Friday, June 22, 2012

We are all valid

All of our experiences with autism are valid.  It doesn't matter if you're a person who has autism, a parent of a child with it, an Aspie or a teacher.  Each experience you have is real and important, and it makes an impact on you.

The problem is that we have is a tendency to invalidate or question of the experiences of others.  We say that because the other person hasn't been through a certain thing or done something, their experiences with autism mean less.  Sometimes it's a parent saying to an Aspie something like "Well, you don't have real autism like my child so what you say doesn't matter".  Other times, it's a person with autism saying, "You don't know what it's like to have autism, so how can you know anything about it?"  I'm guilty of doing this.  It becomes a holier-than-thou battle which no one ever wins.

We can't agree - and probably won't ever agree- on the most basic concepts of autism.  What causes it, why, if it should be cured, how to deal with it, all of those things.  Because we can't agree, we find every little thing to fight over and often end up telling others that for various reasons their view of what autism is like is wrong, that they don't know what autism is really like.

I'm going to be trying to give up my judgmental attitude toward others.  I'd love for you to join me.  We might not agree on a lot, but we all have experience with autism in some way.  It's a part of all of us, and that unites us even in our great divides.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Happy Autistic Pride Day!

June 18th is Autistic Pride Day, a day every year when people on the Autistic spectrum are encouraged to be proud of who they are.  I think this should be something we talk about every day - everyone should be proud of who they are, particularly those in the autistic community.  We receive so much negative feedback from the world around us, saying that we're sick and need to be cured, that we're stupid or twisted - a day of pride is important.

For me, today is a day of advocacy.  It's a day to stand up and correct the negative, harmful assumptions about autistic people, to say "Yes, I'm autistic and I'm a person with the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else".  I have not worn traditional symbols like puzzle pieces or blue because those have been ursurped by cure organizations as symbols for their movements.  Instead, I drew an eternity symbol on my hand, the sign of Aspies For Freedom.

If you wore blue today, please reconsider your clothing choice next year.  The wear blue movement was started by Autism Speaks, an organization with a horrible reputation in the autistic community.  Lighting things up blue and wearing blue is intended to advocate for research to "cure" autism.   A cure isn't something which the great majority of aspies and autistics want, and the idea of it is offensive to most of us.

Today, like every day, I am confident in my abilities and proud of who I am.  I know that each and every day I learn more, I become more resilient and gain confidence in myself.  Autism isn't who I am, but it's a part of me, and it's a part I accept and embrace wholeheartedly, from the wonderful aspects to the painful moments.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"Violent" outbursts aren't about violence

"Violent outbursts" is one of those scary things parents and teachers of those with ASDs often have problems understanding.  It's unfortunate that even teachers with training don't get why a kid with AS will suddenly go bezerk and slap another kid or kick a wall or throw something.  In the eyes of far too many professionals, these reactions show a form of something akin to psychopathy and instead of treating the cause of the outburst, they elect to punish or make assumptions about the child, saying that they lack empathy, that they're heartless or cruel, or just like to hurt someone, or that they're unstable and need to be isolated.

Let's get the empathy issue out of the way before going any further.  I plan to do a longer post on this soon, but here's the basics.  In my eyes, one of the stupidest but most common beliefs about autistic people is that we lack empathy.  Unfortunately, this idea is growing more and more common, especially with the trial of Anders Breivik, the Norwegian man who shot and killed several people during an attack on a summer camp.  A court psychiatrist has claimed that Breivik has Asperger's Syndrome which, according to the doctor, "has left him incapable of empathy or real friendship".

People with autism have empathy, but we often lack the social cues to understand when we've done or said something hurtful.  There are times when I've hurt a persons feelings, and until someone later pulled me aside and say "Hey look, you made so-and-so really upset, she's crying because you said that thing earlier", I had no clue I had done anything wrong.  Once this fact is pointed out to me, I feel terrible and often start crying myself because I hadn't meant to hurt them.  The problem isn't an inability to feel, but rather a blindness to the facial expressions and body language used to convey that feeling.

The scary, crazy-looking temper tantrums and extreme, often violent reactions are, in my own experience, an expression of pent-up frustration at something, often from an inability to communicate a need or understand how to appropriately handle a stressor.

Outbursts are never about being violent.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Effectively faking eye contact

"Look me in the eye" isn't only the name of a great book by John Elder Robinson, an adult aspie.  It's also a refrain familiar to any aspie, from childhood on up.  Our inability to easily look at eyes leads to all sorts of problems from childhood through adulthood.  We're called liars and untrustworthy simply because we can't make eye contact with the ease that nypicals can.

This issue has led to trouble for me.  I can recall a specific incident when I was in elementary school, prior to being diagnosed.  I was being accused of doing something I didn't do by two other girls in my class and taken to the principal's office.  After giving my side of the story and them giving theirs, the principal declared that I was a liar because I wouldn't look at his eyes.  I was punished and they got away unscathed, leaving me confused and angry.

Why couldn't I look at eyes?  Why did it stress me out so much?  I still don't know.  Even today, I don't understand why it's so hard for me to look someone in the eye.  I can do it briefly now that I'm older and trained to resist the discomfort, but in a stressful situation or when I'm concentrating, that ability goes out the window.

To substitute, I've learned how to fake eye contact.  It takes a bit of practice, but I can do it now without thinking about it.  The technique was simply a modification on the techniques used to train me to look at eyes combined with my natural ability to unfocus my gaze and appear to be looking straight through a person.

Here's how I do it: