Just Stimming…

A land we can share (a place I can map)

Someone who moves like you

with 54 comments

Buckle up kids, because this gets long and personal.

So, a long time (~7 months) ago, in a galaxy far, far away (rural New Hampshire,) there lived a sad little girl (or KICKASS ADULT,) named Julia who just so happened to have a friend named C. C and Julia had spent the past several months talking too much altogether about Glee, and C had begun to push for Julia to add a second show to her plate. Some brightly-colored sitcom about derelicts going to a community college.

And Julia was skeptical, but C was persistent, for she knew that if Julia liked the first two minutes, Julia would have a new favorite show. See, C knew something that Julia did not.

C knew that Abed Nadir existed.

Now, there are a couple of things you, gentle reader, must know about Julia in order to appreciate what happens next. First, you must understand that, ever since she had been born and maybe even before, Julia had been autistic. And second, you must understand that, because of this, Julia had spent her whole life watching and learning stories where she had no part, no point of entry, and no value. Julia was trained to imagine herself in stories as someone she was not and could never be, and to define the story of her own life in terms of how it failed to be reflected back to her. And sometimes, most of the times, Julia forgot that she was a person. Stories are important, and she didn’t have one. You are a mistake isn’t a story. It’s barely even a sentence.

I must warn you now that this is not a story of how C or Dan Harmon or Abed Nadir or even Julia herself saved or healed Julia. It’s in the script, but Julia wouldn’t have a voice in any of those stories, either. No, gentle readers and vicious tumblr-ers, this is a story of what it means to start a new story and see on your screen, for the first time, someone who moves like you.

Do you understand what that means?

It’s probably not something you’ve ever really had to think about. But how someone moves is the first thing telling you whether or not they might be able to be you, and you them. And for the first time in Julia’s life, she looked at a character on television and saw a yes.

Abed Nadir walked onto Julia’s laptop screen, and nothing and everything changed.

For the next seventh months, there was a lot of CAPSLOCKING IN GOOGLE CHAT at C about Community and Abed Nadir, but very few words elsewhere. Which was odd, because when Julia liked things, she tended to talk about them too much. This was one of many things she and Abed had in common.

Except, here’s the funny thing. Abed said “I just like liking things,” and it wasn’t just not-punished, it wasn’t just okay—either of which would have been remarkable and unbelievable—no. It was good.

And Julia, who had endless words for a great many small and unimportant things, couldn’t say anything more about Abed beyond he moves like me.

Abed Nadir, you see, is an autistic character.

There’s a difference between TV Autistics and autistic characters on television. TV Autistics—Bones, House, Sheldon, Sherlock—are caricatures, and, not coincidentally, all fan-diagnosed. They are socially awkward/anti-social/socially maladapted, eccentric geniuses free of any serious adaptive functioning limitations, motor issues, sensory sensitivities, or language differences, able to manage independently in all major areas of daily living, with a bonus side of savant skills and the empathic range of a rock. They’re awesome, but they’re a stock character, and they manage to simultaneously hint at the autistic experience without actually meaning it. It’s like that poster about gay subtext in popular that was going around a while ago

the irony being, of course, that for a show that is “so gay,” it’s actually not gay at all. The people in charge have found the perfect ratio of homoerotic subtext (all of it) to actual gay characters (none of them) to keep the fangirls creaming their pants and the money rolling in. No one involved has any intention of meaningful inclusion or exploration. You avoid any potentially unpleasant consequences, because the choice to have a gay character was never actually made.

It should be noted that autism isn’t the only reason Julia grew up without People Like Her on television, and it’s not even close to the only reason she has a Thing about stories. And that’s the curious thing about these TV Autistics—someone who’s watched one of them in action is much more predisposed to assume that since Julia is autistic, and since she’s got this extended metaphor (bonus points if you say perseveration) about stories going on, stories must be her Special Interest, the framework through which she filters the world, the poor half-human thing.

And they are, but that’s because Julia is, shockingly, a person at her core. And people need stories.

Which brings us back to Abed.

It’s entirely possible Julia over-identified with Abed, just a tad. Which struck her as first a bit odd—they’re nothing alike, Abed thinks The Breakfast Club had a plot and likes falafel and his mom had the decency to leave— and then as more than a bit precarious. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

(Somewhere, fiddling with her contacts, C arched an eyebrow and said “it wasn’t?” and Julia cyber-kicked her.)

Abed Nadir walked around like a bird or a giraffe, and he couldn’t do thumbs-up and he talked too fast and knew too many things and he was sharp and suspicious and easy and trusting. He did things that were simultaneously uncanny/creepy and sweet/thoughtful, and he couldn’t do bills or read clocks but he could tell psychiatrists to fuck off and he could fight with his best friend when his best friend tried to take charge, and he was jealous and sharp with his crushes. He had friends and private worlds, and all the scars that come from growing up a mistake, and things were imperfect and messy and painful and visceral but he always emerged okay.

Abed Nadir said “please don’t do a special episode about me” and Jeff Winger promised he “wouldn’t dream of it.”

And then he told Abed to pick one reference, and Abed picked 16 Candles, so they sat on the counter and ate chicken.

(And Abed didn’t mind who he was kissing so long as he got to be Han Solo, and also he delivered several babies and got to be the good cop and the bad cop and used his diagnosis to get rid of an unfortunate lab partner and took advantage of a stranger in a bar’s patience so he could talk about Farscape.)

And stories are a scary and messy business, full of magic and demons, taunting possibilities and rules-that-aren’t, things we can’t have and altogether far too many opportunities for a sad little girl’s heart to be ripped out of her chest, and Julia kept watching, every week. And you must understand that asking Julia to pick one Abed moment is liking asking Abed to pick one reference.

You must understand that one story is infinitely bigger than zero, and it may still be very small and nowhere near enough, but it’s something.

And yes, her heart was eventually forcibly extracted when Dan Harmon broke his promise and Virtual Systems Analysis was the dreaded Special Episode. And Julia remembered how to breathe, and stitched herself back up, because she hadn’t really needed that heart, anyway. And when it turned out that someone else would be in charge of Abed next year, she remembered what she had always known to be true about happy endings and said goodbye, mourned more than she had for any corporeal person (which was still not very much,) and folded away that part of herself and went back to not existing.

But for seven months.

For seven months, she had.

Written by Julia

June 4, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Posted in media, personal, stories

54 Responses

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  1. Beautiful post. My own first experience of seeing someone who moved like me was seeing video footage of Hunter S. Thompson. I am quite certain that Thompson was autistic. Most people attribute his unusual physicality and speech to his drug abuse, but I believe that the unusual physicality and speech came first (i.e., from birth), and that the lifelong drug abuse was the coping strategy of an undiagnosed autistic person whose career and interests required him to constantly put himself in overstimulating situations.

    Nick Walker

    June 4, 2012 at 2:39 pm

  2. As a deaf person, I’ve been somewhat privileged in some ways in that there are probably more genuinely Deaf characters in TV and movies than “autistic characters” as you define them here. But it is still an electric moment for me on those rare occasions when I do see one more Deaf character on the screen, and especially when the Switched at Birth series began because that has multiple deaf characters. Always before there was ONE deaf character at a time. So either I related to that one person or else I didn’t (if it was a character very different from me in other ways). And by the time I would figure this out, often the deaf character would be gone. But for Switched at Birth, for the first time it doesn’t matter if any one given character is someone I can’t relate to fully because there are several different characters who share some experiences I can relate to at some level.

    I hope some day there will be an equivalent of Switched at Birth with multiple autistic characters. Now that the autistic community has slowly been gaining in strength and visibility within the past few years (ASAN was much smaller and less visible even just 5 years ago compared to now), I think we will get there, though it will be still some years away.

    Andrea Shettle, MSW

    June 4, 2012 at 8:54 pm

  3. Have you ever heard any Peter Leidy? Although he is not an official member of the club, at least that I know of, he has the best songs about institutional life ever! So when looking to rock out to the abuses of authority in the guise of help, you should have a cd or two laying around.

    nvadvocate

    June 4, 2012 at 10:25 pm

  4. Thank you. Once again, you have captured it and released it back to us all in a way that I can see it. I liked this post (and so many others) that I wrote about you on my blog, I don’t have a lot of followers, but I did tell them to come read this. Keep it up. You routinely help me with perspective with my son, who Ihope one day will me able to reflect as eloquently on his innermost thought as you do. Thank you.

    Mama

    June 6, 2012 at 7:25 pm

  5. yes yes yes and yes. The show’s repeated and continual insistence that Abed is Okay was so important to me. I watch Physical Education over and over and I think it’s changing my life.
    I don’t know if it helps at all, but Virtual Systems Analysis, I thought, was about Annie learning to be more like Abed, more than Abed learning to be more like Anne. But then, I had my heart broken by the Dreamatorium-for-one in the finale.
    No matter what though, Abed Nadir DOES exist. And if he does, so can we.

    Sara Rosenbaum

    June 12, 2012 at 9:44 pm

  6. Absolutely blown away by this piece. My heart is bursting. I don’t have proper words to form a coherent comment, I’m sorry.

  7. This is really touching and eye-opening. I never stopped to think about the importance of feeling that your own story is represented. I just have to ask, have you considered tweeting this to Dan Harmon?

    Dara Anne Feldman

    June 13, 2012 at 6:25 am

  8. thank you

    scott (@scottotd)

    June 13, 2012 at 7:10 am

  9. MY EMOTIONS… MY EMOTIONS!

    Andrew Johnson

    June 13, 2012 at 9:37 am

  10. Wow! What more can I say? I love Community and it has moved me many times over the last three years, but to view Abed’s character through the eyes of Julia is very enlightening. Danny Pudi and Dan Harmon deserve a lot of credit to be able to touch her in such a way. Yet again, Community finds a way to amaze me.

  11. I would take a bath in your writing if I could. And I am despondent over the changes-to-come. And thank you.

  12. Darn it, I told myself I wasn’t going to cry today. But the tale, she is too poignant.

    Andrew

    June 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm

  13. This was such a powerful and informative post. I feel like I understand so much more now. And thank you also to the first poster who talked about Hunter S Thompson… Things just make so much more sense to me after reading this…

  14. This was beautiful.

    Just A Name

    June 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm

  15. Thank you so much for posting this, it is things like this that remind me why I cry when I hear the stories of other people like me, people that were left out, never told they were good enough, people like me, that have diagnosed Major Depression, and maybe even, like me, once thought that there was nothing left worth living for, it took hearing other stories like mine to inspire me, seeing other people ‘like me’ embrace that big moment when others told them they are worth it for me to decide that I will live the rest of my life for those that don’t live anymore and help those that need a hand to help them up because knowing that someone else is there, and that someone else got through it, that it doesn’t have to be the end… it is the most powerful thing you will ever feel. That is why I do my best to never remain silent about something that can be so life-changing.

    Amanda Ratzlaff

    June 13, 2012 at 4:28 pm

  16. [...] Nadir on Community. An extremely sobering reminder of the impact of media on the human experience. (Just Stimming, via Warming [...]

    • This is a beautiful read. Very poignant. I work with autistic children and it makes me happy to know that these kids have media representations of themselves, and it also makes me sad that there are so few of them that aren’t caricatured. Which is yet another reason why I adore Community.

      I like that you brought up the difference between autistic characters and TV Autistics because there really is one. I’d reccomend the Syfy show Alphas. It has the only other instance I know of an autistic character as opposed a TV autistic. Gary Bell, like Abed, is a part of a group where his autism isn’t a caricature, orused as a reason to separate or differentiate him from the team. No one does a special episode about him either.

      hbics

      June 13, 2012 at 10:26 pm

  17. This is a beautiful read. Very poignant. I work with autistic children and it makes me happy to know that these kids have media representations of themselves, and it also makes me sad that there are so few of them that aren’t caricatured. Which is yet another reason why I adore Community.

    I like that you brought up the difference between autistic characters and TV Autistics because there really is one. I’d reccomend the Syfy show Alphas. It has the only other instance I know of an autistic character as opposed a TV autistic. Gary Bell, like Abed, is a part of a group where his autism isn’t a caricature, orused as a reason to separate or differentiate him from the team. No one does a special episode about him either.

    hbics

    June 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm

  18. Maybe one day i’ll be able to express myself with the clarity you do. Great Read! Thank you

  19. I’m an Aspie who identifies far too much with Abed and couldn’t have expressed myself any better. This piece is beautiful and just … true. It brought tears to my eyes.

    CC

    June 14, 2012 at 12:34 am

  20. Lovely post. Nearly had me crying.

    arbine

    June 14, 2012 at 12:49 am

  21. We hear you.

    Andy Bobrow

    June 14, 2012 at 1:11 am

  22. [...] I want you to go read this essay about a woman who is autistic and discovered Abed Nadir. And stories are a scary and messy [...]

  23. I’ve had a rough couple of weeks dealing with a family loss and then the rest of the family falling apart into the void remaining. waiting for when this loss was going to hit me has been very hard – knowing it was coming and being able to detach hasn’t helped.

    your story was linked via pajiba via warming glow and as I love community as well, I automatically clicked you. and then I cried for 30 minutes. your beautiful writing and your feelings of loss gave me the support and hugs I’ve been looking for these last two weeks. I wish I could explain better, but words have been failing me.

    thank you for your words and know that you aren’t alone in your loss.

    Dave Wies

    June 14, 2012 at 10:21 am

  24. I have albinism, (I am an albino), genetic condition that causes a lack of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. If you watch the movie albinos, our stories are all villainous. We are heartless and evil.
    I was 14 before I met anyone who moved like me. The tinted glasses, papers pressed to the nose. It is a day I have never forgotten. After that one meeting, there were many more to come and every time we gather (sometimes close to 1,000 strong) I remember that feeling of identity. I am happy that there are more autistic characters, but there is so much more to do.

    Someday, maybe we’ll get a character with albinism. A real, three dimensional character. In the meantime, I celebrate your seven months.

    Lee Laughlin

    June 14, 2012 at 10:43 am

  25. Can someone leave a copy of this in the office of NBC execs?

    Jesus Polar

    June 14, 2012 at 10:57 am

  26. Your post gave me chills and I didn’t even see the show.

    I did see what you’re talking about – on Leverage. Parker. She’s not diagnosed on-screen, but when she’s in the background of any scene, she’s kind of zoning out or wandering a bit just like I do. And she relates everything to her obsession/chosen career (cat burglar). (When per partners finally talk her into going away on vacation, she comes back gushing about the security systems she saw) And when she’s in the foreground, she’ll occasionally move the wrong way or even bump into someone. And when things go well and she’s at the top of her game, her sheer unadulterated beaming glee is just… right, it fits, it resonates.

    kennethuil

    June 14, 2012 at 4:34 pm

  27. [...] From Warming Glow, click through to read the incredibly moving story of an Autistic woman fell in love with [...]

  28. [...] Full Post [...]

  29. [...] feel burdened, but yesterday, I started reading a blog post over hubby’s shoulder. Specifically this blog post talking about the comedy Community, and how Abed Nadir was an important character to her because he [...]

  30. [...] Posted at 11:15 on June 19, 2012 by Andrew Sullivan Julia Bascom, who is autistic herself, reflects on why seeing a character like Community's Abed was so important to her: There’s a [...]

  31. Brilliant and moving – I feel exactly the same way about this show precisely because of Abed.

    And the distinction between TV autistics and autistics on TV is perfect,

  32. For the the person with albinism, have you ever watched The Venture Bros? There’s an albino character on the show named Pete White who’s a major supporting character and is one of the ‘good guys’ of the show, has a best friend in Billy Quizboy and despite being an animated character is the most three-dimensional character I’ve come across.

    Ross Purdy

    June 23, 2012 at 9:10 pm

  33. … [Trackback]…

    [...] Informations on that Topic: juststimming.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/someone-who-moves-like-you/ [...]…

    URL

    July 4, 2012 at 10:40 am

  34. Julia – I worry all the time that my child (and yes I just finished reading the Dear “Autism Parents” post) won’t have role models where he sees himself. Yes there’s me and his dad, both of whom are non-diagnosed but see ourselves in our child and hope he sees himself in positive ways in us. I just wanted to say that I can’t wait for him too be old enough to understand your message(s) – he’s only 7 – but I want him to be involved in these discussions, advocate for himself (yes even if it means he disagrees with me…) and be who he is… thank you for the blunt honesty.

    Deb

    July 13, 2012 at 3:13 pm

  35. Reblogged this on Jack Maher Weblog and commented:

    dpcquitrephpondi1972

    September 2, 2012 at 8:43 pm

  36. Reblogged this on sit validus humilio and commented:
    On Abed, by a girl named Julia.

    allofalanah

    September 6, 2012 at 2:24 am

  37. Well….
    Now I have to watch the whole season again.
    I love stories,
    ox

    Hannah

    September 13, 2012 at 3:25 am

  38. I found this post on Dan Harmon’s twitter quite a while ago, and I come back to it regularly.Each time I read it it hits me just as hard as the first. I’ve recently dropped out of a college course I hated, and have been struggling with decisions about my future and this has suddenly and viciously given me direction. I want to help people. I want to alter someones life in some way, just as Danny Pudi and Dan Harmon did. I haven’t figured out how yet, but I’m on my way. Thank you for that.

    Rory Quealey

    November 30, 2012 at 12:17 am

  39. [...] was blown away by this post (click here) about seeing an autistic person on television for the first time (not just the standard [...]

  40. [...] But to me (and people like me,) it matters. Popular culture representation of people with your disability matters. It just…it just does. Julia Bascom says it eloquently with Someone Who Moves Like You. [...]

  41. [...] lonely, bullied, awkward or frightened child will tell you: such comfort is nothing to sneeze at.  This moving post, by an autistic woman who saw, in Abed, the first authentic reflection of herself on television, [...]

  42. Reblogged this on snarkyqueer and commented:
    this is all I ever want on my blog

    irks

    February 25, 2013 at 3:20 pm

  43. [...] Community.  Julia Bascom, author of “Quiet Hands”, writes a very good piece about him here (though she and I are certainly not on the same page with regard to Sherlock, which is absolutely [...]

  44. [...] Bascom, at Just Stimming, in her blog post “Someone Who Moves Like You” shares her experience as an autistic person, seeing an autistic person on [...]

  45. Julia, in case ping back doesn’t work, I wanted you to be aware that I link to you here from my first blog post at my new blog. The post is entitled “Me, the Bobbsey Twins, and Switched At Birth

    My new blog is called “Rambling Justice”. (Because I ramble. A lot. Usually about social justice issues.)

    Andrea Shettle, MSW

    March 3, 2013 at 12:18 am

  46. [...] Someone Who Moves Like You. “…for the first time in Julia’s life, she looked at a character on television and saw a yes.  Abed Nadir walked onto Julia’s laptop screen, and nothing and everything changed.” [...]

  47. [...] “… she tended to talk about them too much.” [...]

  48. What I appreciate about Sherlock is the fact there’s nothing wrong with him. His pathologies are largely due to the fact that *other people* have convinced him he’s broken somehow – because they can’t understand how he thinks. I can relate to that.
    I relate to Abed and Sherlock equally, for different reasons.
    i feel the need to point out also that Sherlock has more than one queer character.

    omgowls

    August 28, 2013 at 3:28 am

  49. […] not the only person who has talked about this, about finding characters who are like you, who move like you, who live like you. Who have talked about the first time they met themselves in literature or film. […]

  50. […] One of the overwhelming strengths of the show was its portrayal of pop culture savant and study group member Abed Nadir.  In one of the more subtle portrayals of someone on the autism spectrum, Abed’s Danny Pudi managed to highlight the struggles of someone with development issues, showcase his talents without  being smug and overall come across as a well-rounded human being with real empathy and sensitivity.  That’s in stark contrast to some of the more recited and robotic portrayals of  spectrum disorders showcase in other media and it earned the show praise. The show presents the  character in such a way that the fact that a person with autistic tendencies created it made perfect sense. Abed’s difficulty with facial cues, his laser-like focus only on subjects that interested him, his troubles understanding the feelings of others and his different yet oddly effective way to communicate with the rest of the world, made his character appealing to the mainstream and especially important to viewers with disabilities. Very rarely does the autism spectrum community get to see a character who is a reflection of themselves on television. This is what made Abed so revolutionary. He was not a caricature, he had noticeable struggles, he found a way to compensate and perhaps most importantly, molded with a group of friends that would  eventually become his surrogate family. This perhaps gave pop culture savants like Abed hope that they could functionally and splendidly exist in society.   Autistic writer  Julia Bascom expresses such hope beautifully in her essay about Abed. […]

  51. […] One of the overwhelming strengths of the show was its portrayal of pop culture savant and study group member Abed Nadir.  In one of the more subtle portrayals of someone on the autism spectrum, Abed’s Danny Pudi managed to highlight the struggles of someone with development issues, showcase his talents without  being smug and overall come across as a well-rounded human being with real empathy and sensitivity.  That’s in stark contrast to some of the more recited and robotic portrayals of  spectrum disorders showcase in other media and it earned the show praise. The show presents the  character in such a way that the fact that a person with autistic tendencies created it made perfect sense. Abed’s difficulty with facial cues, his laser-like focus only on subjects that interested him, his troubles understanding the feelings of others and his different yet oddly effective way to communicate with the rest of the world, made his character appealing to the mainstream and especially important to viewers with disabilities. Very rarely does the autism spectrum community get to see a character who is a reflection of themselves on television. This is what made Abed so revolutionary. He was not a caricature, he had noticeable struggles, he found a way to compensate and perhaps most importantly, molded with a group of friends that would  eventually become his surrogate family. This perhaps gave pop culture savants like Abed hope that they could functionally and splendidly exist in society.   Autistic writer  Julia Bascom expresses such hope beautifully in her essay about Abed. […]

  52. Reblogged this on Un blog pour mes reblogs.

    demoisellefleur

    September 19, 2014 at 9:20 pm


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