Anti-Depressants are a Crutch – Why that’s not Bad

Anti-depressants are a crutch.

Being autistic isn’t necessarily tied to depression and the like, but it is very commonly a co-occurring and difficult condition to manage. As such, I’d like to talk about medication. If you’ve been on anti-depressants, you know what I’m talking about when I call anti-depressants a crutch: all the people who suddenly come out of the woodwork to tell you that if you just try this diet, do yoga, and smile more, then everything will be better and you won’t need to give big pharma all your money. That you’re just using the pills because you’re too lazy to do things right, or the way they think you should do things. As if no one who goes on anti-depressants has ever thought of trying alternatives before getting a prescription.

Here’s the thing about crutches – picture someone who needs a physical crutch. Maybe they lost a leg due to an accident. Maybe they broke a bone and won’t need a crutch forever. Maybe they were born with a condition requiring that they use mobility assistance. The thing is that if you take a crutch away from someone who uses it to walk, they’ll lose their balance and fall flat on their face because they physically cannot walk without it, and taking away that crutch actively harms them rather than allowing them to function in the world. So why would anyone ever say “it’s just a crutch” as if that means it’s not necessary? As if it means it’s not vitally important?

Carer-and-patient-on-crutches-sml.png
Image is of a woman on crutches working with a physical therapist to walk.

Really, that should be the end of the argument. But people don’t want to leave it there. They’ll argue that it’s just all in your head, and with enough willpower then you can fix yourself and “just be happy” or “just stop being anxious” – as if it were that simple.

Mental illnesses, disabilities, and conditions ranging from the severe and debilitating to the mildly annoying are real illnesses, disabilities, and conditions. Your brain is an organ. Just because you can’t physically see it doesn’t mean you can just think your way out of something –  though I will acknowledge that the brain is a powerful organ and it can help to try. That’s just not always enough.

princ_rm_pet_scan_of_depressed_brain.jpg
Image is of two brain scans, demonstrating the physical difference between a depressed brain (left) and a non-depressed brain (right).

No one would ever go up to a person with diabetes and tell them to stop taking insulin because big pharma just wants their money and is pumping them with poisons. You know what happens if you take away a diabetic’s insulin? They die.

Your brain is not that different from your heart – it just happens to be vastly more complex and difficult to understand. However, it is not difficult to understand that just like your heart, it is an organ. And sometimes organs get sick or have trouble. If that’s the case, then medicine is there to help. It might take time to figure out exactly which medicine, but you should never feel ashamed if you need medication for a mental condition of any kind. You are strong for getting help, for recognizing that there is something your brain isn’t doing right. Perhaps you don’t produce enough natural serotonin. In which case, store bought is just fine.

download
Image is a meme that says: If your brain can’t produce its own serotonin and norepinehrine, store-bought is fine.
Advertisements

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.

maths-equation-one-million-dollars-390x285
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.

636799336
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.)

images (1).jpg
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.

tumblr_mav95sJmYi1rg9ssco1_250.jpg
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.

paddington.jpg
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.

images.jpg
Image is a promotional picture for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” musical

Autistic Moments – Bleeding Lips

CW for self-harm

For those of you who don’t know, stimming is something that often goes hand in hand with autism. It’s short for self-stimulation, which is a way of helping those with sensory issues that are often associated with autism cope. It can help some focus – as was the original purpose of things like fidget-spinners and fidget cubes. It can be almost anything, such as hand-flapping, spinning, rocking, verbal stims in the form of sounds or words, tapping your foot up and down, playing with a click pen, etc. Stims are helpful in some way, and most are quite harmless. If you see an autistic person stimming in a way that seems odd but is harmless, don’t stop them, just let them do what they need to do.

That said, not all stims are harmless.

Now, I’m not talking about full blown self-harm in the form of something like cutting or burning due to depression or other mental conditions. This is more about an instinctual, subconscious thing. Such as me sitting here biting my lip while I type this.

SgPiHN0.jpg
Image is of three attractive girls biting their lip in a sexy way, and the fourth is of Marge Simpson biting her lip in a comical manner.

When I say that I bite my lip, I don’t mean something cute and coy, like a movie star being flirtatious in a romance film. I mean that I bite my lip until bits of skin start to peel off, and then I end up bleeding. Sometimes I end up bleeding rather heavily, because I’ll be absentmindedly picking or biting on my lip and not realize just how thick the piece of skin that I’ve begun to tear is, and end up with a gash.

As someone who does this harmful type of stim… I honestly don’t have an answer as to whether you should stop someone doing it. I know I should say, “Yes, try to provide alternatives for the person stimming. Try to stop them from doing this, they’re hurting themselves.” But at the same time… I really love biting my lip. It’s one of my favorite stims, and I do it a lot when I’m focusing on something or deep in thought. Whenever my mom sees me doing it, she tries to get me to stop, which just annoys me.  So… to be perfectly honest, I’m on the fence about what to do.

Another time I started stimming harmfully was in high school, when swine flu was scaring everyone and they were giving shots for it on campus. Shots terrify me. I’ve gotten a little better over the years: my current method to deal with medical needles is to read out-loud from a random Wikipedia entry. But back then, I hadn’t quite figured out how to deal with it. To make things worse, I’d gone into the situation believing that there was an alternative nasal spray available. It was there, but not for me (I believe it was there for a handful of students who medically couldn’t get the normal shot for whatever reason).  So, I instantly freaked out, and started biting my arm quite harshly as I sat down to distract me from the fact that they were about to stick me with a needle. They ended up having I believe two teachers physically holding me down and pulling my arm out of my mouth while I screamed before they could manage to get a shot in me. (And yet still no one considered I was autistic for another four or so years…)

swisher-internal-medicine-get-your-flu-shot.jpg
Image is of a shot with a tag saying “Get your flu shot.”

I think this is the easier stim for me to address, because I’ve moved on and learned better coping for it. For me, I needed a significant distraction with this stim. In that moment of panic, I couldn’t think of anything other than using pain to get through my fear of shots. Now, with the proper preparation, I can handle it. I need my brain distracted. For someone else who maybe bites themselves, it could be an oral fixation. There are some truly wonderful places around the internet where you can find necklaces and bracelets to cater to this need, and that might be a good alternative.

The truly dark side of self-harming stims is that you can cause health concerns. If you bite yourself too hard and end up breaking skin, there is a lot of bacteria in your mouth that could cause serious problems for the wound. Biting my lip could leave me at greater risk for contracting/unknowingly passing on something like cold sores. For me, something that helps curb my lip biting a little is chapstick or lipstick. I’ve found if I’m wearing it, I’m much less likely to pick on my lips. But, I don’t often wear it… simply because I like biting my lip. I should get better at it… and maybe I will in the future.

I have noticed that for me, it’s not the pain that is the reason for this stim. It’s the pealing action. I similarly have a fixation with pealing dead skin from the bottom of my foot (sorry if that’s gross, but that’s just how it is for me). So, a good alternative that I should try is something like pealing dried glue. But as long as I have dried lips, I’ll probably find myself picking on them.

91gXEC2-HoL._SL1500_.jpg
Image is of four differently flavored chapsticks.

Even if it’s hypocritical of me, I want to encourage those of you who have self-harming stims to search for alternatives, at least to ease up a little on the potential harm. Example: I do sometimes wear chapstick now, while five years ago I would have thrown it out and bitten myself more. If your fixation isn’t on the pain itself, focus on what the sensation you’re craving is when the pain is taken away, and find something that provides that sensation without causing harm.

If your fixation is the pain itself, then look for sources online that help with people who struggle with self-harming caused by depression and the like. They often provide suggestions for alternatives, such as wearing rubber bands and snapping them. I won’t tell you to not cause yourself pain because of some philosophy that pain itself is a ‘bad’ thing. Honestly… I don’t think so. People endure pain for tattoos and piercings, some people enjoy pain in ‘unconventional’ kinky settings, lots of people eat food so spicy that it causes them to cry just for fun; pain itself isn’t a problem in my eyes. Harm is, because harm carries health risks, and no stim should cause health risks. If your need is an oral stim, you wouldn’t chew on something with lead paint. The concept is the same. Take care of yourselves. You’re important.

For those of you who are neurotypical and reading this… please don’t judge me or others too harshly. There’s something soothing about my stims. Even the not-so-nice ones. I’m working on it in my own time.

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.

Autistic Moments - Bleeding Lips

Image description: Some Girl with a Braid Presents: Autistic Moments – Bleeding Lips

First box: Some Girl with a Braid sits at her computer, reading absentmindedly.

Second box: Some Girl with a Braid continues to sit and read absentmindedly, with some blood beginning to come from her lip as she bites it.

Third box: Some Girl with a Braid’s lips are now bleeding rather heavily, while she continues to read absentmindedly.

Fourth box: Some Girl with a Braid’s lips continue to bleed, but she notices and says, “I really should stop doing this.” She continues to bite her lip.

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.

4866_1114587998453_4586310_n
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.

 

4183_87263381282_668167_n.jpg
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?

31123934_10211614341859765_5436534895646081024_n.jpg
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.

it's a boy
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.

1.jpg
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.

Square peg in a round hole with hanner
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.

Red instead
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:

NASlogo
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)

issuu.com/maskingmagazine/docs/maskingmagazineissue1

 

 

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.

I Should Not Be Allowed a Gun

I should not be allowed a gun because I have struggled with my mental health.

CW: talk of suicide, depression, domestic abuse, and gun violence

Today, people around America are standing up for their right to live by marching to demand common sense gun control reforms. Many people will likely take this opportunity to discuss mental health once again. As such, I would like to explain why I should never be allowed to buy a gun. And the why is very important.

Capture2
Image is the “March for our lives – Parkland” logo

I should not be allowed a gun, not because I’m autistic. Not because all mentally ill shouldn’t be allowed guns. Rather, because I’ve struggled with severe depression in the past including suicidal thoughts. I should not be allowed a gun because if I ever go back to that and have a severely depressive, lonely night because some chemical imbalance in my brain wants to kill me, I don’t want to have the option of an easy way out. I want to make it to sunrise. I don’t anticipate this sort of depressive episode happening, but I’d rather not take that gamble with my life, and I want others to support my right to life by ensuring it will not be easily ended.

In the wake of any mass shooting, there is almost immediately a spotlight turned onto mental health. Which, mental health systems do need massive assistance and adjustment, yes. But not because of shooters. Simply because we have a bad system.

We shouldn’t ban the mentally ill from buying guns primarily out of fear that they’re going to go on a shooting spree. We should ban only those who show tendencies towards suicidal thoughts from getting guns to help save their lives. Plenty of people with mental conditions are completely harmless to both themselves and others and may enjoy hunting or want something at home for protection – if they want it and are responsible, that’s their call. Heck, my own grandpa has a gun at home, and I’m 100% certain that if he were to be evaluated, he’d be diagnosed as somewhere on the autism spectrum.

This does not mean psychologists and psychiatrists turning over all their medical information to some database for cops – that opens the door for far too many moral problems, and psychologists are already permitted to inform cops if they feel their patient is a danger to themselves or others. I feel this should just call for a psychological examination before someone is allowed to purchase a gun. We make people take written tests, practical tests, and vision exams for a driver’s license before they’re allowed a car – why not have tests appropriate to determine responsible, capable gun ownership?

Unfortunately for us, the government sees good, long-term psychological care as more expensive than a single bullet.

1377730133014.jpg
Image is a stock photo of a depressed boy holding a gun

Every time a shooting happens, I hold my breath to see if the shooters were autistic. And some have been – but that is not the reason for the shootings. If they are, then there’s a new batch of fearful and hateful posts/comments about us online. But these shootings are not the result of all those dangerous autistics out there. Autistic people are statistically far, far more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators. Shootings happen because (primarily) white men and boys grow up feeling like they’re entitled to ‘get the girl’ and ‘the job’ and ‘the salary’ and ‘success’ – often at the expense of minorities and women. The Parkland shooter had swastikas he engraved into his weaponry, a history of white supremacy, and targeted a place where the population is 40% Jewish – that has nothing to do with autism. There may likely have been other factors to his motives, but no one can pretend that it wasn’t a major influence. These shooters learn to hate those who get success over them or turn them down, that hatred brews, and they have easy access to a militaristic arsenal that doesn’t do background checks to see if they’ve been convicted of domestic violence – the thing that more shooters have in common than possibly even being white, straight males. My belief is that shootings happen because the shooter wants to either punish someone or gain notoriety, or both, and they have ridiculously easy access to weapons that will let them kill a room full of people in seconds.

Capture
Image is of a screenshot of a news article’s title: “Florida shooting suspect [name removed] ‘etched swastikas into ammunition magazines used in massacre'” “Gunman was armed with 330 rounds when he opened fire on pupils and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School”
Regardless of the individual manifestos of each shooter, stop blaming autistics and the mentally ill. We have enough troubles without the world treating us like we’re all dangerous.

Don’t ‘walk up’ because you’re afraid if you don’t, you’ll be shot. Don’t pressure students to just be nicer to each other to avoid gun violence. That’s the same as telling a victim of domestic violence that if they’d just stayed with their abuser, then the abuser wouldn’t have stalked and brutalized them. If someone is actually that hateful and dangerous that they might kill the people around them, telling potential victims to be around their potential killer is not a good thing. If there had been a misogynistic white supremacist at my school, I wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with that nonsense.

Bullying is a problem. Mental health is a problem. But speaking as someone who both struggles with mental health and was bullied significantly by students and some school administration alike, I can guarantee you I have never even considered ever actually harming someone else over my grievances. Mentally ill children are bullied every day and grow up without turning into mass murderers. Also, if bullying really was the main cause of mass shooters, you’d see a lot more variety in the shooters – LGBTs, women, POC, disabled people, etc.

44851494-sad-pupil-being-bullied-by-classmates-at-corridor-in-school-Stock-Photo.jpg
Image is stock photo of a sad young boy walking by students who are making fun of him

If you ‘walk up’ to someone, don’t do it because you’re afraid. Don’t ask a quiet introvert, “Hey, we’re cool so you won’t shoot me if you end up shooting up the school, right?” If you ‘walk up’ to a quiet introvert or the autistic kid, do it because you are a decent human being with empathy and want a new friend. Don’t be afraid. We’re actually pretty cool once you get to know us. A lot of us are just too afraid of social rejection to try and make friends on our own.

Walk out and march if you can, call your representatives if you’re able to, write emails, sign petitions. If our voices are strong enough, I believe we can make a change. Common sense gun reform is supported by the majority of the country – even the majority of responsible gun owners. If we demand it, the government will eventually have no choice. And if they don’t help us, then we will vote them out and put in someone who cares more about lives than NRA donations.

I couldn’t march today because walking that much would be bad for my leg, but I want to be a part of this and show my support regardless. Here’s me with my sign:

29138741_10211432268748051_130514468_n
Image is of me on my crutches with my sign that says, “Our lives should be worth more than NRA $”

 

This post is dedicated to those who lost their lives on February 14, 2018 while at school and those who remain to fight for their rights. It is dedicated to the parents, siblings, and teachers of victims, to all those who support common sense gun control. In particular, dedicated to one of my best friends who is an alumna of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and is in DC marching for her school. Wish I could be there with you, and support you 100%.

 

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.