The Curious Incident of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” – A Literary Review

Spoilers ahead.

The book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is an award winning book by Mark Haddon, famed for its depiction of an allegedly autistic protagonist.

It has been hailed by some as textbook on Aspergers, and some people even claim that it helped teach them how to interact with people on the autism spectrum. This is terrifying. Part of the problem is that some of the problematic aspects of the book are subtle, and in being so are possibly more damaging than something blatantly offensive because the reader doesn’t realize what they may be internalizing by reading the novel until it’s too late, or perhaps even never.

The main character is Christopher Boone, a teenage boy with an unspecified mental/social disability. His character reads as if someone googled ‘What are Asperger’s syndrome’s symptoms?’, took the first list they found off Autism Speaks’ website, and made a character based on that. It reads like a neurotypical person trying to understand the thoughts of a neurodiverse person rather than the actual thoughts of an autistic. This is in fact similar to the reverse of the personal experience I had in my own writing – most neurotypical people reading my work could tell something was off, that maybe I was not really one of them but rather was pretending. With Haddon’s work, most neurodiverse people can tell something is off, that he is pretending (as I noticed in reading reviews by other autistics). Instead of creating a real character, Haddon instead created another “Rain Man” – aka a stereotypical portrayal of a white male autistic savant mathematician.

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Image is of a blurred out white male behind a glass plane, writing mathematical equations on it.

Not all aspects of Christopher’s character are negative or inaccurate – a fact which helps cover up the insidiousness of other aspects of the book. He has a fixation with the color of cars indicating what his luck for the day would be, stimming, and a few other realistic things along those lines help to build realism and potential understanding of such behaviors in neurotypical readers. However, his main flaw is his lack of humanity. Many people don’t understand that autistics do indeed have the capacity for empathy – in fact, quite a few have too much empathy to the point of being overwhelmed and not able to handle it, as I’ve written before in my review of Netflix’s Atypical. Sometimes autistics do not identify situations that require empathy, or do not understand them – but that is completely different from not being capable of empathy at all.

Christopher does not care about anyone or anything other than himself. The catalyst for the beginning of the book is Christopher discovering a dead dog and deciding to try to solve the mystery of who killed it, but even that is not done out of a sense of empathy for the murdered animal. It is entirely out of his fandom for Sherlock Holmes and his desire to solve the mystery itself. He does not care for his mentor, his neighbors, or his father, and his only reason to care about his mother comes across as a sense of selfishness – which the book ties into some of the problematic issues with their relationship, and is in and of itself problematic.

Christopher is also a consistently violent character, and not just in a triggered out of control meltdown way (it should be noted that the description of his meltdowns in the book are pretty accurate, though obviously not universal). He thinks about wanting to stab someone in response to anxiety induced by an important math test, which is not at all a realistic response to anxiety over a test. Some autistics can be violent in response to overwhelming sensory input, or even in a self-defense sort of way to overwhelming social contact, but most are not naturally violent. The natural thought to being in an uncomfortable situation is want to avoid or escape the situation or to think about a place that makes them feel safe that they would prefer to be in – the natural reaction is not to wish to brutally murder someone. Christopher even has that ‘flight’ response towards another uncomfortable situation, when he learns that his father killed the dog from the beginning and had lied about his mother being dead.  Christopher’s response is to escape. Yet for the test, he casually wants to murder someone. One of his favorite fantasies is that everyone in the world has died, leaving him alone. He could have easily thought of simply being someplace alone, but wishing death on everyone on the planet seems to be overkill.

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Image is of a man standing alone on a rocky beach.

In presenting him like this, the book plays off of the stereotype that all Aspies are just a hair away from deciding to go on a shooting spree. It is a harmful stereotype because of the way it leads to neurotypical people sometimes treating ASD people. Their initial response in learning that someone is an Aspie can become one of fear and suspicion fueled by the paranoia this stereotype produces. It does not matter whether or not they know anything about the individual in front of them: automatically they assume that anyone with Asperger’s is dangerous, leading to more social problems for those who already have enough.

Another example of something a little more subtly horrifying in this book is the way that the people around Christopher interact with him and treat him. His father is abusive, his mother abandoned him, and the other people he encounters look down on him. The two that stand out the most are of course his mother and father. His father drinks and hits him hard enough to bruise him – and no one seems to care. It is almost as if, because he is autistic, it is alright. Christopher has a mentor/psychologist who even asks him about the bruises, but he does not feel like talking about it so she never investigates into the possibility of abuse even though that is her job. His father also threatens him and lies to him, telling him that his mother died a year and a half previously even though she was alive and writing to him. Christopher hardly reacts to the abuse, except for when he learns about his mom still being alive. It’s almost like background noise whenever someone insults him. By portraying an autistic character as not truly harmed by abuse, it makes it seem almost alright to abuse real autistic people. Because if someone doesn’t care or feel harmed by something, then why stop? Even now, violent electric shocks are being legally used in the USA as a way to punish autistics in institutions for doing harmless things like stimming. Because if autistics aren’t bothered by abuse, then where’s the harm? (Please note, that was sarcasm.)

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Image is of a teenage boy in a hoody sitting in a semi-fetal position.

The mother is barely any better. She blames Christopher for ruining her marriage despite the fact that she is the one who had an affair – sounding like an Autism Speaks promotional video using autism as a tool to scare couples. This is another trope/harmful stereotype about autism, that having a child who is on the spectrum means that a couple’s marriage is doomed. As if the trials that come with having a special needs child are the child’s fault if the marriage was unstable to begin with. And no one, not even Christopher himself, cares about any of this. The only things Christopher really cares about is that his father lied about his mother’s death, and that his father killed the dog in the beginning. But even these things – things that are very important – no one else in the book cares about. The fact that the father got drunk and literally murdered an animal in cold blood is never prosecuted or seen as indicative of violent tendencies. Perhaps the worst part is that the book itself doesn’t care. It pretends that because the father apologized at the end and bought Christopher a dog (because a man who gets drunk and murders dogs and hits his son should totally be allowed to buy a dog and keep custody of his son) that it’s all okay. Somehow, that’s supposed to be a satisfying conclusion to the whole novel. Overall it’s a terrible example of humanity.

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Image is of the cover of the book “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” by Mark Haddon

Some interesting facts I uncovered while researching the author’s understanding of the condition he was writing about came to light in the form of direct quotes from Haddon himself. While he originally described Christopher as an Aspie, even putting “Asperger’s” on the cover of his book as a description of his character and story, he has since retracted this and has had this to say about the subject of autism:

“I have to say honestly that I did more research about the London Underground and the inside of Swindon Railway Station, where some of the novel takes place, than I did about Asperger’s syndrome.”

“I know very little about the subject. I did no research for Curious Incident (other than photographing the interiors of Swindon and Paddington stations). I’d read Oliver Sack’s essay about Temple Grandin and a handful of newspaper and magazine articles about, or by, people with Asperger’s and Autism. I deliberately didn’t add to this list. Imagination always trumps research.”

Except that imagination does not trump research when an author is addressing something so based in the real world, that affects so many real people. Certainly imagination is key if creating a fantasy world where rivers float through the sky and mountains are inhabited by dwarves, but not when describing a condition many people actually have. Such a work by its nature requires extensive research or personal experience, or it risks creating harmful work full of information that will harm people and society in real life with its influence. If I were to ‘imagine’ that all gay people were obnoxious, promiscuous, sex-obsessed, riddled with STDs, and incapable of romantic love in the way heterosexual people are, then that would be inaccurate and extremely offensive and harmful to a lot of people. That’s essentially what Haddon has done.

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Image is of  the interior of Paddington station, referred to by Haddon

Part of the harm taken from this book is that, despite Mark Haddon’s admission that he knows very little on the subject, this book is being used as a teaching tool. One doctor, Dr. Alex McClimens, read Curious Incident and went so far as to say, “The magnificent essay in communication is compulsory reading for anyone with the slightest interest in autistic spectrum disorders.” Except that it should not be, for all the reasons listed above. Without accuracy and research, paper becomes poison.

Intentions matter when you write. Haddon did not intend to write an award winning, widely read book to be turned into a musical and used as a textbook on a subject he did little research on, yet he did. His intention seemed to be to write a semi-thriller/mystery using mental illness as a prop to draw in readers (as unfortunately many writers do). If he had considered the impact his work could have on various communities, perhaps he would have sharpened his intentions and decided that imagination is not better than research. Perhaps he would have written a novel whose character could help the autistic community in visibility and their treatment rather than creating an un-sympathetic, un-empathetic mathematically inclined stereotype.

 

If you like what you’ve read, 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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Image is a promotional picture for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” musical
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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.

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!

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.

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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:

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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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