I dunno – I just don’t think there’s enough positive stuff out there about #Autism

human silhouette on beach with sunsestNot to mention success stories.

Okay, okay, I get it. We need to build support for folks who really need it. But I think at times that our Autistically rigid thinking keeps us aligned with some pretty rigid support possibilities, many of which simply aren’t available to all of us.

The needs of an Autistic kid in a city may be very different from the needs of a middle-aged Autistic woman living in the suburbs, and they may be very different from the needs of a 30-something Autistic man living in a rural area. And then we have our aging population… men and women… who have been through so much, and now face the double-whammy of becoming elderly (a challenge in society, in general) and having those sensory/social challenges which may become even more pronounced in old age.

I’m worried. Anxious. For myself and all my Autistic tribe. And I’m not alone.

The thing is, I suspect that anxiety takes the edge off my creativity. It locks me into rigid thinking. And it erodes my ability to come up with some really inventive solutions.

Personally, I think we Autistic folks are some of the most inventive people on the planet. For sure. I mean, look around — so much of what we have is the product (I believe) of an Autistic person with an intense interest in One Single Subject. That focus has produced some truly amazing things. And that same focus can help us fix our future.

So, the future… yeah. What does that hinge on?

Well, the past, for one. And also… patterns! Patterns, yes. We plot our course forward by referencing patterns — this leads to that, this causes that, if you do this, you can logically expect that. And we gain a sense of where we are in the world by watching other people and seeing how their lives have shaken out over time.

We are constantly learning from other people, “ingesting” their experiences, learning from their mistakes, and taking cues from their stories. Humans are story-loving creatures, and each of us has thousands of stories of our own that we collect over the course of our lives. They can be based on our own experiences, or they can be from our observations of others. Or we can make them up as we go along. But we have them. We use them. We rely on them to no end.

Yes… stories.

Earlier this week, I was chatting with an older Autistic man who spent time with younger Autistic people. He said he was really alarmed at how traumatized those young people were, how harrassed they were, how on-guard and roughed-up by life they were. These were young people who all had the advantage of knowing they’re Autistic, but it was such a burden for them.

😦

Major 😦

I personally don’t think we do a good enough job as a community, sharing our strengths and accomplishments… our joys and ecstasy. Autism for me is every bit as much about bliss, as it is about struggle — equal parts, I’d say. But the discussion so often centers around the struggle, perhaps because I think I’m going to get commiseration and support from others who know how I feel. Unfortunately, that’s seldom the case. If anything, it works against me. And I end up getting sucked down into the Pit of Despair, as I perseverate on the idea that somehow, somewhere, sometime, I might get some help.

I won’t… 93.72% of the time. Now and then, I will, but I spend far too much time working towards that 6.28% that’s occasional and intermittent at best.

So, where does that leave me? Sorta kinda where a lot of queer folks were left, back in the 1990s, when so many of us were coming out, but most of the media about being queer (especially movies) were so full of angst and pain and suffering. Suicide, too. Ugh. How many gay and lesbian movies (long before the concept of being queer took hold) showed us being miserable and downtrodden and better off ending our lives? To be honest, it wasn’t altogether unlike what Autism$peak$ has done. And while I’m not 100% on board with comparing Autistic folks to queer folks, all across the board, there are some pretty pronounced similarities.

  • Being different embarrasses our families.
  • They try to make us different — more like them.
  • If we’re lucky, they fail. If they succeed, we’re twisted into a version of ourselves we don’t understand.
  • Ostracism, misunderstanding, violence. Etc.

Anyway, this is a really long-winded way of saying I think the Autistic community could learn a thing or two from the LGBTQ+ community (and yes, we do overlap), especially insofar as the Pride movement is concerned. Celebrating our differences, developing our own culture and community, taking our place in the world just as we are, and having a lot of fun while doing it… There’s real power in that, I believe. And it’s where I hope we go with our Autistic community building.

I’m not gonna tell anybody what to do or how to do it, but I can do something in my little corner of the world. I can talk about my life in positive terms. I can share my triumphs and joys. I can really celebrate the successes of other Autistic folks. I can focus on the good, the strength, the fortitude, the brilliance. None of this takes away from the challenges we have — it’s merely ballast for my proverbial vessel as I sail the high seas of life.

There are so many wonderful, positive things about Autism that get lost in the crisis, anxiety, difficulty, drama, and shame of growing up Autistic. They get lost to parents, they get lost to us. They get lost to society, in general, obscured behind the ignorance and judgment. We go into hiding. Because it’s safe there.

And then, when we grow up, we can be so alienated, so accustomed to hiding, that our actual development isn’t recognized. Or people are so used to looking at us as they remember us, once upon a time, that they don’t give us the chance to shine.

I think that needs to change.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I plan to change it on my side… do my best to unleash a torrent of writing about how absolutely excellent it can be to be Autistic. It might piss a lot of people off, because it may undermine their message about how we need help and support. But I’m not going to lose the good parts of my life, while I wait around for the government or some organization to meet my needs.

Certainly, it would help… but I think we can do more than that.

Well, I can, anyway.

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Raised #Autistic – Lessons Learned

books hanging from bookstrapAll the talk about how Autism diagnoses have skyrocketed in the last 30 years, overlooks one key factor:

Once upon a time, the Autism Spectrum wasn’t pathologized. It was developed.

It was very much a part of life, and there were institutions and mitigators in place to help weave that neurotype into the overall fabric of life.

I was raised in an area that’s chock-full of Autistic folks. Is this abnormal? Not on your life. In fact, it’s the norm. And every aspect of growing up is/was geared towards training individuals how to be responsible members of the community. It helps that it’s a rural area, where everybody has to pitch in, no matter what, so nobody gets a pass to completely drop out of society because of any difficulties they may have. Society needs them, it’s made clear. And whatever they can do — in whatever measure — is not only needed, but required.

Take my aunt, for example. She just passed away last year, and she was probably one of the most “obviously” Autistic persons I’ve ever met. All the classic behaviors, all the classic traits… that was Aunt M. She definitely did not have an easy life, but she lived by a code that placed others first at all times. She had a quote on her dresser that effectively said, “Whatever sufferings I may have, others have it even worse. And in the end, the question is not how much I’ve gotten out of life, but what I’ve given to those who are struggling more than I.

That’s the ethos I was raised with overall, and I can tell you that Aunt M personified that, each and every day. She had her challenges, of course. My mom had to constantly watch out for her, from the time they were both young girls, till the day she died. She was bullied, she was threatened, she was abandoned. And she had intense issues with anxiety and social interactions.

But she lived her life. She lived by principles. And in the end, he had such an important place in life, her funeral was attended by close to 100 people, many of whom relied on her for many things throughout the course of her life.

I was raised in the same way — principles. Be a responsible member of society. Put others first. Realize that others have troubles, too, and rather than thinking about what I need to get out of the social equation, I need to put myself out there and be as helpful to others as I can. It’s not about me. Yes, I have intense suffering and challenges at times. Yes, my life is a non-stop parade of pains and joys — often so intermingled, it’s hard to tell which is which. But in the end, what I contribute to the world is far more important than what accommodations I get to secure my own happiness.

Now, you might dismiss this as being some lofty approach by someone who’s not impacted all that heavily by Autism. But you’d be wrong about that. Everything I have, everything I can do, it’s all been hard-won and paid-for at a steep price. And I’ve been around long enough to realize what a toll it’s taken on me, over the years.

Does that toll matter? Nope. The bottom line, for me, is what I add to the overall human equation. I’m responsible for my corner of the universe. I have to keep it clean and orderly and do my best to not be a liability towards others. I have to keep my own suffering out of view, because what I have to give is far more important than anything I feel I need to take.

All those years, when I was in excruciating chronic pain and some days couldn’t get out of the bed… the short time I was homeless… the times when I’ve had to quit jobs and move on, because the environment was so painful I couldn’t tolerate it anymore… Through all the meltdowns, the shutdowns, the touch-is-pain moments… The one thing that kept me going was that it wasn’t only about me. I had to get up and go to work to support my household. And if I couldn’t manage a full-time job, then I had to find a regular source of income that let me work part-time and still make enough to pay my rent.

The thing that carried me through all those years of intensity and hardship, was my upbringing by parents, grandparents, and a wider community who were all Autistic. Who knew what it meant to struggle, and who still pressed on and pushed me to deal. They didn’t let me off the hook. They kept at me, and kept reminding me of what was Right, what was Wrong, and urged me to do the Right thing. Even when it was impossible, they still demanded that I do my best. No excuses. Just get on with it. Yes, life is painful and awkward, but that’s what teaching and training were all about. I had to learn. I had to be taught. I had to be raised.

There was never the assumption that kids already inherently knew the right thing to do. There was the assumption that adult life is challenging and requires skill, and like any skilled endeavor, that takes training and practice and continuous discipline. The skills I have now, which have allowed me to live a really full life and experience so much that many people only dream about, they didn’t magically emerge from my pristine primal state. They were abilities that were identified, prioritized, and emphasized as the sort of thing that all adults do.

And there was no argument.

Yes, it was tough. Yes, it was challenging. Yes, I still have leftover “stuff” from all those years of training. I was enculturated into an Autistic society, and there were Rules and Regulations for everything. It was rough, at the time, but all the hard lessons have made it possible for me to live my life… regardless.

The skills I developed at just getting on with things, for putting others first, for making the effort to be a contributing member of society — even when I was disabled — made all the difference in the world. Society has a way of looking out for those who support it and contribute, and that’s always been my “safety net”, if I even have one. I make myself useful to others. I contribute. I’m not perfect, I’m pretty weird at times, I’m Autistic, I can be pretty off-putting at times. But in the end, my goal is to make myself an asset to the world around me, not only devote myself to getting my needs accommodated.

That’s all because I was raised by Autistic folks. Those were the Rules.

’nuff said.

Stoic on the Spectrum: Consider how quickly all things are dissolved and resolved

arrows in all directionsToday’s brief note comes from from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations

IX. Consider how quickly all things are dissolved and resolved

… the bodies and substances themselves, into the matter and substance of the world: and their memories into the general age and time of the world. Consider the nature of all worldly sensible things; of those especially, which either ensnare by pleasure, or for their irksomeness are dreadful, or for their outward lustre and show are in great esteem and request, how vile and contemptible, how base and corruptible, how destitute of all true life and being they are.

So, things come and go. Pain comes and goes. Energy and vigor come and go.

One day, I’m fine. The next, I’m pretty much disabled. That, too, comes and goes. And there’s really no way to predict how things will be. I’ve tried. Oh, how I’ve tried. Doesn’t work. Best thing is to just stay loose and roll with it, so to speak.

“Consider the nature of all worldly sensible things…” All of them are ultimately resolved. They, too, shall pass. And if I wait for that to happen before I go on with my life, I’ll never get anything done. I won’t have a life worth living.

So, today, as my bones ache and I have less feeling and coordination in my arms than usual, I’m easing into my day… Doing my exercises that ease the pain and increase movement, so I can at least do the bare minimum… drinking plenty of water… getting some good food in me… doing less of a workout, this morning, but a workout nonetheless. And reading.

Reading things I love, that lift me up and brighten my day.

That’s certainly something.

Here #IFixedIt – Ian McClure’s truly bizarre riff about #Autism

bored emoticon mehIt’s been a strange day. Apparently, an eminent psychologist went on about Autism in some pretty bizarre ways — all the more bizarre, because apparently he helps determine direction for agencies(?)

He repeatedly talks about “autism” like this — see the transcript here. And I couldn’t just sit back and not say anything. Seriously, conflating “autism” with environmental or sensory distress experienced by Autistic people is very mid-20th century. And it’s got to stop.

I’m on a “tear” about how we need to stop referring to environmental/sensory distress experienced by Autistic people as “Autism”. It’s not Autism. It’s the result of external circumstances hobbling us as Autistics.

Take a look at what he says below, and note just how nonsensical his ideas sound, when we consider them in the true light of the Autistic experience. Italic emphasis  is mine. For effect.

 

Ian McClure (IM): The question I am trying to ask here is does it help us when we are trying to work with autistic people in environmental or sensory distress to actually say maybe this person is emotionally stuck at the level of a two year old, just hold that (inaudible) in your head for a bit

IM: and ok so we are coming back in hopefully, we are coming back to this thing about egocentricity, now what I, I have been wondering about is, if we did think about autistic people in environmental or sensory distress as egocentric in the sense of a toddler and if we do remember this whole phenomenon of regression, emotional regression. That suggests that maybe there would be a process for a n autistic person in environmental or sensory distress, right at the beginning of their life, which was very stressful. Ok so I want you to just sort of entertain that idea in your head. We’ve got somebody that right at the beginning of their life, that something really stressful happened to them that means that they cannot move forwards from that emotional regression stage, from that egocentric phase, and so the question is what could that be? What I am wondering about is, is it possible, that autistic people who end up in environmental or sensory distress, in that first year of life, they are not much different to everybody else? Is that possible? And that what we have got is a situation where something happens in that first year of life which does then change the way that that infant is developing. Maybe environmental or sensory distress in a way is a social coordination disorder there’s something about the way that we coordinate ourselves socially, the cerebellum is doing that. We know that autistic people in environmental or sensory distress often have difficulties with these systems but we don’t really know why. Maybe it goes back again to something to do with maybe two different human species came together and what you’ve got is a genetic mess that isn’t quite right, that something is not quite right.

IM: So I am wondering about whether we should think about the idea of what I call a kind of internal exponential trauma caused by the sensory and the neurological challenges in the brain of the autistic person in environmental or sensory distress one of the reason I am so keen on this idea is, this idea which I think a lot of us have who work with autistic people in environmental or sensory distress, is that somewhere inside that person is a, dare I say it, normal person and this is the experience of parents, the desperation (inaudible) is I know there’s somebody in there if I could only just get at them and reach them. Now I know that that has been dissed a lot and people say oh you’ve got to move on from that, that’s just emotional, you know, it’s just the emotional (inaudible)

….

IM: Maybe we need to go right back to what people like Freud and Bleuler and Kraepelin and have a look again at what they were thinking because what happened in the 1950s was that whole thing got chucked out and DSM and so on and all these other things are just not interested in it. And the way it is going forward now is that the research that is being done by psychiatrists by academic psychiatirsts in places like London and America and stuff like that is very focused on looking for drugs. They are looking for drugs to answer these behavioural differences, and that is what they are doing they’ve got this magic bullet idea, if we can get a drug for that just think how much money we can make. And that’s a big motivator. And I know I am sounding very cynical but I’m afraid, you know, that’s going on.

IM: Ok so I am just going to summarise, In environmental or sensory distress my experiences as a clinician has been that the thing that is really challenging is this own agenda behaviour, that’s not in anyway minimising all the other stuff, but what it boils down to is time after time you know in the clinic this person is causing havoc because they won’t give up on their agenda. So then I started to think, could that be about egocentricity? And then I started to think, hmm, what about, what about something has gone wrong that has meant that that person has got stuck in the egocentric phase. Does that help us, think about it? what could that be? What could that be? If that was true, what could it be? We’ve got clues, we know that autistic people in environmental or sensory distress are in some way experiencing the world differently and that can be incredibly distressing for them. We don’t know a lot about it but we’ve got some clues and could that be enough as an internal stressor and are we having possibly a traumatic encounter there which is exponential because of the massive development that is taking place in the first year of life.

Anon (Name to be added if they give permission): My name is (deleted), I am a clinical psychologist and Ive spent most of my working life asking autistic people in environmental or sensory distress what they think and feel, I’m also neurodevelopmentally challenged myself and I really found thinking of myself as a different species and a genetic mess, I’m also a mother of a son who is a genetic mess, if we don’t have autistic people in environmental or sensory distress and people with dyspraxia and dyslexia and adhd in our society then it would be much less rich. The reason that those things were thrown out many many years ago is that they were wring. And to start to move back to things like refrigerator mother and prevention of environmental or sensory distress, I think is not appropriate.

(Lots of applause)

IM: Shall I respond?

IM: I never said anything about refrigerator mothers and I acknowledge that that was a dangerous area that went, you know, clearly wrong but I think it is great that I have had this response actually, because I think it is important to get a reaction like that and I’m pleased that you have reacted like that. All I am doing here is asking questions, I don’t know the answers to these questions. What I am trying to do is I am trying to make sure that we don’t get stuck in a silo mentality, I want us to keep our eyes open about environmental or sensory distress and I do not mean to cause any offence by saying the things I have said but it’s a free country, last time I checked it’s a free country and we are allowed to say what we think and I am basing this on my experience with my patients over twenty years so you know that is just my experience. I am worried that these people are being traumatised by something that is going on in side their minds, that’s all I’m trying to say to you, so thanks a lot (applause)

So, yeah… If you look at Autism just as something that occurs in the brain, you get these kinds of ideas.

But if you understand Autism as something that shapes your every experience in a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual way (with an emphasis on the physical which can lead to a ton of distress), that changes it, doesn’t it?

It changes everything.

Which is where I’m hoping the Autism research community goes. Away from the “egocentricity” idea. Away from the “own agenda” concept. Away from the belief that meltdowns are “tantrums” which we choose to leverage to get our own way. “Creating havoc” and all that.

The good part is that people are speaking up about this.

The bad part, is that we have to.

 

“Say what?”

hand near ear with vibration

Well, this is interesting… I’m realizing more and more, just how much my hearing difficulties have affected my day-to-day life, interactions with people, my willingness to engage with others, socialize, try things, and get an education.

I mean, yeah, my overall sensory issues have had a really … dampening… effect on me. Experiencing light touch as pain can be a source of constant distress. Balance issues put me in a constant state of hypervigilance, when I’m “off”. Light and sounds can be painful, too. There’s a reason I go food shopping every day — so I only have to be in the store for 10 minutes at a time (and yes, it works!). All of that can add up over time to a pretty significant trauma load. Even the little traumas, if they aren’t cleared out of my overtaxed system, build up to something bigger and badder than the individual elements, themselves.

And then there’s my hearing. Such as it is. Most of what I hear, if I’m not listening intentionally, is a muffled mmmmmfffftgrrrrlllllnnnnb. And yes, it is maddening for people who deal with me to have to repeat . themselves . every  . single . time . they . say . something . to . me . unannounced. I really feel for them. Because sometimes you just want to feel like you’re being heard, without having to repeat yourself every . single . time.

But what can I do? Unless I’m paying attention to what someone is saying to me, I don’t pick it up. I just don’t.

And it’s getting to be more and more of a pain in the neck. As time has passed and the high tech industry has evolved, I’m finding myself in more and more “leadership” positions, where I’m directing a bunch of lower-paid folks (often on the other side of the world). I’m also responsible for communicating progress to higher-ups. And yes, this is a massive pain in my hind-parts, because those are the least-capable parts of me — phone calls with people who have thick accents over bad internet connections… distilling all the details of the past week in can-do Powerpoints that press all the right “comfort buttons” in hyper-controlling people at a higher pay grade than myself… Keeping lines of communication open with people of all types…

What did I do in a past life to earn this steady stream of demoralization and practically built-in failure?!

I ask you…

It really is kind of funny, if you think about it. Either that, or cruel. Good thing I’m post-menopausal and no longer hormonally inclined to fret about not getting everything right. Good thing I care a lot less about what other people think, and I’ve lived in my body/brain long enough to know not to trust all the terrible things I say about/to myself. They haven’t fired me yet, so I guess I’m doing okay. Plus, I’m ahead of the game, because even at my worst, I do a better job than a lot of non-Autistic folks do when at their best.

So, I’ve got that going for me.

The only problem is… I can’t hear for shit, sometimes. Seriously, I can’t. I don’t think it’s gotten worse for me than it was when I was younger. It’s just that now I have to talk to people a lot more. For something like 15 years, I was a developer, so I could just communicate with my computer and code. Not worry about the people stuff. And I wasn’t saying “How’s that? Can you repeat please?” every 1o minutes.

Ha! I should count how often I do that, these days. Might be eye (and ear) opening.

Anyway, I realize more and more, these days, just how much my hearing difficulties have affected my life. I avoid all kids of stuff because I might not hear properly, and I might A) make a fool of myself, B) get into trouble, or C) actually be in danger.  I can’t do work that involves other people and power equipment, because I might not hear a warning, and I might lose a finger… or an arm. That’s a bigger loss than I like to admit, because I love manual labor. And I would love to be able to support myself while working with power equipment. But at this point, I don’t think that’d be safe.

I also don’t go out much, because I might have to interact with people, and the only thing more lonely than being around people who aren’t trying to connect, is being around people who are trying to connect, but I have no idea what’s going on, because I can’t hear them properly. Sure, I can cue the canned greetings and response, but I’d really like to be able to do more than that. But people just don’t have the time. And when I keep asking them to repeat themselves, they seem to get tired of dealing with me.

I’ve been thinking about talking to my doctor about this. I probably should, because maybe there’s something to be done. I really worry about interactions with the police and other first responders, not to mention other authority figures. Having trouble hearing is a great way to get shot by the police, based on recent history, so yeah — in the interest of living a full life, I should probably look into this.

I just have to prepare properly. I think I’ll write up a description of my symptoms for my doctor, describe my difficulties, and ask her if there’s anything to be done. It might be nice to have some sort of assistive device that could block out all the ambient noise, so I can concentrate on what’s being said to me. The idea of wearing a hearing aid worries me, first because of the distracting feel, second because it can call me out as vulnerable and people might try to take advantage of me, thirdly because I really don’t want people to pity me and treat me differently.

But other people deal with that all the time, so maybe I should quit being so squeamish.

Anyway, that’s my latest “thing”. The hearing situation. Or inconsistent lack thereof. I’m going to learn a little bit of ASL, I think, because I’ve been wanting to do that for some time, now. It’s something to add to my overall skillset. I need skills. And I also need to widen my world a bit.

It’s all an adventure, isn’t it?

Sickness and lameness and hindrance, oh my…

grid of four people rolling stones up hills
Just keep going. Just keep working.

My stoic meditation of the day comes from The Enchiridion By Epictetus

9. Sickness is a hindrance to the body, but not to your ability to choose, unless that is your choice. Lameness is a hindrance to the leg, but not to your ability to choose. Say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens, then you will see such obstacles as hindrances to something else, but not to yourself.

10. With every accident, ask yourself what abilities you have for making a proper use of it. If you see an attractive person, you will find that self-restraint is the ability you have against your desire. If you are in pain, you will find fortitude. If you hear unpleasant language, you will find patience. And thus habituated, the appearances of things will not hurry you away along with them.

Indeed. I tend to lose sight of the fact that all my sensitivities don’t prevent me from choosing what to do with my life, and finding ways to deal with them. The simple fact of my life, which is my guiding principle, is that if I can identify that something is a problem for me, and I know what alternative I want in its place, then it’s incumbent upon me to do something about it.

I’m pretty resourceful, when it comes down to it, so I can’t very well make excuses for my life going the way it has, when I’m actually capable of A) seeing when I’m going off the rails, and B) coming up with alternatives.

Now, certainly, it’s no fun to have to constantly navigate a world that’s designed for people completely unlike me. But one of the reasons I left my parents’ house and took off on my own, was precisely because I knew that out there in the world, I could fashion my own environment that suited me. I know what bothers me, I know what makes my life difficult. And with that knowledge, I can design a life that works for me.

Of course, not everything is going to be suited to my liking all the time. But so what? The times when things are extremely challenging, are the times when I build up strength. Provided I give myself time and space to recover and assimilate all the lessons, the challenges just make me stronger. More resourceful. More determined. Maybe it’s just my character. Or maybe it’s because of how I was raised. Whatever the reason, when I look back at the worst times I went through, those were the most valuable lessons.

In some cases, you get what you pay for. And I’ve paid dearly, I can tell you that.

It’s all been worth it. Some of my experiences have felt like they tore me to shreds, but you know what? I’m still here.

So there.

And I’m going to stick around. There is no way I’m going to succumb to the dire predictions that I’ll die 20 years earlier than my non-autistic peers. That’s just ridiculous. We get to choose what we do with ourselves, what choices we make, what direction we take. And if I choose to do things that I know are not good for me — like avoiding certain foods because of the textures, but not supplementing my diet in other ways, or like avoiding exercise because I don’t have the energy — I have only myself to thank for vitamin deficiencies or poor physical condition.

Some magical being in the ethers isn’t going to descend to earth and save me from myself. If there are things I have to do, because the laws of physics and human anatomy require them, then one way or another, I’ll do them. It’s my choice. And I have the capacity for reason, discernment, to find alternatives, if one way doesn’t work for me.

So, with that said, it’s time to get on with my day. I find out what the deal is with my job — new paths are being charted for us at work, and the direction we’re taking actually makes a whole lot of sense for me.

Maybe I don’t have to leave my job, after all… Even so, I have a video interview for another position on Monday. It’s all a dynamic process.

Of course it is.

It’s life.

Do #Autistic people *have* to die earlier than non-autistic folks?

New York Skyline with ice floating in riverYesterday I came across a really thought-provoking piece by Sarah Kurchak, I’m autistic. I just turned 36 — the average age when people like me die.

The stress of living with autism is exhausting.

On March 21, 2017, CNN published an article on a new study from the American Journal of Public Health that found the average life span of an autistic person is 36 years. I wasn’t shocked by this news. I know how dire things can be for so many of us on the spectrum, but that number struck me for a very specific reason. I had just turned 35 the previous month.

Since I learned this news, I’ve been anticipating the milestone of turning 36 with a mix of confusion, dread, and a host of other feelings I can’t quite articulate. I’ve had more existential episodes than usual, brooding about the meaning of life. It’s been a lot like a midlife crisis — except that (I kept thinking) my own midlife might have happened as long as half my life ago. The average age of death for autistic people who live to adulthood might be older than 36 (and as of now, there is still no age-specific data). Still, the figure from the research journal haunted me.

At some point between that moment and now, I made a pair of promises to myself:

1. I had to make it to 36.

2. Once I did, I needed to do something to mark this morbid accomplishment — perhaps writing something to help the next generation of autists approach their own birthdays just a little easier.

{Read the full article here}

And while I’m really glad that she wrote it, it signals a number of massive gaps that I really feel we need to address — and that I, as a 52-year-old Autistic woman who grew up around many, many, other Autistic people and relatives, many of whom lived to a very advanced age (try 103… my uber-Autistic college professor grandfather lived out his days with joy and purpose). And their quality of life was not shit (sorry Grandpa, I had to swear).

Frankly, it kind of depresses me that all the news coming out about us is bad. And it also depresses me to think about how many truly useful hours we spend trying to fix shit that’s just plain wrong, instead of living our lives to our best, enjoying ourselves, finding purpose and meaning, and having the kind of superlative quality we can have.

Yeah, living Autistic in today’s world is no picnic. Seriously, it’s incredibly stressful and defeating at times. The problem, from where I’m standing, is not that things in general are not to our liking, but that we expect them to be… and when they’re not, we’re caught off-guard.

This is a problem. For everyone. But mostly for us. Yes, the world is failing us. The rest of the world is neglecting to shield us from neurotypical aggression and unrealistic non-autistic expectations. People are mean-spirited and cruel. There’s a lot of pain, and too many people are more than happy to pass their pain along to others — especially if we seem weaker or more vulnerable than they.

But guess what? That’s the deal. That’s how people are. This is not news. And just as you wouldn’t necessarily light candles and hold a vigil for someone who saw all the warning signs around a tar pit, ignored the calls of others to stay out, crawled over a fence, and proceeded to wade into the muck and sink into it to their death… I’m not altogether inclined to weep bitter tears for people who are clearly able to see what’s what in the world, but keep pushing for things to be other than what they are.

Maybe I’m old and cynical, but the world can be a brutal place. So, we need to gird ourselves. And we need to spend far less time trying to change others… while we spend a whole lot more time on setting ourselves up for success. Seriously, the world is so full of amazing wonder and joy for Autistic folks — far more than for neurotypicals. We’re wired for joy, and we should bask in that as much as humanly possible

One of the most painful experiences in life is clinging to unrealistic expectations and non adjusting accordingly. I’ve done it plenty of times, myself, and yeah — it’s excruciating.

At the same time, one of the most wonderfully liberating things, is to accept things for what they are, and just get on with living your life, always working towards changing what you can — and understanding the difference between what can and cannot be changed.

To whit: My job situation.

I mean, it just sucks. It seemed like a good idea, when I first got it, and by many accounts I have done very well in it. But Autistically speaking, it’s a total setup. It’s not at all suited to my Autistic personality. It’s overwhelming, exhausting, and it requires that I be able to read other people and interact politically, communicate regularly, navigate social situations, and be on the phone with people on the other side of the world several times a day. How horrible! I haven’t bitched and complained about it as much as I could have over the past couple of years, but I’ve been suffering intensely from it.

And yet, there’s something to be gained from this. It’s been a fantastic experience, all the pain notwithstanding. And I’ve learned a lot. The biggest lesson has been that this is not the job for me over the long-term, and I have to get the hell out. I’ve “taken my medicine”, as they say, and I’m getting a lot in return. Street cred. A killer addition to my resume. Connections. And the pity of strangers, when they hear where I work 😉

Ha!

So, yeah, I could wail and gnash my teeth about how “ableist” and “discriminatory” my employer is, by creating this kind of environment. No shit. They are. But that’s a terrible use of time, because all my marinating in that pain isn’t going to change anything, and even if it did change for the moment, it’s not going to alter over the long-term. So, I take what I can get, emphasize the positives, and keep plugging along.

And I use every . little . thing I learn along the way to create a world that works better for me. Because that actually is something I have control over. I cannot possibly expect the rest of the world (non-autistic as it is) to shape itself to my needs. The government is not my friend. Legislation comes and goes, lest we forget. My employer doesn’t want to know I’m Autistic to better help me — they want to know, to shield themselves from a lawsuit. Authority figures are not in the business of tending to my needs. Servant leadership is all very well and good, but the vast majority of people and entities are just struggling to survive, and the people with the most influence are often the ones who feel most exposed and vulnerable. (My rant about our generally childish and 2-dimensional 21st Century view of “power” will come in a later post.)

The world is chock full of opportunities to make more of myself than I am today. I’m taking those opportunities, as chock full of risk as they may be. I’ll wade into the pain. I’ll pay the steep price. Yep, being Autistic is incredibly stressful, if I only inhabit the non-autistic world and chafe under all its myriad restrictions. But when I allow myself to simply BE Autistic, I accommodate myself, I arrange my life in ways that work for me, and I take care of my own shit, things get a whole lot sweeter.

It’s a new year. 2018. Year of the Dog. Last month of the Western astrological calendar. I’m tired of the same-old-same-old from the past couple of years. Time to keep getting more real every day, prioritize myself, my joy, my life, and focus on what really works for me.

Read Sarah’s full article about how sucky it can be to be Autistic in the world here. It’s a good one 🙂

Whoah – now *this* is a welcome change!

autism journal cover before after showing old puzzle piece and new circles motif

So, this is refreshing!

It’s not everyday we #ActuallyAutistic folx get some good news, especially from within the realm of research. But it’s a new year, and it appears that — somewhere, somehow — people have been listening. And what’s more, they’re willing to act.

But lo and behold, this is exactly what’s happened. Just got the news yesterday from the journal Autism:

A new era for autism research, and for our journal

… autism research is a shared endeavour. Precisely because it is a common endeavour, autism research requires the participation of that broad community on fair terms. It is not right that one group holds all of the influence and power. If any group, or collection of groups is unattended or their opinions discounted, then they are being treated unfairly and in a way that does damage to autism research itself. The core ethos of this journal must include ensuring that everyone who participates in autism research has their views taken into account.

This takes us, of course, to the symbol that used to occupy the cover of this journal – the puzzle piece. Others have written at length about the history of that symbol, how it was initially deployed by the UK’s National Autistic Society (NAS) in 1963, and how it has become increasingly controversial as the years have progressed (Grinker and Mandell, 2015; see also Gernsbacher et al., 2017). But what has become much clearer recently is that autistic selfadvocates and many who support them have not only felt that the puzzle piece does not capture their view of autism itself, but that the failure of organisations such as this journal to act in response constitutes a core disrespect, as if their voices and opinions did not matter equally to other people’s (Brook, 2016).

Oh, my… I’m feeling a little choked up, actually. The fact that people in positions of influence have actually been listening… and have taken substantive, public action… that’s huge.

What’s more, the new design makes total sense. They say they developed the design with input from Autistic people, which in itself is amazing. And the red circles — overlapping, yet separate, similar yet slightly different… that pretty much says it all to me.

Plus, no blue. #Redinstead. Always a nice change.

So, I’m feeling like I can breathe a little easier. Not until I saw the new design, did I realize just how I hold my breath and brace for a conceptual … infringement… whenever I encounter official outlets for Autism research and thinking. Even with publishers and organizations who are very much “on our side”, I brace myself, every time I read their tweets or publications. I’m always on the defensive with the official outlets, no matter how well-intentioned they are. Because they so often just don’t get it… and I have to go to considerable lengths to rectify everything in my mind and convince myself — yet again — that they are not the enemy, they just don’t get it 100%… yet… and they’re trying.

Of course, the bulk of the conceptual work is on my shoulders, because I’m in the minority and on the receiving end. I don’t have the time and leisure and money and stature to do much of anything about it. Me taking the giants of the Autism industry to task about their unwitting slights and oversights, is like piloting a jet-ski through an iceberg field, trying to avoid the chunks of floating ice out of the way so I don’t wreck on them… as well as trying to nudge them out of the way, so others less speedy and attentive than I don’t run into them and wreck themselves.

The peril of poor word choices and dismissive language, I feel, is so much more severe for Autistic individuals, because we can experience language so viscerally, so physically, so deeply. Handing over Autism vocabulary to non-autistics, is a little like handing a gangly teenager a razor-sharp katana. They just don’t have the coordination and maturity to handle it well. And somebody’s gonna get hurt. Of course, the person wielding the weapon(s) isn’t going to suffer. They won’t feel a thing, when they draw blood from others.

And that’s precisely the problem. Because, well… double-empathy. Yet again.

For a less gruesome comparison, how ’bout this — asking non-autistics to research and address Autism on their own, is like asking a color-blind person to pick out a coordinated outfit out of your wardrobe of colorful prints for your big job interview. Nothing against the color-blind person. They’re still valuable and valid as a human being. But you’re better off having someone who can detect a lot more colors in the spectrum, if you’re going to present your best for The Big Job.

Fortunately, it looks like things are shifting. Changing. With any luck, improving. Big thanks goes to the researchers who have been raising the alert about how … er, screwed up, er, incredibly deficient , er, lacking the old route has proven. And hey — how ’bout all these profoundly insightful Autistic adults who know firsthand what it’s like to actually BE Autistic… mightn’t they have something to contribute.

We might, indeed.

So, I’m supposed to be resting today. Reading. Taking a break. But hell, this is big news, and I’m not about to sit this one out, when there’s so much to be lauded about it.

I could go on for hours about how the circle motif makes SO . MUCH . MORE . SENSE. But I’ll leave that to another blog post, after I’ve regained my strength. I’m still struggling after last week. And on top of that, I had a big get-together with 16 very chatty friends (old and new) packed into a 10×10 foot space.

Can you say sensory overload? Uh… yup. I will definitely blog more about my experience of hearing seven simultaneous conversations at top volume for four hours… and my ensuing glee that I didn’t completely melt down in the  mist of it.

Oh, but I digress. Let the record simply show that I approve of this new direction that the journal Autism is taking. And I suspect a lot of other Autistic people like me do, as well.

Oh, except for those who hate it. We’ll always have some of those 😉

Sharing from ‘Autism’: A new era for autism research, and for our journal

No more puzzle piece used on the cover of the journal 'Autism'

Big news – The journal Autism will no longer be using the puzzle piece on their cover.

Plus, they’re shifting their approach to research:

… Precisely because it is a common endeavour, autism research requires the participation of that broad community on fair terms. It is not right that one group holds all of the influence and power. If any group, or collection of groups is unattended or their opinions discounted, then they are being treated unfairly and in a way that does damage to autism research itself. The core ethos of this journal must include ensuring that everyone who participates in autism research has their views taken into account.

This, in my view, is huge.

And it’s a welcome change. I encourage you to read the whole announcement. It’s not long, but it’s chock-full of encouraging signs.

Read it by clicking here.

The Upsides of #Alexithymia

tree by lake with moon and stars overhead

Something occurred to me, the other day. Namely, that alexithymia has been a huge advantage for me.

Not because it’s confused me about my feelings, but because it’s forced me — literally forced me — to rely on logic to navigate through life.

Okay, so that might not sound like such a great thing, considering how illogical the rest of the world is about stuff. Not being “in touch with my feelings” — heck, not even realizing I’m having certain feelings — sets me apart and puts me in the minority. It makes it harder to figure out whether people are really my friends or not. It makes it harder to figure out if I want people to be my friends. And it makes it difficult to tell what other people think of me, as well as figure out what I actually think of myself.

But that difficulty has been so pronounced, it’s required me to use my powers of observation and deduction to make sense of situations. To notice small details that others don’t see, to parse bits of info that most people overlook. To really invest a lot of myself in figuring out how things (and people) work, so I can be effective in interacting with them. I’m definitely one of the best “people persons” I know — people complement me all the time on my empathy and ability to interact with others. That, my friends, is because people have been one of my all-consuming interests, and I study them and their behaviors more closely than the most devoted American fantasy football player studies the weekly stats.

I’m good. I’m really that good. But it didn’t happen overnight. And it sure as heck didn’t happen by accident. I’ve worked at it. Nobody can take that from me. I’m the hardest-working person a lot of my friends. Well, yeah. Because I have to. Not much choice there.

I know it’s not a realistic option (because no choices are ever truly this binary), but if given the choice between built-in emotional “intelligence” about myself, or pure logic, I’d go with logic every time.

Given the right information about how my system works (including emotional things), with logic I can figure plenty of stuff out on my own. And logic serves me just as well as emotion. If I know — from observation — that such-and-such a sensation in my body means I’m nervous, I can take steps to offset the nervousness or channel the energy in a more productive direction. If I can deduce that such-and-such a feeling in my gut indicates a certain mental/emotional state, I can adapt and adjust and work with what’s there. If I know logically that being tired and hungry makes me feel terrible, emotionally, I can track my meals and sleeping pattern and recognize when my outbursts are related to exhaustion and/or low blood sugar.

Emotional self-knowledge only takes you so far, from what I can see. A whole lot of people around me who have no issues with alexithymia are (to put it coarsely) emotional wrecks. Their emotional states run their lives, and even though they’re “in touch with their feelings”, that doesn’t keep their feelings from taking over their lives. They’re even less happy than I am.

Of course, I’ve had to fail a lot of times before I figured out a lot of this. The rest of the world doesn’t instruct explicitly, but expects everybody to just know stuff. But all that failure has trained me to not take failing so damn’ personally, and to just get on with living my life, learning about it, and adjusting to the ongoing flow of information.

Information, it’s all information. And logic helps me parse through it deliberately, intentionally, self-sufficiently. Just how I like it 🙂

And I seriously doubt that I’d take the trouble to develop my logic, if I had insights into emotions and whatnot.

So, even with the difficulties, alexithymia has really come in handy. And to be honest, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Some days, I’d like it to be a little less extreme. But I always have logic to fall back on.

And with that dangling participle, I’m off to live the rest of my life.


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