Autism and the honest opinion, where does it all go wrong?

Normally I write posts to help describe Autism traits to those without Autism but recently, I was asked by @ThatSPKid about a previous post I made called “Do you really want my honest opinion?

So I thought I’d take the opportunity to change it up and explain to those with Autism a trait that the rest of us share (well, most of us anyway).

The problem

You have a friend or loved one that asks you a seemingly trivial question, usually about themselves personally. Some of our favorite questions include “how do I look?”, “do I look like I’ve gained weight”, “what do you think of what I’ve done?” and of course, “do these pants make my butt look big?”

You get the idea.

The problem here is that a person with Autism is likely to answer honestly… the first answer to enter their mind, the obvious answer, the honest truth, is likely to be what leaves their mouth.

Chances are, unless the person asking is a super model, and even then, they’ll likely not want to hear the truth.

What a person really wants

When a person asks for a personal opinion from someone, unless they are very secure and confident in themselves, will likely not be able to handle the absolute truth, unless they truly do look fabulous and your opinion of them really is a perfect 10.

When a person asks a self gratifying question, they do it because they want re-assurance… or, as I like to call it, ego stroking.

If a person asks about how they look, that means that they’re concerned and need you to tell them that they’re just being paranoid and that they look great.

People know when they’re fat, they know when their look is questionable, they know when the artwork they did is amazing or not.. what they want from you is to reassure them, validate their feelings or simply… to give their ego a boost.

Why so upset?

Some people are more than capable of hearing the truth and may accept the fact that you find they look fat and therefore will simply choose to wear something else or hit the gym after… and they won’t be upset with you in the slightest.

But those that aren’t so secure in themselves won’t take it so well and very likely will get upset with you. Not because they think what you said was untrue but it’s because they already knew what you’re saying, they just wanted you to make them feel better and you didn’t.

For no real rational reason what so ever, they asked you a question to which they knew there was a good chance they’d get a negative answer, especially if they already knew it to be true, and yet they asked it anyway anticipating you to make them feel better about themselves.

How do you know when to say the truth?

For the most part, a person will make it very obviously clear that they can handle the truth and if they do and still get offended, then you know not to repeat it next time. But if they take it as constructive criticism and don’t get mad then you’re free to be yourself.. your honest self.

However, it’s a good general rule of thumb that anyone, anywhere, that asks a question about what you think about them, their weight, their look, something they created and so forth is simply looking for your appreciation… you to give their ego a boost.

If you do tell them they look great or what they created is wonderful and they push you further, asking if that’s really your honest opinion, then it’s ok to give more honest feedback.

Encouragement or Discouragement

In the case of a person’s efforts, your honest opinion may make the difference between whether or not a person is encouraged to do better next time or discouraged from ever doing it again.

My children are a perfect example, which is what I used in my previous post. My 3 year old (Tyler) put a bunch of blocks together in what he felt was a nice pattern. He showed my 5 year old (Cameron) with all the pride a person could possibly have to which Cameron replied that it was nothing and just dismissed it.

He was right, it really was nothing. It was a 3 year old putting blocks together in no real pattern or anything.

However, my 3 year old was proud of it and would very likely continue to play with his building blocks and get better and better.

With proper encouragement, he could one day become an architect or engineer should he continue to enjoy working with building blocks. But if he shows off his work at the age of 3 years old and is discouraged from ever trying again… well, becoming a builder is likely not to be in his future.

In this case, someone that does not have enough expertise is not going to put together a masterpiece but is looking for positive feedback simply to help encourage himself to proceed further, to keep trying harder.

Anyone that is just starting something is likely to do poorly at it, but relative to their experience level, it might be right on par to what they should be able to do. And when they come to you for feedback on it, they’re looking for that encouragement. They need to know that they’ve done well and their work is “amazing”… because it will give them that push to keep at it.


There’s no perfect science to this… everyone is different and some people really want the honest truth and that will be what motivates them to look better, lose weight to try harder… but for the most part, it’s a safe assumption to say that the person just wants you to tell them what they want to hear.

And what most people want to hear is something that will make them feel proud, feel happy and feel encouraged. Appreciate is what feeds most of us what we need to push ourselves harder… we’re not nearly as good at taking constructive criticism as we tell people we are.

Put it this way, when someone asks you a personal question, think of it as a multiple choice question. There is a) the truth and b) what they want to hear.

Unless ‘a’ matches ‘b’ (the truth is what they will want to hear) or they’ve proven themselves to be very good at handling the truth without being offended… you’re probably best off taking a moment to consider both options before giving your answer.

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

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