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).

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.

Lesser Known Autistic Traits

GODS DAMN it has been way too long since I’ve blogged. And my first entry after my long absence is on…a thing I have not mentioned in any of my previous lists of topics I want to tackle. Yay!

I talk about autism a lot, seeing as I’m Autistic as all fuck, but today I want to talk about some lesser known Autistic traits and tendencies. I’ve discussed a few well-known traits such as meltdowns, having special interests, difficulties with verbal communication, and poor executive function, but I want to list and describe some of the lesser known Autistic traits (and some commonly co-occurring disabilities) because, well, they’re lesser known and they shouldn’t be. The more information about autism is out there, the more diagnoses can be made. Oh, and many of these traits are more commonly missed by professionals when they’re seen in cis women. (HOWEVER, that does not mean that they are exclusive to cis women, or women in general. I’m merely remarking on the incompetence of people who are supposedly qualified to diagnose autism.)

I’m going to start by coining a term: chronagnosia. I will later mention prosopagnosia (face blindness), so I used the Greek root for “time” with “agnosia” (inability to interpret sensory information and as such recognize things) to get “chronagnosia”, or “time blindness”. Chronagnosia is, essentially, being shit with time. To put it slightly more eloquently, chronagnosia is inability to conceptualize time. My chronagnosia manifests as a near-complete inability to tell how long a particular event or activity has taken.

Some other “atypical autism” traits are:

  • Poor sense of self. Some Autistic people have personalities that shift, sometimes dramatically, depending on who they’re around. These people may also be highly susceptible to taking on personality traits of their friends and families. (Am I like that because I’m Autistic? Is it because of trauma? Is it because I’m borderline? Nobody knowwwwwwws!)
  • Strong or overdeveloped sense of justice. Uh…if you read my blog at all, you’ll probably have a sense for what this looks like. This also can manifest in a fiery, burning hatred for being misunderstood.
  • High emotional sensitivity. This can manifest by crying, yelling, or even having meltdowns over wounded feelings. No, this isn’t something you can just decide to not feel, and people who think you can simply turn this trait off need to be punched.
  • Being neurogender or gendervague. “Neurogender” refers to someone’s gender being powerfully affected or influenced by their neurodivergence; “gendervague” is a label used by people whose neurodivergence means that they can’t conceptualize gender.
  • Difficulty spending time on personal “grooming” tasks such as showering, combing hair, and changing into clean clothes. This is often due to poor executive function or sensory issues.
  • Extreme intellectual capability in some areas, but great difficulty with the social aspects of school. To put it another way, many Autistic people have tried college and couldn’t handle the non-academic aspects of it, and may have one or many partial degrees.
  • Preferring the company of animals to people. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0THbJgMW6NY
  • Awkwardness around people who are of romantic and/or sexual interest. Also, not knowing how to flirt or recognize flirting. (This one can sometimes change with age and experience.)
  • Difficulty enjoying sex due to sensory issues.
  • Being significantly better at socializing with small groups than large ones, but still with a tendency to shut down, withdraw, or cry when confronted with large groups. Alternatively, some Autistic people may have developed noteworthy acting skills as a survival mechanism and can appear at ease in social situations despite actually feeling stressed or uncomfortable. (This is me. This is me in spades.)
  • Often being perceived to be cold, withdrawn, or unfriendly, but with the tendency to become animated and almost joyful at the opportunity to talk about a special interest.

Commonly co-occurring disabilities:

  • Anxiety disorders. If not diagnosable GAD or other anxiety disorders, anxiety, fear, and paranoia are dominant emotions.
  • Depression or mood swings. If not diagnosable MDD or dysthymia, persistent sadness or muted/depressed mood is common in Autistic people. Probably because we’re constantly being bombarded with the message that we shouldn’t exist. That’d make anyone depressed.
  • Hyperlexia, which means learning to read early with accompanying difficulty using verbal language and/or with social interaction.
  • Prosopagnosia. Also called face blindness, this is the inability to recognize faces. I have a small degree of prosopagnosia; I can recognize people, but I commonly mix up people who look similar.
  • Expressive agnosia. This is the inability to recognize other people’s moods or read facial expressions.
  • Alexithymia. This is a term for the inability to understand or express emotions. To put it more bluntly, it’s being crap at knowing what you’re feeling.
  • Sensory sensitivities and/or sensory processing disorder (SPD). This is usually broadly defined as the sensory signals received by the brain are not processed into an appropriate response. For Autistic people, though, this usually means that certain sensory inputs are intolerable.
  • Auditory processing disorder (APD). This is similar to SPD, except the sensory signals that aren’t processed correctly are related to sound. A brief and common story about APD follows: “Hey, can you pass me the remote control?” “What?” “Can you pass me—“ “Here’s the remote.”
  • Difficulty understanding verbal instructions. This one is fairly self-explanatory (and can be related to the aforementioned APD).
  • ADHD and autism have a lot in common, but some traits that are more common with ADHD and less common autism include impulsivity, inability to sit still, distractibility, and forgetfulness. While one can be mistaken for the other, they also commonly co-occur.
  • PTSD, CPTSD, or other trauma-related disorders. We’re at high risk for being abused. We’re also often highly sensitive. Trauma-related disorders may result.
  • Gastrointestinal issues. I know, I know, there’s a lot of bullshit about how “bad bacteria” or “toxins” in the gut cause autism, and it truly is grade-A bullshit, but many Autistic people have irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, acid reflux, etc.

I………………………………………..think that’s all for now? I have a feeling I’ll come back and add things to this after I post it.

Walk in Red Instead Challenge

Content/trigger warning: mention of person-first language, discussion of ableism

The Walk in Red Instead challenge was originated by the runner of the Tumblr blog walkinredinstead. I fully admit I didn’t have the spoons to put a lot of effort into this, but for what it’s worth, here is my completed challenge. I did a similar entry last year for the Autism Acceptance Challenge; I did the challenge again this year on Tumblr, but I’m not putting it here because that seems kind of redundant.

Day 1: Favorite autism resources. ASAN and AWN (now called the Autism Women and Nonbinary Network) have some great information. Also, Autistic Hoya (http://www.autistichoya.com/), and @ebthen on Twitter. To be honest, though, I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye with ASAN, and a particular big-name Autistic advocate (who I’m terrified of because she bullied me to the point of triggering my CPTSD like whoa over a misunderstanding, but still) has spoken out about issues she has with ASAN, most notably their events not being accessible to people with photosensitive epilepsy. And one of their co-founders and former president is…uh…I don’t agree with his politics on some crucial issues. But ASAN’s resources on why Autism $peaks is a garbage fire are still good.

Day 2: Selfie day. Not doing this for my safety.

Day 3: Stereotypes. Oh boy. Well, I fit the stereotype that all Autistic people are white, as PoC are hella underdiagnosed. Other than that, I fit the nerdy Autistic stereotype, and while I am socially awkward, I’m not an asshole like Sheldon Cooper the Ultimate Autistic Stereotype. Actually, you know what, I feel like talking about that.

Ways in which Sheldon Cooper is an Autistic stereotype:

-He acts like doesn’t care about the other people in his life
-He’s desexualized for most of the show (because Disabled people can’t be sexual beings, right?)
-He reacts badly to change
-He is an academic hotshot
-He had nerdy intense interests as a child
-He currently has nerdy intense interests
-He’s white, male, and cis

Of course there’s nothing wrong with having nerdy special interests, but the whole asshole thing? That’s a negative stereotype. A lot of autistic people have difficulties with nonsensical allistic social skills, but we tend to be more accommodating than most allistic people because we’re used to needing other people to be understanding. Of course, some autistic people are assholes–there are assholes in every crowd–but being Autistic does not make one an asshole.

Also, being white, male, and cis is…how allistic people seem to think of Autistic people, but it seems like a lot of Autistic people aren’t straight or cis. And I already mentioned that too many Autistic people who aren’t white, male, and cishet are diagnosed late or not at all.

The nerdy special interests are a somewhat justified stereotype, but special interests can be in anything. Pop music, explosives, orchids, cyberpunk, pretty cell phone cases, Victorian literature, anything. It doesn’t have to be trains and superheroes.

Regarding the academic hotshot thing, that’s more of an…ugh…Asperger’s stereotype. IQ is an everything-ist metric that doesn’t measure much of anything useful (more on that in another entry), but Autistic people can run the gamut from being intellectually Disabled to being members of MENSA. To put in a less ableist way, Autistic people can have a wide variety of academic skills and learning difficulties.

Day 4: Support. I could ramble at length about how allistic people can support Autistic people, but the gist of it is: believe Autistic people and organizations who are in the know about neurodiversity and ableism, and forget everything you’ve ever heard from autism parents™ or allistic-run organizations. We–Autistic people–are the real experts on our brains and the accommodations we need.

Day 5: Labels. The correct label for an Autistic person is “Autistic”. Not “person with autism”. Being Autistic is an inherent part of the way an Autistic person experiences the world. Person-first language is both inaccurate in its implication that autism is a disease and ableist in its need to “put the person first” and distance the person from the disability as if disability is an inherently bad thing. Autistic people who use “person with autism” should be referred to as such–people are allowed to have internalized ableism and not value their own existence, fine, whatever–but there is no non-ableist reason for person-first language with regard to autism. There’s a reason I’m putting a content warning on this post for person-first language.

Of course, a caveat with labels is that some people eschew them altogether. I don’t understand that–even if I don’t identify as asexual, I still don’t experience sexual attraction, which means I fit the definition of asexual regardless of whether or not I use the term–but some people don’t like labels and don’t like being referred to with labels. Which is fine. If someone doesn’t want a label applied to them, don’t apply it to them, even if it’s accurate.

Day 6 was Autistics of Color Selfie Day, so needless to say, it wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to post a selfie even if it were safe for me to do so.

Day 7: Special interests. Oh man, I have so many. They are specific enough that I don’t want to list all of them, as there are people out there who would read the list and figure out that it’s me writing this. (People who I don’t want to know that I write this blog.) But here are a few:

-Science fiction, especially if it’s progressive, gay, or both
-Role-playing games
-My harem of fictional wives, most of whom come from science fiction
-Queer stuff
-Cats
-Disability justice (of course)

Day 8: Routine. Oh boy. I actually have a kind of a strange relationship with routines. I am generally productive and (somewhat) emotionally stable when I stick to a routine, and if I’m locked into a routine, I am prone to anger and mistakes when I have to break from that routine. But part of me hates routines because I long to be able to just do whatever the hell I want and relax for a little while.

Day 9: Favorite characters. Well, there are my aforementioned fictional wives, but I’m too identifiable by those, so instead I will also list a few characters I headcanon as Autistic. (Not all of them, as some of them are from obscure fandoms by which I could be identified.)

Steven Universe:
-Pearl
-Peridot
-Steven Universe

Harry Potter:
-Luna Lovegood
-Hermione Granger
-Neville Longbottom
-Arthur Weasley

The Hunger Games trilogy:
-Wiress
-Katniss Everdeen
-Primrose Everdeen

Other:
-Andy Dufresne (The Shawshank Redemption)
-Mako Mori (Pacific Rim)
-Prince Zuko (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
-Sarkan, the Dragon (Uprooted by Naomi Novik)
-Alexander Hamilton (Hamilton: An American Musical)
-Georgette “Buffy” Messonier (Feed by Mira Grant)
-Mel (Sunshine by Robin McKinley)

Day 10: Diagnosis. I was self-diagnosed at about 13, professionally diagnosed approximately 10 years later. I don’t really want to reveal too much personal, so have some bullet points about autism diagnosis:

-Autistic people who aren’t white, male, and cishet are underdiagnosed (as previously mentioned)
-Being a combination of non-white, non-male, and/or queer decreases chances of correct diagnosis
-Being professionally diagnosed has a lot of disadvantages, and it is a valid choice to not seek professional diagnosis
-Self-diagnosis is valid
-Being anti-self-diagnosis is a whole host of -isms (more on that in another entry, probably)

Day 11: Sensory. Oh, wow, where do I start? I have sensory processing disorder and can’t process any kind of sensory input if there’s bright light or loud noise. Simultaneous bright light and loud noise give me crying meltdowns. Some noises, textures, and sounds–especially textures–are…well, I used to have a good phrase to describe them that I can’t use anymore because it reminds of an abusive ex…uh, they’re just fuckawful from a sensory point of view and I can’t stand them. Wet sponges are about the worst. On the other hand, I love to stim…to be continued on day 14.

Day 12: LGBT+ selfie day. Well, I’m really queer, but I’ve mentioned that I can’t post selfies for safety reasons.

Day 13: Community. (Presumably that means the Autistic community.) I’m fairly active in it, and it’s mostly pretty awesome, but I’ve seen a lot of anti-cluster B saneism in a lot of Autistic-run Facebook groups. Because there’s anti-cluster B saneism everywhere besides cluster B communities. *sigh*

Day 14: Stimming. Stims stims stims stims stims 😀 what a good topic. I have a hand spinner that I love, and I often stim with music, but something I do that I feel like is pretty rare is olfactory stimming. I often wear perfume so I can sniff it and just luxuriate in the scent or feel more relaxed. I love going through my perfumes and sniffing them all. When I was younger, whenever I was in a restaurant or store where there were scented candles, I would smell them all. Olfactory stimming is my jam.

Day 15: Family. Blood is not thicker than water. The actual quote is “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”.

Day 16: Friends. I have some wonderful and supportive friends and I’m very grateful for them.

Day 17: Animals. I’ve always related to animals, especially cats, more than people. I currently have an amazing cat who is not a trained ESA, but she sure acts like one.

Day 18: Coping. Something I’m not doing too well right now. Which is why I’m not doing a very good job with this challenge.

Day 19: Mental health. Something I don’t have. A lot of Autistic people develop anxiety and depression due to dealing with ableism, and we’re especially prone to PTSD. As you know if you’ve been reading this, I have all three of those. And BPD. And OsDD.

Day 20: Free day. Can I go back to sleep?

Day 21: Communication. This is an important one. A lot of Autistic people can’t communicate verbally, either always or some of the time. AAC, ASL, writing, and even so-called “behaviors” are communication. Allistics will bang on endlessly about how “mysterious” Autistic people are and how impossible we are to understand. But they’re the ones who refuse to learn how we communicate.

Day 22: Fear. Hmm. Interesting prompt. I would have to say my biggest fear as an Autistic person is that some kind of “cure” (that will probably be based on insufficient evidence or poorly done research, since you can’t cure who a person is) will be promulgated by the mainstream scientific community. Either that or autism genetic markers will be “discovered”, leading to eugenic abortion.

Day 23: Emotions. My emotions are, um, fucking ballistic. I feel everything on a River Tam level. Is this because I’m Autistic? Is this because I’m borderline? Nobody knowwwwwwws!

In all seriousness, though, Autistic people’s emotional tendencies are as varied as allistic people’s; it’s just that not all Autistic people express emotions like allistics do.

Day 24: Autistic girls selfie day. I’m female, but again, safety reasons.

Day 25: Awareness vs. acceptance. I’ve already done an entry on this. Awareness hurts because it makes autism seem like a disease and is generally ableist in every way. Acceptance is necessary for Autistic people to live our best lives in a society that currently rejects us.

Day 26: Free day. Thank fuck; I don’t have the EF for this. I’m going to sleep.

Day 27: Rules/authority. Fuck both. They’re usually ableist.

Day 28: Peers. I don’t understand this prompt. I…don’t get along well with my allistic peers, I guess? I never have. I usually interact well with other neurodivergent people, especially Autistic people.

Day 29: Future. The anti-ableist future where I don’t have to tirelessly put up with and confront ableism constantly? Yes, please.

Day 30: Autistic pride. Okay, here’s my Autistic pride collection on Redbubble. https://www.redbubble.com/people/autisticbanshee/collections/510801-autistic-and-awesome

 

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.

Autism Speaks Is a Hate Group

As promised, here are 20 reasons why Autism Speaks is an ableist hate group.

Content/trigger warning: filicide, ableism, eugenics

Autism Speaks presents autism as a disease and/or series of deficits, not a neurodevelopmental disability.

Autism Speaks is responsible for a short film called “Autism Every Day”, in which an Autism Speaks board member claimed that having an Autistic child was so exasperating, she had a desire to kill both herself and her Autistic daughter. She said this right in front of her Autistic daughter.

Katie McCarron, a three-year-old Autistic child from Illinois, was suffocated to death by her mother in 2006.  This murder occurred just four days after the initial release of “Autism Every Day.” Yes, the short film by Autism Speaks in which an AS board member said in front of her Autistic daughter how much she felt like killing her daughter and herself. I can only hope this was a coincidence.

Autism Speaks also created an ableist, scaremongering short film called “I Am Autism”. It featured an ominous voice saying things like “I am autism…I know where you live…I work faster than pediatric AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined…I will make sure your marriage fails.”

Autism Speaks’ “awareness” campaigns present Autistic children as burdens on society. (This is the exact language they use. They use the word “burden”.)

Autism Speaks almost completely ignores Autistic adults. I’m not sure about that, though, because I’ve never seen anything from Autism Speaks regarding Autistic adults…wait…

Autism Speaks has only two Autistic people on their 26 strong board of directors. This is why we (the Autistic community, or at least a lot of us) say “Nothing about us without us”. 2 of 26 is not representation.

As mentioned previously, Autism Speaks almost completely ignores Autistic adults and does not have any Autistic people on their board of directors. Want to know how bad their lack of involving Autistic adults in their…uh…efforts is? Until 2019, they only had one token Autistic person on an advisory board.

Autism Speaks presents Autistic people in one of two lights: the “tragic”, endearing “Autistic angel” and the shrieking, rocking, nonverbal, meltdown-having ~*~burden~*~. This is particularly prevalent in their videos. And it makes it difficult for people who haven’t been educated on autism for reputable sources to accept Autistic people who don’t fit either of those stereotypes.

Even if it weren’t a fucking hate group, Autism Speaks’ fundraising expenses exceed spending on most of its core programs, and Charity Navigator rates its financial health as 2 out of 4.

44% of money raised by Autism Speaks goes to research geared toward eradicating/preventing the births of Autistic people, usually by “curing” us.

In 2007, Autism Speaks merged with another autism-related “charity” that was widely loathed by Autistic people. This “charity” was called Cure Autism Now. Please keep your “cure” off my brain. Eugenics is a No.

Autism Speaks involves meltdowns in almost all of their videos. They seem to think that embarrassment over a public meltdown is more important than why the meltdown is taking place. Not to mention this is an egregious violation of the consent of the person having the meltdown.

Autism Speaks has used legal threats in the past to bully autistics who don’t agree with their messages (one built a parody website—perfectly legal—but was bullied into taking it off the web: http://aspieweb.net/aspieweb-being-bullied-by-autism-speaks/).

For all their talk about “easing the ~*~burden~*~” of families with Autistic children (*gag*), Autism Speaks only spends 4% of their budget on “family services”.

If not for Autism Speaks, more money would be donated to REAL autism charities like ASAN and AWN.

Autism Speaks’ “Autism Safety Project” (as seen on their Web site) promotes the prevention of Autistics engaging in any sexual activity as opposed to assuring that it is safe and pleasurable for us, and making it seem that the fact that Disabled people are more likely to be sexually assaulted is an individual problem, not a societal one.

Autism Speaks’ logo is blue to represent that more young boys are diagnosed as Autistic than young girls. Women are under-diagnosed thanks to the propagation of the “more common in boys/extreme male brain” theory developed by that ableist shitpile Simon Baron-Cohen—I have to do an entry on him and his bullshit—and propagated by Autism Speaks and similar organizations. (Autistic women are not the only underdiagnosed population; more on that later.)

Autism Speaks’ logo is a puzzle piece to represent the ableist idea that autism is a puzzle to be solved and fixed.

Autism Speaks’ “awareness” campaigns used to urge parents to NOT vaccinate their children. Autism Speaks presented autism as being worse than life-threatening diseases such as pertussis and measles.

Sources:

http://www.autistichoya.com/2012/07/georgetown-say-no-to-autism-speaks.html
http://healthmad.com/mental-health/im-autistic-but-autism-speaks-doesnt-speak-for-me/
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/05/19/336513/-An-Autistic-Speaks-About-Autism-Speaks
http://fromonesurvivortoanother.tumblr.com/post/17765289011/littlemissmutant-a-lot-of-the-data-that-ive
http://autisticadvocacy.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Autism_Speaks_Flyer.pdf

And of course, I must always mention goldenheartedrose’s master post on why Autism Speaks is reprefuckinghensible. http://goldenheartedrose.tumblr.com/post/17644810872/so-whats-the-problem-with-autism-speaks

 

It’s April. FUCK.

I fucking hate April. Can I just say that? I fucking hate Autism Bewareness Month.

Here are things I will be doing this month:

-Donating proceeds from my Redbubble autistic pride-related collection to ASAN (https://www.redbubble.com/people/autisticbanshee/collections/510801-autistic-and-awesome?asc=u)

-Doing another autism acceptance challenge on social media and doing an entry containing the posts from the entire month on the last day of April

-Sharing my “The Autistic’s Guide to Surviving April” 8tracks playlists (https://8tracks.com/with_bleeding_hands/the-autistic-s-guide-to-surviving-april-lighter, https://8tracks.com/with_bleeding_hands/the-autistic-s-guide-to-surviving-april-heavy) in various places on the Internet

-Writing a post on how to be an ally to the Autistic community

-Writing a post on why Autism $peaks is a hate group

But yeah, fuck April, fuck Autism $peaks, and fuck lighting it up blue.

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?

Emotional Sensitivity and Neurotypicalism

Content/trigger warning: death mention, neurotypicalist slur

Oh, hey! I found this entry in my folder of blog entries and it turns out I wrote it a long time ago and never posted it. So have a real entry!

Today (er, on the day I wrote it, which was January 23), someone took time out of their busy schedule to tell me I was wrong for my feelings about Carrie Fisher’s death. Why would someone do that?

Well, I could speculate until the cows come home, but I have always been befuddled by disrespect and meanness. I don’t understand the motivation and may be neurologically incapable of doing so, because it’s not a motivation I have. (Low intellectual empathy. It makes life interesting.) So instead, I want to talk about sensitivity.

Actually, I want to talk about two kinds of sensitivity: sensitivity as in respect and sensitivity as in being emotionally sensitive and vulnerable. It also would be accurate that I want to talk about being sensitive to sensitivity in the sense of being respectful of vulnerability. Some people are sensitive. In modern society, especially in the US (which is where I live and therefore the place I am most qualified to discuss), sensitivity gets a bad rap. It is actively discouraged. People are told to stop being dramatic, stop crying, stop being sensitive, etc. The usual rationale behind this is that the world is cruel, so sensitivity is maladaptive and should be trained out of people. I find there to be two problems with that: one, many sensitive people can literally not be trained out of being who they are, and two, it is possible to create a world that is more accessible to sensitive people.

Many neurodivergent people are highly emotionally sensitive. (Others are highly emotionally insensitive; I might discuss that later.) It is because of this that the “your feelings are wrong and you should feel bad” attitude toward sensitivity crosses into neurotypicalism. Yes, being crappy in response to someone being more upset than you think they should be is rooted in neurotypicalism. You’re gods damned right I said it.

I want to point out that an exception to the discussion in this entry is the fact that being told one is acting like a bigot tends to hurt feelings. In this case, those hurt feelings are the problem of the person acting like a bigot, because they were perpetuating wide-scale harm and their hurt feelings are less important than the harm they were doing. Also, sometimes bigots will hide behind their hurt feelings by attempting to say “you hurt my feelings, so YOU’RE wrong”. Well, being told you’re acting like a bigot hurts. I’m white and cis, so PoC and trans people have told me I was acting like a bigot because, well, I was. I’ve internalized white supremacy and cissexism, and unlearning them is a process. Yeah, it hurt. But I was in the wrong and it was my responsibility as a moral human being to get over my feeling hurt and unlearn whatever toxic crap I was doing. And ohhh boy do I get neurotypicals pulling the “you hurt my feelings by calling me neurotypicalist, so YOU’RE wrong and I don’t have to change my behavior”. (This is why I have a “neurotypical tears” mug.) So to summarize this paragraph, I am talking about being attentive to the emotional needs of sensitive neurodivergent people in this entry, not those times when it may be necessary to hurt someone’s feelings in order to affect positive change.

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. (The idea of hysteria or a similar condition as a disease caused by the uterus was found in several cultures, but 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.

The idea that mental illness (or at least supposed irrationality related to such) and emotional sensitivity are inexorably related is pervasive. Mentally ill feelings are seen as Wrong, so they can be dismissed; on the flip side, “overly” sensitive emotional responses are seen as mentally ill so they can be categorized as Wrong. “You’re too sensitive” is not only an asshole thing to say in response to someone’s hurt feelings, but it also carries the hidden barb of “you’re crazy”. This is especially true when a woman’s feelings are being delegitimized; misogynableism is likely at play.

In short, everyone’s feelings are legitimate to them and should be respected, even if some might find them too extreme. Yes, that especially includes the feelings of mentally ill people, even if our disorders are causing those feelings; for example, my CPTSD-born belief that I deserve to suffer or die when I’m admonished for a social gaffe is irrational, but it’s certainly real. I can process that feeling much better when the fact that I’m feeling it is respected. High emotional sensitivity, like any other neurodivergent trait, needs to be accommodated, and that accommodation should lead to the curb-cutter effect and make life easier for neurotypical people who are highly sensitive. The world would be a better place for everyone if assholes would stop being assholes. Well, it might not be better for the assholes, but I don’t really care about them.

I might write more about sensitivity and radical softness later, but that might be all I have on the topic.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “There is no point at which you can say, ‘Well, I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.'” I’m only picking this quote because I’m so out of spoons I want a depression nap, but I have to job-hunt instead.

“Scary” Mental Illnesses

Trigger warning: sexual abuse mention, emotional abuse mention, reclaimed slur

On several occasions, especially when trying to hammer home the point that no mental illness makes a person evil, I have referred to “scary” mental illnesses. I feel like I should spell out what I mean by that. On one level, a “scary” mental illness is any mental illness besides anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder. On another level, a “scary” mental illness is a mental illness that includes at least one of the following:

  • Unreality or psychosis
  • Mania, hypomania, or mixed affective states
  • Low or no empathy (cognitive or affective*)
  • Dissociation
  • Unstable sense of self
  • Impulse control problems
  • Rigid and “extreme” thought patterns
  • A pattern of deviation from cultural/social norms
  • Self-talk
  • “Abnormal” (too close or too distant) attachment to others
  • Unusual body movements
  • (Supposed) tendency toward violence
  • Hypersexuality

I’m not entirely okay with further discussing mental illness and tendency toward violence, because I truly believe that saneism is so pervasive that it may affect even scientific studies on violent behavior in mentally ill people. (This is coming from someone with a master’s in biomedical sciences who just got her name on her first abstract.) So I won’t be talking about number twelve, partly because I already addressed it as much as I’m comfortable with in my entry on mass shootings and neurotypicalism. But as far as the others, I think you can see where I’m coming from, although I may have forgotten a few “scary” traits/symptoms. I would also like to point out that this list doesn’t only apply to mental illnesses; autism is often considered a “scary” disability due to our rigid thought patterns, deviation from social norms, low empathy (although many of us, myself included, have hyperempathy for affective empathy—which is what neurotypicals usually mean when they say “empathy”—some of us do have low affective empathy and that’s okay), stims, tendency to self-talk, and (completely bullshit) supposed tendency toward violence. If that list wasn’t helpful, here’s another list, this one of “scary” mental illnesses:

  • Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders
  • Any personality disorder, especially cluster B (narcissistic, histrionic, borderline, antisocial)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Dissociative disorders, especially DID (this is where I flip off M. Night Shyamalan)
  • PTSD

Yeah, I put PTSD on there. As a CPTSD sufferer, I have noticed that many neurotypicals don’t seem to understand PTSD triggers and think we may just flip out at any second. And CPTSD shares many “scary” characteristics with borderline, especially the unstable sense of self and odd attachment patterns. I would know; I’m also borderline. Sometimes I have trouble identifying whether the shit my brain is pulling at any particular time is a borderline thing or a CPTSD thing.

You might be asking, “Mara, what’s the point of this?” The point–aside from the idea that mentally ill people are not inherently cruel or abusive, which I’ve mentioned before–is that “scary” ND conditions are treated differently from non-“scary” ND conditions. (I say “ND conditions” here because I am also referring to neurodevelopmental disabilities that aren’t mental illnesses. Remember what I said about autism?) This does not mean that people with “scary” disorders have it worse than ND people without “scary” disorders. But what it does mean is that many so-called allies are willing to support only mentally ill people who don’t have “scary” disorders. I have seen NTs reassuring their friends with depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder that they aren’t like those other mentally ill people. I especially see this when the NTs have just said something crappy about mental illness and the person with depression or anxiety says “you realize I’m mentally ill, right?”. I’ve also seen neurotypicals on Twitter or Tumblr rhapsodize about how mental health is just as important as physical health and then turn around and post in #diagnoseTrump. I see this shit often, okay? And it’s frustrating. Neurotypical allies have to know that they should support all of us neurodivergent people, not just those of us who wouldn’t be villains in terrible horror movies. (I’m still mad about Split. I will probably always be mad about Split.) Either you’re with all of us or you’re with none of us.

It isn’t just terrible horror movies. I watch a lot of Law and Order: SVU. I can identify the season by Olivia Benson’s hairstyle. And it seems like every damn female perpetrator of abuse or violence is borderline. Dr. Huang, SVU’s resident psychiatrist for much of the show’s runtime, even said in one episode (I think it was season nine, episode three, “Impulsive”) that many female teachers who get caught sexually abusing their students are borderline. In the season eighteen episode “Motherly Love”, a woman who was raping two fifteen-year-old boys was described in horrified tones as “having no true sense of self” and “no empathy”. These traits were said to be a result of her borderline and narcissistic personality disorders. (I have no sense of self and garbage cognitive empathy. It doesn’t make me a sexual abuser. Also, the SVU writers seem to hate NPD as much as they hate BPD, and even as a person who doesn’t have NPD, that’s a towering pile of Not Okay.) The woman’s abuse of minors was then said to be a result of her mental illnesses, which led her to have a need to control, manipulate, and hurt vulnerable people. The season five episode “Home” used to be one of my all-time favorites before I accepted my borderline diagnosis; Dr. Huang blames a woman’s emotional abuse of her sons on her BPD.

Unfortunately, much to my chagrin, it isn’t just neurotypical screenwriters who pull this crap. People with non-“scary” ND conditions often exhibit lateral neurotypicalism toward “scary” ND conditions. I once watched in horror as a Facebook acquaintance who is Autistic and has anxiety ranted against “p*****pathic liars” and exhorted her friends to “run from anyone with that personality”. I had to unfollow a friend on Twitter who has suffered from major depression but won’t stop retweeting articles about Trump having NPD or being [saneist word of choice]. And don’t get me started on who I’ve seen posting “autistic screeching” memes. It’s not like I don’t understand the impulse to distance oneself from what society deems dangerous. I’m sure many ND people with non-“scary” illnesses or disabilities take comfort in the fact that they’re not like those other ND people. But this is still a form of bigotry. It is important to confront such biases. Being neurodivergent in one way does not preclude one from being neurotypicalist toward certain other neurodivergent people. I mean, look at me; I used to believe I suffered from “n*rc*ss*st*c abuse syndrome” before I realized that that “syndrome” was really a way to conflate NPD with being an abuser. Fortunately, I was open enough to the idea of supporting all of my ND siblings that I was able to realize I was being laterally neurotypicalist.

So, long story short: If you’re neurotypical, ally yourself with all ND people, not just the seemingly non-threatening of us. And if you’re neurodivergent, you should know better than to not support all your fellow ND folks. No matter who you are, check your assumptions and preconceived notions about people with “scary” neurodivergent conditions, because they’re probably wrong and discriminatory. And for the love of chocolate, stop saying “p*****path” and “s****path”. Cluster B gets enough shit.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “I’ve always been quite sane about being insane.” (See, that’s how you use a neurotypicalist slur. Way to reclaim, Carrie.)

 

 

*Affective empathy is the ability to feel what someone else is feeling. Cognitive empathy is the ability to think what someone else is thinking.