i autistic » Dark Side » How to identify and guard against Fake Autistics

The focus of this article is not to question autistic identity; it is on the threat posed by those who identify as autistic even though they have never, or no longer fulfill the official criteria for autism. Its intention is not to deny the autistic experience but to inform autistic people on how to identify and protect themselves from such hidden threats who can easily manipulate the autistic community in disguise. This article will also examine the motives and strategies of the imposters collected from experiences working with the autism community.

Long story short, the autistic community is a neglected group of unhappy people who usually keep to themselves. The laws protecting minors in most countries no longer cover these adults, even though some of them still have the gullibility of a minor. Such a situation provides easy and tempting targets for people with hidden agendas to manipulate and exploit.

 

Commit Crime/Scam: Most people think of this, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. These cases are relatively easy to spot. For instance, an autistic person claimed to be an art expert travelling alone to various third-world countries to buy quality paintings to resell at much higher prices in first-world countries. The imposter was later found trying to persuade other community members to participate in dubious business opportunities. When questioned, he feigned ignorance due to autism.

Build Exploitation Harem: Autistic people are more likely to wish to be the opposite sex compared to non-autistic people. A friendly male autistic person in his 40s spent all his waking hours engaging male autistic people in chat groups while ignoring all females. A tip-off and subsequent investigation revealed that this autistic person was partnering with non-autistic people to recruit and groom autistic adults for sex. While this person was undoubtedly autistic, he could use advanced political stratagems thanks to his non-autistic partners, who sometimes take over his social media account to interact on his behalf. Unfortunately, both the police and a major autism organisation chose to take no action.

Provide Cover for Spies: Since autistic people are socially naïve and often exhibit unusual behaviours, intelligence agencies can embed agents who use autism as their cover to make surveillance targets drop their guard against them. Since autistic people naturally find it hard to detect imposters among them, this type of impersonation provides an excellent risk-reward ratio. An autistic teenager who completed his military service was inactive online but aimed to be the centre of attention whenever a social gathering of autistic peers occurred. He showed no signs of autism, and his behaviour was never socially inappropriate. The situation became clear when Eric discovered this imposter worked at a government agency linked with intelligence gathering.

Excuse Antisocial Behaviour: Some people confuse personality disorders with autism. A young man with an autism diagnosis from childhood kept getting in trouble due to antisocial behaviour. He consistently used his autism diagnosis to evade legal consequences. While he has none of the triad of characteristics associated with autism, his behaviour fits that of Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), which forbids diagnosis before adulthood.

 

Build a Brand Following: A wealthy person used impressive credentials to gain leadership and advisory positions in key disability and autism organisations. As befitting someone with high social status, this person has elegant body language and chooses their words carefully. When with politically influential people, they only speak in generalities while agreeing to and praising everything mentioned. In contrast, they may behave in a rude and offensive manner when interacting with people who have little influence, attributing antisocial behaviour to autism.

This person claims to suffer from various conditions that prevent them from committing to work requiring significant effort, choosing instead to focus on easy symbolic wins and their personal hobby. They also mentor a group of scholarly autistic advocates to become thought leaders, using these people as mouthpieces to influence the community while they act neutral. This person cuts ties with any mentee who dares to disagree, sabotaging the ex-mentee’s reputation behind the scenes using private knowledge gained from mentoring. Taken as a whole, this person seems to have political awareness and social competency far beyond that of autistic people.

When a politically competent and influential leader of the autistic community actively manipulates the situation behind the scenes in favour of their faction, independent autistic advocates stand no chance of succeeding.

 

Autistic people who consistently demonstrate behaviour inconsistent with the triad of characteristics defining autism are likely to be imposters. Members of the autistic community must actively develop social awareness and engage in keen observation of social behaviours to identify red flags for follow-up investigation. The adage that we can fool some people some of the time, but not all people all the time, applies even to the most cunning person. Non-autistic people often engage in gossip as their social radar to find and counteract threats; autistic people can consider systematic approaches to build a similar system.

These imposters must also have a strong motive, much than enough to overcome the discrimination brought upon by the stigma of autism. To avoid false positives, we also need to consider opportunity costs. Someone from a low-income background who could have taken up a lucrative job in the IT industry is in a very different situation from another person who has no such option but to engage in autism work. In addition, someone who is retired or wealthy will not fear discrimination from employers, clients and insurers.

Such imposters also aim to maximise association while minimising costs. This means they wish to present themselves as active and accomplished members of the autistic community by contributing as little effort as possible. They may make various excuses to refrain from participation while aiming for symbolic achievements that put them in a positive light.

Do also note that sensory issues, obsessive behaviour, anxiety, depression, etc, that often accompany autism are not core characteristics of autism. Thus, these cannot establish if a person is autistic or not.

 

A general precaution to guard against imposters is to be very careful whom you share personal information with, including those who offer a listening ear and mentorship. Remember the adage: “You have the right to remain silent, but whatever you say can be, and will be used against you“. Sometimes such an offer is a trap to extract personal information for future manipulation and to allow your ex-ally to sabotage you when you are no longer willing to support them.

For those who choose to expose imposters, you are on your own. Do not move rashly, as the imposters can easily outmaneuver you when they see you as a threat. Disability community politics can be far more complex than expected, and autistics with low support needs are at the bottom of the heap of concerns of everyone else.

Do not expect support from autism or disability organisations, as this issue is too controversial for them to take up. It is politically incorrect and offensive to challenge the identity/disability of other people, especially if we do not have the same identity/disability. The tendency of many autistic people to take things personally regarding their disability/identity also makes it challenging to have a constructive conversation.

An autistic friend asked why someone would choose to exploit autistic people instead of helping them when they are already so weak and oppressed. I replied that non-autistic people think very differently. As much as autistic people wonder why non-autistic people are keen to acquire political power and personal advantage, non-autistic people wonder why autistic people pursue seemingly irrelevant hobbies intensively.