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.
34 Replies to “Can Autistics Tell Lies? | Kathy Marshack”
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.
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.
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,
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.
So does that mean if Neurotypicals are missing one element of the Empathy Triad (say context of aspie experience) that then empathy fails. Can a Neurotypical even be empathetic to an Autistic when they lack understanding of our feelings and experiences.
Good question. Even NeuroTypicals can err when evaluating the experience of an Autist, if they do not consider the context and meaning of the autistic experience. If they try to understand and empathize with the Autist from the frame of NTs only, they will fail. I have seen this many times. However, if a person has empathy, they can adjust their filters to include the new information of their ASD loved one. In spite of what many NeuroDiverse people think, NTs can step into the reality of an Autist — and get them. The NT just needs to let go of their preconceived notions — and allow for brand new possibilities.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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……
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
Lisa, This is a very late response, but I always go back to old blogs to remind myself how far I have come. Everyone should look into trauma bonding, and why we are attracted to people who can not love us back. You will be able to sum up why this relationship is the hardest to get away from. My boyfriend, weather he knows it or not, I have kept at a distance now. I just use my job as an exuse. I invested in just blocking him on days I don’t want to deal with him. Then I just say “Oh, I was not feeling well”. Avoids all the drama.
my boyfriend is an adult Aspie, I have been worn out by the cycles of emotional abuse, they say they can not help. Lisa, I identify with your comment so much, I feel like just giving up, no matter what I say, he ends up flipping it on me. He has a great therapist, but it only stays good for about 48 hours and then, any turbulance in his life reverts him back to a kicking and screaming young boy.
I’ve been diagnosed as Aspergers, and can lie certainly, but I generally don’t.
My perspective is, small lies you can get away with, maybe, but it reflects on myself, as I knew I was lying. Big lies you probably can’t get away with at all.
If I get caught out in a lie, that might then be worse than the original lie itself, whether legal consequences, or reduced standing in the eyes of others, which being autistic is a difficult enough subject anyway. I’d rather be consider an honest fool, than a liar, for all that is disruptive to the usual social playbook.
I can’t do cognitive dissonance either, about pretty much anything. The stress is very difficult to cope with…so it’s simpler to tell the truth/deal with the situation, cop whatever the punishment is, and then I can move on.
This is of course quite different from the narratives presented here, but as has been said ‘if you’ve met one autistic then you’ve met one autistic’.
My husband has Asperger’s and our relationship was built on his lies. He lied to everyone. When I met him, he told me that he was studying to get his master’s degree. In reality he was doing his bachelor’s degree. He told the to everyone. Only his parents knew the truth. They weren’t aware of his lies. He did go on to get his master’s degree. It took him about 13 years.
Then I discovered more lies. I knew he was writing emails to his ex. He said twice a month. Then I discovered the emails. It was twice a day that he was writing her and once to twice a day she wrote him. He was even lying to her. All the things we were doing together, he told her he was doing that with his friend. Then he told her that I got pregnant behind his back and now he has to be with me for the baby. Actually he talked me into getting pregnant. I already had a son that was 20 years old at the time. He is 8 years younger than me and didn’t have any children. I was over having any more children at 42, but I did it for him and I am so in love with our little girl.
I found some internet activity that made me question his loyalty and sexuality. He denied everything and put the blame on his ex, who is very prude (a different one than the one mentioned above) and would never do anything like that.
Our whole relationship is built on his lies and I have problems coping with that. I am quite the opposite, very straightforward, try never to lie for the fear of God, etc.
He thinks he is smarter than everyone else and will also say so. I failed one exam at the University and he made fun of me, where he failed his bachelor’s exam a few months prior. He thinks he knows more that medical doctors although in reality he is clueless. I don’t know how much longer I can hold on.
That sounds incredibly painful Michelle. Are you getting support on how to clarify your own boundaries? At the end of the day, you get to choose what you want for you life and your daughter.
My story is not far off, after his affair I learned that he is a fundamentally dishonest person. Never told his exes about our engagement, gid me really. Mortified and in shock 3 years later after discovery, 2 years after diagnosis. Sweetest man in the world I believed. No warning. Gaslighting all over the place. I was living in the Matrix. Not sure I will recover.
My boyfriend lied about past ex girlfriends that he kept in contact with. One was married with two younger kids, and they sex texted each other for years, I told him he had to end contact with her, and she was devastated and thought he cared for her, mind you she is married and her husband is supporting her and her antics. My boyfriend just cut ties by ghosting her. I noticed he could never end a relationship with words. It was a pattern just to ghost them, so they never even knew it was over. To this day the one ex is still waiting for a text from him.
I’m recently diagnosed autistic, and nearly 60 now. I’ve tended to lie to cover up the fact my life is a wreck and I’m not really capable of holding it together and doing what NTs do. I’ve tried to stop lying to my wife and been a little successful with that. I’ve started to be more truthful, but it often opens lines of questioning I’m not really able to answer. Especially when it has to do with feelings or is related to things that causes me so much distress I’m unable to do it. It’s just about as bad as being caught lying.
Thank you for your open hearted comments. I hope the recent diagnosis moves you in the direction of recovery. Autism is complex but not impossible to understand and work with.