool of themselves in a crowd of people while that talked about something they clearly knew nothing about simply because I didn’t think they could be reached. So, when I am willing to share what I know, it means I think you’re worth my time and you will listen. I think there are many autistic people that feel the same way.