Can Autistics Tell Lies? | Kathy Marshack

all people lie, but how Autistics lie is unique. It’s that uniqueness that gums up our relationships. I am not sure who started the rumor that those with ASD don’t lie, and even that they are incapable of lying. Clearly this is not true. Sadly, all people lie, but how Autistics lie is unique. It’s that uniqueness that gums up our relationships.

Without empathy, Autistics lie similarly to psychopaths, although Autistics don’t have the ruthless intent. They aren’t considering how we will feel when they lie to us. They aren’t even considering a “smooth” way to lie. They just lie to avoid confrontation, anxiety, being wrong, or any number of reasons the rest of us may lie.

When confronted with their lies autistics have a variety of defenses that mimic psychopaths too.

  • They tell us they “never said that.” 
  • They elaborate the lie. 
  • They change the subject. 
  • They ignore us. 
  • They even lie when the truth would work better. 

What’s with that?

It might just be that they need help with what I call the Rules of Engagement. They don’t always have the social awareness that lying will cause harm to the relationship. Once they get this, they try harder. This is a tough subject, so I have reserved it for a small group of people who sign up for the Video Conference, “Yes! Aspies do lie” held on September 11th and again on September 25th. Together we’ll get a handle on this.

If you would rather work in-person with me, and you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA, please contact my Jantzen Beach office and schedule an appointment. I also offer online therapy if that works better for you.

23 Replies to “Can Autistics Tell Lies? | Kathy Marshack”

  1. I have always had a hard time talking. I dont like to talk unless it is due to an injustice to me. I cant think fast enough to lie. It has been this way all of my life. I dont understand. I even get mad due to I know it may be to my dosmise to tell the truth and give info to potential wolf in sheeps clothing.

    1. Hi Mic,
      You make a good point that you can’t think fast enough to lie. It’s not so much the speed of thought, but the ability to understand how to nuance the lie so that the other person is fooled. Many on the Spectrum have no idea how to do this. I am not sure that is a flaw, however.

      Others on the Spectrum lie with abandon, but they do so in a domineering fashion, so that no one can get a word in edgewise.

      Your other point about telling the truth, only to your demise, is also very insightful. Both lying and truth telling require empathy, or the ability to nuance the message to fit the person and the situation.

      Rather than beat your head against a wall, trying to figure out how to nuance your message, it makes more sense to give yourself a break. You are enough and that’s all that matters. I encourage you to be open about it. For example, you might say, “Hey! I don’t always say the right thing at the right time, but you always know where I stand.”

      Thank you for reading and sharing your experience. I appreciate it.

      1. Why do you insist that autistic people lack empathy? Having a hard time with showing empathy and actually feeling empathy are two different things. Many other psychologists state that those with Asperger’s do feel empathy. With all due respect, we are not emotionless robots. As an adult who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s and being a certified special education teacher, I know that people with autism certain do feel empathy,

        1. Empathy is a two way street. Knowing how you feel and the ability to express those feelings to the other person — and the ability to recognize the feelings of others and acknowledge those feelings — it’s a complicated interaction. If you are missing one element in the Empathy Triad (Empathy, Context and Conversation) — then empathy fails.

  2. Hi Kathy,
    I have a student who does pretty much everything you have mentioned. What strategies would you suggest to help him understand the importance of telling the truth?

    1. Hi Katie,
      The best thing you can do is make a rule for the student. It’s not easy to help the student understand the importance of telling the truth, but you can insist that it is the rule to be truthful. Those without empathy are not assessing how the lie affects others. Instead they are managing their own anxiety by lying. In the long run, they may need therapy to help them develop strategies to reduce anxiety and still be honest. Hope this helps.

  3. My sister has Aspergers (level 1 autism) and she has lied her whole adult life. She lies about lying. In one of the few times that she admitted to this, I asked her why she lies. She said “It makes things easier”. I am so pissed off with her because she lies any time I ask her a question that she doesn’t want to confront, I don’t even talk to her anymore. I ask her why she never had a colonoscopy- she lied and said that her doctor never told her about it! She is 60! Oh, BUT her doctor DID tell her about Cologuard, a second best test on which you provide a stool sample. Sure! A doctor doesn’t tell a patient to have z colonoscopy but DOES tell the patient to do a stool sample! That is just one of hundreds of lies that she has been caught in.

    1. Lying is very common with “Aspies” and yet there is this common misconception that they can’t lie, because they struggle to read people. Without empathy, the reasoning goes, they don’t lie well. Whether or not they lie creatively isn’t the point is it? Lying creates a lack of trust and after many years, lack of trust shuts down the relationship. Why do they lie? As your sister said, it is easier. If they can’t read you or the situation very well, and they don’t have any expectation that the lie will damage trust (a common “Aspie” misconception), then a quick lie gets you off their back. If their primary goal is to reduce anxiety in the moment, a quick lie does the trick… Similarly to a child.

      1. Thank you so much for responding. I can’t find information anywhere about people with aspergers (level 1 autism) that lie. Thank you so much.

      2. I hope I’m not to late to get a reply. My 22yr old daughter has been lying to me for years!
        Problem is by the time i found out police and dss was at my door. Telling me all these terrible things she said about me. She said i wanted to sale her for sex trade, have a 3 some with her and some random man. N sale her to a pimp. She said i abused my children n her. I mean the list goes on.
        She was so convincing that they gave her temporary custody of my children. Later that night she called back the cops on me stating i abused her because i slammed the door.
        FINALLY They noticed that something was wrong n she was lying.
        Her story started to fall apart.
        I didn’t understand what was going on. She never gave off any sign that she was this type of person until the cops was there. It was like i was living with a person i didn’t know.
        I love her so much i had to see why she did all this.
        I later found out because i took her phone that she has been smiling in my face and asking me to do stuff for me around the house. N than posting sad videos online to her many cyber friends that i treat her like a slave.
        We could be laughing in the room having a great time n she would go in her room online and say ” i had to go play nice with that wicked evil b**** n so many other names.
        I read alot of what she said online, and had i not known me after reading YEARS! of horrible things n… Please believe there were very bad. One of Worst things the investigators found out is that she was going to take my children to a man to Mississippi n they believe he was into actual sex trafficking
        Yes . this sounds like something straight outta of a movie.
        My question is i can tell sadly that she was very aware that this didn’t happen. Yet on some levels. I wonder if she convince herself that this is okay.
        I know she’s very angry at me because i wouldn’t let her go with this strange man.. And she said many times she wants to destroy me n even murder me. So they removed her from my home n is evaluating her to make sure she is okay due to the severity of her lies n threats on my life and her siblings.
        I truly hope i didn’t confuse you its so much to this story i tried to make it as short as possible so you may have a better change at understanding whats going on with my daughter. She has mild Autism.
        My question is can or will she ever calm down n or miss her family. Because her actual life was very loving.
        She has a very loving family she say she hates her sibling they are 4 , 5 and 14 the sweetest children. She did complain alot about the children being to loud n touching her stuff. N said many times she hate kids.
        Do you have any advice to me on how i can help my daughter.
        I know i and my children will be fine. I just worry about her being all alone out there on her own.

        1. This is an overwhelming story. First and foremost, protect yourself and your family from this daughter. She sounds profoundly disturbed. Let the police and the mental health professionals handle this. I know your heart is breaking.

  4. My partner lie about his bad behaviors. He knows when he is behaving badly and lies. He lied about his cheating, about doing drugs, used his son to get holidays from work saying he was sick or he had to care about him even if he basically stopped taking care of him for over an year and lied about it too. He lied about how he behaved with his ex girlfriend and about what he say or does. I think people doesn’t get that being Asperger is just being a normal human being with a different way to see things. Among Aspergers there are also assholes, as well as among neurotypicals. And that’s it. They don’t lie because of asperger, they lie because they are selfish. As well as also a lot of neurotypicals do.

    1. spot on! my brother who is diagnosed with autism (not sure if it’s aspergers) lies CONSTANTLY to save his own skin. even when he knows i can easily ask a family member that witnessed what really happened, that doesn’t seem to matter to him? when confronted with the truth, sometimes he will deny, and sometimes he will admit he lied. depends on his mood i guess? either way, he will either come off as very selfish, and some days, selfless and can be the sweetest. its definitely a puzzle but we love him anyway!
      on the other hand, my sister who is a covert narc, boasts of being a woman of honesty and integrity, cleaning up her name as best she can, all while outright lying about the same thing she claims to be honest about. if you catch her in her lie she plays the victim card. it’s exhausting. i try to limit my interaction with her as much as possible, luckily she’s in the military stationed far away from us lol.

  5. Dear Kathy,
    I agree with you 100%. Aspire can and do lie. My mother-in-law lies and scapegoats my 5-year-old daughter in order to avoid blame for things that she believes will reflect badly on her. For example, my mother-in-law was babysitting a child who hit accidentally his head on the corner of the kitchen countertop and was bleeding. She lied and said that my daughter pushed the child. I can’t stand the lying and I am so angry that my daughter has to live through the experience of being scapegoated by her own grandmother. Any suggestions on how to approach this issue? My mother-in-law will not admit the truth and my husband defends her, because I don’t think he wants to face the fact that his mother is a liar. However, he tells me stories of how she scapegoated HIM growing up. Why he can’t believe that she is still engaging in this behavior is beyond me. She scapegoats my daughter and shows favoritism to her younger grandson. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  6. I have an Asperger’s diagnosis from a psychiatrist. I know it is the correct diagnosis after going through all of the crap we go through as a child and as an adult and being thrown around the mental health system with zero progress for 2 decades.

    Eventually I accepted the conclusion, or should I say repeated observation, that people change their minds, stories and beliefs on a whim, for no discernible reason, at any time, and that this will never change. Neurotypicals lie all the time. They don’t even know they’re doing it. It’s not lying to them. It’s the latest fashion to be a part of. It’s a sacrifice they’re making, for their family’s sake. They’re lying when they say their wedding vows so they will be accepted by a bigger social circle. Blah blah blah. It’s all a pack of lies.

    Seen as I will never know what are “acceptable lies”, I made my own rules for what is acceptable.

    I have come to the conclusion that lying is perfectly acceptable. It is telling the truth that gets me into far, far more and deeper trouble and always has done. Neurotypicals cannot handle truth. Thus, it is often logical and prudent to use lies and in that sense the author is right. Aspies that learn to lie will get very good at it and will (mostly) lie like a psychopath (not as pathological as a psychopath), and for good reason. Don’t expect me to feel guilty about it. It is a risk/reward calculation. I gave up on trying to decode your feelings about 15 years ago because it is a total waste of time.

    Let me guess, my post is offensive somehow.

    That’s because it’s honest.

    You don’t like that, do you?

    1. Honesty is a virtue. In fact it is so valued that parents teach their children to be honest and to stand up for the truth. Unfortunately parents do not teach their children how tough it is to be truthful and honest and to take the consequences of those actions. Other than the psychopath (an narcissist) most people lie because they are afraid to face the consequences of upsetting others with our observations. One thing that might help you know when to share what you believe to be the truth is to ask yourself if it is True, Necessary, and Kind. Not just one of those but all three.

    2. First off, i love this comment sorry not sorry. I met someone who’s high functioning and though i know he lies to avoid confrontation and drama seemingly out of habit i understand his urge to. My only question is how much does he lie to me? I feel weird about believing that answer to be almost never considering we both talk and laugh about each others not so nice behaviour towards other people. Hes insistent he loves me… Why say something so serious when i never encourage him to? I absolutely love him to pieces when everyone else thinks hes a complete shit head. Am i seeing him for him or am i the idiot being manipulated? *laughs* i feel like no matter who you are we all ask ourselves these questions at one point or another. I work for a place where i help and interact with people who have a vast array of disabilities. I absolutely love the job and the clients…. I bond more often with the ones most of my co workers dread interacting with at times or so it would seem. I feel like most of these loving smart individuals just are over sensitive and highly intelligent. They sense when people really don’t like or respect them. Lets be honest no one likes fake love…. In result they give certain co workers hell. I often hear ” that person is just an asshole” no that person was testing you to see if your worthy of their affection in my opinion and you failed😂😂😂🤷 everybody lies and i believe some people on the spectrum are just really good at it😂 but they are also extremely good in my experience at loving people deeply and fully in ways most people seem pretty incapable of in my opinion.. . i feel like their love and friendship is literally the most meaningful when its earned and deserved as it should be. And if I’m wrong well then tell me i am i encourage it and the input:) i am always under the assumption there’s more to learn and one persons truth will not always be anothers……

  7. Someone with ASD or neurotypical can lie. What are the chances of an adult diagnose with ASD being able to understand lying is not right, yes I agree they do it for a lot of reasons such avoiding confrontation, etc. But like Paul mentioned he given up learning what is acceptable. What do you think of that? It is a challenge for anyone to change habits or behaviours how does this even work for someone with ASD?

  8. I’m currently about to lose my marriage to this problem. I’m autistic and NEVER lie. I literally can’t. It will eat me up inside and bother me until I explode. I also can’t tolerate being lied to as it completely destroys my trust in the person who lies to me and makes me feel so alone. My husband is almost certainly autistic (he won’t get tested), and he lies ALL the time without even thinking about it. Pretty much any time he doesn’t want to/can’t do something or feels like someone will be upset with him, he just lies. It kills me. I just don’t know what to do anymore and am completely devastated I might lose my marriage over this. It’s so, so sad.

    1. Thank you for your comment Sarah. Being lied to by your partner is devastating and destructive. Narcissism better explains why a spouse would lie with abandon. Either he doesn’t get it that you are hurt — or worse, he gets it and revels in your distress.

  9. My sister is an adult with autism and still constantly lies about so many things, even silly things like turning on the air conditioning when everyone else is cold. She will also lie to get out of doing chores and basic things like that. My mom doesn’t see it and my sister often blames me for things through her lies and it is beyond frustrating. Any suggestions for how to talk to my mom about it?

    1. Your Mom is mostly in denial about her daughter, which means she cannot hear what you are telling her. As a mother of an autistic daughter myself, I didn’t wake up to her dark side until she turned on me. She lied. She abused the cat. She retaliated against her sister. So much more. These are symptoms of distress too. Your sister needs effective treatment, but even the best psychologist may not get past your mother’s denial, protectiveness and codependency.

  10. My Aspie husband (Undiagnosed) will not admit he has an inability to regulate his emotions, especially ANGER. He assaulted me Dec 2020, was arrested but charges were dropped. He initiated a separation, but won’t say he wants a divorce. He will still see me once and awhile. He will not admit he did anything wrong and “can’t come back” because he does not feel safe. He has made some extremely bad “Big Picture” decisions and is blaming me for the negative outcomes that are out of my control. I have learned so much about Aspergers and have changed my communication style and try to keep emotional stimulus low. How can I win my love back? I ask him simple things, like what did he do yesterday? And he told me to stop digging into his life because he doesn’t do that to me. Does he really not want to reconcile? PLEASE HELP

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