#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation doodles ‘n’ scribbles, no. 30: April is nearly over, and I need to take a break (for a short while, at least).

Part of a lilac-painted living room with deep purple floor and white skirting boards. Mama Pineapple, a white femme-presenting person with red hair, wearing purple socks, blue leggings and a red, floral patterned tunic top, reclines on a brown leather sofa, one hand held over her forehead partially obscuring her face in a gesture of weariness. There are patterned cushions around her. Her other hand dangles down towards a white mug full of steaming coffee on the floor just in front of the sofa.A thought bubble above her reads “THANK F**K THAT’S OVER!”.

[Trigger warning: mention of suicide, murder, child abuse, sexism, cissexism, heterosexism, racism, gaslighting, social media abuse, “cure” therapies, ABA, ableism, neglect, mental illness.]


We’ve reached the end of April. The end of Autism “Awareness” Month. The end of Autism Acceptance Month.

And it’s been a hard one. I’ve kept my interaction with social media somewhat limited, but have still managed to encounter much that has upset me.

The thing is, “awareness” doesn’t stop after April.

All year round, every single day:

  • Somebody, somewhere, is working on a “cure” for something that isn’t even a disease or a problem.
  • An autistic adult is being told that their views are not valid because they’re “not autistic enough”, or “not like my child”.
  • Elsewhere, a non-verbal autistic person’s needs and views are being ignored because those around them presume them incapable of intelligent thought.
  • An autistic child is getting the feeling that they’re “broken” and not the child their parents wanted.
  • An autistic child is receiving stressful, traumatic conversion therapy to make them “normal” and remove their autistic “symptoms”.
  • An autistic child is becoming seriously ill through being forced to drink bleach or overdose on vitamin C to purge them of “toxins”.
  • Someone is talking, in all seriousness, about “vaccine damage”, and about autism being an “adverse effect” of vaccines.
  • A parent or caregiver is contemplating murder.
  • Somebody, somewhere is telling an autistic woman that they have no business calling themselves autistic because they, and others like them, have caused the diagnosis to be “dumbed down”.
  • Female autistics, autistics of colour, and queer, trans and/or non-binary autistics are being told to “stop making it all about them” as everybody needs support.
  • Somewhere, a media outlet is mocking autistic people and enforcing dangerous stereotypes.
  • A harmful meme is being spread on social media, and autistics are being told to “lighten up” and “get over it” as it’s just a harmless joke.
  • A healthcare professional is delivering an autism diagnosis to the parents of a child, and warning them of all the things that child will never do and explaining all the ways in which they are broken.
  • An advertising campaign is doing exactly the same in a series of commercials, flyers, and posters.
  • An “autism warrior mom” is lamenting her plight and desperately wishing that her child wasn’t such a burden.
  • Another parent is battling educators, healthcare providers, insurers and local authorities to get the support their child so desperately needs, but that is so difficult to come by.
  • An autistic teenager is contemplating suicide because they can’t stand the bullying any longer.
  • An autistic adult is staring at another job application form, wondering whether to disclose or not, how they’ll manage an interview and wondering whether this time they might finally get lucky after so much rejection.
  • Another autistic adult is trying to fend off the overwhelm and overload of working in an environment that’s uncomfortable, painful and overly-demanding of their senses and cognitive function.
  • Yet another is wondering how on Earth they’re going to get the financial support they need to enable them to live.
  • An ill-advised person in a position of power and influence is bemoaning the “autism epidemic” and wondering how on Earth it can be stopped; how autism can be put to an end.

And so much more. All over the world. Every day.

The scourge of “Awareness” never stops.

And so the work to promote Autism Acceptance must never stop. There is so much work to do.

Meanwhile, autistic people are living, loving, laughing, thinking, creating, caring, acting, performing, helping, supporting, advising, campaigning, sharing, uplifting, amplifying, celebrating, commiserating, learning, working, teaching, making, saving, rescuing, mentoring, encouraging, inventing, designing, innovating, suffering, shouting, crying.

Speaking.

And all the other things that humans do.

We’re here. It’s time to accept us, and appreciate us as a part of the world we, and you, all live in together.

Thank fuck April’s nearly over.

But the struggle never stops.

***

As for me, I’m going to have a bit of time off. My emotions, and my hyper empathy, have been, well, hyper, this month. I’ve been up, I’ve been down. And I’m pleased I’ve managed to post an entire month’s worth of images, every day, to do my bit to promote Autism Acceptance and Appreciation. But it’s cost me, as has seeing all I’ve seen (and I haven’t seen the half of it, believe me).

So next month, I’m not going to be around much. I might post the odd thing; but I might not. I’ll see how I feel.

May will be a month of self-care. God knows I need it. And my family need me. My loving husband and my beautiful children will be my focus this coming month. Plus work, and a couple of long-overdue projects that really need my attention.

I’m going to have a rest from blogging, just for a short while.

Ta-ra for now, chums!


[Image description: Part of a lilac-painted living room with deep purple floor and white skirting boards. Mama Pineapple, a white femme-presenting person with red hair, wearing purple socks, blue leggings and a red, floral patterned tunic top, reclines on a brown leather sofa, one hand held over her forehead partially obscuring her face in a gesture of weariness. There are patterned cushions around her. Her other hand dangles down towards a white mug full of steaming coffee on the floor just in front of the sofa.A thought bubble above her reads “THANK F**K THAT’S OVER!”.

I’m very sweary, and would normally quite happily not star out the swear words, but I’m hoping doing in the featured image so might help the circulation of this a bit.]

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#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation doodles ‘n’ scribbles no. 3: ‘Many Guises’ quadriptych

Quadriptych cartoon portraits of Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person. In each, she wears a dramatically different outfit, and has hairstyles of various lengths and colours.

I’ve played around with my appearance a lot over the years. I’ve had a lot of fun with clothes, makeup, hairstyles and accessories. I used to think my changing appearance was symptomatic of not having a clue who I was, but on reflection I don’t think it was as deep as that. Part of it was the attitude of “well, everyone thinks I’m weird anyway so I might as well play up to it”. Part of it was simply about self-expression and fun. I don’t really follow fashion, but I do find it fascinating.

After a period in my early-to-mid-30s of feeling a bit drab, I’ve ramped up the self-expression once again since my autism diagnosis. Anxiety aside, I’m far happier with myself now than I’ve ever been before.


[Quadriptych featuring cartoon portraits of Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person. In each, she wears a different outfit, and has hairstyles of various lengths and colours. Left to right: pink-hair-grip-, plastic necklace- and vintage shirt-wearing short haired 1990s indie pop kid; punk grrrl with white shirt, grey pinafore, spikey pillarbox red hair, full eyeliner, and safety pin through one ear (c2000); somewhat more conventional look from early 2010s, with long dark hair, minimal makeup and a striped polar neck jumper; present day – mid-length red hair pinned to one side, vintage 60s black lace blouse, dramatic winged eyeliner.]

Small ways to be creative

Very recently, I published a post grieving over the demise of a great love affair of mine, with drawing and with art. But even as I did so, elsewhere in my life I’ve been subtly, in small ways, bringing drawing, and creativity back into my life.

I lament my lack of formally-developed skills and techniques. My work is, I feel, rather slapdash. It still grates with me that one of my early posts on this site, about autism and fashion, includes a featured image that, to me, is an utterly abysmal example of what I can do with pens and pencils. It was a quick doodle, on a scrap of paper, and the cartoon likeness of me is woefully inaccurate.

But I still like to play around with pens. I’ve recently started incorporating hand-drawn cartoons into PowerPoint slides at work. I have a near-pathological hatred of looking for suitable, copyright-free images online (for some reason, this task makes me unreasonable angry. I can’t really explain why, because I haven’t really worked that one out). It’s far more fun to spend my time drawing something that conveys my point than to waste valuable hours in an unsatisfying, unfruitful Internet search.

Last week, I was at an international conference for specialists working in my field. I contributed two sessions (one of which was on neurodiversity. I’ll probably write more about that at some point. It was good). Both featured slides with some of my cartoons. And however scrappy the artwork, the images provided a distinctive talking-point, and a hook upon which delegates could hang their own impressions and memories of my sessions. I like to stand out – I’ve suffered from low self-confidence all my life, and I’m gradually finding the means to remind myself, and others, that there are certain ways in which I’m kind of awesome.

And rather than sit and read on the train rides to and from the conference, I took my Moleskine sketchbook, and a box of coloured fineliner pens, and I doodled. Rarely in recent times have I enjoyed such therapeutic focus.

A paper Moleskine sketchpad, opened out to show a colourful pen-drawn scene, landscape orientation, featuring flowers of various shapes, colours and sizes, foliage, and a honeybee. The sun shines in the background, in the top-right corner of the drawing.
One of the railroad doodles. Semi-imaginary flowers.

I’m now thinking I’d like to do more. Reclaim that stolen passion for myself. And actually practise. Hone techniques. Use pencils more. Study real-life scenes. Practise accurate replication of objects, animals and people so that I can more readily and automatically incorporate them into my cartoons without getting flummoxed by my own sloppy execution. Maybe even properly learn to use the drawing apps I have installed on my iPad, so I’m not always resorting to scanning paper-based artwork all the time.

Get good at it, again.

But, hey, baby steps.

I don’t want to set myself up for a fall by setting my sights too high.

I’ll doodle, I’ll sketch, and I’ll scribble. And I’ll see where it take me.


[Featured image: a panel showing six doodles, cartoons and sketches. Clockwise from top left: the flower scene also included in body in this blog post; a cartoon depiction of a very happy me in love with details; a collection of colourful robots;  a stylised tree; a collection of colourful butterflies; a cartoon depiction of overwhelmed me experiencing sensory overload.]

One year on

It’s a whole month since I last wrote a blog post, which seems an awfully long time. A couple of weeks ago, I celebrated one year since it was formally confirmed to me that I’m autistic. I’d been intending to write about it around the date of my “autiversary”, but I’ve been pretty short on time recently. And now it’s a while after the fact, and whilst I’d like to write some kind of lovely creative piece, the truth is, I need to get myself back into swing of things by doing a bit of self-reflection. This post is probably going to be more for my benefit than for anyone else’s, therefore.

A year since diagnosis seems a far more apt time to reflect than the arbitrary calendar shift that occurs from December to January. An autism diagnosis, for an adult-diagnosed autistic person who’s spent most of her lifetime not knowing such a fundamental fact about herself, is a pretty bloody significant milestone to mark.

A lot has happened to me in recent months, autism-wise. Back in May, I had an article published in the Times Higher Education Magazine about my experiences as an autistic student (albeit undiagnosed at the time), and education developer. It was a re-working of a post on here, and the response to it was pretty overwhelmingly positive. I’m now in touch with a fellow late-diagnosed autistic woman in my institution, and we’re looking into setting up some kind of peer support group for autistic staff. Before that actually happens, I’m just looking forward to having coffee with her, and just “being autistic” with someone else who understands.

Last month, I took part in an awareness event organised by our Medical School, featuring a performance of an original play on autism and being different by Spectrum Theatre Sheffield. I took part in the question-and-answer/panel discussion that followed the performance, alongside members of the cast and a (neurotypical) representative of a local charity (who I won’t exactly say hogged the discussion, but, well, never mind. On the whole, it was all bloody fantastic).

In September, I’m running a workshop with a bipolar colleague on neurodiversity and enterprise education at my field’s biggest annual international conference.

I’m open about being autistic. I’m out there. I’ve added the #ActuallyAutistic hashtag to my work-focused twitter profile. It’s a risky business, but to me it makes complete sense. I can’t be other than who I am – and once you realise who you truly are, after not understanding for so long, how can you ignore it or turn back?

And I’m lucky to say that only very rarely has anyone looked down on me or patronised me (I might write something about this at some stage, but I’m staying upbeat for now). Most people seem to be politely interested. Perhaps that’s simply a reflection of the circles I move within.

I’ve experienced nearly a lifetime (so far) of self-doubt, faltering and dissolving confidence, impostor syndrome, and inferiority complexes. I’ve never been “good enough”. And even though my diagnosis has been liberating, it’s also made me put myself under the microscope once again, scrutinising my past experiences, behaviours and reactions anew. I sometimes find I question my actions in a far more extreme way than ever before, despite my determination just to relax and be myself more than ever before. But this has also been one of the most God-damned life-affirming, validating years I’ve ever had, from a professional and personal perspective (let’s just ignore world events for now, yeah?).

I’ll probably reflect separately on positive work stuff and the cool things I’ve learned recently about how my autistic brain works, but for now, it’s enough to say that I’m not special. No-one is. But for all the challenges I’ve faced, the traumas and indignities I’ve suffered, and the pain I’ve endured, I wouldn’t change who I am. I actually like who I am, right now. It’s taken a long time to get to that point, but I’m here now.

And I can keep moving forward, whilst valuing the world I’m in right now.

[Featured image description: park on a bright sunny day, with blue sky, people playing, sitting, or lying on the grass, colourful flowerbeds and lots of trees.]

The same crap, on top of everything different

[Feature image description: close-up view of the trunk of a Weeping Willow tree, viewed from behind the metal railings of a bridge, diagonally leading away from the bottom left to the top right of the image. The tree is resplendent with masses of bright green leaves hanging downwards. Behind the tree and its branches, a calm river, with a grey stone wall on the opposite bank, is vaguely visible. Photo taken in the grounds of University College Cork.]


A couple of months ago, I was away presenting a session at a conference in the Republic of Ireland. I’m a very infrequent traveller, especially abroad, and so I was pretty pleased with how I got on with getting there. Okay, I allowed far too much time between taxi to the railway station and my train’s departure time, and far longer than necessary at the airport before my flight, because I get anxious. Air travel is an unfamiliar activity for me; I wasn’t sure what to expect, I hadn’t travelled from this particular airport before, and I wanted to allow for any unexpected incidents, occurrences, or disruptions to my itinerary. Getting anywhere “just in time” leaves me stressed, agitated, and liable to meltdown at the smallest trigger.

I had the luxury of a day to myself before the conference. Time alone is something I crave, and rarely get. I had a glorious afternoon walking extensively, visiting art galleries, exploring the streets, sampling the food. A lingering bath in my hotel room. Uninterrupted time to read a book. To say that this was refreshing and rejuvenating would be the biggest bloody understatement imaginable.

That evening, there was a pre-conference drinks reception.  Finger foods. Lots to drink. And my God, I networked like a pro. Like a boss, as goes the modern vernacular.

The next day was a full day of workshop sessions. The conference was deliberately “unplugged”, which meant no tech, no PowerPoint, no videos. Delegates had been asked to read papers in advance and be prepared to focus on discussion when in the sessions. The emphasis, therefore, was on listening, and on spoken interaction. I had one session to chair, and another to present. By the end of the day, of course, I was tired. My employers had only paid for me to attend one of the three days, but that in itself was pretty demanding.

Despite the intensity of those two days, I managed well. I enjoyed it. And I had a day off work once I got home to sleep, rest, and recuperate. But throughout it all, there was one thing that bothered me. That angered me.

And it had nothing to do with work, or autism.

It had nothing to do with poor wifi coverage, extra high sensory demands, or fellow presenters not adhering to the strict guidance about the format of the sessions. It had nothing to do with exhaustion, anxiety over social interactions with strangers, or the fact that, upon setting up for my own session, I realised I hadn’t brought some of my kit with me (don’t worry folks; it was nothing essential, and I coped well regardless).

No. It was none of those things.

You see, I have no full-length mirror at home. And so I often move around blissfully ignorant as to how my clothes fit my body, how “thin” or “fat” I happen to be looking on any given occasion, or whether what I’m wearing is flattering or otherwise.

From time to time I do glance at my reflection in shop windows, or the ground-to-ceiling glass panels of modern office blocks (pity any poor person sitting on the other side; but then, they’re probably used to it). And I’m quite particular about clothes and how they look on me.

But a full-length mirror is just one of those things we haven’t ever got round to buying.  The house my husband and I have lived in since late 2006 still resembles a tatty student dwelling. We’ve updated some rooms, but now that we have small children, and a distinct lack of spare funds or precious spare time, much of our home resides in a state of notable dishevelment. Our bedroom doubles as a storeroom, our toddler son is also still in with us a lot of the time, there are other bits of the house we need to work on before we get round to our so-called master bedroom, so buying a pristine new mirror isn’t exactly high on our priority list.

So occasionally I get caught out. Often it’s when I see myself in photos, captured unawares. But that evening, it was a mirror.

Before heading out to the conference drinks reception, I bathed, got dressed, did my hair and makeup, and all the usual “getting ready for an evening out”-type things. I looked in the full-length mirror of my hotel room, to check all was to my satisfaction.

And I looked again, aghast.

I had had no idea how fuzzily undefined my waist appeared in my chosen outfit; how much it merged with my hips; and how much my thighs merged onwards and upwards in the opposite direction. No idea how seemingly vast was the expanse of my (not actually that enormous) belly. No idea just how small and out-of-proportion my bust appeared in relation to everything else.

And to think – oh, silly me – that I’d been pootling about quite happily in this outfit on numerous occasions, enjoying the many textures, patterns and colours of the details on that tunic top, thinking I’d looked okay in it! What must have possessed me? How dare I?

And then I got angry.

Here I was.

A professional woman, here to deliver a workshop based on the highly acclaimed work of my team, its submission accepted on merit after being rigorously assessed by a judging panel. A woman with two university degrees, a postgraduate teaching qualification, and senior fellowship of a national professional body. A wife of a loving husband and mother of two wonderful children. A person with many friends. A writer of words which, on the basis of comments and messages I have received, have resonated with so many. Someone with wayward biomechanics, anatomical oddities and congenital joint abnormalities, and with limited time to exercise because of a full-time job and young children, who has somehow managed still to maintain a fairly decent level of fitness.

And on top of that, I’d achieved everything I had achieved despite years of confusion, torment, anxiety and depression, living in a word that wasn’t build according to my needs; twisting, bending, and contorting my very being to try and fit into a space that was an unnatural fit to me. 

And here I was, worried about my bloody appearance.

Like so many women, I’d spent a lifetime trying to do the same thing to my physical body that I had been doing for so long to my behaviour, my outward personality, and my responses to the world around me. And after all these years, after all that has happened to me – good or bad – I was still preoccupied with wanting my body to be something other than it was. A body with faults, yes. But a body that is mine, that has done so much, and that has been with me through everything.

Even after coming to terms with the life-changing news that I am who I am, that I’m autistic and that’s okay, I was still dealing with the same crap, on top of everything different.

Many autistic people do not care in the slightest bit about what others think of them. But to say that we are all this way is a gross generalisation. I am not one of these autistic people. This is one area where I cannot relate to so many of my neurosiblings.

Sadly, sometimes, I care all too much, and for all the wrong reasons. And that added layer of “womanly” insecurity on top of it all does no-one any favours – me least of all.