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Autistics & light bulbs

Published: December 5, 2019
Last updated on February 13, 2021

How many autistics does it take to change a light bulb? It sounds like the setup to a bad joke. But based on personal experience I can tell you, the answer is 3.

The assistant

A few months ago Natalie asked her assistant (who happens to be autistic as well) to change the light bulb outside above the front door, as the light no longer went on. She replaced the light bulb, but the light still didn’t turn on.

Damn. I guess we will have to fix the lamp.

The electricians

An undefined time later (could be weeks, but I honestly don’t remember), a couple of construction workers and electricians came by to fix some other issues on our house, and we asked them what it would cost to fix the light and replace it with an aesthetically more appealing lamp. They inspected it and gave us a quote for a $1,000 or more, as they had to rewire through the wall and reconstruct a part of the wall.

That was too expensive for us to handle at the time, so we decided to explore other options.

Solar lights

We bought a set of two solar-powered lights to put in your garden. I installed them and aimed both of them at the front steps and door, so that the entrance of Natalie’s clinical practice would be lit in the evening.

It worked okay. You could see the steps clearly, but Natalie felt it was still way too dark. And I have to admit, it didn’t look all that inviting for a psychotherapy clinic, and people walking out of the clinic were met with a light shining in their eyes. So that was less than ideal, but it would have to do for now.

Battery-powered light

A few weeks later, Natalie bought another lamp which runs on batteries. She installed it next to the door, and it worked like a charm! The front of the clinic was finally properly lit.

I mean, relatively speaking. It worked much better than the solar lights did, anyway.


Some more weeks later, Natalie asked me to replace some light bulbs upstairs in the clinic and in our living room. She figured since I’m replacing light bulbs anyway, I might as well replace the light bulb above the front door as well. I said, “But your assistant already did. I trust she knows how to change a light bulb.” Natalie responded, “Just humor me and try it”.

I tried it, and guess what happened?!

No, the light still didn’t turn on. “The light really is broken”, I told Natalie.

Or is it

Next, Natalie asked, “You did flip the switch, didn’t you?” I paused for a moment. I must have. But maybe not? I flipped the switch, and the light went on!

Turns out that Natalie’s assistant also didn’t think to flip the switch!

So yes, sometimes three autistic people, about two months, and $50 or so are needed to replace a single light bulb.

And come to think of it, what did the electricians want $1,000 for? That is a hefty price just to flip a switch.

All these events I think highlighted the occasional lack of phronesis/prudence of some autistic people. But on the upside, it also highlighted either the electricians’ lack of competence, or an attempt to exploit us. Either way, we dodged a bullet.



This article
was written by:

Martin Silvertant is a co-founder of Embrace Autism, and lives up to his surname as a silver award-winning graphic designer. Besides running Embrace Autism and researching autism, he loves typography and practicing type design. He was diagnosed with autism at 25.

PS: Martin is trans, and as of 2021 she writes under her true name, Eva Silvertant.


Although our content is generally well-researched
and substantiated, or based on personal experience,
note that it does not constitute medical advice.


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