May the 4th Be With You (2019); Acceptance vs. Awareness, Revisited

Content/trigger warning: abuse mention, cursing, slurs (censored)

Happy Star Wars Day!

Honestly, one of my favorite parts of Star Wars Day is that it’s in May, meaning that fucking April is over. (I should just call it Fucking April from now on. It’s no longer April. It’s Fucking April. Or Autism Hell Month.) Unfortunately, when I escaped domestic abuse back in January, I forgot to bring my glitter eye shadow with me. So I’m wearing a glittery shawl, glittery nail polish, glittery earrings, and eye shadow that has at least some glitter in it. And a shirt with Carrie Fisher’s signature on it.

Anyway, May. May is also Mental Health Awareness Month, which…yeah, I’m not big on that name. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before–specifically in regards to autism–“awareness” is not the best concept to use in pro-ND activism. So I’m going to use this entry to talk a little about the terminology surrounding Mental Health Awareness Month and similar concepts related to pro-ND activism.

In my acceptance vs. awareness entry, I said the following:

Needless to say, I don’t like awareness campaigns. This makes me nervous when I see awareness campaigns for mental illnesses. “Awareness”, to me, will always have the connotation of “be aware, these people are Other”. It matters quite a bit, though, who runs the campaigns. Autism $peaks’ flavor of “bewareness” is motivated by allistics who hold an inherently bigoted view of Autistic people. Many mental illness awareness campaigns are actually run by people with the illness. That makes a huge difference. I would still prefer to see acceptance campaigns because I don’t like the connotation of “awareness”, but that might be me.

Yeah, I don’t think it’s just me. “Awareness” isn’t enough. Mentally healthy people are aware of psychotic disorders and they still use “psychotic” to describe violent assholes. Mentally healthy people are aware of cluster B disorders and still use “n*rc*ss*st”, “p****path”, and “s****path” to describe abusers. Mentally healthy people are aware of PTSD and they still use “triggered” to mean “offended”. Mentally healthy people are aware of depression and they still don’t know not to call the police for “wellness checks” when a loved one is suicidal.

We have awareness. What we need now is acceptance. This is necessary in part because acceptance requires understanding. I’ve seen the pattern so many times of mentally healthy people claiming they support their mentally ill loved ones but freaking out and being unsupportive and straight up saneist as soon as their loved ones start showing symptoms. Acceptance means knowing that being mentally ill means having certain traits and symptoms and not being a dickweed when a person shows those traits or symptoms.

Of course, this means that mentally healthy people need to be educated about how mental illness actually works. That, to me, is what “awareness” campaigns should actually be; not just saying “whatever percent of people have X diagnosis” but saying “X diagnosis means [symptoms A, B, and C]” and “X diagnosis does not mean [saneist stereotypes D, E, and F]”. I’m not so naive that I think that all mentally healthy people are going to learn from acceptance campaigns and stop being saneist as soon as they learn the truth about mental illness, but I do think that acceptance campaigns would be a good place to start.

As long as I’m yammering about terms, I don’t like the term “mental health advocate”. A lot of people call Carrie that, but it doesn’t make sense to me. Most “mental health advocates” are actually mentally ill people who talk about the absence of mental health. Being Autistic, I like the term “self-advocate”, which we in the Autie community often use–hell, there’s an entire big Autistic justice organization called the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network–and I think “self-advocate” would make more sense than simply “advocate”. “Mental health advocates” don’t advocate for mental health so much as they self-advocate for a particular kind of disability justice: psychiatric disability/mental illness justice. So “mental illness self-advocate” or “psychiatric disability self-advocate” make more sense to me, because those terms seem to actually mean “mentally ill person who self-advocates for justice for mentally ill people”. If “mental illness advocates” can’t self-advocate because aren’t actually mentally ill, then…well, they probably need to shut up and pass the mic. I also like the idea of “[psychiatric] disability activist” as a term if “self-advocate” seems too, well, self-centered and not focused enough on fighting for justice for the mentally ill community.

Continuing to yammer about terms, I also said this in my last acceptance vs. awareness entry:

Side note: “stigma” is really a manifestation of neurotypicalism. It’s a system of oppression, not just an unfortunate opinion. That’s important to keep in mind.

Still true. Because of this, I don’t like it when people talk about “destigmatizing mental illness” or “mental illness stigma” without mentioning the larger context. Just saying “stigma” isn’t enough because it doesn’t get at the root of the problem. I’d prefer that people say “mental illness stigma as a result of saneism”. Talking about stigma is fine–it totally exists and is a real problem–but the reason why stigma exists is that society is set up to oppress mentally ill people and privilege mentally healthy people. The big picture is always important in social justice. And this includes acknowledging intersecting axes of oppression as well; there are some denizens of Disabled Twitter who I really admire, especially @autistichoya, who often talk about how white supremacy supports ableism and that there is no dismantling ableism without dismantling white supremacy. I really hope to feature a guest blogger on that topic one day. Speaking of passing the mic.

That’s all I have for today. May the Fourth be with you. Wear #glitterforCarrie and fight for justice for mentally ill people in her honor.

Thanks to my only Patreon supporter, Karina! To become as cool as Karina, please consider supporting my work on Patreon: My Patreon.

I Did an Activism for Autism Hell Month

Content/trigger warning: filicide, Autism $peaks mention, fucking April

I fucking hate April.

April drains the Autistic community. I keep hearing stories of burnout, depression, more frequent meltdowns and shutdowns, and completely shot executive function.

I feel that. I’ve been pretty damn useless this month.

But I did do something for April as a middle finger to Autism $peaks. I went to an open mic and sang a song in Katie McCarron’s memory, prefacing it with the story of her murder. My amazing fiancee—she proposed after my performance, and yes, I’m incandescently happy about that, and of course I said yes—filmed it. So here it is, with a transcript. Before the filming started, I introduced myself with my stage name, Valkyrja, which is Old Norse for “valkyrie”. Even before that, I asked if I could take the mic off the stand; the MC jokingly gave me a hard time and my Autistic ass thought he was being serious. Anyway, here’s the video and the transcript.

Transcript:

…and you can call me Valkyrie if you can’t flip the “r”, or if you aren’t interested in Old Norse, or whatever. And the song I have chosen to perform tonight is actually…[sigh] in memoriam, so I’d like to give a little context before I start, if that’s okay. I cannot see jack with these lights; I don’t know if I’m getting a nod, so I’m just going to go ahead.

Okay, I need you all to imagine something for me. I need you to imagine that you have a condition that causes you to perceive and interact with the world differently from most people. And yes, it’s certainly a disability, but it’s mostly so because of the way society treats you. Got that so far? Okay. Now, I need you to imagine that a MASSIVE charity—supposedly—gets the director of the third Harry Potter movie to make a short film about what it’s like to live with this condition…and they don’t get anyone with the condition to be involved. What the fuck, right? They got the director of The Prisoner of fucking Azkaban to direct the thing and couldn’t get anyone with the condition to even be interviewed? What the hell, right?

Now…this is where it starts getting fucked up. Trigger warning for ableism and murder. So, I want you to imagine that a board member on the charity who does not have the condition says in front of her daughter who does, in this film, she wishes she could kill her daughter and then herself.

[Crowd “oooh”s]

But she can’t, because she has a normal child to take care of. Stay with me.

[Someone in crowd says “all right”]

Now imagine this film premieres. A woman who doesn’t have the condition but has a child who does sees it. Three days later, this woman murders her young daughter who has the condition. You’d make some connections in your head about this series of events, wouldn’t you?

THEY HAPPENED. The “charity” is Autism Speaks. The film is Autism Every Day, which premiered in 2006, and yes, they got Alfonso Cuaron, the director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to direct, and yes, his name is fucking mud in the Autistic community right now. We hate that guy. And if you couldn’t tell by the way I couldn’t tell he [indicates MC, who was being an asshole earlier] was being an asshole, I’m Autistic as fuck.

So the young woman who was unfortunately murdered. Her name was Katie McCarron, and I would like to dedicate this performance of “We Are the Others” by Delain to her, may she rest in power.

[sigh] Okay, if I’m not gonna cry, I’m ready to sing.

I’m walking with Katie tonight,
She lives in the air that I breathe;
I can’t get it out of my mind
How you were left to bleed
Was it how you stim?
Or how you act?
I can’t believe
How she could act so violently,
Without regret,
But we will not forget

We are the others,
We are the cast outs,
We’re the outsiders
But you can’t hide us,
We are the others,
Black-eyed and battered,
You’re not out there on your own
If you feel mistreated,
Torn and cheated,
You’re not alone,
We are the others (we are the others)

As simple as air in your lungs
As simple as words on your lips
And no one should take that away
No one should argue this
Now with our heads up high
We’ll carry on,
And carry out,
And we won’t let them get us down,
Wear us out,
‘Cause we are not alone

We are the others,
We are the cast outs,
We’re the outsiders
But you can’t hide us,
We are the others,
Black-eyed and battered,
You’re not out there on your own
If you feel mistreated,
Torn and cheated,
You’re not alone,
We are the others (we are the others)

Normal is not the norm,
It’s just a uniform
(We are the others)
Forget about the norm,
(We’re the outsiders)
Take off your uniform,
(We are the others)
We are all beautiful,
(We are the others)

We are the others,
We are the cast outs,
We’re the outsiders
But you can’t hide us,
We are the others,
Black-eyed and battered,
You’re not out there on your own
If you feel mistreated,
Torn and cheated,
You’re not alone,
We are the others (we are the others)
We are the others (we are the others)
We are the others

 

Many thanks to my sole patron, Karina! If you would like to be as awesome as Karina, enjoy my work, and would like to support me, please consider becoming a patron of mine on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/ARZinzani

Misogynableism

Content/trigger warning: misogynableism (of course), cisheterosexism, exorsexism, violent ableism, sexual assault, ableist slurs, cursing

A while ago, I wrote an entry on emotional sensitivity and neurotypicalism. It contained the following quote:

“Anyway, let me give an example. Well, an intersectional example. ‘Hysteria’ used to be a mental illness. Women were actually diagnosed as ‘hysterical’ for, well, having strong feelings. Specifically, these feelings included anxiety, irritability, and nervousness. Oh, and sexually forward behavior. The term ‘hysteria’ was used because those dishing out the diagnosis literally believed that having a uterus caused the ‘mental illness’, and hysterectomies were sometimes carried out as treatment. (I’m mostly referring to what was happening to women in England and the States during the industrial era.) In any case, to this day, women are referred to as ‘hysterical’ when we are upset in order to delegitimize our feelings. This is an example of misogynableism: the intersection between misogyny and ableism. The use of the insult ‘hysteria’ is meant to undercut a woman’s experiences by insinuating that she is mentally ill, therefore her experiences and feelings about them can be ignored.”

Of course, there are women without uteruses and people with uteruses who are not women, but the Victorian-era white English and Statesians didn’t know that, and I stand by the assessment that “hysterical” is a misogynableist term. And I decided to do an entry on misogynableism.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “don’t stick your dick in crazy”—with all its cisheterosexist assumptions intact—you’ve been exposed to misogynableism. No one ever says—again, with the cisheterosexist assumptions—“don’t let crazy stick their dick in you”. No, the big, scary problem is that the woman might be mentally ill.

The cisheterosexism in that example is starting to make me feel ill, so let’s move on to another example: the “hot, sane, single” meme. I had the misfortune of having to Google “hot, sane, single” for this entry as research, and DAMN did I find some doozies. Quotes from the execrable Tucker Max’s books. Reddit threads (naturally). YouTube videos. More traditional meme images. The idea of “hot, sane, single” is…ah hell this one’s heterosexist too. Why does the world suck? (Rhetorical question.) Anyway, the idea of “hot, sane, single” is that, according to misogynableist straight men, there is a problem among women that they can only be two of that trifecta. So yes, this is misogynist as fuck, and the fact that “sane” is one of the desirable traits makes it misogynableist.

A third example is a nerdy one, so bear with me. I play World of Warcraft. There’s a character in WoW called Jaina Proudmoore, and she was one of the few leaders in the game who was a known peacemonger, despite her interpersonal relationships being something of a Trauma Conga Line. And then her home—her entire fucking island—was destroyed. Horribly. And she experienced severe trauma from the event to the degree that her previously blonde hair turned white. Understandably, she decided to renounce her peaceful ways. She performed several morally questionable (at best) actions that were obvious to me as stemming from untreated—and, sadly, because Blizzard can’t write WoW women, yes I went there—uncontrolled (as in the character herself seemed to be making no attempt to rein in destructive impulses) PTSD. Rage at the source (or perceived source) of trauma is a lesser known PTSD symptom, but boy fucking howdy is it a symptom. Not to mention any actual character development of Jaina’s is ignored in the writing, which focuses only on her rage at her enemies, i.e., her PTSD symptoms.

Anyway, one of the quest rewards one can get in WoW is a picture of Jaina Proudmoore with blonde hair, and the description of it is “before she went crazy”. First of all, Blizz, you were the ones who wrote Jaina’s behavior, so fuck you for insulting her acting the way you decided to portray her. The portrayal itself is pretty misogynableist; using a female character as a prop to make players of one faction believe that the other faction is bad, all while calling obvious PTSD a saneist slur. (Yes, other WoW players, I know I simplified Jaina’s story, but…come on, you know WoW lore. I had to.)

The next example is a terrifying and depressing one, so hold on to your asses. Disabled women are twice as likely to be abused—sexually and otherwise—than their abled counterparts. And while Disabled people overall are three times more likely than abled people to be sexually assaulted at least once, the rate at which Disabled women are sexually assaulted is 83%. You read that right. Eighty-three percent of Disabled women will experience at least one sexual assault in their lifetime. If you want a direct comparison between men and women (I know, I know, exorsexist, but I couldn’t find stats on sexual assault of Disabled nonbinary people), 80% of ID/DD women will experience one sexual assault in their lifetime, compared to 30% of ID/DD men. Oh, right, source.

I’m super low on fuel right now, but I also want to mention fetishization of mentally ill women. “Why are the hot ones always crazy?”. Weird and creepy bullshit about how maybe you’re not supposed to stick your dick in crazy, but the crazy girls are better in bed. Recent depictions of Harley Quinn, especially in Suicide Squad. I…uh…there are probably more. Can’t think of any right now, but the next time you see one, think about those sexual assault statistics.

Of course, none of this even touches the intersections with queerness, race, religion, class, and more, but I decided to write about–or at least, start with–two axes I was most familiar with. You bet your ass I could write about how being a queer woman intersects with ableism. And intersections really need to be discussed more, because there’s no dismantling ableism without dismantling white supremacy, heteronormativity, capitalism, etc. Perhaps more on that later; I’m hoping I can get some guest bloggers who experience oppression that I don’t to help me with that.

Oh, right, and I have a Patreon now! https://www.patreon.com/ARZinzani If you’re learning from my blog, please consider supporting me. You’ll even get to vote on what other entries I write or, at higher tiers, request topics for me to write about.

How to Write an Autistic Character (Without Being an Ableist Shitpile)

Content/trigger warning: discussion of ableism

If you’re active in the Autistic community, you’ve probably heard of Puppetgate. If you haven’t heard of Puppetgate, the gist is that some asshole who thinks he’s an expert because he has served as a carer for Autistic people thought it was a brilliant idea to write a play (it’s called All in a Row) about paaaaaaaaaaaaarents institutionalizing their young Autistic son, Laurence, and have Laurence be represented by a terrifying grey-faced puppet.

Yes. Really.

Yes, if you look up “dehumanizing” in the dictionary, you might as well see a picture of that puppet.

Anyway, many denizens of Disabled Twitter have said more eloquently than I could have why Puppetgate is fucking gross (@crippledscholar especially, but also @vrolijk5, @slooterman, @challahwithjam, @ebthen, @AutisticMadeArt, and plenty of others have at least one incisive tweet about the issue), so my contribution is going to be a guide on how to write an Autistic character without being an ableist shitpile. If you’ve been reading my blog, there’s going to be some information you’ve seen me discuss before, but I wanted to frame the guide as something that can be shared, used, and understood by people who have no familiarity with my blog.

Here we go.

What autism is

Autism is a neurological/developmental disability. The Autistic community rarely discusses autism by calling it, well, autism, because it is not a disease but a lifelong neurodevelopmental difference. Autistic people exist not so much on a spectrum but a ball of wibbly-wobbly, stimmy-wimmy, speaking-nonspeaking stuff, and we have a massive variety of traits from the veritable constellation of traits that make us who we are. It is not something to be cured, but rather understood and celebrated.


What being Autistic feels like

In a nutshell, that meme “everything happens so much” is a pretty good descriptor. We often feel very, very intensely. This includes physically and emotionally. We are often very sensitive. Aside from that, our experiences are incredibly diverse.


Stimming

Ah, stimming. I love stimming. Stimming, short for “stimulation”, is the repetition of a sensory activity. Stimming can be auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, kinesthetic…pretty much related to any sense you can think of. It can be done as an expression of joy or stress, to help with focus, or just because we feel like it. The most well-known stims are hand-flapping and rocking back and forth. I was stimming by smelling my hair when I wrote this, because I use argan oil on my hair and it smells amazing. I have a lot of olfactory stims. I also stim by tapping my nails, rocking back and forth, flapping, spinning, smelling scents I find soothing or pleasant, singing, doing vocal warm-up techniques, running thin objects underneath my fingernails (often done with the chain of a necklace), chewing/biting stim toys, getting tight hugs or lying under a weighted blanket, and listening to certain songs on repeat. When writing an Autistic character, figure out what their favorite stims are and when they tend to stim. Some of us favor happy stimming, some only stim when we’re upset, some stim all the damn time…you have plenty of options.

When writing about how stimming feels, happy stimming feels exhilarating and freeing. It is a very consuming feeling; when happy stimming, we tend to be quite focused on it and how good it is making us feel. Stressed stimming can be self-injurious, like hitting oneself or walls, but pain isn’t usually on our radar at the time and may only be felt later. Hand-flapping and rocking are well-known stims because they are often seen under times of stress. Stressed stimming feels like a relief, or a release from something terrifyingly overwhelming. It can also be comforting; lying under a weighted blanket gives me a feeling of immense calm. And remember, stimming is repetitive. Whatever your character does to stim will be done a bunch of times!

Your Autistic character may carry something stimmy with them at all times. Stim jewelry and stim toys are becoming more and more popular. Since I love olfactory stimming, I always carry my three favorite perfumes with me.
Autistic special interests

Many of us have special interests. We aren’t very good at liking things casually. When we have a special interest, we eagerly devour any information we can find on the thing, and we seek the thing out and can focus on researching it or engaging in it for hours. Special interests can be pretty much anything. When writing an Autistic character, make sure you give them special interests that make sense for their personality. Don’t pick a stereotypical special interest like trains or calculus because that’s what you’ve seen in the media. If your Autistic character is really feminine, give her a special interest in ethically sourced makeup. If your Autistic character likes history, give them a special interest in a particular time period, like the Ottoman Empire. If your Autistic character is very attached to his dog, give him a special interest in dogs. We also almost never tire of talking about our special interests or engaging in them. If an Autistic character has a special interest in a movie, they could probably watch it three times in a row and love it every time.


Meltdowns/Shutdowns

Look, meltdowns suck. But they are a normal part of being Autistic in a world that does not accommodate us and as such triggers meltdowns. A meltdown is, essentially, a fight-or-flight response. During a meltdown, the brain behaves as if the Autistic person is in mortal peril. During a meltdown, you feel like you can’t breathe and that the world is closing in on you, and everything around you is just too much to handle and you just Can’t. During meltdowns, an Autistic character will probably lose the ability to speak and may cry or scream. Meltdowns are infamous for being self-injurious thanks to terrible parents who think it’s okay to film meltdowns and post them online, but not all meltdowns are self-injurious. If they are, the self-injury may manifest as striking one’s head, body, or fists against a wall or by hitting oneself. Meltdowns will pass after the Autistic person has gotten all the stress out of their system, often leaving the person exhausted. Some of us feel really sore after meltdowns even if we weren’t self-injurious. Sometimes instead of meltdowns, an Autistic person will have a shutdown, which consists of the brain basically switching itself off to avoid having to deal with whatever caused the shutdown. A shutdown feels like a “mute” button has been hit on a giant remote that controls the world.

An important part of writing meltdowns is to know why they happen. Allistic people tend to think that meltdowns are ~mysterious and have no cause, but really they don’t bother to understand our stressors. An Autistic person will not have a meltdown in order to get what they want, like a tantrum; something stressful will set off the meltdown. Meltdowns are often caused by sudden startling sensory input like a motorcycle revving or fireworks. Sometimes they are caused by something small in a long series of stressors; for example, if an Autistic person is tired and hungry and has been away from home a long time, they may go to a restaurant for dinner and the thing that pushes them into a meltdown is the restaurant being closed. I once had a meltdown because I do badly in the heat and had to be out in it for too long.

Another important thing about writing meltdowns is that they are way worse for the person having the meltdown than anyone who might be around. Writing the meltdown like it’s something terrifying to the bystanders and ignoring the Autistic person’s experience is ableist. Don’t do it.
Speaking

Some Autistic people are non-speaking (the preferred term is non-speaking, not non-verbal). Some Autistic people are hyperlexic chatterboxes. And everything in between exists too. Some hyperlexic Autistic people lose the ability to speak when under high levels of stress. Many non-speaking Autistic people use assistive technology like AAC communication boards or iPads in order to communicate through words. Some non-speaking Autistic people can sign. Many non-speaking Autistic people are capable of mentally forming words, but there is a disconnect between those words and being able to voice them. For me, ordinarily being able to speak and losing the ability to speak due to stress feels like a connection between my mouth and my brain has been severed. I may repeat words or stress-stim while I try to process the words I am attempting to say, or I may go completely silent and have to sign or write/type.

Scripts are key to Autistic communication. We learn to navigate social situations by figuring out (or being taught by friends) which scripts are appropriate for which situations. When Autistic people have trouble with social situations, it is often because we don’t have a script for the situation or because we don’t know which script to pick. I like to describe my social awkwardness as “error 404: script not found”. Use of scripts means your Autistic character may often use the exact same words in similar situations, especially when telling stories of something that happened to them or responding to common social situations like accepting a gift or being invited to a social gathering.

Your Autistic character may be able to speak all the time, be entirely non-speaking, or only be able to speak when not under stress. Keep in mind the stressors listed above when trying to figure out what might cause your Autistic character to stop being able to speak. On the other hand, Autistic chatterboxes often have good vocabularies and will love to talk endlessly about their special interests (infodumping).
Empathy

Autistic people supposedly have low empathy. However, there isn’t just one type of empathy. The type of empathy Autistic people most often struggle with is called cognitive empathy. Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand other people’s perspectives, mental states, or motivations, and to be able to intuit what another person would think in a certain situation. An Autistic character may often make mistakes when trying to figure out what someone else is thinking or why they are doing what they’re doing, and may be confused at other people’s behavior or logic.

Affective empathy is the kind of empathy Autistic people often don’t have according to harmful stereotypes. Affective empathy is the ability to sense and/or understand other people’s emotions. We supposedly don’t have good affective empathy because while we may be able to understand that someone is feeling a certain way, we often don’t have the necessary scripts to respond to the other person’s feelings. Many Autistic people are hyperempathic for affective empathy and take on others’ feelings as their own; this gets very overwhelming. So an Autistic character might be able to sense other peoples’ distress and want to help but not be able to, or be able to sense someone else’s frustration but not know what to say to make the person feel better, etc.

Some Autistic people do indeed have low affective empathy. This trait is frequently demonized. If you do write any neurodivergent character with low affective empathy, be extremely careful you are not inadvertently making them look evil or wrong because of their difficulty reading and understanding people’s emotions. A good example of a character with low affective empathy written well is Rose Quartz from Steven Universe.
Eye contact

Autistic people are like cats in that we feel threatened by eye contact. We’re not trying to be rude when we don’t make eye contact; it upsets us. Your Autistic character may not care whether or not people know they aren’t making eye contact or may fake by looking at the person’s eyebrows (like I do) or looking in the general direction of the person’s face and looking into the middle distance. Your Autistic character may be unaware of what color eyes people have because of this.


Other

Many Autistic people have auditory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder, echolalia, prosopagnosia, elopement, dermatillomania, and/or trichotillomania. Auditory processing disorder usually involves not being able to parse the sounds in words into said words and not being able to distinguish background noise from something right near you. It often means having really sensitive ears and being easily startled by loud noises (hi).

Sensory processing disorder is very common in Autistic people and involves sensory input not being adequately processed; usually not fast enough. Sensory processing disorder often presents itself by being unable to tolerate certain textures (especially in food!), noises, or grooming products. SPD is why a lot of Autistic people have trouble grooming ourselves. (My SPD acts up when my skin produces a lot of oil, which means showers are a wonderful relief from sensory hell for me, but I’m weird.)

Echolalia is key to how a lot of Autistic people think. It often involves repeating words that we have just heard, but often we retain phrases or words we hear that appeal to us and we will repeat them. Sometimes we repeat them as part of scripts, and sometimes we repeat them because it is fun. Echolalia is an imitative behavior, meaning we get these things we like to vocalize from other places. This can be books, movies, other people, songs, whatever; when I’m stressed, my echolalia kicks in and I speak mostly in movie and song quotes. (So echolalia can also become part of scripts.) Your Autistic character may have certain sources of echolalia that they like, such as people who they respect, or they may get the stuff they repeat from varying sources.

Prosopagnosia is also called face blindness. Autistic people with prosopagnosia are, in essence, crap with faces. This can mean just bad at reading facial expressions, completely unable to distinguish different faces, and everything in between. Having prosopagnosia often feels like seeing faces as disorganized collections of features instead of faces as a whole.

Elopement is when an Autistic person feels overwhelmed or threatened and leaves a situation. This often involves leaving a house, but can also be running from a social situation. Allistics like to call this behavior ~mysterious as well, but elopement is caused by stress. When we want out because of a sensory issue or because we don’t have a script for something or whatever, we may feel threatened, and we get out. It’s that simple. Your Autistic character will not elope for the hell of it. They will run from something if they feel like they are in danger.

Dermatillomania and trichotillomania are similar. Dermatillomania is skin-picking and trichotillomania is hair-pulling. Both are often done as stress-stims, and most Autistic people who do them try to re-channel that harmful stim into a different stim. So if your Autistic character does either, they probably are doing it unintentionally but may try to actively do a different stim when they catch themselves doing one or the other. Important note: neither is usually done as deliberate self-harm.
Final notes

Be critical of yourself when writing an Autistic character. With every one of their traits, make sure you think “Why am I writing this?” and if the answer is “Because I’ve seen it often in the media”, reexamine your motivation. There are a lot of harmful stereotypes out there, many of them perpetuated by so-called charities like Autism Speaks. Common misinformation includes that meltdowns, elopement, and self-injury don’t have causes, stimming must be stopped, that Autistic traits must be suppressed, that there are more Autistic men than women or non-binary people, and that only children can be Autistic. If you believe any of those, read more books and blog posts by Autistic people before writing your character. Recommendations include the book Loud Hands by Julia Bascom, and the blogs Autistic Hoya by Lydia Brown and Non-Speaking Autistics Speaking by Amy Sequenzia. (Temple Grandin is a pro-ABA Aspie supremacist I do NOT recommend her work for research on how to write Autistic characters.)

In light of Puppetgate, I would think I wouldn’t even have to say this, but apparently I do: if you’re not Autistic, don’t write a non-human character as Autistic unless most or all of the characters in the story are not human. We’re already dehumanized enough. Don’t write an android as your only Autistic character on a starship full of humans, don’t make the lone lawful good orc in your fantasy realm your only Autistic character, and DEFINITELY don’t represent a human Autistic character with a fucking puppet (unless you’re the Muppets, because having puppet characters is kind of their thing).

Hermeneutical Injustice

Content/trigger warning: discussion of ableism, cursing (these are probably true for most entries…), mention of Autism $peaks, eugenics, ABA

Internalized ableism is sadly common. I see it all the time, from Disabled people who choose to use terms like “person with a disability” and “the disabled” to those who are pro-eugenics. I’m also queer, and I see internalized ableism far more often than I see internalized queermisia. I’m also female, and I see internalized ableism far more often than I see internalized misogyny (in general; if we’re talking specifically about white women, that’s another story). I’ve often wondered why so many Disabled people so staunchly advocate against their own rights and don’t understand that their lives have as much value as those of abled people. As much as I want to boost the voices of other Disabled people, when Disabled people are advocating against disability justice…well, I struggle with that. I can’t say their voices don’t matter, but when another Autistic person says “figuring out the genetic causes of autism is important so people like me can be eugenically eliminated”, I sure as shit don’t want abled people hearing that and thinking that Autistic people universally want to stop existing.

I thought about how difficult it was for me to find information from Disabled self-advocates and how long it was after my various diagnoses that I started learning about disability justice. I started to wonder if so many Disabled people have such terrifying internalized ableism because they don’t have access to information about disability justice. Not only do they not have information about disability justice, what they do have is an omnipresent avalanche of ableist bullshit. I mean, hell, when a newly diagnosed Autistic person googles “autism”, they’ll probably find fucking Autism $peaks. (I’ve discussed before why that organization is a hate group). They’ll probably also find information on conversion therapy based on the mistaken idea that autism is a behavioral disability, not a cognitive one, and aimed at making Autistic people more palatable to the allistic people in our lives at the cost of our mental health and autonomy. (This “therapy” is called applied behavior analysis, or ABA, and I’ll do another entry on why it’s harmful later.) Ableist disinformation is everyfuckingwhere because ableism is built into society, and I started thinking that the fact that Disabled people internalize that disinformation is a manifestation of ableism.

As it turns out, I might be onto something. A philosopher named Miranda Fricker defined the term “hermeneutical injustice” as follows:

“In cases of hermeneutical injustice, we harm people by obscuring aspects of their own experience. Our dominant schemas–our assumptions, what we take as common ground–about a particular group can make it difficult for members of that group to understand or articulate their own experiences qua members of that group.”

That’s in academic-ese, so let me try to translate. Hermeneutical injustice is when society keeps important information about group X from the people in group X and instead feeds them bullshit, making it difficult or impossible for members of group X to understand or talk about being X. Doesn’t that sound like what I was talking about a few paragraphs ago?

So when I see Disabled people with deeply ingrained internalized ableism, I try to remember that they probably haven’t had the access to the resources I do, and I try to share my resources. I’m still working out how to discuss hermeneutical injustice with the people it affects. Nobody wants to be told “Your ideas are wrong because you’ve been fed bullshit”, even though that is frequently a logical response to statements like “I can’t be ableist; I have a disability!”.

How do we address hermeneutical injustice, then? I try to make disability justice resources more available, and I write this blog, but hermeneutical injustice comes from societal oppression. The best way to confront hermeneutical injustice is to dismantle the oppressive structures that perpetuate abled supremacy (and white supremacy, patriarchy, etc.; they’re all interrelated. Intersectionality may be an entry for another day…or multiple entries. Hmm. I’ll get back to you on that). Yeah, yeah, I know. Tall order. But the alternative is for Disabled people to continue believing our lives don’t matter. And that’s unacceptable.

Several Things…

Content/trigger warning: discussion of ableism, including common emotional abuse techniques, cursing (do I always warn for cursing? I should, seeing as I curse like I just discovered the words)

Hey! Guess who did NaNoWriMo and didn’t blog for a whole month because she was busy trying to hit 50k? This lady! (I did finish NaNo, though.)

To get back into the swing of things, this seemed like the perfect blog entry to talk about a few small things that don’t really need an entire standard Mara length blog entry to cover. This is going to be a list-heavy entry: I’m going to talk about common lines of advice that are actually ableist (and some are just dickweed things to say), laterally ableist behaviors that I often see, and why it’s ableist to mock “weird” triggers. (The last one will be a list because I’m going to share some of my more “weird” CPTSD triggers.) That said, let’s get started.

“Helpful” advice that’s ableist:

  • “You can overcome anything!” The whole idea of “overcoming” disability is ableist because it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how disability works. If someone can do something that another Disabled person with the same condition can’t do, the first person didn’t “overcome” anything, they just experience the condition differently. Also, sometimes Disabled people can’t do things because of our disabilities. That’s why it’s called a DISability. Sometimes we can’t do shit. Deal with it. And by “deal with it” I mean “don’t tell us that we can do something we actually can’t, because that’s tremendously invalidating”.
  • “You HAVE to try yoga/dieting/exercise/acai suppositories/etc.” This one is rather conditional. Unsolicited advice is usually a No. Disability Etiquette 101: if a Disabled person is venting to you about debilitating symptoms, do not offer suggestions on how to fix the symptom unless asked, especially if you don’t know the person that well. You don’t know what the person has tried and if your potential solution is accessible to them. If someone is asking you what you did to address a particular symptom or if you have any ideas, go ahead and share away, but if someone is venting about their disability-related traits or symptoms, don’t try to fix them. Yes, even if XYZ thing worked on your same traits or symptoms. (If you really feel strongly about a suggestion, you can ask if the person talking to you is interested in hearing suggestions.)
  • “Don’t let it get to you.” This one is invalidating in general, but it’s especially shitty for neurodivergent people who are highly emotionally sensitive. Can people control how they react to feeling like shit? Sure, sometimes. But it’s a rare person indeed who can simply decide to not feel like shit in response to something that makes them feel like shit. Even if someone is ND and their condition makes them sensitive to something that makes them feel like shit that doesn’t make you feel like shit, that doesn’t mean that the ND person is doing feelings wrong or shouldn’t “let it get to them”. Asking people how you can help them feel better because you want them to feel better is great. Telling people to change their innate emotional responses, especially if those responses are due to neurodivergence, is an asshole move. Policing people’s more specific emotional symptoms (e.g. “it’s not that scary” in response to anxiety”) is also an asshole move.
  • “Be grateful it’s not worse.”/”You don’t have it that bad.” Unless you are the single most unlucky motherfucker in the world, someone will have it worse,  but suffering isn’t a contest. Telling someone to be grateful for their suffering not being worse is invalidating. Fuck this one. Don’t do it.

Common forms of lateral ableism that I’ve seen is up next. Some of these have been discussed on this blog before, but I wanted to compile them. The following are sucky things that shouldn’t happen:

  • Physically Disabled people insisting that their physical disability doesn’t mean they are ID/DD/LD and implying that there’s something wrong with being ID/DD/LD. If you want to clear up someone’s misconceptions about your disability, great! That’s fine! Just make sure you’re not implying that you’re a “good” Disabled person because you’re not like one of those other gross Disabled people with a condition you’re throwing under the bus.
  • Autistic people insisting that autism isn’t a mental illness and implying there’s something wrong with being mentally ill. Okay, yes, I will acknowledge that being mentally ill can be a towering goblet of suck, but again, this can fall into the acting like you’re a “good” Disabled person because you don’t have [insert other disability here].
  • Physically abled MI people describing their mental illnesses as “cr*ppling”. No, you don’t get to use a slur that isn’t yours to describe your brain’s bullshit. There are so many other words to describe brain bullshit. “Debilitating” is a good one.
  • Neurodivergent people saying that physically Disabled people don’t get gaslit about how their disabilities aren’t real, or don’t experience medical ableism, or generally have it better than neurodivergent people. NO. NO NO NO NO NO. Bad Oppression Olympics participant. Stop it.
  • People with mood disorders insisting they aren’t scary, dangerous, or likely to be violent like people with PDs or psychotic people. And we’re back to throwing other disabilities under the bus in order to make oneself look better.
  • People with abuse-related PTSD blaming their abusers’ harmful behavior on their abusers being mentally ill. Armchair diagnosing emotional abusers with cluster B disorders has become especially trendy these days, and abuse survivors have blamed their abusers’ behavior on addiction for ages now.
  • People with BPD acting like they’re the “good” cluster B illness that isn’t selfish or abusive or whatever. Man, throwing other disabilities under the bus is really popular on this list.

And finally, something a little different. It’s all too common to mock mental illness triggers, especially PTSD triggers, these days. PTSD is a constellation of symptoms that result from the brain dealing with trauma, and one of the things brains try to do in response to trauma is keep a person from experiencing trauma again. The devastating effects of flashbacks, hypervigilance, and other PTSD symptoms in response to triggers are the brain trying way too hard to tell the brain’s owner “SHIT SHIT SHIT YOU’RE IN DANGER RUN AWAY”. (This is all very scientific, I know.) Because of this, literally anything that was involved in the trauma may become a trigger. A smell, a sound, a word, anything. I was abused for over a decade, so my CPTSD has had plenty of opportunities to pick up triggers that some might think are silly but will grab me by the collar and fling me back in time to relive the abuse if I hear them. For example, here are some of my more “ridiculous” triggers:

  • The sound of heavy/running footfalls
  • British spellings
  • The phrases “this little [noun]”, “you’re too sensitive”, “black pit”, “I don’t believe you”, and “capitalist values”
  • The word “stroke”
  • The words “at all” being used at the end of a sentence
  • The song “Carousel” by SJ Tucker
  • The taste of hazelnut coffee creamer
  • My given name spoken out loud

Yep. My given name is a trigger. Last night someone called me by it and I couldn’t stop shaking for hours. Why yes, that is fucking annoying.

I think that’s all I have for now. Oh, right! I’m also working on setting up a Facebook page. I feel like I’m not all that well suited to Twitter. I’m going to stay on Twitter, but Mara Lee is also getting a Facebook page soon. I’ll share the link when it’s ready.

Blaming Abuse on Neurodivergence (Is Ableist)

Content/trigger warning: discussion of abuse throughout, including a specific example of gaslighting, ableist slurs (censored)

A while back, I wrote an entry on how “n*rc*ss*st*c abuse” is not a thing. But to be honest, I have never been satisfied with that entry. I felt as though it did not get my point across. This may be because it was little more than a fleshed-out Twitter thread from back when I tried to do Twitter threads. (It turns out that my brain and conceptualizing complex ideas into 280-character–fragments are not friends.) I have deleted the entry, and am just going to reiterate the points that I feel I did at least a passable job making in that entry here:

  • Describing abuse with an adjective that applies to a neurodivergent condition implies that the neurodivergent condition caused the abuser to be abusive
  • Emotional abuse is real and traumatic, but it is ableist to refer to emotional abuse perpetrated by an abuser who felt that they had to tear down the victim in order to make themselves feel better as “n*rc*ss*st*c abuse”
    • You can just say “emotional abuse” instead, or “self-serving emotional abuse” if you want to be more specific
  • Some (but not all, as far as I have been able to determine) people with NPD consider “n*rc*ss*st” to be a slur when used pejoratively, including when it is used as part of the phrase “n*rc*ss*st*c abuse” (or, oh I don’t know, on a subreddit called “Raised by N*rc*ss*sts”)
  • I am extremely upset at other ND people, particularly others with abuse-related PTSD, engaging in the lateral saneism of calling what traumatized them “n*rc*ss*st*c abuse” or saying they have “n*rc*ss*st*c abuse syndrome”

However, what I feel like I did not adequately convey is that no neurodivergent condition causes a person to be abusive. I did mention that, but I feel like I didn’t elaborate on it enough. So I will use this entry to describe Mara’s Theory of Neurodivergent Conditions and Suckitude.

Unfortunately, it seems to be a sad truth that people of all populations are capable of sucking; no matter how many (or how few) marginalized groups a person belongs to, it is still possible for them to be disrespectful, toxic, etc. Anyone can have character flaws that cause them to suck. Sometimes, people who suck are neurodivergent. Since neurodivergence affects who a person is on a fundamental level, a sucky person’s neurodivergence may lead them to suck in a particular way. As such, sucky people who share a particular neurodivergent condition may show patterns in their suckitude. However, they do not suck because they are neurodivergent; they suck because they suck. Neurodivergence simply informs how they suck.

A corollary (is that the right word? I haven’t done advanced math since college) to Mara’s Theory of Neurodivergence and Suckitude is that if a neurodivergent person abuses someone, their neurodivergence may have informed what kind of abusive actions they took, but it did not make them abusive. My abuser, for instance, told me that I could not have depression because she had depression and she would have recognized it. If she hadn’t been depressed, she wouldn’t have said that, but she certainly would have said some other gaslighting bullshit. (In fact, she has, multiple times; my favorite is that I lied to all 20something of the psych professionals I have seen about having depression symptoms because I think being depressed is ~*~cool~*~.)

This is also why armchair diagnosing a sucky person is ableist. (I’ve discussed this before, especially in my entry about why I fucking hate it when people armchair diagnose Tr*mp, but I feel like reiterating it.) I mean, armchair diagnosis is de facto ableist—the primary purpose of a diagnosis is to help the person with the diagnosis understand what is happening with them and address it, and if a diagnosis does not serve that purpose, then fuck that—but armchair diagnosing a sucky person is ableist because it is based on the ableist and untrue idea that neurodivergence causes suckitude.

The tl;dr of this entry is that no neurodivergent condition causes a person to be abusive, which is why using a phrase that indicates that a particular neurodivergent condition (NPD, in the case of “n*rc*ss*st*c abuse”) causes abuse is ableist and wrong.

P.S. No, I’m not sure why I decided to name this entry in the style of an early aughts emo song. I’m not particularly good with titles.

How You Does Ally, Part II: Allyship With the Autistic Community

Content/tw: cursing, discussion of ableism, including eugenic abortion

As previously discussed, here are some good ways to support the Autistic community, especially during motherfucking April:

  1. Like I said in my last entry on metonymy, don’t get your knickers in a twist over metonymy. Metonymy is a figure of speech that uses thing X, which is associated with thing Y, to refer to thing Y; for example, the phrase “America is enacting racist policies” really means “the American government is enacting racist policies”. Similarly, “I fucking hate men” means “I fucking hate systemic misogyny and the fact that men act as oppressors due to systemic misogyny” and “allistic people suck” means “anti-Autistic ableism sucks and the fact that allistic people act as oppressors due to anti-Autistic also sucks”. If you’re allistic and hear an Autistic person complaining about allistic people, don’t get all pissy and offended. And if you do get pissy and offended, maybe think about about how much you really care about the rights of allistic people.
  2. Remove the R-slur and any ableist slurs relating to intelligence or ability to speak from your vocabulary. NEVER use “Autistic” as an insult.
  3. Do not donate to Autism $peaks or patronize any of their partners. Do not “light it up blue”. If you can find one (many of them are organized on Facebook), go to a protest of an A$ walk.
  4. Do your research. Read books and other materials by Autistic-run organizations like AWN or ASAN.Read work by Autistic people like Autistic Hoya (http://www.autistichoya.com/), Radical Neurodivergence Speaking (http://timetolisten.blogspot.com/), and Amy Sequenzia (https://ollibean.com/author/amy-sequenzia/). Check out the books Loud Hands by Julia Bascom and All the Weight of Our Dreams by The Autism Women’s Network and Lydia X. Z. Brown. Neurotribes by Steve Silberman is not by an Autistic person, but is pretty respectful.

    Oh, and there are some fantastic Autistic activists on Twitter, such as @EbThen, @painandcats, the aforementioned @AmySequenzia and @autistichoya, and @neurowonderful, who also has a brilliant YouTube series called Ask an Autistic (https://www.youtube.com/user/neurowonderful). If for some reason you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m @IMissCarrie.

    Also, I hate to say this, but Temple Grandin and John Elder Robison have made it clear that they are not invested in the Autistic community, so avoid their work. Internalized ableism: it is teh suck.
  5. Autistic voices (including ASL, AAC, writing, or any other form of communication a non-speaking Autistic person may use, as well as the sources listed above) are more important than allistic ones. Amplify those voices by sharing our work on social media or IRL when possible (as mentioned in my last allyship entry, this is called “pass the mic” activism).

    If someone directly asks you a question about anti-Autistic ableism like “How is Autism $peaks bad?” in person, try to use what you have learned from Autistic people when answering. If someone asks you such a question online, link the asker to a resource created by an Autistic person.
  6. Speaking of communication, don’t assume that a non-speaking Autistic person is not competent or doesn’t have thoughts, feelings, or needs. Be prepared to be flexible and discuss communication with Autistic people when interacting with them, both in and out of activist spaces.
  7. Circling back to the idea of Autistic voices being the ones that matter when addressing anti-Autistic ableism, understand that being Autistic makes you an expert on autism. This is especially important when trying to support Autistic people through charities; any autism-related “charity” that is not run by Autistic people is probably doing more harm than good. Tip: the shitty “charities” often use a puzzle piece as a symbol of the fact that autism is a mysterious puzzle in need of solving (gag me).
  8. Related to the last point, don’t be suckered in by any subspecies of paaaaaaaaaaaarent (martyr mommy, Autism ParentTM, etc.) who claim that autism is tragic, a disease, “stole their child”, a burden, etc. These paaaaaaaaaaaarents love to bitch and moan about how much they are suffering, and they make the fact that their child is Autistic all about them. They may say bullshit ableist things like “I love my child, but I hate their autism”. Autism is an inherent part of Autistic people; hating “their autism” is hating their child. They may also defend ABA and insist that Autistic activists are “high-functioning”, and that their “low-functioning” child should be “cured”.

    These people often cannot be swayed, but it is worth trying, especially because dealing with the kind of violent ableism these people are capable of can be harmful or traumatic for Autistic people, and we need our allies to point these people, many of whom have been poisoned by A$ and similar organizations, to resources by Autistic people. And don’t read their fucking books (To Siri With Love, etc.); in fact, you can help by leaving one-star reviews of that shit.
  9. Don’t use functioning labels. They’re arbitrary and dehumanizing. I talk a little about them in day 18 of the 30 Days of Autism Acceptance 2017 challenge, found here: https://thisisforyoucarrie.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/30-days-of-autism-acceptance/
  10. Default to identity-first language (“Autistic person”, not “person with autism”). If any specific Autistic person says that they prefer person-first, refer to them the way they like. Even if I want to smack the internalized ableism out of them.
  11. Focus on accommodation rather than “cure” or “fixing” Autistic people. Understand that a “cure” is eugenics, as you cannot make a person not Autistic without effectively killing the person that they are. Oppose development of potential prenatal tests for autism, as these will lead to eugenic abortion. Yeah, you heard me. Talk to the trisomy 21 community if you don’t believe me.

    Regarding accommodation, this can include accessible Web design and event planning, e.g. not typing in all caps, subtitling YouTube videos, not using autoplay, having a cool-down room to get away from overstimulation at IRL events, holding scent-free events, etc.
  12. If you live in the United States, DO NOT CALL THE POLICE ON AUTISTIC PEOPLE. They don’t know how to deal with us. They’ll probably just kill us. Okay? Okay. This goes double if the Autistic person in distress is a person of color. The only exception to this is if the person in distress requests that you call the police.
  13. Don’t support autsploitation media like Atypical or The Good Doctor that rely on 1) ableist and harmful stereotypes 2) non-Autistic actors “cripping up” (an actor without X disability playing a Disabled character with X disability).
  14. Don’t rely on stereotypes. Understand that most of them are bullshit. If you are a media creator making an Autistic character, do your research and get an Autistic sensitivity reader. Or maybe I’ll do an entry on writing Autistic characters later. (I have too fucking many ideas for this blog.)
  15. I may do an entry on this later…or I may not, because other people have done it better. But here’s some information on why ABA is abusive conversion therapy and why you should never support it. https://wetwareproblem.tumblr.com/post/156895911301/ducki3-knerdy-knitter-ducki3
  16. Never tell an Autistic person to stop stimming, make eye contact, or in any other way be less Autistic.

That’s all I can think of right now. Go forth and engage in allyship, not allyshit.

Disability Day of Mourning 2018

Content/trigger warning: murder of Disabled people by their caregivers, violent ableism, mention of sick pet

Today is March 1. Disability Day of Mourning. Why is it that I never have anything poignant and impactful to say on the days when I really, really should?

Oh, well. Here we go anyway.

For those who don’t know, Disability Day of Mourning is a candlelight vigil held by several disability self-advocacy groups, including ASAN (Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, which is the organization that actually keeps track of the data) and Not Dead Yet, at which the names of all the Disabled people who were murdered by their caregivers are read. Vigils are held all over the United States, and there is also a virtual vigil that happens online. Speeches are also given, and poems are read, at least during the virtual vigil. One year, I contributed a poem I wrote and a video of myself performing Delain’s song “We Are the Others”.

I can’t go. My job has shitty benefits, including not enough time off, and my pay will be docked if I miss work. I need the money for vet bills; my ESA needs surgery. (She should be okay.) It’s not that relevant, but I’m experiencing a ton of internalized ableism due to my inability to attend such an important event; I feel like I’m a bad activist. More relevant, though, is what I felt when I listened to the list of names: “There are so many”. And this year, over 100 cases of filicide of Disabled people by their caregivers were reported. That’s 550 murders since the inception of DDoM five years ago. One disabled person murdered by someone who was supposed to love and accept them every three days.

But so many abled people don’t find this as horrifying as I do. They think that the lives of Disabled people are not worth living. They pity and sympathize with our murderers. They insist that our disabilities must have made our lives so hellish that our murders are mercy killings. They wail and whinge about how hard it must be for a parent to have a child who is Disabled and they would have done the same thing. This is one of the most egregious forms of ableism I know of: our lives are seen as more tragic than our deaths.

“But Mara,” I can hear the abled fuckwads saying, “what about low-functioning Autistic people? Their lives are tragic!”

No Autistic life is tragic; abled people just don’t fucking understand us. They don’t understand that functioning labels are arbitrary and useless at best, dehumanizing at worst. I’ve played this game on this blog before, but let’s play again. It’s called A Tale of Two Autistic People.

Autistic Person Number One:
-Can’t keep a living space clean
-Can’t drive
-Doesn’t know when she’s thirsty
-Has no sense of time
-Has screaming, self-injurious meltdowns
-Can’t always speak
-Can’t handle personal finance
-Stims when distressed
-Is frightened by eye contact
-Has difficulties with executive function

Autistic Person Number Two:
-Has a master’s degree
-Is a member of MENSA
-Is able to care for a pet
-Works full-time
-Is capable of feeding themselves
-Has won awards for writing
-Has an excellent memory
-Is a skilled musician
-Holds a rank of third-degree black belt in a martial art
-Always looks put together

Which person is low-functioning and which person is high-functioning? Surprise: they’re both me. “Low-functioning” denies agency; “high-functioning” denies support. And regardless of what bullshit functioning label we get slapped with, all of our lives are worth living, even in this rancid ableist garbage fire of a society. And that doesn’t only apply to Autistic people. Disabled lives are worth living, and on Disability Day of Mourning, we honor those lives that ended too early because someone who should have accepted them for who they were didn’t understand that.

Anyway, I’m not here to debate the finer points of eugenics. I’m here to, as they say, “Mourn the dead. Fight like hell for the living.” I couldn’t go to the vigil. But I’ll try to keep fighting.

Oh, and in case anyone is interested, here’s my poem. It is specifically about how harmful messages from Autism $peaks like their go-fuck-yourself horrendous video “Autism Every Day” directly result in ableist filicide. It’s called “Anthem for April”, but I think it’s appropriate now.

Don’t reduce me to the puzzle piece you find ugly and malign
And the part of me your narrow typical mind can condone
The puzzle piece I find ugly is the ubiquitous blue design
Alex Spourdalakis’ and Katie McCarron’s mass-produced tombstone

From its azure knobs and corners drips blood only we can see
And I am not a mysterious conundrum or tragic riddle to be solved
Set fire to the bigoted texts written about children like me
And know we grow into adults with internalized bigotry unresolved

I am dismissed as if eye contact with danger didn’t fill me with dread
You think your degree gives you the right to decide my identity
Not that nor a family member nor a psych class puts you inside my head
How many letters must follow my name before you will listen to me?

Less Well-Known Ableist Language

Content/trigger warning: ableist language (which you might have guessed :P), cursing

First of all, I want to discuss ableist language that isn’t widely acknowledged as ableist in this entry because I see a lot of people who are attempting to be good allies to the Disabled community or are even Disabled themselves using some of these. I also want to reiterate something that many Disabled activists have said: ableism is not a list of words. It is a violent system of oppression that privileges abled people over Disabled people and harms or even kills Disabled people. Ableist language is commonly discussed in part because it is so pervasive and in part because it is representative of the fact that Disabled people are devalued and dehumanized, so while it isn’t the be-all end-all of ableism, I think it still bears discussing. Examining one’s language can also be an effective way to identify unconscious biases.

I also want to say that not all of these are considered slurs. Some are ableist in the way that saying that all women have vaginas is transmisogynist, but does not involve any slurs. But some of these are slurs, so ye hath been warned. If ableist language is one of your triggers or you find it really upsetting, you may want to skip this one.

So with that out of the way, here we go; a (probably not comprehensive) list of lesser-known ableist language:

 

Autistic screeching/any use of autism as an insult: Please, for the love of stim toys, don’t do this. It’s incredibly ableist against Autistic people.

Blind to/Turn a blind eye to/Blinded by: Any metaphor (or whatever literary device you’re using) that describes disability as negative is ableist. These expressions are, specifically, vidist (vidism is oppression of blind people). “Ignorant” can be a good substitute.

Confined to a wheelchair: Wheelchairs help people be more mobile, not less, so wheelchairs are the opposite of confining. Instead, say “wheelchair user”.

Cr*zy (also ins*ne, m*d): I would think these would be pretty self-explanatory, but apparently they’re not. Don’t use slurs against mental illness. “Outrageous” or “ridiculous” are good alternatives. (Note: these words are often reclaimed.)

Cr*pple: It seems like many people actually do know that this is ableist, but it is ableist against physically Disabled people, and I’m putting this on the lesser-known list because so many able-bodied mentally ill people use “cr*ppling” to describe their mental illness. FUCKING DON’T DO THAT.

Delusional: Often leveled at people who are being illogical (so just say “illogical”), this one is ableist toward mentally ill people who experience delusions.

D*rp/herp-d*rp: Offensive to ID/DD people. Its origins on South Park were surprisingly not terribly shitty, but it has been coopted by shitty people to disparagingly refer to ID/DD people. Whoops.

Differently abled/diffabled: Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh I fucking hate this one. It’s so condescending in addition to representing a flagrantly inaccurate understanding of disability. (More on that when I write about models of disability.) “Disabled” is not a bad word. Just say it. Please.

D*mb/D*mbass: This one insults intelligence, and saying that low intelligence is inherently bad is ableist against intellectually Disabled people. Hell, the whole damn concept of intelligence is ableist, and don’t get me started on how many –isms are involved in IQ tests. Actually, get me started on that some other time. There will be an entry on it. Avoid insulting intelligence, okay? Oh, and this one also is ableist against non-speaking Disabled people because of its history of use to mean non-speaking.

Ermahgerd: This one is offensive to Disabled people whose disabilities affect their speech. Yes. Really. I only learned that fairly recently myself.

Fall on deaf ears/tone-deaf: This one is audist, or discriminatory against D/deaf people. Like I said before, don’t use literary devices that present disability as inherently bad.

Fuckt*rd/libt*rd: If you’re reading this, you probably know that r****d is one of the worst ableist slurs. Derivatives of the r-slur are also ableist slurs.

H*ndic*p: The “hand-to-cap” story is reportedly not true, but this one is still a slur. I’ve heard some older Disabled people use it, but…internalized ableism is hard as hell to shake. As with many others on this list, just say Disabled instead.

Hearing impaired: Many D/deaf and hard-of-hearing people don’t like this one. Say D/deaf or HoH instead.

Id*ot/imb*cile/m*ron: Not only do these have a history of use by pro-eugenics asswads to label intellectually Disabled people in order to determine whether or not they should be institutionalized, sterilized, etc., they insult intelligence. I’ve already talked about why that is a No. Don’t insult intelligence; insult poor decisions or moral bankruptcy instead.

L*me: This one specifically targets people with mobility or physical disabilities, especially those affecting the legs. This is usually used as slang to refer to something that is “uncool”. I’m really terrible at argot and colloquialisms, but I’m sure there are other slang terms that aren’t ableist that can be used to mean “bad” or “uncool”.

Ps*cho: This one is offensive to people who experience psychosis. The same goes for use of “psychotic” as an insult.

P*****path/s****path: These are both slurs for people with ASPD that rely on the ableist idea that empathy is what makes us human, a necessary trait to be a good person, etc. Many neurodivergent people have low or no empathy and are still good people and not in any way a threat to society. Oh yeah, that’s what these words mean. That people with low/no empathy are a danger to society. The only people I’m a danger to are (usually ableist) people who are a danger to me. Avoid these and just call someone morally bankrupt. Or an evil fucker. Or whatever.

-phobic (to refer to bigotry): I’ve never liked this one, and it turns out there’s a good reason for that; it conflates bigotry with phobias, which fall under mental illness. Conflating bigotry with mental illness is a towering pile of Don’t Fucking Do That. A good alternative to –phobia is –misia or, if you don’t think that will be recognized/understood, –antagonism.

Short bus/you belong on the short bus/that’s short bus material: Targets ID/DD/LD people. Avoid this one, and, as I said before, any insult to intelligence.

Sp*z: This one specifically targets people with cerebral palsy and other neural issues. “Disorganized” or “incompetent” will suffice.

Special needs/special: The needs of Disabled people aren’t “special”, they’re fucking necessary. And referring to a Disabled person as “special” or “a special” is just…my soul hurts too much to even think about that. Don’t. Stop. No. Just say “Disabled”.

St*pid: Remember what I said about not insulting intelligence? Don’t.

That gave me a flashback/that gave me PTSD: A coworker recently tapped me on the shoulder after lumbering up to me. Seeing as heavy footsteps and being touched without warning are triggers for me, I jumped about a mile and I felt a sensation like my soul shooting out the top of my spine, and suddenly I was fifteen years old again and my abuser was pinning me to a wall. I was dissociated for the rest of the day. That’s a flashback. Your difficult exam or that bad movie you saw did not give you PTSD or flashbacks.

Triggered (when used as an insult): See above. It’s immensely disrespectful and minimizing of the struggles of people with PTSD (and other conditions that can be triggered, like, say, anxiety or epilepsy).

 

Like I said, that was not a comprehensive list of ableist language; it was just a list of less common ones because I think there are a lot of well-meaning people who use these not knowing that they come from a place of bigotry. Also, I keep seeing a lot of people on the left using these to tear down right-wing bigots, and for the love of SSRIs, please don’t fight bigotry with bigotry.

I think I’m going to stop with the Carrie Fisher quotes. She said a lot of memorable things, of course, but I’m running out of quotes that are apropos for these entries. I might pick up doing the quotes again when I can finally read one of her books without crying.