Autistic in NYC

Resources and new ideas for the autistic adult community in the New York City metro area.

Constructive criticism and responding gracefully to criticism


The art of giving and receiving constructive criticism is a set of skills, closely related to both assertiveness and active listening, that are absolutely essential in a workplace and among people collaborating on anything (e.g. those of us collaborating on building groups of autistic people).

As autistic people, we need other people to be assertive with us, to talk to us in a clear and specific way -- rather than expect us to pick up on subtle hints (which many of us are very bad at) and then abandon us when we can't. Therefore, we need other people to feel safe being assertive with us. We don't need to agree with their criticisms, but we do need to be able to respond to them in a graceful manner, so we can continue communicating with the other person until either we reach a mutually acceptable win-win compromise or we agree to disagree.

Alas, many autistic people are highly sensitive to criticism, evem more so than most people in general are. For many of us this may be due, at least in part, to childhood trauma. Many of us were bullied. Even among those of us with relatively non-traumatic childhoods, most of us grew up being criticized and corrected a lot more than most kids are. Many of us live in constant dread of doing something wrong. Many of us have developed a deep emotional need to be "right" at all times.

In a more autistic-friendly world, there would be fewer things that we get criticized for. We would no longer be expected to imitate NT body language. Our sensory sensitivities would be accommodated. People would communicate with us clearly, instead of expecting us to pick up on subtle hints. People would respect our own desire to communicate clearly.

But there would still be other people in that world, and there still would inevitably be some friction arising between us and at least some of those other people. So, even in the most autistic-friendly possible world, criticism would still be one of the realities of life that never go away. Criticism is, by far, the lesser evil compared to being ostracized or otherwise punished for our failure to pick up on some mysterious unspecified subtle hint.

Both the ability to respond gracefully to criticism and the ability to give constructive criticism in a polite way are essential to effective teamwork. Yet even many NT's do not have these skills, preferring instead to rely on subtle hints -- even though subtle hints are not, even for NT's, an effective way to communicate about work-related details.

The pages below may also give all of us more insight, generally, into how to assert our own needs without being rude, and how to respond more gracefully when others assert their needs.

Of course, knowing when to use these skills is important too. Often it is better just to mind one's own business than to offer even the most polite constructive criticism, and sometimes the person criticizing you really does have hostile motives.

Note: The tutorials listed below do not yet include much info on how to assert boundaries with people who make truly hostile criticisms or who truly have no business criticizinng you in the first place. These are important topics too, on which a list of tutorials will be added later, either on this page or a separate page.

Also, I don't fully agree with everything in the tutorials below. I would suggest that they be treated not as holy writ, but as jumping-off points for discussion in a peer support / self-help group.

Responding gracefully to (mostly constructive) criticism

Responding gracefully to (mostly hostile or inappropriate) criticism

Giving constructive criticism

Both giving and receiving constructive criticism

Constructive criticism and autistic people

Rejection sensitivity, "rejection sensitivity dysphoria" (RSD), and other sensitivity to criticism

Anger management

Relevant message board threads

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