Archive for the ‘autism’ Category
Author’s note: Yesterday in the blogosphere there was an Autism Positivity Day Flash Blog, sparked by one author noticing that someone had found their blog by searching “I wish I didn’t have Asperger’s.” Due to my own situation, I couldn’t participate, but today is Blogging Against Disablism Day, and I still have something to say.
Sometimes in the morning I am petrified and can’t move
Awake but cannot open my eyes
And the weight is crushing down on my lungs
I know I can’t breathe
And hope someone will save me this time x
Dear “I wish I didn’t have Asperger’s,”
I want you to know that I understand.
That’s the first thing. This isn’t going to work if we aren’t honest with each other, so, let me be honest. I’ve thought a lot about that mythical cure, and there have been days, many days, when I didn’t have to think at all–when I knew that, if I had a chance, I’d take a cure in a heartbeat.
I need you to know that I understand.
I do. I do. I want the things a cure could give me. I want to have the leading role in my own story, and parts in others’. I want to be able to do the same things everyone else can do in the same way without any extra effort. I want to not feel like a freak. I want to feel safe. I want to be someone my parents can love. I want to know I have a future, and I want to not have to blaze that trail by myself. I want to have worth. I want other people to not think they have a right to me and my space, or else I want it to stop bothering me. I want my words and experiences to make sense to other people, and I want their words and experiences to make sense to me. I want to have to work just a little less hard. I want to have a college degree, a job, and a house of my own, and I want to be able to live wherever I want. I want to be able to assume I’m a person. I want to not have a month out of the year dedicated to my brokenness. I want to be able to assume that it’s not me, it’s them. I want to wake up and not be terrified or already tired.
I want a lot of things.
It’s not a bad thing, to want things.
Check in: can you see, now, that I really do understand? I hope you can. I get a couple of visits from you, or someone with the same keyword search, every week, and I want you to know that you aren’t alone, and you aren’t wrong.
Okay. I’ve been honest with you. Now I want you to be honest with me. Can you look at the list of things I want, and tell me if you see a pattern?
While I wait, I figure, I might as well tell you some other things I’d like to stop being. In addition to no longer being autistic, I’d also like to be cured of
-being a lesbian
-being so obscenely tall
Really. I’d like to get be able to get married to someone I love in every state. I’d like to be able to walk down a dark street without fearing for my safety. I’d like to be able to sit in a chair designed for someone of my height. And none of those things are happening right now, so I guess I can either fight for them to change, or try to change myself.
Okay. Did you find the pattern? It’s okay if you didn’t. It took me awhile to understand it. It’s subtle.
Every single one of those things I want?
Have nothing to do with being autistic.
Really. Not a single, solitary one.
I should have a leading role in my own story. When I don’t, it’s because other people aren’t treating me like a person. That is not my fault. Pretty sure the one in the wrong there is the one who thinks that a disability means you aren’t a person.
Why do I want to be able to do the same things as everyone else? Why is that important to me? If I lived in a world where it was recognized that there are multiple ways to do something and that this is okay and the things I do and the ways I do them are valid and important, would I care? Would I even realize this was something to care about at all?
I would know that I have a future, and that it’s a bright and near and real one, if I knew growing up that autistic adults existed. Guess what–they do, they have for thousands of years, and on the whole, they’re doing just as well as anyone else.
I want to have worth–okay. See, if I had a friend who felt worthless, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t tell that friend “you’re right, you’re pathetic. Please change everything about yourself.” I’m pretty sure I would tell that friend that the people making her feel worthless were abusive assholes, that she was good at plenty of things, that she was a fantastic person I was lucky to know, and that human worth isn’t some tangible thing we can gain or lose. And if I can say all of that to a friend, and mean it…why can’t I say it to myself? I’m not special. I work by the same rules as everyone else. And that means I am worth something, whether I believe it or not.
I can keep going through these. I do make sense to a few people, who take the time to listen to me the way I need to be heard, and they make sense to me. That is how relationships work, and there are lots of different ways to communicate. I can have a job, a living situation I am in charge of, and all the education I want, with the correct supports, just like everyone else. It is not my fault that the supports I need differ from the majority, and that is not an excuse or invitation to mistreat or discriminate against me. Etc etc etc.
In the end, there are really two things I want when I say I wish I wasn’t autistic or I want a cure. I want to not feel like a freak, and I want to feel safe. Those are hard, scary things to feel and to admit. And, because I’m being honest, I have to ask something even scarier.
What if being cured didn’t fix those things?
Because ultimately, if I took a cure, I’d be surrendering. Instead of fighting for my right to be treated and valued as a human being regardless of disability, I’d be letting go, giving in, and letting myself be changed into someone easier, someone acceptable, someone convenient. And I want to be clear–there is nothing wrong with wanting things to be easier or wanting to feel safe or accepted or just being done fighting. That just means that you’ve been asked to be much, much stronger than everyone else for much, much too long.
But if, in order to be safe I have to stop being me?
Then I’m really not safe at all.
As long as being disabled means being unsafe, then no one is safe. Not really. Disability is a natural part of the human experience according to the ADA. Most people will experience some form of disability, for some period of time, at some point in their lives. So long as we as a society keep permitting exceptions to rules like everyone is a person and treat people like people, none of us are safe. Safety earned by staying within acceptable margins isn’t safety at all.
I promised to be honest. Part of being honest is looking at what my words actually mean, what lies beneath them, what ideas are controling what I say. And underneath every I wish I wasn’t autistic is a I wish people would stop hurting me or a I wish the world had room for me or a if I blame myself, I can feel like I’m in control.
And it’s okay that I feel this way. Well, it’s not okay that anyone ever has to feel this way, but I’m not bad or wrong for feeling it. Neither are you. But feelings aren’t the same as reality, and in the end, if we weren’t autistic anymore, there would still be people hurting others just because they can and just because no one ever told them to stop, and we’d still know that it takes only the slightest deviation before we’re vulnerable again. A cure won’t ever be able to change that.
What will change that is something a lot harder than a magic pill. What will change that is enough people saying enough is enough and doing the hard work of making our world one where everyone is welcome, all communication is honored, and everyone is safe and valued. And that is going to take time, and there are going to be days, still, as we work to make that happen, where you, where I, will wish we weren’t autistic, because sometimes it just hurts.
But it will change. It’s changing now. And you shouldn’t, and don’t, have to. You are amazing and sufficient and lovable just the way you are, and I really, really hope you’ll stick around so that one day the rest of the world can know it, too.
First, a story. (A little Christmas story. I call it: the story of Schmuel. Tailor of Klimovitch.)
(The best part of the story is what I leave out.)
I met a mini!Kurt the other day. He was very blonde, with intense brown eyes, but he was very particular about his hat, and his dad was Burt Hummel in all the ways that counted. I’d guess he was about four–his voice was still all exclamation points.
“I’M MATT!” he said, hiding his face from me, and then trying to run out of the waiting room. It was cool though–I don’t know if I even managed ahi.
He was at the stage where he was still mainly echolalic, but he was learning how to store and recombine and modify phrases to work for him. I was excited for him, and almost proud, because he’d mastered two essential skills for that–swapping pronouns, and prompting other people to remember their lines. His dad, trying to bundle him into his coat, was not playing along at first.
“I’M SO CUTE!” mini!Kurt reminded him, trying to make his arms go into the right sleeves. “I’M SO CUTE!? I’M SO CUTE?”
“Yeah,” Dad sighed, wrestling with the zipper. “You’re cute.”
“So cute, that’s right.”
Mini!Kurt, satisfied that everything was going according to plan, was ready to leave. “BYE!” he called, waving his hand backwards at me, a perfect mirror image.
I waved. Had my mind been more together, I would have flapped.
Echolalia is metalanguage.
Echolalia is an unexpected treasure hunt. You can be watching a bootleg musical you never thought would be any good, but turns out to be beautiful, and suddenly they’re going up the scale singing hot hot hot hot, and you’re back with Kimba, and he’s saying hot hot hot hot–only he’s got this elaborate metaphor about fire and anger going on right now, and here it means I think you’re mad at me, so I’m mad at you, don’t touch me.
And then you’re back at your laptop, wondering when he started watching musicals and rethinking half the things you thought you knew.
Echolalia is what you use when language is too much. It’s just also what you use when it’s not enough.
These things are not opposites.
Walt knows my name, but he’d rather call me Mulan. We’re on the swings, trading movie titles.
“101 Dalmations?” I offer.
“Mulan no thank you!” He chides. Considers. “Rio, with Jesse Eisenberg?”
I grin. I’d only said that once, but he’d picked up on my crush, and he offers it back to me when I am having a hard time with the conversation. I try to remember his favorite, as a peace offering. “Kung Fu Panda II, in theaters now?”
I get it right.
Months later, it will still be the best conversation of my life.
Echolalia, from Echo, of Greek mythos, cursed to speak only through the words of others.
We make it work though.About the cursed: opinions aren’t the same as facts, and no one ever asked Echo.
To be fair, no one would have listened, either.
As much as I can hate words, I delight in them, too. When I’m echoing, referencing, scripting, riffing and rifting, storing and combing and recombining, patterning, quoting, punning, swinging from hyperlexic memory to synesthetic connection, words are my tangible playground.
Make me talk like you, and you’ll get a bunch of syntactically sophisticated nonsense. Let me keep my memories and connections, my resonations and associations and word-pictures, and if you slow down enough, you might hear something ringing true.
These are the words I’m using right now. It’s okay if you can’t see the picture yet; I can’t either. It’s coming together though, the more I practice them.
Ethnography of robotics.
Girls like you always get to see Ireland.
Send my love to the leprechauns.
Please don’t special-episode me.
Why don’t you trust me? Because, honey, you keep setting things on fire.
The first rule of tautology club is the first rule of tautology club.
I think they might be four separate pieces. The joy is how they come together.
The bestworst part is no one ever knowing.
(The best part of the story is what I leave out.)
I don’t trust my words on my own.
That’s not why I echo though.
I know it’s tempting, but, listen.
Or maybe I’m lying, because I’m not brave enough to explain.
Don’t worry though. I know that Kimba loves musicals now, and Walt named me after a warrior.
We’ll get there.
Today is Autistics Speaking Day. It’s an annual holiday of the Autistic community that started last year in response to some ill-advised advocacy attempts, and I hope it continues until someday every day is Autistics speaking day. It’s one day of the year where social media and the blogosphere are reserved for the Autistic community to speak out in a concentrated effort.
Today is Autistics Speaking Day.
Today I am silent.
Part of being autistic is that things do not always go according to plan. Part of being autistic is that I can’t always synch up with everyone else. Part of being autistic is that I can’t, in fact, deliver meaningful content and communication whenever I’d like–or, really, whenever other people want me to. Part of being autistic is that I can go months without anything much to say at all, really.
Part of being Autistic is knowing that that’s okay.
Most of my writing and thinking this past month has centered on the things I’m interested in–Glee, Phineas and Ferb, Community. Mostly Glee. I’ve been doing other stuff, sure, but much of the thinking is still pre-verbal. I have thoughts I can feel stitching themselves together and lining up about college and developmental disabilities, about quite hands, about the power and terror of words like “stop” and “I need help” and “no,” about abuse, about when autistic people are listened to, and about autistic vs Autistic….but they aren’t ready yet. They aren’t even words. Most of my posts here have taken months of patience, of silence, of frustration and catharsis and self-injury and all kinds of “behaviors” and meltdowns and unpleasantness, before I could sit down and everything came together. I’m in that transitional period again now, and it’s quite uncomfortable much of the time.
I’ll wait. I’ll be silent. I’m Autistic–I’m allowed.
Today is Autistics Speaking Day. Some of us can’t speak today.
I hope you’ll still listen, when we can.
TW: Ableism, abuse
Explaining my reaction to this:
means I need to explain my history with this:
When I was a little girl, they held my hands down in tacky glue while I cried.
I’m a lot bigger than them now. Walking down a hall to a meeting, my hand flies out to feel the texture on the wall as I pass by.
“Quiet hands,” I whisper.
My hand falls to my side.
When I was six years old, people who were much bigger than me with loud echoing voices held my hands down in textures that hurt worse than my broken wrist while I cried and begged and pleaded and screamed.
In a classroom of language-impaired kids, the most common phrase is a metaphor.
A student pushes at a piece of paper, flaps their hands, stacks their fingers against their palm, pokes at a pencil, rubs their palms through their hair. It’s silent, until:
I’ve yet to meet a student who didn’t instinctively know to pull back and put their hands in their lap at this order. Thanks to applied behavioral analysis, each student learned this phrase in preschool at the latest, hands slapped down and held to a table or at their sides for a count of three until they learned to restrain themselves at the words.
The literal meaning of the words is irrelevant when you’re being abused.
When I was a little girl, I was autistic. And when you’re autistic, it’s not abuse. It’s therapy.
Hands are by definition quiet, they can’t talk, and neither can half of these students…
(Behavior is communication.)
(Not being able to talk is not the same as not having anything to say.)
Things, slowly, start to make a lot more sense.
Roger needs a modified chair to help him sit. It came to the classroom fully equipped with straps to tie his hands down.
We threw the straps away. His old school district used them.
He was seven.
Terra can read my flapping better than my face. “You’ve got one for everything,” she says, and I wish everyone could look at my hands and see I need you to slow down or this is the best thing ever or can I please touch or I am so hungry I think my brain is trying to eat itself.
But if they see my hands, I’m not safe.
“They watch your hands,” my sister says, “and you might as well be flipping them off when all you’re saying is this menu feels nice.”
When we were in high school, my occasional, accidental flap gave my other autistic friend panic attacks.
I’ve been told I have a manual fixation. My hands are one of the few places on my body that I usually recognize as my own, can feel, and can occasionally control. I am fascinated by them. I could study them for hours. They’re beautiful in a way that makes me understand what beautiful means.
My hands know things the rest of me doesn’t. They type words, sentences, stories, worlds that I didn’t know I thought. They remember passwords and sequences I don’t even remember needing. They tell me what I think, what I know, what I remember. They don’t even always need a keyboard for that.
My hands are an automatic feedback loop, touching and feeling simultaneously. I think I understand the whole world when I rub my fingertips together.
When I’m brought to a new place, my fingers tap out the walls and tables and chairs and counters. They skim over the paper and make me laugh, they press against each other and remind me that I am real, they drum and produce sound to remind me of cause-and-effect. My fingers map out a world and then they make it real.
My hands are more me than I am.
But I’m to have quiet hands.
I know. I know.
Someone who doesn’t talk doesn’t need to be listened to.
Behavior isn’t communication. It’s something to be controlled.
Flapping your hands doesn’t do anything for you, so it does nothing for me.
I can control it.
If I could just suppress it, you wouldn’t have to do this.
They actually teach, in applied behavioral analysis, in special education teacher training, that the most important, the most basic, the most foundational thing is behavioral control. A kid’s education can’t begin until they’re “table ready.”
I need to silence my most reliable way of gathering, processing, and expressing information, I need to put more effort into controlling and deadening and reducing and removing myself second-by-second than you could ever even conceive, I need to have quiet hands, because until I move 97% of the way in your direction you can’t even see that’s there’s a 3% for you to move towards me.
I need to have quiet hands.
I know. I know.
There’s a boy in the supermarket, rocking back on his heels and flapping excitedly at a display. His mom hisses “quiet hands!” and looks around, embarrassed.
I catch his eye, and I can’t do it for myself, but my hands flutter at my sides when he’s looking.
(Flapping is the new terrorist-fist-bump.)
Let me be extremely fucking clear: if you grab my hands, if you grab the hands of a developmentally disabled person, if you teach quiet hands, if you work on eliminating “autistic symptoms” and “self-stimulatory behaviors,” if you take away our voice, if you…
I’ve told this story before.
I didn’t have any theory of mind until I was 13.5. I have a very poor autobiographical memory, but I remember the acquisition vividly. I was in gym, attempting to serve a volleyball, and I turned to Sarah, monologuing in my head about something (a strategy I had developed last year to help me with thinking) and she was thinking. I had a mental stream of consciousness in my head. So did she. I looked around the gym. So did everyone.
I was thinking about them. They could think about me.
I would never feel safe again.
A lot of things changed with that realization. I’d never gained any information from eye contact, but now it terrified me. I’d been abused by my peers, but now I realized that there was a persistent mental component as well. That they wanted to hurt me. They thought about me being confused and scared, and they liked it. I’d been doing very well without any sort of therapy or medications for almost a year—I was back at the doctor’s within a month, got another new therapist, and soon started medication. My panic attacks began to last upwards of 36 hours. I started banging my head. I damaged my eyes. I started gouging out my skin. I got a staph infection, and I almost died, twice. I am covered in scars and discolorations.
I am told that I was not, before this discovery, an anxious child. I generally felt safe.
I owe a lot to my discovery of theory of mind. I just can’t think of one positive.
I can’t pass the Sally-Ann tests, even now. The language confuses me. But I do know, now, that other people have minds, and they can think with them. About whatever they want. About me.
Which means I will never, ever be safe. I never was.
After all, it’s not just that other people have minds. It’s that they can think things I don’t. They can be thinking about me without my knowledge. But it gets worse.
They can be wrong.
Maybe because I’m autistic, and people think (there we go again, theory of mind) that this means I am a robot. I would love to be a robot, personally. I am always very concerned with accuracy. The thing that upsets me most about “autism science,” isn’t actually the dehumanization and the consequences—it’s the bad science. The most terrifying and distressing thing in the world to me is something being incorrect.
Maybe it’s because I’m autistic, and thus a robot. Maybe it’s because I’m autistic, and therefore a simpler, lesser, smaller brain and in desperate need of order. Maybe it’s because I’m autistic, and therefore abused, and I know the consequences of acting on mistaken beliefs about someone, know them in my bones.
My ability to acknowledge other minds means that I can converse more effectively than I could before. It also means I am never, ever safe. It means that I can see people being wrong, and I can see other people accepting and believing and spreading the misinformation, and I have to keep quiet. But to me, danger and anxiety and this is wrong are all the same.
So I am never safe.
I have theory of mind, now. I’d like to call it something more accurate.
Maybe theory of war.