Autistic at Disney World

As a Floridian, I’ve had the great fortune of several magical trips to Disney World over the years. Disney World is awesome. It’s intense, but awesome. I’ve never had any real trouble with going to Disney because, while strange, loud, and crowded, it was also familiar in a way, and familiarity is comfort. I knew all the songs from the movies, and recognized characters and sights. I knew that I’d have fun on the Dumbo ride, I knew that the castle was awesome, and I knew that women in giant princess ballgowns were sweet and kind. I remember I was obsessed with Kida from the (highly underrated) Atlantis movie and spent my entire vacation hunting down a pin depicting her and begging my mom to help find her – which she did. I still have it, it’s one of my favorites.

kida pin

There’s a few good ideas to keep in mind when considering a Disney vacation when on the spectrum. My best suggestion is to go during off-season if it’s possible, when there’s the least amount of people. I was recently at Epcot during their food and wine festival the day before Veteran’s Day, and the most overwhelming part about being there was the sheer amount of people flooding the streets. It’s very hard to find a quiet corner to decompress in a situation like that. Bathroom stalls sorta work, but if you’re female there’s definitely going to be a crowd/long line most of the time. To decompress, I suggest finding out which rides are relaxing in whatever park you’re going to. If you’re sensitive to noises and need some quiet, I’d suggest just flat out bringing noise-cancelling headphones. They play music everywhere.

Remember to eat to keep up your energy. I forget this sometimes. When I was at Epcot, all three of the people I was with around dinner said I looked like I was fading and completely out of it when it was late and we still hadn’t eaten. After dinner, I was much better, even though I hadn’t realized how low I’d gotten because I was so focused on my feet hurting (bring comfortable walking shoes!).

And speaking of food, for those out there with refined palates, aka, ‘picky eaters’ like me who are sensitive to certain tastes or textures and are cautious about eating at new places, look up menus online in advance if you’re planning to eat at a restaurant to make sure there’s something you want to eat there. It’s a small way to ease up some of the stress you might otherwise feel. Or, consider bringing your own food in a backpack. It saves money, and you ensure you have something you’re willing to eat. If you are eating at a nicer restaurant, especially for dinner, rather than one of the more ‘fast food’ type places, I highly suggest getting reservations online in advance. We were wandering around looking for a place to have dinner around 6:00 PM, and one place we talked to told us to come back at 8:45 PM to see how bad the wait would be then, with no guarantee that we’d be seated.

Avatar Land food
Food from Animal Kingdom’s new Pandora section

The most important suggestion I have is to make sure that you have at least one person with you who makes you feel safe. I’ve almost always gone only with family in the past, and family is safe and comforting. In retrospect, I think that’s why I’ve never had any real problems with carnivals or theme parks in the past. In my adult years, when I’ve gone without as much support, I feel more vulnerable and find myself becoming overwhelmed easier. But when I go with someone I feel is a strong support – like family, close friends, or my fiancé – I’m able to handle things without any problem that on my own I’d probably find too much. There was one time I was in Magic Kingdom on a special school trip first to the Kennedy Space Center, then Magic Kingdom, and I got separated from my group. It was harrowing, and suddenly the plastic magic didn’t seem so familiar. Don’t go without someone who you trust and are comfortable with by your side (or an emotional support animal if you use one), because their support makes all the difference between a wonderful, incident free fun time and feeling panicked.

Norway
My fiancé and I with the troll in Norway’s gift shop in Epcot

One more small suggestion. If you can, don’t plan your trip so that immediately after you return home, you have to jump back into work or school. A day to relax after your vacation can be an invaluable way to decompress and enjoy some quiet time.

On an unrelated note, Epcot is my favorite of the four main Disney parks. I love the collection of unique architecture and culture, the foods, the sounds. I like the idea of being able to learn and experience these things. I had the pleasure of introducing my fiancé to it for the first time, and was thrilled to see him find that same enjoyment in it.

Though I have to say, I’ll never truly forgive Disney for turning Maelstrom into a light-hearted Frozen ride. [sigh] At least I have my memories.

 

Do you enjoy theme parks, or are they too much? What sort of coping methods do you use?

Which theme park is your favorite?

Like, share, comment, and/or follow to show support! You can also find me on facebook as Some Girl with a Braid, or on Twitter @AmalenaCaldwell.

 

While I’ve never used disability services at Disney before, here is a link for those who might want more information as to what Disney does to assist autistics: https://www.orlandovacation.com/disney-world/special-needs-guide/guests-with-autism/

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Autistic Moments – Don’t Touch My Hair

I’ve noticed that in life, if there’s something unusual about a person, other people will want to touch them. They often won’t ask permission, and sometimes even if they do, they do so while in the middle of doing the thing they’re asking permission for. I don’t quite understand why others have this urge to touch strangers around them, but it gets very, very annoying.

Sometimes I’ll be standing in line somewhere like the supermarket, feel something move behind me, and turn around to find my hair in some stranger’s hands. This has happened enough times that it doesn’t even surprise me anymore. I’ve had waiters/waitresses sneak up behind me and start petting my braid, women grab my braid while I’m standing in line for the bathroom, and even groups of people surround me and start passing my hair around in their hands like a braided joint.

If I were a neurotypical person, I think this would be incredibly annoying and invasive. As an autistic person, I have to suppress the urge to violently swing around and roundhouse kick my space invader in the face because strangers touching me (especially by surprise) triggers a fight or flight instinctive response. My body tenses, I feel panic in my chest, I have to sometimes slip into meditation breathing to remember that I’m not actually in danger. Then I have to pretend to be nice, because apparently if I don’t want strangers touching me, I shouldn’t choose to be different (yes I have actually been told that before by multiple people). I plaster a smiling mask to my face and answer the repetitious questions everyone has.

Yes, it’s real. No, I don’t want to donate my hair. Because I like it on my head.

I’ve been growing it for eighteen years. No, I am not eighteen years old.

It is four and a half feet long when open. I sometimes trim it, but never cut it.

I wash it in the shower. With shampoo, conditioner, and water. Like everyone else.

I go to the bathroom just like everyone else and it doesn’t get in the way. Why would you ask a stranger how they go to the bathroom?

fighting stance

It does feel a bit like an attack whenever I’m out in public and get subjected to random pawing. I like my personal space. I can barely stomach hugs if I’m not already comfortable with the person I’m hugging. Having people surprise me by touching me drives me crazy in a very bad way. The worst part is how they always seem to ‘mean well’. I tell myself, they’re just curious, it’s fine. My hair is very unusual, and they’ve probably never seen something quite like it in person before. If it’s a kid, I don’t even really mind because kids are usually adorable – and they are actually the ones more likely to ask permission first. But adults should know better.

If you see someone who’s physically different in some way, don’t follow your instinct to immediately put your hands on them. For one, it’s really rude and invasive, but you also have no idea what sort of tolerance they have for that type of thing. They could be autistic, and having a stranger touch them could trigger fight or flight instincts. Don’t be responsible for traumatizing people who dare to leave the house while looking different. The day is already a minefield for us. Don’t be a mine. Being touched by strangers should not be the tax people have to pay if they keep their hair a way that you don’t, whether they have unusual colored hair dyes, curls, are black and have natural hair, or even if it’s just that their hair is longer than average. If you feel you really want to touch someone’s hair, tattoo, nails, or anything else, always ask permission. And if they tell you no, accept their choice without being offended as if you’re owed the right to lay your hands on someone. You’re not.

 

Has anyone else experienced this sort of thing? How do you handle it?

Like, share, comment, and/or follow to show support! You can also find me on facebook as Some Girl with a Braid, or on Twitter @AmalenaCaldwell.

 

Autistic Moments - Don't Touch Me

Picture text:

Space Invader: (grabs my hair) Oh wow! Your hair is so long!

Some Girl with a Braid: Do I know you?

Space Invader: I just had to come over! Your hair’s so long!

Some Girl with a Braid: Alright. And do you normally sneak up behind strangers and grope their hair? At what point while I was standing here did you get the message that I wanted you to touch me?

Space Invader: So can I touch your hair?

Some Girl with a Braid: Gee, nice of you to ask. NO.

 

 

Autistic Moments – What’s Wrong?

Apparently I forget about my face. It’s there, I know, and I’m supposed to put more effort into it, but I don’t. I don’t get why I should, really. Smiling all the time hurts my face, and why should I put effort into my expression especially when I’m not in the middle of socializing? Sometimes I’m hyper focused on something, and that focus means that I don’t have the diverted brain energy going into making my face palatable to others. Sometimes it’s just nice to be alone and stare into space while playing fantasies about mythical battles, dramatic romances, and epic dragons. When my brain’s so busy with such wonderful things, why would I bother trying to make my face look like I want to be approached?

Part of my lack of effort in my face is because I get annoyed when pictures are taken and my face isn’t perceived the way I perceive it. What’s the point in putting effort into smiling if the smile I like isn’t the smile other people like? I’ve been told that pictures I think look really nice (usually with a close-lipped smile) make me look like I want to murder people with some sort of death glare. That I don’t look properly happy without a big, toothy grin that feels weird to pose with on my face. I just don’t see it. I don’t think I look as good, I feel like I see more of me the way I see myself when I don’t smile at all, or when I have a slight smile. I think there’s something delicate about my lips in that way, and big, toothy smiles make me think of comedy, clowns, and jokes – all bulky things in my mind that are heavy and take up energy, even if they take up energy in a good way. Those things don’t mean ‘happy’ to me, not really. They’re amusing, of course, and I can feel happy while experiencing them, but that doesn’t capture ‘happy’ for me. Happy to me is more about being content and comfortable, with pizza, soft clothes, and a good book/movie/videogame. I don’t need smiles to enjoy those things. The way I feel in my head doesn’t match up to what other people feel my face expresses, and it can be exhausting practicing and making sure I remember not to let the mask slip.

I think some of the reason I get comments is because of gender. There’s a thing about getting girls to smile all the time that I don’t quite comprehend. If someone sees I’m not smiling, wouldn’t they understand there could be a reason I’m not smiling? Or maybe no reason to smile? Smiling takes energy and I wish people would stop demanding I spend energy for no good reason.

Just as common though are well meaning people who think I’m always sad or angry or that something must be wrong for me to be sitting by myself and staring off into space without any particular expression on my face. They just want to help, and I get that. I even appreciate the concern.

But sometimes sitting there alone and expressionless helps me recharge my social batteries before plunging into the fray once more. A few daydreams, a little bit of watching the grass grow, playing bejeweled on my phone, or bouncing my leg up and down, and I can be good to go.

So, nothing’s wrong, thank you for asking. I get that you mean well, but I really am fine and you don’t have to look so skeptical when I tell you I’m fine. If I’m not fine, chances are that I just need some time to recharge. If you are a close friend who knows that I enjoy spending time with them without feeling drained afterwards, that’s cool and I’m probably okay with hanging out while I recharge. If I’m not, don’t be offended. But if you’re just a well-meaning passerby, please continue to pass by. Don’t tell me to come on out of my shell because socializing and smiling will make me feel better. It won’t. And even when I do recharge, don’t be too worried about whether there’s a smile on my face. If it happens, it happens. But I don’t think it’s worth draining my batteries to force it.

Autistic Moments - What's wrong.png

Image text:

Well-Meaning Person: Hey, what’s wrong?

Some Girl with a Braid: Nothing. Why?

Well-Meaning Person: You look upset.

Some Girl with a Braid: Huh. Weird.

 

What type of techniques do you use to recharge? I have a few go-to stims (fidgeting, rubbing my eyes, bouncing my leg up and down), and I like soft quite places, like my bed with a heavy comforter (or two) and possibly a million pillows. I’m curious how others cope.

Like, share, comment, or follow me here, on Facebook (Some Girl with a Braid), or Twitter (@AmalenaCaldwell) for future updates if you enjoy my posts!

Fantastic Autistics and Where to Find Them

(Spoiler Alert! There are a few limited spoilers concerning the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in the following post!)

Anyone who knows me at all knows that one of my greatest and most passionate literary loves is the Harry Potter series by J.K.Rowling. I know every spell. I know every character, even the minor ones. Every location, every little piece of trivia, and every scrap of information having to do with books 1-7. I grew up with the series, aging as Harry did and learning alongside him all about Hogwarts and the wizarding world it was a part of.

So when Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was announced as a movie, I was jumping up and down with excitement that the journey wasn’t over, that we got to see more of Rowling’s world beyond Hogwarts.

The first thing I loved about this movie is that while the original Harry Potter books and movies taught us about what magic was and how to use it from the perspective of adolescents coming into their power, Fantastic Beasts showed the adult world. These characters knew how to cast spells without making themselves vomit slugs and apparate without splicing themselves. It was a great addition on that front alone.

But even better were the new characters essentially invented for this new movie without anything that solid to work off of from J.K.Rowling’s original writing beyond a few names and technical details like “This person wrote a textbook.”

So let’s discuss the main character, Newt Scamander. His goal is to write a textbook. It’s such a dull premise on the surface if you just say it aloud, but think about what he wants to do. He is a compassionate individual borderline ‘obsessed’ with learning everything he can about magical creatures so that he can document them and categorize them in order to save them, while finding beauty in beings that his fellow wizards and witches might be afraid of or seek to destroy. He sees the world differently from they do. He even walks and moves differently, as if he’s not completely aware of the space his body takes up and is more focused on the purpose behind his movements than how someone watching might perceive them. He struggles to make eye contact with people, and even has the following lovely exchange:

I annoy people

Jacob: Oh, well, I’m-I’m sure people like you too, huh?

Newt: No, not really. I annoy people.

I think a lot of autistics out there can relate to internalizing that sentiment.

You can see where this is going.

While never flat out stated to be (possibly because of the time period, or maybe the wizarding world doesn’t have a lot in the way of mental health? Harry Potter would have been seeing a psychologist if he’d gone to a muggle school by the end of book one), the way I ‘read’ Newt Scamander is as an autistic adult. But he’s not the typical autistic male white adult that we see in so many adaptations, despite being all those things, and that makes him amazing.

While most autistic characters gravitate towards science, technology, and math (in the wizarding world, perhaps potions and arithmancy would be the equivalent?) with savant like perfection, Newt Scamander does not have this stereotypical characteristic. For one, I wouldn’t classify him as a savant. He has a special interest which he’s extremely passionate and knowledgeable about, but that in and of itself does not make someone a savant. Just passionate and knowledgeable. And it’s noteworthy the choice of focus: animals. I’ve heard that autistic girls are said to commonly have a passionate interest in animals, aspiring to be veterinarians and the like. Girls like horses and dolls, boys like cars and computers. For the character of Newt, this is flipped. He goes against the stereotype by adopting a trait I’ve most often seen described in lists of “symptoms” associated with female autistics. And I absolutely love that.

Related to his passion for fantastic beasts (and where to find them), one of the most important aspects of Newt’s character is that he does not at all struggle with empathy. In fact, I’d say it’s his biggest strength. He’s even far more empathic than most of the presumably neurotypical characters surrounding him, as exhibited by this bit of dialogue:

Newt: I’m writing a book about magical creatures

Tina: Like an extermination guide?

Newt: No, a guide to help people understand why we should be protecting these creatures instead of killing them.

He shines in every moment he’s with these creatures, and seems to understand them more than he understands people – not an unheard of autistic trait. He understands them so well that he even can perform an erumpent mating dance to placate the large rhinoceros like creature, and keeps a plant-like bowtruckle in his pocket because the poor thing had a cold and needed body warmth – also because he had attachment issues. This sort of understanding and empathy towards different creatures isn’t exhibited by anyone else in the film. Indeed, others are afraid of the erumpent and when the bowtruckle is revealed, it’s desired by other characters for its lockpicking abilities without thought for what it wants or needs.

But an even more striking an example of Newt’s empathy and goodness are the moments just after he’s been arrested, and then again when sentenced to death. When arrested, his immediate concern isn’t for himself, but for the creatures in his care. He begs that they remain unharmed, emphasizing that nothing in his menagerie is dangerous over and over again even as he’s taken away in shackles. When sentenced to death, his first concern isn’t begging for his own life, but worry that his companion, Tina, might also be punished.

not dangerous.png

(Image dialogue – Newt: Please, you don’t understand. Nothing in there is dangerous.)

This is such an incredibly powerful portrayal of an autistic individual when compared to other autistic and autistically implied characters in media. They often have little concept of empathy, or have to truly struggle to learn or become aware of any form of recognizable empathy, thanks to lack of empathy being an trait inaccurately assumed to go hand in hand with autism. For a prime example, see my previous post about Atypical’s main character, Sam. In contrast, Newt shows autistic empathy. He feels deeply for everyone around him, including those that his society looks down on such as magical creatures and muggles (I refuse to use the term ‘no-maj’, sorry JKR), those he’s essentially been told not to feel empathy for. Note though, it’s not sympathy or just compassion Newt feels – something I think a lot of neurotypicals conflate with empathy. It’s true, full-blown empathy. He feels for himself what the creatures he studies feel. When the erumpent is happy, he is happy. The music played during the scene when he confronts the giant beast is whimsical and light, a beautiful piece of piano and strings indicating how they both feel. When other creatures are causing trouble or in trouble, he knows how to find them and deal with them because he can put himself into their minds and feel what they feel.

Finally, I’d like to point out one more thing about Newt that makes him an absolutely beautiful example of an autistic character. He has friends. Not a roommate who begrudgingly learns to put up with him, not coworkers who learn to see his brilliance and accept him on that basis alone. Over the course of the movie, Newt is shown becoming friends with Jacob, Tina, and Queenie through their shared struggle. They genuinely like him as a person not in spite of his differences, but because of them. There’s even hints that there’s romantic tension with Tina by the end (curse you sequel bait, I wanted a kiss!) and mention of previous love lost in Newt’s life. All social things that autistics struggle with, and in media are often portrayed without.

Overall, Newt Scamander is fantastic. He is intelligent, capable, brave, giving, and unashamedly empathetic. He is also autistic, based on the traits I mentioned above. And while I will always love Harry, Hermione, Ron, and all the wonderful characters introduced in the Wizarding World created by J.K.Rowling, Newt Scamander just might be my favorite.

hey-newt-why-did-you-keep-me-around-wizard-because-20501971

Image dialogue –

Jacob: Hey, Newt, why did you keep me around?

Newt: Because I like you, Jacob. Because you’re my friend.

What were your thoughts when you saw the movie for the first time? Agree, disagree? Feel free to engage with your opinions in the comment section!

 

This particular fantastic autistic can be found on facebook on the page ‘Some Girl with a Braid’ or on Twitter @AmalenaCaldwell. Like, share, comment, and/or follow to show support!

Guest Post at ‘The Geeky Gimp’: Autism and the Virtues of Single-Player RPGs

And now for something completely different! Well, not completely…

I direct your attention to the amazing Erin Hawley’s blog at The Geeky Gimp, where she’s given me the opportunity to do a guest post about gaming and autism. Enjoy!

“As an autistic individual, there’s a special place in my heart for single-player role-playing games. I started with Skyrim, fell in love, and have since added other games such as Mass EffectDragon AgePortalDiablo, and Assassin’s Creed to my computer.”

Check out the link to read more!

https://geekygimp.com/autism-and-the-virtues-of-single-player-rpgs/

Sexual Assault, Autism, and the case for Comprehensive Sex Education for Autistics and the Disabled

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault discussion

I am lucky as a disabled woman in our society. I’ve never been raped or seriously sexually assaulted, unlike so many of my peers. When I say ‘seriously’, I mean that no one’s ever held me down, no one’s gone under my clothes without permission, no one’s not accepted ‘no’ for an answer. Not that other forms of sexual assault aren’t serious, but I don’t quite know what other word to use to differentiate between what I’ve experienced, which has been relatively minor, and the deeply traumatic pain that’s been inflicted on others to an extent I can’t comprehend. With that disclaimer for the limitations of the English language, let’s discuss what I have experienced and how it applies to the topics of sex education and autism.

I have had a few brushes with inappropriate men in my life. Two in particular stand out to me, since I’m going to ignore common things like catcalls for now (they’re their own nightmare for another time). The first happened in seventh grade, at twelve or thirteen years old. I was in the school musical, and we girls were backstage in our dressing room getting on costumes and make-up. Without any warning, announcement, or request for permission, the videographer the school had hired to film the production decided to barge in and record us. Most of us were at least half naked, or in only underwear. He was a grey-haired, older man. I still remember the creepy, wide, toothed smile he had on his face as he ogled us. He seemed entertained by the panicked reaction he’d gotten. I was infuriated instantly at the sight of him, at the gall he had to do such a thing, and put myself between his camera and some of the practically naked teens and pre-teens who were trying to hide their bodies from him to try and ruin his shot. I screamed at him to leave. I believe some others shouted at him too, but the details of that are fuzzy because I was hyper focused at the time. He was practically giggling with how giddy he was, but we did get him to leave.

Later, he was instructed by one of the adults to come up to me privately and apologize, as if I were the only one offended because I’d been the loudest. It was explained to me that he was simply trying to get filler backstage content, and that it wasn’t that big of a deal, that lots of films about stage shows and musicals had that sort of footage of actors getting ready, but that he was sorry he’d offended me. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember questioning myself as to whether it was a big deal or not, since none of the adults seemed to think it was to my knowledge. I never mentioned this incident to anyone until recently when talk of the appropriateness of authoritative older male figures barging into pre-teen dressing rooms came into question during an uncomfortable conversation. I realized it had happened to me, and how deeply wrong that is.

The second incident happened in tenth grade, when I was a little older. My school had a fencing team, and the coach had always been just on the edge of being possibly uncomfortable to me, but never crossing any lines – or at least not being reported for it. I do recall him grabbing one of the moms he knew was married and kissing her on the lips against her will, without being reported for it. I said nothing because I was a child and she was an adult, so I figured if she didn’t say anything then it wasn’t my place to. Other than that, he always gave me the vibe of someone I shouldn’t let myself be alone in a room with for long. He would sometimes get a little too close for comfort with me. When I asked about buying my own gear, he said I could buy the standard ‘male’ outfit, but I’d look a lot better with the female tailored outfit to show off my curves (I was fifteen). When giving awards to those participating in a competition he would shake the hands of all the male students and kiss the cheeks of and hug all the female students. Those who know me well enough know that I absolutely loath hugging people I’m not comfortable with, and kisses from people I don’t want kisses from make me want to scream for multiple reasons. But I grit my teeth and dealt with it because I didn’t know how to tell him not to without coming across as reading too much into it, or as ‘weird’ for not being okay with something everyone else felt was normal (back when I refused all hugs from non-family I’d been accused of having ‘something’ wrong with me, and for a long time I lived in fear of coming across that way). The action that went over the line was when he decided it was appropriate to lay his hand on my behind. I had a fencing sabre in hand and instinctively spun around and struck him with it, causing him to berate me for attacking a teacher while I screamed in tears that he wasn’t allowed to touch me like that. It was an embarrassing, confusing spectacle in front of the whole fencing team. I stormed out when he wouldn’t apologize and walked home early from school.

I remember thinking to myself… maybe he didn’t mean it the way I thought he did. Maybe it was appropriate in some ‘sporty’ way. Maybe my pants were too tight – he’d commented on my tight clothes before. Maybe somehow it was my fault, or I’d read the situation wrong. These thoughts shocked me because I knew they were wrong, but they wormed their way into my mind anyway. What kept me secure in the knowledge that he had done wrong and I had done nothing wrong was the education I’d received about my rights to my body, and also my right to defend myself. The confident message I’d always received from my parents that no one had the right to touch me if I didn’t want them to. I mustered my courage and went to the principle first thing the next school day. The coach was fired – which I’m grateful for considering how many schools don’t handle sexual assault well – and I never saw him again.

These are ‘minor’ things in the grand scheme of sexual assault, but I want to talk about them for a very specific reason: how I conducted myself. I didn’t put up with it. I knew consent was something I needed, and that it wasn’t okay for men I didn’t want to film me nearly naked or touch my privates. I’d been taught about consent, and had classes on comprehensive sex education. No means no, and nothing else.

Not all autistics or disabled people get that education. In fact, when it comes to mental disability, it’s sometimes not just neglected completely, but messages opposite to ‘no means no’ are taught.

Five-year-old Johnny doesn’t want to hug his parents. His therapist tells him he has to. He shakes his head, he avoids eye contact, he tries to wiggle away, he has a meltdown, he gives every signal he can to show how deeply uncomfortable and physically painful this is for him. His parents think it means he doesn’t love him because they can’t understand that physical contact and love aren’t necessarily connected. His therapist spends hours, weeks, years training him to hug on command regardless. His no does not mean no. He is not allowed to say no, because his therapists and his parents don’t believe he has a right to his own body.

When Johnny is in middle school, his parents don’t let him take sex ed because they feel it’s not something someone with his neurology needs. Then his PE coach makes inappropriate comments that go unchallenged. The coach makes him give hugs that last too long after class. The coach slides his hand between Johnny’s legs. The coach says they should shower together, that it’s okay and it’s what adults do. The coach wants to show Johnny other things adults do. Johnny obeys because he’s been taught and trained and forced to submit by his parents, his therapist, and his teachers. He’s been taught that his body isn’t his, and that he has to do what others tell him to do, even if it makes him uncomfortable, if he doesn’t want to, if it doesn’t feel right, or even if it hurts. He doesn’t know it’s wrong. He learns what sex is from his coach. Sex is a painful act forced on him for the purpose of someone else’s pleasure. He has never learned anything to tell him that’s wrong, that sex is supposed to be something else, something good. That a relationship isn’t supposed to hurt.

There are a lot of horror stories around compliance training – most I hear about come from traditional ABA therapy. Therapists forcing their young clients to hug on command, and those clients growing up not to have a concept of bodily autonomy, making them perfect victims for sexual predators. I’ve read the stories of victims and survivors, and it makes me sick to my stomach. I think of all the people out there not taught about sexuality or healthy relationships because it’s deemed inappropriate for their autistic brains, despite them potentially being sexual beings like all other teens and adults.

I think how easily that could have been me if I’d gotten an early diagnosis and my parents had sent me to a bad therapist simply because they wouldn’t have known any better.

Maybe instead of trying to keep that videographer from filming us, thirteen-year-old me would have just stood there and allowed myself to be filmed in my underwear by a man old enough to be my grandpa. Maybe he shows me that inappropriate footage and tells me that if I don’t take off the underwear in private, he’ll send the film to my classmates and parents. Maybe instead of getting my fencing coach fired, fifteen-year-old me would have remained quiet, giving him the ‘signal’ that I wouldn’t report him if he progressed to more horrific actions.

Not being labeled as autistic or disabled may have saved me from a terrible fate, but I shouldn’t need to suffer through nearly two decades without a term for my own brain to have access to the education to learn to stand up to assault, to learn about healthy sexuality. Autistic and disabled people deserve appropriate, comprehensive education. We often have mature sexual bodies. We need to learn about what that means. We need to have full knowledge of the concept of consent, and about what healthy relationships are like, what they look like with us in them. Healthy relationships are about mutual respect, friendship, love, and potentially also include pleasurable sex (including lgbt+ sex – not all autistics are straight). While this is desperately needed for everyone, I feel there’s a heightened need for those of us with social disability to have education on this because social norms are something we need to learn across the board. A relationship is a social construct, and if we aren’t taught about them in a good way, there’s the potential for someone to teach it to us in a bad way.

If you are the parent of an autistic, don’t assume that because of their difficulties (non-verbal, no eye contact, intense stimming, severe sensory disorders, or any other issues) they don’t need to learn about adult matters. Consent is not a luxury for the able-minded or able-bodied. Autistic children become autistic adults. We have adult bodies and we need to know about them, about our rights to them. I am what happens when you do things right – a strong individual capable of standing up for her right to say no and eventually finding fulfilling, happy, healthy relationships in the dating world. Your child, who will become an adult, should be too. Please, don’t neglect us.

Thank you.

Autistic Moments – Talking Over Me

What is the correct way to refer to me and others like me? Let’s talk about talk.

When it comes to autism, there’s a lot of talk about talk. Mostly, in the form of arguments for or against one of two sides. One side promotes ‘person-first language’. Person-first language is calling someone a “person with autism.” This is because they feel that putting emphasis on the fact that we are people will help humanize us, and also often because they don’t want to see their child as a walking condition/diagnosis. Rather, they would like to see them as just their child.

The other side champions ‘identity-first language’. Aka: “I’m autistic”, “I’m an autistic”, or “I’m an autistic person.” This is because, since autism is in our brains and is a major aspect of our personality, we don’t see ourselves as separate from our condition anymore than you might see yourself as separate from your gender, sexuality, religion, race, or other intricate parts of your identity. We feel that separating autism from our personhood is dehumanizing in that it is trying to sanitize and change us to be more appealing to neurotypicals. As if we can’t be seen as both autistic and a person, that these things must be separate, because autism is not a person and the implication is that being neurotypical is the default onto which is added autism. Except that’s not the case. We cannot be without our autism, just like we cannot be without our gender, sexuality, religion, etc.

I’m female in the same way I’m autistic. No one ever stops me to say that I should say “No, you’re a person with female-ness. Put the person before the female.” The implication I get from that is that, somehow, females aren’t a type of people. Which is probably why no one says it, because females are undeniably people. But apparently, autistics are not?

If you can’t tell already, I prefer identity-first language for all the reasons I’ve listed, and probably a few more I’m forgetting.

The main point I’d like to get to isn’t the merits of one over the other. In fact, I think it’s just fine if someone prefers to be referred to as a person with autism (though as an English nut, I feel it’s a bulky, unnecessary phrase). If they do, then I’ll respect that and refer to them as such – though I should mention that the majority I’ve encountered and across the expanse of the internet prefer identity-first. No, the main point I’d like to get to has to do with non-autistic people getting all huffy and puffy over language. There are a lot of people online who claim to be autism advocates, parents, or professionals who flat out stamp on and insult autistic people for asking that their choices be respected. Sometimes a neurotypical posts something about “people with autism” and an autistic person corrects them, only to be virtually shouted at, berated, and belittled. Sometimes a neurotypical will seek out autistics and inform them that they’re being offensive.

However they make these comments, neurotypicals engaging in this behavior are disrespecting and offending the very people they claim they want to help. They are silencing our voices because we make them uncomfortable and they are accustomed to the stereotype that we cannot communicate. Sometimes they tell us that because we can speak, we don’t count (which is always amusing when this is told to someone who then reveals themselves to be non-verbal behind the keyboard).  It’s as if they want us to be silenced. They want to believe the stereotype that autistics cannot communicate. The advance of technology has made us more capable than ever before, and they don’t want us talking for ourselves, because then who will listen to them as the expert? We challenge their authority by existing and typing. You can’t have much more expertise and authority on autism beyond being autistic yourself and living it 24/7. I feel that these people talking over us are afraid that we’ll displace them and replace them as the ‘top dog’ in go-to autism related matters. They have a loud privilege at the moment in this society. Like all people with privilege, they’re afraid of losing it, even if it’s a sub-conscious fear. So they put us down and try to keep us quiet, try to make their voices the loudest.

No one likes being told that what they’re doing is hurtful. It’s a personal stab when someone accuses you of doing anything wrong, even if you didn’t mean to. But if you’re an adult, you should know to graciously accept comments and use them to better yourself. The proper response to an autistic person telling you, “Actually, I prefer being called autistic” is not “How dare you question me?! I have so many qualifications!” (or variations thereof). Instead, try, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I’ll try to do better in the future. Thank you.”

And as for other autistics out there… Don’t be afraid to correct people to whatever your preference is. If they don’t hear/read/see our voices and communications, then they’ll never change, never learn to respect our agency, and may not even realize we do indeed have our own agency. If you can’t emotionally handle the potential backlash, then do what’s best for your mental health. But if you can, know you have the support of at least this autistic. You do you, and don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong.

What are your thoughts on and experiences with person-first vs. identity-first language? Leave them in the comments below!

Autistic Moments - Talking Over Me

Comic Text:

Some Girl with a Braid says: … And that’s how I learned I’m autistic.

Blue Mommy Martyr says: Oh no, sweety, you shouldn’t say ‘Autistic’. Say ‘Person with Autism’ or else you’re insulting them. Put the ‘person’ first.

Some Girl with a Braid says: Can you not see us as people and autistics at the same time? I feel personhood is implied with any descriptive identity. And, as an autistic, I prefer identity-first language. Actually, the vast majority of autistics I’ve encountered within the autistic community prefer identity-first terminology because we feel that separating our personhood from our neurology is stigmatizing and vilifying a significant part of who we are. We cannot be the people we are without our autism. We cannot be people without our brains. Autism is also not something we can be rid of; it is not a cancer that can be cured or a purse that can be put down. It is always with us. It is who we are, for better or worse. It’s the same way you would refer to yourself as a female instead of ‘person with female-ness’. It’s a part of who you are and not offensive. If someone on the spectrum does prefer person-first language, then use it at their request, but by telling me how to talk about myself, you are policing and silencing the community you want to help, and insulting us by trying to rob our agency.

Blue Mommy Martyr says: How dare you! I know more about the experience of people with autism than you ever could because I’m a professional and I have a two year old nephew with autism!

Some Girl with a Braid says: …

Blue Mommy Martyr says: You obviously don’t know any better, so I’ll be offended by you on your behalf and attack you for you.

Some Girl with a Braid says: Are you serious right now?

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