Sunday, October 23, 2016

Disabled Self Worth

I have been thinking about how afraid I am to talk to people. I assume people don't like me, don't want to spend time with me, and unfortunately, this is not uncommon among Autistic people. 
It began because I read the words of another Autistic, describing those dreadful calls for pity of an Autistic person, inevitably arranged by an abled loved one, to send birthday cards. You can read that post here. Other times it asks that we simply "like" the photo to tell the disabled person they are beautiful. It may feel like abled people are helping, telling us we are beautiful, but the message is clear. You are not enough on your own. Abled people can take time to give you a thrill now and then though. 

We are so much more than this. I'm a teacher and a parent of Autistic kids. They interact with abled kids and abled teachers and therapists. They are amazing and I fall in love with them each individually, not in spite of their autism, because of their autism! When they can't stop talking about languages because they love languages that much, or they use a script that so accurately tells me just how they are and what they need at that moment, more than trying to describe it ever could, when they marvel at the beauty in a drop of water as it hits the light. How could you not love that? 

But we are taught that we are less than. People say we can not care for other humans. That we are heartless. Nevermind that Autistic people have made me feel far more like they see me and care for my emotional needs than any abled person has. We hear that a man so deplorable it sends shivers down my spine to think he may become our next president, must be mentally ill, because of course a neurotypical person could not be that deplorable. We see depictions in haunted houses and Halloween decor of the scary mental patient. Nevermind that most violent crimes are committed by people without a mental illness. 

So I hide. I avoid people. I assume people hate me. Because let's be honest, they probably do. I act strangely, go out of my way to be weird. I don't make eye contact. I can't do small talk. And all you've ever been taught is to feel sorry for me. Send me a card on my birthday. Take me as your pity date to the prom. Do a Best Buddies project with me. 

It's no wonder so many of us struggle to feel like real people. Wanted people. Loved people. If you are a parent, therapist, teacher, etc., do better. Show us that you see us for real.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Value in Diversity

One of the most common themes I see is people belittling others based on intelligence. Use of ableist slurs is so common that people don't even bat an eye when ableist language is thrown into G rated movies without a thought. Why is this? People are equating lower intelligence, learning disabilities, and slow processing time to being a bad person, unworthy.

In fact, I think the value of a person is not based on intelligence at all. Qualities I look for in a person include kindness, compassion, and support for equality. But people don't hurl bigoted at another person as an insult, like they would an ableist slur...

There has been a campaign on social media recently called #SayTheWord. The word they are referring to is disabled. So many people are afraid to use this word, fearing it is an insult or disrespectful. Why do we think this? Because nondisabled people see themselves as superior to disabled people, like we are inherently broken. 

I have slow processing time. So it can be hard to have a verbal conversation with me, because the conversation has changed by the time I have processed and responded. Sometimes it is also hard for me to participate in written conversation when it moves too quickly. I have sensory difficulties, so it is hard for me to join in activities the way others do. 

I am not broken though. I am the friend that will sit with you all night, talking as long as you need. I am the parent that loves their kids fiercely, celebrating the glorious diversions from the mainstream that they are. I am the teacher that helps kids' first school experience be a safe and positive one. 

I'd like to see a change in the way people view other people. Ableist slurs can and should become a thing of the past. Separation between Autistic people, as some seek to separate us into gifted and learning disabled, as if those are the binaries we all exist under, should be done away with. No, we are not all the same. But our differences go far beyond an IQ score. I celebrate that diversity.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

On Self Diagnosis

I fall into this category. Though I did see a psychologist that confirmed my own recognition, it is not a formal, paper diagnosis. So I want to speak to that. 

Two, (maybe three,) of my kids are Autistic. One has a professional diagnosis, the other an educational diagnosis. While learning more about autism, and seeking advice from Autistic adults, I recognized myself. It was not immediately obvious. We learn to cope. We learn to hide our Autistic traits from an unkind world. We hide who we really are, so the world doesn't know we are disabled. The more I learned though, the more I knew that inside, who I really was, regardless of how well I've learned to fake being neurotypical, was an Autistic person. I went through the diagnostic criteria to see if perhaps I just "had some traits," but no, it was so clear.

I'm also an anxious person. I don't take anything lightly. I don't want to make false claims. I desperately wanted community, but not with those that were not truly my community. I decided I needed some kind of confirmation. As an adult, presenting as a woman; (I'm nonbinary,) I knew this would not be easy to get.

 So I settled on discussing the issue with a psychologist I already had a relationship with for other reasons. I knew I wouldn't be able to adequately speak to it, as I verbally shut down at emotional times. So I wrote him a letter, 3 pages, single spaced, explaining why I think I do indeed meet criteria. I gave it to him in advance of our appointment. When I arrived for the appointment, he told me he had read through it several times. His response? "You need me to tell you what you already know?" (He then went on to confirm that he agrees with my assessment.) This is it in a nutshell. We know ourselves. Presume competence. Believe us when we tell you we have thought long and hard about this, and have read the criteria. 

Since that time I have joined the Autistic community in full force. I've made wonderful friends. I think I've helped some people with my advocacy. I am glad people have not shut me out of advocacy because I lack a piece of paper. We are all in this together.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What Do I Want From The Mighty?

I've been thinking a lot about this in the last few days. The Mighty says they want to learn from their mistakes of the past. They say they want to do better. If that is true, then that would be great, but I'm not convinced of that. I hope they prove me wrong. 

In light of that, I'd like to offer The Mighty my perspective on how they could do better. 

The Mighty claims to support disabled people and their families. I can address this issue from both the perspective of a disabled person, and as family of disabled people, because I am an Autistic parent, and I have Autistic children. So I'll start with the parent side first.

I recognized disability in one of my children about 6 years ago. At that time, there was not a lot of community support that I found helpful. I didn't yet know he was Autistic, but what I read of autism was more scary than educational. Although your site did not yet exist, stories like the ones you share were consuming the Internet. When people say it is so very kind to treat a disabled person with basic dignity, it harms the disability community. Because of these inspiration porn stories, I pictured a life for my son in which people would congratulate themselves for being his friend, or chatting politely at his place of work, or allowing him to score in a sporting event. The idea of that broke me apart. It didn't uplift me. Because I knew my son was a real person, full of personality and passion. The consequence was that I fought the idea of disability. I hoped he would outgrow it. I delayed diagnosis and services like OT, because I didn't want that future for him. Once I recognized he was Autistic, I started seeking out the real experts- Autistic people.

That was a turning point for me. To realize that he was ok, that there were plenty of Autistic adults who didn't wait around for a kind person to go to Homecoming with them. People were out there live damn good lives. Disabled lives. They had genuine achievements to be proud of. Not proud because they did it even though they are disabled. Proud because they are doing genuinely cool things, things they enjoy, things they are good at, sometimes things that make this world a better place. So I followed the real experts, and I never looked back. 

A bit farther into that journey, I recognized that another one of my kids is also Autistic, and that I am too. Today, I see stories from your site in my newsfeed. People are discussing how "kind" it is that someone accepted the cake decorated by an Autistic person, because she thought it would be funny. For the record, I find that pretty unkind, actually. I also find a coworker discussing disability status of another person to be unethical. When sites like yours continuously share these kinds of stories, it causes people to pity people like me. They feel like they have done something great just for using basic manners. They don't see me as their equal. They don't see me as someone who could really be their friend, or capable coworker. That's not making the world better for me or my kids.

So what do I want? I want you to center disabled people. Let us tell our own stories. Don't just choose the disabled people that talk nicely, and portray a feel good message that nondisabled people want to hear. Seek out people that challenge the status quo. Pay them for their time. Make the stories you print be mostly disabled perspectives, not just a few here and there. Give disabled people space to tell their stories, our stories, in our own way. Show us you are ready to listen. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Over the last month, for a variety of reasons,  I feel like I have been effectively silenced. Today is Autistics Speaking Day, and today I want to break my silence. So often non-Autistic people tell us to talk nicely, to understand their point of view, and to quite simply, shut up. 

I am coming up on 1 year since I was informally diagnosed as Autistic. I have attempted to find ways to advocate, and to connect with my community. I am so grateful to my Autistic friends for welcoming me in, and serving as my guides. There have been non-Autistic people that were interested in hearing Autistic points of view as well. Some amplify Autistic voices, and that is wonderful and necessary. Others though, silence us by any means necessary. 

Not long ago I wrote something that criticized parents that publicly display their child's challenges. Yes, many non-Autistic people heard that message, thought about it, and agreed. Wonderful! Others, though, brushed it off with comments of, "what about their need for support?" These are silencing tactics. It's a way of telling us that we are wrong, rather than contemplating our words.

A couple of weeks later, I experienced a far greater silencing. Some internet trolls harassed me on Twitter, to such an extent that I had to block and report hundreds of people, and make my profile protected. My crime? Advocating against people that say Autistic people are dangerous. Fighting for my humanity is met with horrendous, triggering, attacks on my identity. And I was effectively silenced.

But no more. I have been rebuilding again. I am speaking up again. Because what we have to say is important.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Kinds of Autism

I recently read an article entitled, "My Son Has the Kind of Autism No One Talks About."  There was some good in it, as it discussed a need for inclusion of Autistic people, but it also left me frustrated and angry. It didn't discuss any real ways to include us, and  I am tired of people sharing the perspective of parents, rather than the perspective of Autistic people.  There are lots of us!  I find it comical that the author says her son's "kind of autism" isn't talked about.  From my perspective, shared by many other Autistic people, the doom and gloom of autism is what is always shared.  We all have support needs, and those support needs vary from person to person. Like the writer, I am not a fan of the feel-good stories about the disabled person attending prom, because they are focused on the non-disabled person and intended to pat non-disabled people on the back for simply being our friends.  Here is the thing.  Autistic people have value!  Really, we do. Let me say it again for the people in the back, all Autistic people have value! Does that mean the Autistic person who does not speak and requires support at all times, even as an adult has value?  Yes, yes it does.  I hate how she refers to the Autistic prodigy playing the piano better than Billy Joel.  No, we are not all gifted, but we all have value.  We all have things we are good at, and we all need help.  The prodigy playing the piano needs help too.  Autism is a disability.  The Neurodiversity movement is not about denying that fact.  I am an Autistic parent, wife, and teacher.  I am good at a lot of things.  I am also disabled. Some things are really hard, and that's ok.  What's not ok is complaining about how hard your life raising an Autistic child is. Autistic children often understand more than you think they do.  Many Autistic children will one day read that blog post written about them.  How do you think they will feel when that day comes?  I see it as a red flag when a parent writes about how hard it is to parent their child.  Every year in March the disability community comes together to mourn children murdered by their caregivers.  We say their names, and remember them for the beautiful, valuable life they led.  People give these parents a platform to talk about their frustrations, and sometimes those same children being written about end up having their names read on our Disability Day of Mourning.  The author of this story is right that behavior is communication.  We need to listen to what kids are saying though.  Stop mourning for what you can't do because of your Autistic child, and start celebrating the child that is right here.  Listen to what they are telling you, through words, signs, typing, pictures, or behavior.  Keep looking for ways to help that child communicate!  Find your community with other Autistic adults and children.  We are here and we are valuable. Get involved with a local autism organization, (not Autism Speaks.) Find an organization that celebrates your family, such as a local chapter of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. Your child is worth it.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

What's wrong with Autism Speaks from an Autistic point of view

It seems everyone is aware of autism these days. I can't think of anyone I have met, who has never heard of autism.  Autism Speaks has made sure that we are all aware.  Their latest awareness piece came in the form of an article in People magazine, proclaiming Bob and Suzanne Wright to be heroes, battling the autism epidemic.  Battling. Epidemic. The hate speech never ends with Autism Speaks.  It is as if they are unaware that Autistic people don't want you to go to war with our brains.  My family became aware of our own autism, right at the same time that Autism Speaks was getting off the ground, and becoming a widely known entity.  So they made sure that we knew that autism was something to be afraid of.  My Autistic son was 5 years old in 2009, when Autism Speaks stated, "I am autism.... I work faster than pediatric aids, cancer, and diabetes combined.  And if you're happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails." Where are the help and the resources? OT services could be provided for families to get help with understanding their children's sensory needs.  Communication devices to help people communicate more effectively with their families would certainly help many of us. No, fear is all Autism Speaks has to offer.   Autism Speaks raises millions of dollars with their pity campaigns, and yet, only gives 4% back to families in the communities. 
My son was only 2 years old when Autism Speaks made a documentary called Autism Every Day.  This movie is a pity party for parents of Autistic children, the worst part being when a mom talks about wanting to drive her Autistic child off a bridge, while her Autistic daughter is in the room, and says she only did not do that because of her other, non-Autistic child. These are the things that do the most damage.  Autistic children are murdered by their parents at an alarming rate.  Yet, in the media, which Autism Speaks is always at the center of, this is excused.  People lament the lack of services, think of the martyr parents, and shake their heads at the unfortunate lot in life to have an Autistic child. In their most recent documentary, Sounding the Alarm, there is more of the same.  Over and over again, the message from Autism Speaks is that autism is an epidemic to be battled.  They don't take the time to talk to Autistic people of any age to get their opinions on what services are needed, or what message should be sent to the world at large. Instead, they speak to weeping parents, and call for more services as they exploit Autistic people's darkest moments for profit. They show a complete and utter disrespect for Autistic people in every action that they take.  Because of this, it is very difficult for me to tell people that I am Autistic.  I know it changes their opinion of me, because of the lies that Autism Speaks told them about people like me. No organization has done more harm to the community they claim to help.  It makes me sad that they are the leading resource doctors, therapists, businesses, and everyone else, looks to when seeking information about autism.  How can they be the leading resource when they do not even consult with Autistic people in any meaningful roles? It's time for people to stop listening to Autism Speaks, and start listening to Autistic people.