My Experience with Braces and Retainers

A while back, I had an interesting conversation with a mom who was concerned about the possibility that her autistic child may need braces down the line. As someone who’s autistic and who had braces for several years, I volunteered to talk about my experience. Now, I think this might make for a good post for others to read. I don’t necessarily have great advice as to how to cope with braces, since I’m not sure how well I did coping myself. It was just something I knew I had to do, and at the time I thought of braces as teeth jewelry, so part of me liked the idea of them and was willing to put up with them because I thought they were beautiful. But that aside, almost everything about having braces was awful.

Braces definitely caused me serious sensitivity issues. That was the most memorable part of braces. I’ve always had very sensitive teeth, to the point that I don’t like drinks with ice in them because the cold hurts my teeth. When the braces were put on, it tasted awful in my mouth, and felt uncomfortable. I sat through it because I knew I had to and I’ve never had an issue with the dentist, but it was really awful. Every little adjustment that was made hurt, and the rubber bands that tugged at my teeth made it difficult to open my mouth.

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Image is of me at age sixteen with braces.

Eating was awful. For up to two weeks, even biting a blueberry after an adjustment was painful. I had a lot of soup, yogurt, mashed potatoes, ice cream, and other such mushy food I didn’t need to bite. I also have always had a bit of an unhealthy oral stim of biting my lip, and since I couldn’t do that well with my teeth encumbered by braces, I ended up rubbing the insides of my cheeks against the metal, where it would get caught and eventually scar. I honestly don’t remember what my mouth felt like without scars lining the insides of my cheeks. I’m also fairly certain that the slight indents I can feel on my lower lip are a result of braces and rubbing against them as well.

I didn’t know I was autistic at the time when I had braces, and I think that knowledge might have helped me figure out how to cope. There were some nights I went to sleep crying, but I did my best to hide that from everyone else because I didn’t want to be seen as being overly sensitive – I already was too sensitive, reacting to anything I had to bite too much, finding it all too uncomfortable. There was an object in the kit the orthodontist’s office gave that included a rubber bite piece that was meant to be bitten on to somehow help with the pain. I never quite understood this because biting down hurt, but it did have a soothing texture, so sometimes I’d just put it in my mouth as a distraction without biting. In retrospect, I suppose this was a type of stimming.

I’ve never had an issue with dentists, probably because I associated them with stickers for a long time, which were enjoyable. I also liked the sensation of the water and the suction tube that got rid of the water. It was interesting and kind of fun, so I never felt any anxiety about the dentist or orthodontist. As such, I didn’t really develop any coping mechanisms I can talk about. What I do want to talk about is retainers.

 

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Image is of me, likely around the age of fifteen, with braces on my teeth.

I think one of the important things to consider before either getting braces yourself or getting your child braces is retainers. No one told me at the start of the process that I would have to wear a retainer for the rest of my life to keep my teeth straight, or they’d go right back to being crooked. My teeth aren’t all that bad. I have a slight under-bite and the front of my lower teeth are a little crooked, but they’re really not all that bad. So, the prospect of wearing a severely uncomfortable piece of unforgiving plastic and metal in my mouth every night for the rest of my life to just keep my bottom front teeth from being a little off was unacceptable to me. It wasn’t worth it. When I asked how much longer I’d have to wear the retainer and they told me forever, I remember something in my head flipping and thinking, “Nope, I’m done.” I stopped wearing my retainer, and essentially made the whole experience a massive waste of money, pain, and time for everyone involved. That’s the most important thing to consider – will your child wear the retainer for the rest of their life on their own, or will they find the sensation too uncomfortable and abandon it when they get the chance?

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Image is a slightly creepy looking close up of my teeth as they are now, with my lower front teeth a little crooked.

I’m not an expert on teeth, so I won’t claim to know for certain if there’s something braces can fix that doesn’t require a retainer. In which case, if such an issue exists, maybe it’s worthwhile to have braces. All I can say for certain is that for me, that wasn’t the case. And, I definitely think that if braces are just there to fix something relatively minor, like the slight crookedness in my lower front teeth, then maybe consider that it’s just something that it’s okay to live with. I’m not going to have serious health problems because of the minor crookedness in my lower front teeth. It’s not severely out of place to the point of being a social hindrance. And so, I vote in favor of thinking critically about whether all that pain and money is really worth it for those considering braces, especially if you’re autistic and have sensitivities or anxieties about the dentist that non-autistics might not have.

If you have a real issue with your teeth, something more extreme than my slight crookedness, then it might be worthwhile to get braces. Talk to a dentist about the repercussion and make an informed decision. If you are making this decision for your autistic child, be as understanding as possible – the pain is something they might not know how to handle, and needing comfort objects or easy to eat food for a long while may be what they need to do to deal with it. I remember the pain lessening a little, but I was afraid of it still, so I still wanted soft foods. As long as the soft foods include healthy foods, there’s nothing wrong with that, and let your kid go at their own pace. Regardless of how crooked your teeth are or aren’t, remember to brush and floss!

 

If you like what you’ve read, show your support with likes, comments, and shares. If you like it so much you want more, follow me here on wordpress, on facebook at Some Girl with a Braid, and/or Twitter @AmalenaCaldwell.

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Why I Don’t “Light Up Blue”

“Light it up Blue” is a campaign for autism awareness started by Autism Speaks, which most autistic adults consider a hate group. For those confused as to why autistics generally don’t like Autism Speaks, think of it like this:

Imagine there was a group called “Homosexuality Speaks” run almost entirely by straight people who put all but 4% of their donations towards advertising for themselves and funding research on how to identify the gay gene in utero so that parents could abort gay children and fight the gay epidemic, as well as finding a cure for homosexuality. As they do this, imagine that these straight people gain popularity as “the voice” of the gay community, all while they actively do their best to silence gays from being allowed to speak up on their own behalf. Pretty sure the LGBT community would not support them. So that’s why most autistics don’t like Autism Speaks – they do not speak for autistics.

Anyway, since it is now “Autism Awareness Month”, I wanted to discuss the specific color blue, the concept of awareness, and how it relates to autism.

The color blue was chosen to represent autism because the people choosing the color thought that autism was a ‘boy’s only’ club. They chose blue because it’s associated with the male gender, and they wanted to exclude all women and girls (and, it’s safe to assume, all others as well) from the autism spectrum. I don’t believe this was out of any sort of malice, but simply ignorance. Which, once you learn better, no longer excuses it. I cannot “just wear blue to support autistm awareness!” (as I have been told to ‘just do’) because I will not wear something meant to represent my condition but also meant to exclude me because of my gender.

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Image is of a blue mustache labeled “It’s a boy”

Which is a real shame, because I look good in blue – it’s one of my favorite colors – and I loathe that it was ruined in the month of April by this campaign.

Now, you might say, “Well, that’s what it used to represent. It doesn’t anymore, now it’s all autistics! It’s just a support thing for awareness!”

There’s several things wrong with that. The first is that blue has been chosen by a specific brand to represent their specific brand of autism awareness. That awareness includes telling autistics that they are a burden on society, that we destroy marriages, that we cost too much money, that we are tragedies, that we are an epidemic, and that we need to be cured because they see autism as some sort of antagonistic disease rather than a type of person. “Light it up Blue” is tainted by that message, and so if I were to wear blue, I would not be supporting autistic people. I would be supporting the organization that wants to prevent people like me from being born.

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Image is of two children, a boy and a girl, with the boy covering his ears to block out the sound of his parents, who are arguing behind him.

The second thing that’s wrong with that sentiment is the idea of ‘awareness’. People are aware autism exists. Acknowledgement of the condition’s existence isn’t what autistic people want – we want acceptance. You might think that these two are the same, or similar enough, but acceptance means understanding that some autistics might need special considerations, while awareness promotes fear based on stereotypes. In my experience, awareness shows off how strange, weird, and ‘other’ autistics are, with the underlying message of how autistics need to be changed to fit a more ‘normal’ box, or how we need to be cured/prevented from being born to wipe out this epidemic. Saying things like “one in every sixty-eight children is diagnosed with autism” sounds scary. It’s reminiscent of showing statistics like “In this year, this many people were diagnosed with cancer – here are things to avoid to lessen your chance of cancer.” It wants to create fear – that’s awareness.

Acceptance shows that autism doesn’t have to be scary. Acceptance says, “sometimes someone who’s autistic can be highly sensitive to loud noises, and may wear headphones to help cope. Please do not take them away, insult, belittle, or tease them, as they are simply trying to avoid something painful.” Acceptance means accepting that cutting the corners off of a square peg to fit into a round hole is painful for the peg, and maybe we just accept that it’s not necessary. That we should let people be different, and accept what supports/accommodations they may need rather than forcing them into a mold that doesn’t fit.

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Image is of a square peg, with its corners broken by a hammer, forced into a round hole.

So, what can you do to support autistic people on this most terrifying and overwhelming of months, April, aka ‘Autism month’?

Well, if you’d like to donate, find a good organization, one by autistics, for autistics, focusing on accommodations and assistance rather than promotional material and research. Two good organizations are the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (http://autisticadvocacy.org/) and Autism Women’s Network (https://autismwomensnetwork.org/).

As to colors, the acceptance campaign I am the biggest fan of is Red Instead. It’s exactly as it sounds, and I like the idea of red because it’s the ‘opposite’ of blue – though not pink so that it isn’t strictly a ‘girl’ thing the way blue was chosen. Tone it down Taupe and Light it up Gold are other alternatives, but I’m a fan of red.

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Image is of me with my husband, and I am dressed in my favorite red dress, with a necklace that has a red gem.

I would also like to give a short opinion on the puzzle piece symbol. I get that some people like it – it’s visible, kinda cute, and a well known ‘autism symbol’. However, I’m not a fan. For one, it’s usually in blue. If it’s not blue, it’s in bright primary colors. Aka, it’s a little childish. There’s enough of a problem with people infantalizing autistics and assuming we’re all children that I don’t think we need to have a symbol alluding to support of that notion. The original puzzle piece was meant to symbolize what a puzzle autistic people are, how mysterious autism is, and how autistic people are ‘missing a piece in the puzzle’ of our humanity. That sounds a little too close to “elevator doesn’t stop at all floors, not the sharpest tool in the shed”, etc. I don’t think I’m a puzzle if someone gets to know me. It takes some effort, but autistics aren’t mysteries. We’re people. Some people think it’s a cute symbol, and if they like it, that’s up to them – sorta similar to how if someone on the spectrum wants to be called ‘person with autism’ rather than ‘autistic’, it’s completely their call. Personally, it’s not for me. I like the neurodiversity symbols like a rainbow infinity symbol or a rainbow colored brain. I think it’s more representative of who we are. Our brains our different, and there is a spectrum of what autism is.

For those who are curious here is a picture of the original puzzle piece symbol relating to autism. I hope that it’s understandable why I don’t care for it:

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Image is of the original logo by the National Autistic Society, depicting a child’s crying face on top of a green and black puzzle piece.

 

If you like what you’ve read, show your support with likes, comments, and shares. If you like it so much you want more, follow me here on wordpress, on facebook at Some Girl with a Braid, and/or Twitter @AmalenaCaldwell.

New Autism Magazine – Masking, Issue 1

Recently, I was in contact with the amazing Olivia Armstrong to do an interview for a new magazine, Masking. It’s all about showing autistic voices talking about issues that matter to the autistic community. This is great for everyone to read – whether you’re autistic yourself, have a family member or friend who is, or just want to be more informed. It’s well put together and well written, highly suggest a read!
Here’s my contribution, a section about gender bias in diagnosing autism:

“It took 19 years for someone to suggest that I might be on the spectrum, after years of therapy and obvious symptoms, such as meltdowns, growing up. These were labeled tantrums, and I was considered to have anger management problems. Girls are socialized differently, so if you’ve got a social disability and are being judged against criteria set up for a group of people who are trained from birth to socialize differently from you, there’s going to be a difference and people won’t pick up on it. You don’t fit their mold.”

“There’s theories out there that being autistic means I have a male brain. I don’t see how that’s possible, since I feel female and am very happy as a female. It feels kind of dismissive of my identity as a female to say that I must be male in some way to have the neurology I do.”

“For a while I was told I was possibly bipolar. This didn’t stick because I didn’t get the right sort of mood swings, but suffice to say it took a while and several bad theories before realizing that ASD fit me perfectly and explained everything.”

That’s just a small portion of the amazing autistic voices in this magazine, and I highly suggest giving it a read to support this emerging journalist! To show her you want an issue 2, show your support by voicing it on social media and liking her magazine’s twitter page (@MaskingMagazine)

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If you like what you’ve read, show your support with likes, comments, and shares. If you like it so much you want more, follow me here on wordpress, on facebook at Some Girl with a Braid, and/or Twitter @AmalenaCaldwell.

Toilet Talk

Let me just put this out there: don’t detail your disabled child’s bathroom struggles online or in print. Or anywhere. Unless you have their explicit, informed consent, don’t even think about publicizing it.

Warning about the tone for this post; I’m pretty angry. I wanted to finally sit down and write about what it’s like to travel to a foreign country as an autistic (no idea when I’m going to be in the mood to write that at this point), but there’s a new terrible hashtag full of ‘Autism Moms’ (and probably a few dads, but it really is majority moms) spouting nonsense, harmful debunked conspiracy theories about vaccines, insulting autistic adults, and detailing how they never wanted to take care of a disabled child. So I’d like to address just one aspect of this, one that is far too common even beyond the anti-vax crazies. Here it goes.

When an older child wets themselves in public, they don’t want the whole world to know. Yet, there’s a certain brand of ‘Autism Moms’ out there who feel it’s a badge of martyrdom pride that they cleaned their child’s waste.

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Image is of a medal labeled “Official Autism Martyr Mom”

Recently, one such mother attacked me because she believed that I don’t know anything about autism and specifically severe autism because I’ve never had to deal with an eight year son old pissing himself in public like she has.

Sure, I haven’t. I haven’t had a kid. I’ve helped with some children of others who have had this issue, but I haven’t raised them – and I will not name or indicate their identity because I value their dignity and agency.

At the same time, this woman has never been autistic in any way. Just because I’m not a parent doesn’t mean anyone gets to dismiss everything about my knowledge just because I don’t want to disclose when the last time I wet the bed was. That I don’t tell the world details about what my parents may or may not have had to clean up at what points in my life. For my reaction to this sort of silencing technique (You’re nothing like my child! You’re too high functioning! You can talk, so you’re not really autistic! This is my domain, RAWR!), see my post A Letter to Autism Parents from an Autistic Adult.

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Image is of a sea serpent rising from the ocean saying “How dare you speak out about autism! I am the only one able to speak about it! If you can talk, you’re not really autistic!”

I also have a question for you. Why would you ever tell anyone about such a private moment in your child’s life?! You think anyone wants to stand there soaked in their own waste due to fear or inability to control themselves and have the whole world know? Who benefits from the world knowing about this private, scary, humiliating moment? Certainly not your child. You, Autism Mom. You get pity points. Which, I fear, is all you want from your child anymore, because too many of you have written off your children as forever doomed, damaged, and practically dead – leading to irreparable damage to the children you’re supposed to treat with love.

I was in a class once where I was one of the better students. The teacher asked me to lead the beginning of class, because she needed to help another student. I didn’t know what the other student needed help for, but since the class was a subject I was confident about and I was friends with the other students (small class), I was okay with taking over and helping. I realized later as the teacher quietly helped and cleaned the floor that one of the children [neurotypical, to my knowledge – if that matters at all] who most would consider too old for such a thing had had an accident. And it was private. No one else realized what had happened. The teacher handled it right.

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Image is of an A+ graded school paper

Parents, here’s what you do if your child struggles with bathroom issues:

  1. Clean it up
  2. Get new sheets/clothes
  3. Wash your child
  4. Put your child in new clothes
  5. DON’T TELL EVERYONE

Seriously, don’t. Us older autistics generally don’t want everyone to know when we stopped wearing diapers. And if you ask, I sure as hell wouldn’t tell you if I waltzed out of the womb fully potty trained or if I wet the bed yesterday because it is no one’s business but my own. You are violating your child’s right to privacy and agency by telling the world about these things. And it’ll follow them.

“It won’t matter!” you might say. “My child is non-verbal and will never be capable of anything! The world needs to know my struggle!”

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Image is of a row of toilet stalls

Sure, maybe your child is non-verbal, incapable of independent function, and difficult to understand/manage now. But you know something? I’ve been reading plenty of writing from autistic adults who were there. They were non-verbal for years. Some still are. Some were institutionalized. Some probably were in diapers. They were told (or more likely, their parents were told) they would never be able to live independent lives.

And where are they now? Well, some of them ARE living independent lives, or more independent lives, decades later. They can learn, adapt, figure out how to navigate a very hostile world. (Please note that I am not attempting to speak for these people, out their individual struggles, or single anyone out. If any autistics who’ve experienced these things wish to comment their stories or link to their own articles/blogs/videos about their experiences, I more than welcome it. I want your voices heard.)

Back to Autism Parents: If your child finally manages to get themselves a job interview, and their potential employer does a search on them, the last thing your child will want their potential employer to find as a search result is a book by their mother with chapters dedicated to excruciating details describing what it was like to clean their waste when they were teens. “Was afraid of hand dryers at age eight and pissed themselves in public” makes a bad thing to have in mind when reviewing someone’s resume.

Or what about if they try dating at age forty? Their potential date googles them and the first thing they find is “My child constantly wet themselves until they were thirty! God, I just hated having to clean up their feces that specific very embarrassing moment when they were eleven and didn’t make it to the bathroom! Their crying was so annoying, this wasn’t what I wanted in a child! Here are all the details on that!”

Do you think that makes for good dinner conversation?

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Image is a stock photo of a woman in red sitting alone after a bad date

This extends to all other personal information that Autism Moms like to share about their children without their children’s knowledge or informed consent:

  1. Bathroom struggles
  2. Porn viewing habits
  3. Text messages
  4. Grooming struggles
  5. Executive functioning struggles
  6. Videoing/describing meltdowns in detail
  7. Anything personal and private about their children

Autism Parents, just stop this. You should love and care for your child enough that you don’t want to humiliate them. You sharing all this private information is not helpful, it harms autistics. It violates us.

Look, no one thinks it’s fun to clean up someone else’s mess. And it’s probably not what you thought you were signing up for when you had a kid, and you want to vent. Vent privately, not online for the whole world to see. Remember that this is the child you have, and you should love their autistic selves. Remember that your child is just as human as you, and treat them with dignity. If you think it’s a trial for you, just imagine for a moment what it’s like to experience what your child is experiencing for yourself. If you had a sudden case of food poisoning and made a mess all over your chair and the carpet at dinner, how would you feel if your mother took a picture of it and told all 500 of her Facebook or Twitter followers about what a burden it is to put up with a daughter/son like you?

Practice a little empathy. You’re supposed to be the ones who are good at that, right? Sharing this nonsense harms everyone:

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Image is a screenshot of a meme stating “I can’t wait for my 8 year old’s diapers to be delivered,” said no mother of a vaccine injured child, ever.

 

“I’m so happy my mother decided to share private, humiliating details of my most vulnerable moments because she wants to use my struggles to point the blame of my existence at anything other than her own genetics!” – said no child ever.

We are not ‘vaccine injured’. We are not ‘stolen children’. We are not ‘practically dead shells’, and we are not ‘missing’. We are the result of your genetics. We are your children. We are adults. We are part of this society. And we deserve basic human dignity. You owe your child respect.

 

If you like what you’ve read, show your support with likes, comments, and shares. If you like it so much you want more, follow me here on wordpress, on facebook at Some Girl with a Braid, and/or Twitter @AmalenaCaldwell.

The Invisibility of Bisexuality and Autism

After my post discussing invisible disability, I was thinking about the concept of invisibility itself, and found myself drawing parallels between two aspects of my identity: bisexual and autistic. Also, it happens to be Bisexual Health Awareness Month in March, so I feel like it would be interesting to examine that intersection.

A little about my identity as bisexual: I didn’t spend much time in the closet. There was a girl I had a crush on from a group singing class I took, but I never quite realized what I was feeling, since at the time I associated that with boys, and then she stopped showing up. Liking boys was always easy, and liking girls was simply not a thing if you already liked boys. I also repressed the feelings I developed for a girl because it would have ruined our friendship. Her response to me jokingly saying “I’m a lesbian!” to test the waters was “God forbid,” which shut me down hard enough to not want to like girls. We no longer speak. It was just easier to be boy crazy than to consider both options.

I say I didn’t spend much time in the closet, because I didn’t truly acknowledge it was possible I was bisexual until I was in college and met a girl I couldn’t deny I liked. I told my dad over ice cream. He did a double take and ultimately decided that having double options seemed like an advantage. I told my brother on a family vacation, and he jokingly asked “boobs, butt, or legs?” followed by telling me he didn’t care as long as I didn’t bring anyone to the room we were sharing. I told my mom on the couch at home and shocked her since I’d only ever discussed crushes on boys with her. But even though I’ve never really hidden it from others, there’s something invisible about being bisexual. Especially being bisexual and in a heterosexual presenting relationship.

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Image is of a closed closet

I’m not entirely aware of how I come across to people, thanks to being autistic, but there was an interesting exercise we did in a gen-ed gender, sexuality, race, and class college course. We got into groups of four and had to guess what each person was – gender, sexual orientation, race, and class – then discuss it with the class to confront assumptions. There was a semi-feminine presenting gay male and two heterosexual females. All three assumed I’m straight (and for some reason thought I was biracial, possibly part Native American or Lebanese, which confused me since I’m very European). My sexuality is invisible.

If that class had added ability/disability to the list, they would have likely assumed I have no disability at all, because that too is invisible. For example, when I first met the lovely people who would become my in-laws, I thought everything went excellently. They were wonderful, intelligent, hippy types with lots of interesting stories and beautiful art in their home. Later on, my now husband told me they were worried I didn’t like them. Being autistic, I had no idea that was the message I’d sent out with my body language or tone. I’d had a genuinely enjoyable time. He asked if it was alright to explain me being autistic to them, and I said sure. Once it was out in the open, everything was cleared up, and we get along great. But me being autistic wasn’t obvious. I just came across as perhaps grumpy or uncomfortable. On a related note, it took nineteen years for anyone to suggest that I was on the spectrum at all.

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Invisibility Cloak from Harry Potter

My body is like a permanent invisibility cloak from Harry Potter, or invisibility cap if you like classic Greek mythology. No one knows I’m bisexual or autistic unless it’s explicitly revealed. Some people think that neither of these things even exist. That autistics are just undisciplined children in need of a beating, that bisexuals are just confused or going through a phase. It is hard to convince someone that just because I’m with a guy doesn’t mean I don’t like girls. Oddly, if I’m with a girl, it’s easier for people to assume I still like guys – or even only like guys – as if the whole thing is a performance for male attention. (Hint: it’s not. Evan knows that I’d leave him for Jennifer Lawrence and has come to terms with that!)

Performance is something I’ve learned to do to get by without even realizing it, mostly in masking autism (see my very first post, I’m Acting, for details). But sometimes I wonder if I’m supposed to be performing something else. Bisexuality and autism are supposed to act a certain way, and sometimes I wonder if I’m supposed to perform them ‘properly’ for the general public to believe me when I claim those identities. Maybe I should stim more than I normally would to non-verbally tell people I’m autistic so they won’t get aggravated if something like making phone calls comes up, because they can see that there is something “up” with me. I don’t because I believe in being myself, but sometimes wonder if it would help. With being bisexual, I feel a sort of pressure to mention that I’ve dated girls before to make myself “more legitimate” if talking to someone who’s gay or lesbian. Right now, I feel a pressure to prove I have an interest in girls because all anyone can see is my interest in boys due to who I married. I feel like I’m both supposed to be highly sexual to fit a stereotype and suppress overt sexuality to avoid fitting the same stereotype. When I was still dating around, I found that the majority of the lesbians I encountered didn’t want anything to do with bisexuals, because of stereotypes. There are some who will flat out state that they refuse to date bi girls on their profiles. We’re not “real” LGBTs, despite the B literally standing for bisexual. That we’re just going to cheat on them with men because we’re greedy and can’t be satisfied. They claim we’ll move on and date boys, because we’re just straight girls experimenting. We’re not, but if lesbians won’t date us, then eventually there’s a higher chance of us ending up with men because the dating pool gets skewed. I’ve actually only ever dated straight/bi men and bi women before, as a result of this.

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Theater masks

Joining the autistic community on twitter has been a breath of fresh air. I get to hear people talk about experiences like mine, and not be undermined with talk of how I’m not a legitimate part of their circle. Online, being autistic isn’t invisible – at least in the spaces I’ve explored. But I haven’t explored much as far as the online (or offline) LGBT+ world goes. Just like I was when I was dating, I’m worried about rejection. What if I’m somehow not bisexual enough or in the right way? What about all the LGs who don’t consider the B to properly exist?

People who say that bisexuality and autism don’t exist hurt our mental health. Invalidating a person’s identity with accusations that they’re greedy or poorly behaved hurts. It makes me want to avoid speaking with people. But, despite my social anxiety, I don’t.

I’m still bisexual if I’m married to a man. I’m still autistic even if I’m masking and making eye-contact.

It’s not a greedy inability to decide. It’s not bad behavior that needs to be beaten out of me.

I’m just me. The more visibility that exists in all identities, the more understanding will be cultivated, and the more acceptance we’ll receive.

 

If you like what you’ve read, show your support with likes, comments, and shares. If you like it so much you want more, follow me here on wordpress, on facebook at Some Girl with a Braid, and/or Twitter @AmalenaCaldwell.

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Image is of my amazing husband and I just after our ceremony. He is the most wonderful husband in the world!

Autistic Moments: Aversions and Sensitivities

I recently read an article about a mom physically tackling and fighting her autistic child to force them to confront one of their sensitivities/aversions. She calls her child a burden, and laments his ‘tantrums’, apparently ignorant of what sensory overload induced meltdowns are about. I don’t want to give her credit and views by linking her, but it was an article published by the Washington Post, presented as a positive thing despite her admitting doctors consider her actions dangerous. I wanted to address a particular phrase. She describes her child’s aversions as ‘autistic phobias’. I can’t begin to express my dislike of this phrase. Aversions and sensitivities are not ‘phobias’. They can cause legitimate pain. I have a phobia of spiders. I have an aversion to seafood. I know the difference.

I’ve been wanting to do a piece about sensory sensitivity and aversions for a while now, I just wasn’t sure how to start it. Now I know.

If your kid has an aversion to a large, crowded arena sized theater, let me give you what I imagine they might be experiencing in terms you might comprehend. Picture that you’ve been dropped into the ocean. You’re kicking frantically to stay afloat at the surface, exhausting you to the point that you want to pass out, but you can’t because you need to survive. It’s so deep that you can’t see the bottom. The vastness and space are oppressive and make you feel small and vulnerable. The darkness below is an expanse in which anything can be hiding to come up and chomp your legs. There are large fish making strange noises with large teeth swimming all around you, and you don’t know if you’re their prey or not. Waves keep hitting you, salt is stinging your eyes, and the water is so cold it burns your skin. The noises around you cause literal pain with how loud and close they are and make your eardrums feel like they’re going to explode. Everything happening all at once is overloading your senses because you can’t focus on each individual problem at the same time, so it turns into a giant ball of pain. You’re terrified, you don’t know how or when this will end. All you want is to get back into a boat and feel something solid under your feet, to be surrounded by familiar people who’ll give you a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate, to be in a safe environment. Instead, you give in and shut off, resigning to your fate as a tortured, drowning victim as you sink.

Thalassphobia
Image is of a swimmer sinking into a dark ocean

Some people are professional divers or marine biologists who feel right at home and happy in this environment. They know that this particular species of fish is just curious and harmless to humans, they know how to block out the noise. They bring gear to give them protection from the elements. They have a great time with this experience. But that’s not necessarily you. In this scenario, the theater is the ocean, and you are a marine biologist. Try to understand that your kid is not. And they won’t be just because you beat them into submission – that’s just forcing them to chose between two different types of torture. Do they fight the waves, or let the fish drag them down? Forcing this choice on your child will make them suppress themselves around you in an unhealthy way that will emerge later as an adult or teen in the form of trust issues and trauma.

I don’t have this particular aversion to theaters, but I would like to talk about one I do have. I have a lot of food aversions and sensitivities. To throw extra wood on that fire, I literally taste things most people do not – my biology class in high school was talking about recessive traits, and there’s a paper with a particular very strong, very bitter, very unpleasant flavor on it that if you have a recessive trait you can taste, but most people do not. Only myself and one other person in the class could taste it. In addition to this, I also have strong aversions to certain textures and smells.

Let me make a quick comparison: If I told you I cooked up a nice batch of insects, the idea of putting that in your mouth would probably make you squirm and shake your head and make faces. Imagine those little legs prickling the inside of your cheek, that insect goo gushing out of its abdomen when you bite down, coating and sticking to your tongue. Little pieces of exoskeleton stuck against the roof of your mouth. It’s horrific – as in, literally a trope used in horror movies. That same aversion is what I feel towards textures of things like mushrooms and the smell of things like seafood. Just because some cultures see insects as perfectly delicious, legitimate food doesn’t mean you do. Just because you see mushrooms and seafood as perfectly delicious, legitimate food doesn’t mean I do.

bowl of roaches
Image is a bowl of roaches. You are likely lying if this doesn’t make you squirm at least a little internally.

My mom used to hide food that I didn’t like in food I did like without telling me to try and trick me into eating it. I love mashed potatoes – so she put cauliflower in the mashed potatoes. She would not tell us what was in food unless we tried it first, leading me to just not eat a lot of food if I wasn’t fairly confident I knew what it was. She’d tell me that something in a solid color cup with a solid lid and a straw was my favorite drink (orange juice) when it was actually my least favorite drink (milk). That small mushrooms were actually ‘soft water-chestnuts’.

You know what this all amounted to? Me distrusting anyone giving me food if I don’t know exactly what it is and can’t see everything clearly. My husband even feels this instinctive distrust – for years, I was afraid if he offered me something new accompanied with the words, “Here, just try this, you’ll like it.” He could feel my distrust, and I think it hurt him a little. In short, my palate was not expanded by these actions, my distrust was. My palate expanded as an adult on my own time.

For example, I willingly tried a dish called Gobi Manchurian, which is essentially seasoned and fried cauliflower. It’s delicious. But I knew what was going into my mouth, there was no trick. I made the conscious choice to try it when I was open to the concept.

gobi manchurian.jpg
Image is of a plate of gobi manchurian

Trying to get your autistic child to try new things is not bad, don’t misunderstand me. But breaking their trust to force the issue before they’re mentally able to cope is wrong, plain and simple.

Please note that I was not diagnosed as autistic as a child, and my mom had no concept of the intensity of autistic aversions. I’m not trying to bash her here, just trying to make a point. She really is a good mom, and my aversions were not as severe as some, so it may have not been as obvious. An example of a not good mom is one who will tackle their child in public, wrestle said child for over a half hour, and drag them kicking and screaming into a non-sensory friendly theater. Physically fighting them, practically body-slamming them, and dragging them as they scream for mercy is abuse.

If you’re forcing your child into non-sensory friendly environments, or forcing them to confront aversions, think about who you’re doing this for. Are you watching the milestones of neurotypical children and measuring your child against them, wishing you could brag about meeting those same milestones? Do you find yourself hating ‘autism’ and crying about what a burden dealing with ‘autism’ is, wishing you didn’t have ‘autism’ in your life? Do you call meltdowns ‘tantrums’, dismissing the cause of meltdowns entirely because you just see it as behavior in need of correcting? Do you find yourself overjoyed when your child does something ‘normal’ or is able to ‘pass’ not because you think your child is enjoying themselves or comfortable, but because for those moments it almost feels like you don’t have to deal with ‘autism’? Do you find yourself excusing abuse with “It’s okay, s/he’s autistic”? It’s not okay. And it’s not worth it. Try to imagine what your child is actually feeling and respond kindly and with empathy to that instead of focusing on how ‘autism’ affects you. It’s. Not. About. You.

And you know something… maybe your autistic kid will never get over their aversion the way I’ve learned to eat cauliflower. Maybe it’s so strong, so painful, that they just can’t. If it’s not harming them, then don’t push it. They don’t need to eat mushrooms. They don’t need to go to a non-sensory friendly performance in a giant arena with tons of screaming children.

seafood.jpg
Image is of a variety of seafood

Something I don’t think I will ever overcome is my aversion to seafood. The smell is so abrasive that the idea of putting anything related to seafood in my mouth makes me break out into a cold sweat.

A while back, I went to this cooking event my parents had tickets for. They teach you how to make a meal, and the theme was New Orleans, so seafood was involved in some of the dishes. There was a dish that had small bits of crawfish in it. I didn’t have a lot in my bowl, but I knew it was there. All I could picture was that disgusting smell and how that smell would taste. My husband, then fiancé, was there with me, watching me try to force myself to put this food in my mouth. I literally trembled just holding the fork, tried to pretend I was a ‘normal’ adult, and ended up on the verge of tears.

My husband, Evan, said the most amazing thing. “You don’t have to eat it.”

He recognized that it was so difficult for me to mentally overcome this aversion that it was better to just not eat it, and I could eat something else later. It was like a wave of pure relief to be told I don’t have to force myself to do something I’m so opposed to. I felt understood and respected.

If your kid has aversions, give them the option to try and confront them, but don’t force it. In the long run, they’re only going to be hurt by it. Understand and respect them.

And, just for those in the back: Abuse is not excused because your child is autistic. If you wouldn’t throw your body on top of a neurotypical child and restrain/wrestle them for half an hour for something as trivial as not wanting to watch a concert you want them to watch, don’t do it to an autistic kid. Don’t force people to endure pain if there’s no danger in them not enduring it. Disability is not an excuse for abuse.

DISABILITY IS NOT AN EXCUSE FOR ABUSE.

 

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Autistic Moments - Crawfish Dish.png

Autistic Moments – Aversions and Sensitivities (text)

Some Girl with a Braid: I can’t do it… I know there’s seafood. I can’t eat it.

Evan: You don’t have to eat it. It’s okay.

Some Girl with a Braid: I can feel her judging me. She’s watching me.

Evan: She doesn’t matter. You don’t need to eat it.

Some Girl with a Braid: I love you. Let’s get McDonalds.

Autism Parent or Autism Adjacent?

I recently was thinking about a problem I’ve seen popping up in my feed lately, voiced by autistic parents. Not autism parents, autistic parents. As in, parents who are themselves autistic. They may or may not have children who are also autistic, but it is usually assumed when they say they are autistic parents that they are neurotypical parents of autistic children. This is because the label of ‘autism parent’ has been used for a long time to describe parents of autistic children.

Off the top of my head and with my 6:00AM foggy brain, I don’t think any other group does this. My fiancé was adopted from Korea, and I don’t think his parents have ever referred to themselves as ‘Korean parents’. That would imply they are parents who are Korean, which they are not. My short-haired mom doesn’t refer to herself as a long-haired braided mom just because I have long hair in a braid. Gay parents aren’t parents of gay children, they are parents who are gay.

You might as well have a cis-gendered mother refer to herself as a male parent if she gives birth to a son, as if having a male child makes her a male parent.

mom and baby
Description: Stock photo of a woman with a baby, added text has her thinking, “Having a male baby makes me a male parent, even though I’m a cis-woman!

 

So why are the parents of autistic children called autism parents?

I’m not sure what co-opting this identity accomplishes. I think some parents just find out that their kid has something, find a community, and slip into the preset of that community in order to find support without thinking too deeply about the label. I’m not sure how it started though. I don’t even think other groups of disabled people have this problem.  When I google ‘disabled parents’, I don’t find pages about parents of disabled children – I find pages about parents who are themselves disabled. I can google ‘blind’, ‘deaf’, ‘mute’, ‘paralyzed’, and ‘multiple sclerosis’ parents and not find any immediate pages about parents of children with those various conditions. Even changing ‘disabled’ to ‘disability’ gets me the same results – talking about parents who are disabled. Yet, when I google ‘autism parents’, here is the result:

Autism Parents.PNG
Picture is a screen-shot of the google search results for ‘autism parent’ referring exclusively to parents of autistic children

Why does this continue? There are parents who are autistic trying to find resources and connect with each other, and instead they end up being swallowed or erased by websites geared towards neurotypical parents of autistic children. There are autistics like myself who want to become parents one day struggle to find resources geared towards us. Perhaps this has something to do with the mistaken assumption that autism magically disappears at the age of eighteen. I’m not sure what legally being allowed to vote for the first time has to do with my neurology, but apparently some people think it’s linked? (Sarcasm)

As I was pondering the problem of the autism parent label and how it erases and makes things difficult for autistic parents, I thought about how there really isn’t a ‘neat’ alternative term. ‘Parent of an autistic’ feels bulky to say the same way ‘person with autism’ feels bulky – though you can see my previous post about the subject of language as to why there are other problems with that term. As I was thinking, the phrase ‘autism adjacent’ popped into my mind. And thanks to a quiet love of alliteration, it got its hooks in me.

Autism Adjacent literally means you are next to autism. You yourself do not have it, but someone you care for or love does. It sounds better thanks to alliteration, it says what it means, it doesn’t erase autistic parents, and it doesn’t have the same initials as ‘Animal Planet’ or ‘Alien v Predator’. I think that’s a win all around.

So, let’s see if this can be a thing. I know I’m a small blogger in a small corner of the internet, but I think ‘Autism Adjacent’ could be the much needed alternative to let autistic parents reclaim the space that should have been theirs all along. Maybe it’s too late for real change – I worry that ‘autism parent’ is too embedded into the culture of society to be easily removed, if simply because of habit. But I think it can happen.

Agree, disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

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