A few weeks ago I made a mention on my personal page about some comments I had heard recently from Bean's attendant care worker, and a few other people that were less than politically correct. Some of the comments were downright insensitive, and misinformed. My special needs community friends on FB were appalled. I was as well, but I saved that reaction for behind the scenes.
Well, let me illustrate it for you, because it's better than just giving a simple answer. Have you ever been in the company of a friend (or even an acquaintance such as a coworker that you may not have a choice whether or not to spend time with) that you have to watch your every word, because you know one trip up is going to lead to a soapbox rant? Maybe they're a vegetarian, or hate Obama, or love the rainforest. They have passion, mixed with what appears to be some anxiety, and resentment when presented with ideals that clash with theirs. They have a lot of knowledge, so any argument with them is likely going to end up in a battle, even if it is one made of an epic straw man. You know that it is not worth your time to go there with them, so you find yourself cherry picking your words around them. You avoid known hot button issues, and maybe even avoid them if you can help it.
Quite simply, I don't want to be that person in everyone's life that they avoid, because I scream "Ableist!" at their every unintentional remark that offends me. Maybe, I might be more polite than to call them an ableist, but no one likes to have conversations with people they know who are just waiting to correct them. That doesn't feel like friendship, or a discussion between equals. It feels like a lecture about how much a sucky person you are.
This doesn't mean that I never correct people when they say something unintentionally offensive about autism, or disabilities. Sometimes, I do. Sometimes, I bite my tongue. Usually with most I figure I can lead by example. I assume they will be able to learn as they get to know my children, and hang around us. If they say something incorrect, or offensive I try to figure out a non-confrontational way to explain the difference to them. Something like "Well, we really don't view autism like that." Most of the time I feel my actions speak louder than words. Our home is pretty happy, and I think others take notice of that. I think they see that, and know the usual tragedy model won't apply here.
Before I end this, I will say that there are some that are just busybodies. They might think they're being helpful, but it's more than likely this type isn't aiming to be helpful. They are toxic. I don't mean someone who is a little annoying. I mean the people that are just vile, and extreme. They are sure to criticize everyone. They know more about your life, and how you should live it better than you do. They know all about autism, and can cure your child's autism (as if it were separable from the person)- if you'd just listen! I don't see any value in even trying to engage these types with any conversation about your views. They don't care, and they won't hear. It really is a waste of time to tell them their words are offensive. Tell them thank you for their advice, or whatever and move on with your day. It's not worth the emotional turmoil to engage them.
Educate with kindness, and respect. When we do that it opens a door to future learning. Don't be that person that makes everyone nervous, or that they avoid. Be the person others come to to ask questions. Be a person you'd like to approach to talk about an unknown, but delicate topic.