Autistic Moments: Autistics Should Be Sterilized

Recently, I encountered an ‘Autism Mom’ who wrote that she thinks her son shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce. She uses these words: “I am still deeply worried about the idea that he could get someone pregnant and yet could never be a real father – which is why I will insist on having medical power of attorney, so that I will be able to make the decision about a vasectomy for him after he turns 18.” This is Judith Newman, author of ‘To Siri with Love’. (Updated)

According to a New York Times review, she advocates, in fact, for (implied non-voluntary/forced) vasectomies for all autistic men. I’m not sure if she assumes autistic women only have sex with autistic men (in case she reads this and doesn’t know, we are not a separate species incapable of reproducing with neurotypicals), or if she thinks that I too should be sterilized, but men were the ones specifically mentioned. Full disclosure, I have not read the entire book this woman has written detailing her point of view, and I do not wish to give money, publicity, and recognition to someone who seems to consider something that terrible as an option. I have read several passages, and found them disturbing enough to avoid the rest for my own mental health. However, I would like to discuss this topic of sterilization because there are a disturbing number of people out there – including those who claim to be allies of autistics – who feel that we should not be allowed to be parents.

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Let me just say it straight up for all the autism parents out there who think that sterilizing their children should be an option. IT. IS. NOT. YOUR. DECISION. Our bodies, our choice. Plain and simple. It is not your right to steal our potential from us.

The fact that any of you would even think it is your call disgusts me. We are allowed to have agency as individuals. And it hurts me deeply that you want to take that away from us. I’ve always wanted to be a mom one day. I’m getting married in less than two months, and if all goes well, in the next few years I’ll have a mini-me or mini-him. Whenever I’ve helped care for young children, I haven’t had any real problems. I’ve worked at summer camps before handling between three to easily a hundred kids at a time. I even just helped look after my year-and-a-half-old niece yesterday and we had a delightful time as she babbled adorable nonsense and took me on a tour of the backyard garden. There are plenty of autistic parents out there who do just fine – or even just mediocre, which isn’t a crime since there are plenty of mediocre neurotypical parents out there whose kids turn out alright. Autistic parents are hard to find online, because any googling of the words ‘autism’ or ‘autistic’ and ‘mom’, ‘dad’, or ‘parent’ automatically leads to an army of neurotypical people who’ve stolen our label to slap on themselves, but they do exist. There’s even autistics out there in the education system or helping out in daycares. In many cases, we are completely capable of being nurturing, loving, successful parents. Maybe when we’re five, ten, or fifteen we’re not at that point yet, but we can learn. Judith Newman’s son is a minor. He has the potential to perhaps become capable of parenting in the next few decades. She wants to rob him of that decision because he’s not as visibly mature in one way or another as current parents – as if people never change? The reason autistic adults are so different from autistic children is that we have learned. We’ve been often forced to adapt by society around us. And even if we haven’t, there’s always the chance that we will in the future. So just because you might look at an autistic boy having a full meltdown and think, “Oh god, he could never be a parent” doesn’t mean that in the future he won’t be fully capable of parenting well. You don’t know where the future will go, how he might adapt and evolve. You should not rob him of his choices by sterilizing him. Thinking differently and having difficulties in life does not mean we should be required to give up the human right that almost all other people on this planet have, whether you think we’re worthy of it or not.

To draw a comparison (and I apologize if I make any mistakes, since it’s not a community I’m intimately familiar with, nor a part of), a deaf person who was born deaf and has no concept of hearing thinks differently from a hearing person. A deaf person would use a visual language – sign language. They may or may not be able to speak verbally. Does this mean that we should sterilize said deaf person out of fear that they won’t be able to communicate well enough if they have a hearing child? No, that’s preposterous, inhumane, and reminiscent of horrifically immoral eugenics programs. Would we do a DNA check and sterilize a hearing person if they were prone to having deaf children out of fear that they wouldn’t be able to communicate well enough with their child? No, of course not, due to presumed competence of able people. We instead provide services. The parent should learn the language their child is most suited for.

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Translated to autism, we think differently. Not in something as straightforward as lacking the experience of one of the senses, but our brains are wired differently from neurotypicals. While most of the autistics I’ve encountered are online, I find them easier to communicate with than neurotypicals, and from all the literature on the subject, neurotypicals seem to find just as much difficulty communicating with us as compared to with each other. Speaking hypothetically and with no first-hand experience, I imagine having autistic children as an autistic would be easier for me than it would be for a neurotypical. The language is one that’s natural for me, so to speak. I don’t need to learn it. This isn’t to say that I couldn’t care for a neurotypical child. As far as we can tell at this point, my niece is a bright, social, neurotypical child – she still came running to bang on the bathroom door when I left her for a few moments with her grandmother, so I must have done something right. But to say that because I may have some difficulty different from a neurotypical parent that I shouldn’t be allowed to have the ability to reproduce is appalling. It regulates basic human rights to gatekeepers. What if such a thing were to become common practice again (as we did used to practice forced sterilization)? Why stop at autistics? Should we include all disabilities? After all, how could a blind person look after a child? As seeing people, we think about how difficult that might be for us and all the problems that could happen, but blind people are parents all the time and things turn out fine. Blind adults know how to handle their blindness, and it’s really none of our business how or if they parent so long as they’re not doing something genuinely abusive warranting a call to CPS. Likewise, in general, autistic adults know how to handle autism, and it’s none of your business how or if we parent so long as we’re not doing something genuinely abusive. So don’t you dare force us to give up our choices because you presume we’ll forever be incompetent.

babies

I’d like to mention here something that I learned a while ago that broke my heart. I’ve always imagined I’d adopt a child. Ever since I was little and learned that not everyone had parents or a family, I wanted to provide that for someone if I could. My fiancé is adopted from Korea, and we discussed having one child biologically, then trying to adopt a second, preferably from Korea. I looked up the restrictions for who can adopt from Korea, and it broke me to learn that parents with any history of mental health issues – including autism – are prohibited from adopting. I began reading on forums about adoption, and trying to find anyone writing from the perspective of an autistic trying to adopt or who had adopted not just from Korea, but from anywhere. What I encountered was an unfortunate mess of people who’d been told they shouldn’t be allowed to adopt, or people saying to autistics that (without any knowledge about our abilities as a potential parent or who we are as individuals beyond being autistic) simply because we are autistic we shouldn’t be allowed to be parents because we would be incapable of emotionally nurturing a child due to our lack of empathy. This blends misinformation and incorrect stereotypes into policy that blocks caring, giving people from helping children find families.

Not all autistics want to be parents, and that should be respected. And there’s a good chance some of us perhaps shouldn’t be. But the potential for us to make that choice needs to be there, the same as it is for neurotypical people who might not make for good parents. I think that plenty of us would make for pretty good parents, and I know that there are plenty of autistic parents already out their raising happy children. We just need to not be robbed of our potential.

One last note: If you are a non-autistic parent of an autistic child and want to write a book about it, ensure that you have several autistic adults review your book for content and language as sensitivity readers. I would suggest going on twitter if you have an account, and asking for help using the #askingautistics hashtag – a space set up specifically for neurotypicals to ask autistics questions. Chances are you can find someone willing to help you there.

Asking autistics

The mother who wrote the book inspiring this blog post clearly did some research and listened to things like youtube channels of autistic adults as part of her research, which is excellent, but that’s not enough. She pays lip service to things that mean a lot to many autistics, such as pointing towards actually autistic sources, but then undermines it all with presumed incompetence (“I want to understand what he’s thinking. *Is* he thinking?” Yes. Yes he is. And you feeling he doesn’t think will hurt him one day), infantilization, promotion of eugenics, appropriation of autistic adults without their consent or consultation, othering, demeaning language, dismissal of her own son’s agency as a person, dismissal of her son’s privacy as an individual, and overall harmful bile. An autistic sensitivity reader could have seen this and instantly told her how incredibly harmful such language is to our community – and to her son. I don’t think that parents with autistic children should never write books about their experience. I think such works can be very useful to other parents facing similar situations. However, they need to be extremely careful in doing so and ensure that they are not belittling, shouting over, harming, or presuming to speak for autistics. We are the only people who can truly speak for autistics. Keep that in mind next time you see a non-autistic writer appropriating our label, and if you read their work, read it with a grain of salt and a critical lens.

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.

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Some Girl With a Braid at Six Years Old: When I grow up, I’m going to have a baby like my doll, and I’m going to make up a name for her like my mommy and daddy made up my name, and I’m going to love her, and take care of her, and cuddle her, and read to her, and teach her dancing…

Some Girl With a Braid at Twelve Years Old: There’s so many children without nice families like mine… I should make a family for one or two when I grow up. More people should adopt. I should try to adopt.

Some Girl With a Braid at Twenty-Four Years Old: You are the cutest little niece a girl could ask for. I hope your future cousin is even half as cute as you, you adorable little girl.

Niece: Kitty-Cat ah Goo!

Internet: Autistic people should be sterilized. Autistic men should have vasectomies. Autistics should not be allowed to adopt. Autistics should never be parents. Reproducing is a right they should not be allowed.

Some Girl With a Braid: *Sobs quietly*

(Update, 3:43 – came across an extremely disturbing passage and have decided to name names because while I don’t want to give her publicity, this needs to be shamed.)

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A Letter to Autism Parents from an Autistic Adult

Dear Autism Parents,

I don’t know what it’s like to have an autistic kid. There’s a good chance I will in the future since there is definitely a genetic component to autism, but at the moment, it’s not an experience I can fully understand. I get that it’s hard – there’s things you have to cope with and learn that you never expected to have to cope with or learn when you decided to be a parent. And to the good parents, guardians, and family out there, you are absolutely invaluable. Really, I mean it. I realized as I was writing my last post about Disney that the reason I don’t have as many sensory issues as I might have otherwise is that my family, in providing good support, created a mobile sanctuary. These were my safe people. Safe people function kind of the same as a safe space. They provide comfort simply in their vicinity. They empower me and make it possible for me to do things that on my own I simply can’t. Their words and attitude towards me are vital in providing that support. I got messages like, “You are capable of so many great things”, “I know you can do this”, and “it’s okay to be yourself” throughout my childhood. And if I couldn’t do something, then “that’s okay, do you want to try again?” along with “Without failure, you’d never have success,” helped to pick me up and encourage me. These are good things to hear, said to me by a truly awesome ‘autism mom’ who never even labeled herself as such (I think the label is slightly problematic, but that’s a topic for a different post: suffice to say, if parents have a kid who’s deaf, they don’t call themselves ‘deaf parents’ because they themselves are not deaf). She was just my mom, and that was what I needed.

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Bad things for a kid to hear are unfortunately posted in almost every single ‘autism community’ comment section I’ve ever seen by the very parents we depend on. There are tons of comments about how autism ruins lives and destroys families, or that it’s simply such an awful thing to exist. Some parents do reprehensible things like recording their child during a meltdown without permission – an extremely vulnerable, sometimes terrifying episode that is emotionally tumultuous – and publishing it for the world to see. They talk about cleaning up a teenager’s fecal matter, as if it’s okay to discuss the very private bathroom difficulties of someone else who’s already dependent and vulnerable. There was even once a video made of an autism mom talking right in front of her kid about how she fantasized about killing herself and her autistic daughter, and only didn’t because she had one “normal” child. And they constantly insult, block, and put down adult autistics.

My Son's not a label snipit
This is part of an argument that occurred commenting on a video of an autistic explaining why she prefers to be called ‘autistic’ rather than ‘person with autism’. The mother in question felt that this was wrong, and her son should never be labeled – then proceeded to label him male, funny, spontaneous, intelligent, and interesting without seeing the irony.

There’s a rift between autism and autistic communities. One is made up mostly by people who know autistics, the other is made up by autistics themselves. The first seems to think that the latter standing up for themselves is some sort of crime. (Generally speaking – there are those out there who stand up for autistics, but they’re unfortunately not as loud.) For something as simple as saying that I think that those of us on the spectrum should be able to decide for ourselves how we’re referred to (autistic vs person with autism), I was told by a self-proclaimed mother of an autistic boy to “kindly fuck off and shove your judgement up your arse!” This was followed up with, “I couldn’t care less what you think… I don’t care what you have to say.” This isn’t even unusual. Everywhere there’s autism parents online, there’s a good amount who say and think exactly that. They treat autistic adults like we’re monsters out to get them, when we just want to say how it is to actually be autistic in hopes of autism parents doing well by their autistic children. When autism parents internalize the idea that autistic adults are bad, the message they’ll end up sending their autistic kids is that they’re bad. If a mom complains about how autism has ruined her life, then her kid hears that their existence has ruined her mom’s life.

And contrary to some people’s opinion, a lot of us do understand. Even those who are non-verbal can still be capable of understanding. Responding is the difficult part. And in understanding, we can internalize at a young age your frustrations and anger, and feel it’s not directed at, say, wishing you had more energy to keep up with your child, but rather at the fact that your child is autistic. That there is something wrong about the way we are that makes your life worse. That our existence is a burden, and you resent us for existing.

I think that even if you never flat out say these things to your child, but you say them to your friends or to strangers online, it’s still in your mind. It’ll subconsciously reflect in your behavior at some point and harm your child. I hope none of the autism moms who insult people like me online want to harm their children. Yet… they see no problem in harming other autistics, and try to discredit us whenever we speak.

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Can you spot the difference?

 

They tell us that we, autistic adults, are nothing like their kid, so we’re wrong in everything we say. Of course I’m nothing like a four-year-old. I’m twenty-four. What neurotypical twenty-four-year-old is just like a neurotypical four-year-old, and why are neurodivergent twenty-four-year-olds expected to be just like neurodivergent four-year-olds? We’re what they grow up to be, and have plenty of insight that could help you and your child if you’re willing to listen to us rather than insult and degrade us (I’ve seen some stoop so low as to call us brain-damaged R-words for daring to disagree). We don’t stop being legitimately autistic when we’re older. Also, there’s a very good chance that your child will grow up to agree with the things that those who are autistic adults say. Children don’t stay children forever. Insulting autistic adults insults your child’s future.

If an autistic adult has advice, or says that you might not be doing something right, don’t act defensively and lash out – even if said autistic adult doesn’t word things in a perfectly tactful manner. We’re autistic: social communication isn’t necessarily our forte, and it gets frustrating trying to teach neurotypicals the same thing over and over, so we might be a little rude once in a while, but generally mean well.

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When an autistic adult shares information, use it as a resource and gather that information. We’re on your side in that we just want what’s best for the next generation of autistics. If someone who’s autistic tells you ‘Traditional ABA therapy is compliance training that is torture for us – I know, I survived it’ don’t shout at them and rave about how it works because your kid can hug you without screaming in pain now. Consider what they’re saying. Maybe your child shouldn’t be forced to hug anyone if their initial reaction is to scream in pain. For more on why compliance training and forced physical contact is harmful, see my post on sexual assault: somegirlwithabraid.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/sexual-assault-autism-and-the-case-for-comprehensive-sex-education-for-autistics-and-the-disabled/

Most importantly when interacting with autistic adults online, think about the people on the other side of the screen. For me, there’s a level of sheer anxiety when I comment on autism online, because I just know that there’s a good chance some autism mom will rise up like a sea serpent and try to drown me for daring to sail in waters she sees as her territory and no one else’s. Don’t be a sea serpent. If you can’t see us as people worthy of respect, then remember we’re some Autism Mom’s kid. Think about how you would feel if you found out that a group of people ganged up on your child and cursed them out for daring to have an opinion and be autistic at the same time.

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And think about what your child might think of you when they get older, log onto facebook one day, scroll through your old conversations, and find you telling an autistic adult that they’re not worth listening to because they’re just a brain-damaged r-word. Your child will become us. They’ll understand that you stood against us – against them. They will feel betrayed. They will understand that you care less about their struggles than you care about your pride, and that you are the cause of some of their struggles. They might even believe that you don’t genuinely care if they read that you said to an autistic adult, “I couldn’t care less what you think… I don’t care what you have to say.”

I have wonderful parents who never insult me or other autistics. They encourage me and don’t see me as a burden. Sometimes I have disagreements with them, but overall, they’re pretty awesome. Be the kind of parent that an autistic adult son or daughter can be proud of and think well of when they’re grown.

In my opinion, the only people who should rightfully get a say about autism and how it’s treated are autistics. We know what the experience is like, and those who are not autistic do not. They can’t understand it the way we do. Meaning well isn’t enough if someone is doing something harmful. Listen to what we have to say. Read what we write. Try to understand our perspectives. Don’t shut us out and silence us. Don’t hurt us. You’re only hurting your own children.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

An Autistic Adult

 

Are you autistic? Have you encountered these sorts of parents online? Would you like to share your experiences and say what you would like them to know? Comment below.

Alternatively, are you an Autism Parent, or other member of the Autism Community (aka, non-autistic people involved in the lives of autistics)? Are you willing to stand up for the Autistic Community by supporting our voices and agency? Comment below.

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 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.

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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/

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.

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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.

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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.

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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/