#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.]

Advertisements

#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation doodles ‘n’ scribbles, no. 22: I feel too much, and I cry a lot.

Black and white digital ink drawing of Mama Pineapple, a white femme-presenting person with mid-length hair. She has her eyes shut, with tears streaming down her cheeks, and is holding her hands to her head, disrupting the fall of her hair.

Before I understood more and knew better, I didn’t see myself as autistic because I knew I felt empathy. Tonnes of it. So much so that I can barely cope with reading or watching the news. I’m particularly affected when I read about, hear about, or witness the abuse or suffering of any being who is vulnerable.

I’m finding this month difficult. I’m keeping social media, and Autism Awareness Month, at arms’ length. But the stories of disrespect, disregard, disdain, mal/mistreatment, abuse, ad nauseam, of autistic people throughout history and today still manages to permeate.

I also cry a lot. I cry at small things. I cry at big things. Uncontrollably until I’m utterly spent. It’s also my default meltdown format.

This doesn’t mean I’m depressed. My positive emotions are also bigger. I just feel too much sometimes.

A lot of the time.


[Image: Black and white digital ink drawing of Mama Pineapple, a white femme-presenting person with mid-length hair. She has her eyes shut, with tears streaming down her cheeks, and is holding her hands to her head, disrupting the fall of her hair.]

#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation doodles ‘n’ scribbles, no. 18: Robots

Portrait orientation fineliner pen drawing of 28 brightly coloured robots of various sizes, shapes and types, with a range of facial expressions and poses. This is not a ‘scene’ but a series of individual images - the only background is the page on which they have been drawn.

You’d think, wouldn’t you, by now, that the stereotype of autistic people as emotionless, empathy-devoid, monotonous-voiced beings with no inner life might have been chucked out of the window forever. But it still seems to persist, even as we work to change the narrative.

I am fully human. My brain is simply a different machine from that of a neurotypical person.

I do quite like robots, though.


[Image description: Portrait orientation fineliner pen drawing of 28 brightly coloured robots of various sizes, shapes and types, with a range of facial expressions and poses. This is not a ‘scene’ but a series of individual images – the only background is the page on which they have been drawn.]

Logic, behaviour, and discipline

I was very well-behaved at school.  It wasn’t that I always agreed with the reasons for complying, conforming, or doing a particular thing I was asked; I simply found the idea of being told off or criticised in front of others too stressful to contemplate. I drew far too much attention to myself as it was, what with the frequent crying meltdowns, and being singled out for my academic achievements. I was “over-sensitive”, but otherwise a model student.

Even so, I often felt bemused by the instructions, requests, or reprimands given to me and my classmates by our teachers, or others in authority.

“Don’t put your feet on the table! You wouldn’t do that at home, would you?”

The “you wouldn’t do it at home” argument always puzzled me. We aren’t at home. Ergo, of course we have a different attitude to our environment, its furnishings and features. Why would we act the same?

“The school bell is for my benefit, not yours!”

Why is it so loud that we can all hear it, then?

“Make sure you eat all your tea! There are children starving in Africa, you know!”

Why doesn’t someone send them this food, then?

(I never heard this one at home. Despite being autistic, I was never an especially fussy eater, didn’t experience any huge sensory issues with food, and always had second helpings of everything except the meat. But friends’ parents sometimes used it.)

“Bullying is cowardly!”

Please understand that I was never in sympathy with the bullies. Dammit, I was on the receiving end of enough (verbal) tormenting from other kids to have little time for those who did the bullying. My issue was with the incompleteness of the explanation of the word’s meaning. I had initially had it explained to me as meaning a lack of courage, and little more. The opposite of “brave”, and so I therefore took it simply to mean “scared”.

But surely it’s the victim who would be scared of the bully?

The nuances of the word – its implications of contemptibility, spinelessness, and so on – were never laid out for me. And so, whilst I didn’t argue with the notion, I remained confused.

I’ve always needed to know why something needs to be a certain way. I cannot willingly, unwaveringly accept something if I don’t understand the reason for doing so. And so, like many autistic kids, I moved through my school years in a constant state of perplexedness. However adept – or otherwise – we are with language, many of us really do need things to be carefully spelled out to us.

Memories of that perplexed feeling have stuck with me into parenthood. I see some of the things we tell children off for, and I can very clearly imagine myself in their place, and imagine their bemusement.

And, more simply, there are some things which I know that, in polite society, I need to prevent my children from doing, but which personally, I don’t actually care that much about.

Climbing up onto the living-room windowsill? Well, the windows are too high for them to see through at floor-level. The sill itself offers a better view of the world outside, and is deep enough for a small person to sit on comfortably. There’s a sofa immediately beneath the windowsill to provide a soft landing should they fall, and both my children are fairly adept climbers. They’re not damaging anything, or hurting themselves or each other, and they look like they’re having fun.

Taking saucepans out of the kitchen cupboards and banging on them? Well, it’s a little noisy (and this is something I really struggle with), and we’ll have to rinse them out afterwards as they’ve been all over the floor. But at least it keeps my toddler occupied and draws his attention away from the fridge contents.

Clambering up the slide in the playground (holding onto the rails, of course), rather than sliding down it? Well, it’s not the conventional route. But no other children are using it right now – if they were, I’d move my child to the steps. It’s fun to try out new ways of moving around a space, I’m happy for my children to take measured risks, and I’m there to catch them if they slip.

It’s very difficult to come across as authentic in telling a child off for something you yourself don’t actually see as a problem. I’m very much the slacker in our two-parent partnership in that respect. But I’m very much aware that my husband and I need to set boundaries, and explain to our children that whilst some social rules might not seem to make sense, other people may be upset if they do not follow them.

I’m the first to admit I’m far from perfect as a parent. I’m often short-tempered because of my reactions to sensory overstimulation. My understanding of social rules, and my intepretation of the logic behind them, might be somewhat wayward. But perhaps my ability to relate to childhood confusion about such things helps me to be a little more considered in how I support my children to deal with the pitfalls and challenges of being amongst people.

And there are some behaviours I have no difficulty in encouraging my children to adopt. Saying “please” and “thank you”. Acknowledging when they have done something to upset someone else, what was wrong about it, and apologising. Sharing. Helping others. Being kind and considerate towards other people and animals.

For me, the logic of being empathetic, compassionate and understanding makes instinctive sense.


[Featured image: “Adventure Playground” in Holland Park, by Joe Shlabotnik.]

#AutismAppreciation: 7 things that make me a valuable employee

Before April came around, I’d been mentally conjuring up my plans for activism, amplification, signal boosting, the promotion of acceptance, and whatnot. As it happens, events have conspired against me, and I haven’t been as active in railing positively against the “awareness industry” (as fantastic new blogger Little Sparrow puts it) as I’d hoped to be. Long story. I’m sure there will be more posts this month on the subject of ‘awareness’ and, more importantly, acceptance, but right now I want – nay, need – to get really positive, on a very personal level.

I so often do myself a disservice. I make unreasonable comparisons between myself and others. I indulge in a nice line of internalised ableism. And right now, with my organisation undertaking a ‘review’ of various services, I’m feeling a little anxious. I think things will be fine. But I can’t be sure.

But a colleague said a lovely thing the other day that made me ponder:

“But you’re so, so employable!”

And just yesterday, I formally become a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (unless you work in learning and teaching in UK – or perhaps Australian – higher education, this may mean very little to you. But if you do, you’ll know this is a rather noteworthy piece of professional recognition). I’m feeling pretty good today, professionally-speaking.

And so it’s time to get on board with autism appreciation and acknowledge how bloody awesome I am. Sorry for the personal trumpet-blowing (it’s never something I’m especially comfortable with), but right now, after a tough, tiring few months, I need to give myself a bit of self-love.

What makes me such a damned good employee, then?

1. I can become interested in, learn, and focus on (almost) anything.

The fact that I was an “all-rounder” at school was something of a mixed blessing.  During my earlier school years, I maintained my record as the straight-A student, but as puberty kicked in, social interaction got more complicated, and academic and personal demands increased, I began struggling to know where to channel my energies. I had difficulty prioritising, and experienced agonies over decisions about which subjects to pursue and which to “drop” (the Tyranny of Choice, folks).  The fact is, I’m generally better when I’m focused on One Thing. One Thing in Depth. It’s why I loved my MSc year so much.

But what I’m focused on doesn’t actually matter so much. As long as it’s interesting to me, I’ll get excited about it, plough my energies into it, and do all that I can to make it work, for me and others involved. This means that, specific technical knowledge aside, I could potentially step to any number of new fields. It also means that, when I’m teaching, training, or speaking about what I’m working on, my passion will come through.

(An aside: there is a common argument that UK schoolkids are asked to “specialise too early”. On the one hand, I completely agree with this sentiment. How are you supposed to make life-changing decisions about what career you want to pursue, and thus, what subjects to study, when you know so little about what’s in store? On the other hand, I think people like me benefit from opportunities to focus intensely on one subject at a time, and then move on to another, potentially completely different one, when we’re ready. My specialisms tend to shift over time).

2. I care.

My strong sense of justice, and my ethical convictions, mean that these days I’m pretty picky about the types of organisation I’ll be willing to work for. But whatever job I’ve had, I’ve always cared about doing a good job. Perfectionism can at times be debilitating, and can seriously slow me down, but the fact that I always care about doing a good job means that I’m rarely complacent. It also means that I care about the people work with (my colleagues), and the people I work for  – in my case the academic staff I work with, the students they, and I, teach, and the wider communities outside my organisation who benefit from the teaching we do.

3. I have excellent attention to detail.

Yes, I can be very, very picky and pernickety. But my attention to detail means that my teaching sessions, and the accompanying materials, are well-designed and meticulously thought through. It means that when someone needs to pick up a bit of teaching at short notice because I’m not able to deliver it, they’ve usually got everything they need to do a reasonable job of it.

It also means that when I’m supporting an academic colleague with their teaching, I ensure all bases are covered. Yes, this does mean I’m often guilty of “info-dumping”, but it means I always provide a firm foundation for further exploration. People can pick and choose which material to engage with, but there’s unlikely to be many glaring omissions.

It also means that I can design great information systems and keep websites spick ‘n’ span, and that I’m also a shit hot proofreader.

4. I’m a passionate, engaging teacher.

I have this on good authority from many of the people I work with. And I have a fair old whack of ‘official’ evidence in the form of qualifications, and written feedback – from staff and students – on my sessions. And I firmly believe that it is some of my autistic traits that make this so.

For me, coming out of the classroom after a really good teaching session feels just like coming offstage after a really good gig (man, I miss playing in bands!). The buzz is the same. The truth is, I enjoy performance. I’m always surprised when neurotypical folks think it unusual that autistic people would be interested in performing. After all, many of us do it all the time. I’m aware of copious autistics who are fantastic, commanding musicians, actors, comedians, performance poets, and public speakers. Yes, when masking, we may be “performing the role” of the neurotypical, and this can be bloody hard work, but performing in front of an audience when you’re well prepared and you know your material is a different matter entirely. It can be truly invigorating (although you may experience a slump in energy later on).

I like to keep myself amused in the classroom. One thing I’ve noticed about myself and other autistic people is that we’re not very motivated to do stuff that doesn’t interest us or seem useful to us. This desire to keep things interesting means I’m often looking for ways to vary or improve what I do with my teaching. But, as I like to see “the point” in something, I will rarely make change for change’s sake. If I make a change, it’ll be to keep myself motivated, or as an attempt to solve a problem.

Finally here, movement. I can rarely root myself to one spot when delivering because of my need to stim. I simply cannot keep still. But as I teach a subject that is practical, applied, and frequently conveyed best through interactive, “workshop”-style classes, my need to move about the classroom allows me to observe and engage with everyone in the space.

5. I have excellent command of the written word.

This is great for report-writing, disseminating research, giving constructive feedback to students, professional blog writing (yes, I do blog for work as well), producing instructions and guidance, and all sorts of other applications.

Yes, I can be a little long-winded at times. Brevity is still something I actively have to work hard at. Being autistic often means having to give myself constant reminders that it’s not always necessary to include All The Things.

But written communication is well within my comfort zone, and my attention to detail, interest in many of the subjects I write about (and interest in language itself), and the fact I care about my work, all mean I’m pretty adept at attuning my writing to the needs of my audience.

6. I can see connections, links, and patterns.

I am neither simply a “big picture” thinker, nor a sequential, piece-by-piece thinker. Yes, I appreciate detail; but I’m also constantly connecting minute, granular elements into complex pictures, networks and patterns. I don’t even need to step back – the connections and wider contexts come to the fore as I work through it all.

This links back to being able to get interested in anything. I’d almost go as far as to say that, for me, disciplines don’t exist; I see links between all sorts of apparently disparate elements. This is useful in teaching – especially as I teach such diverse groups of learners. I can pull in examples from all over the place, make them fit the context, make them relevant, and thus make whatever I’m teaching relevant.

It also becomes handy in diagnostics – identifying someone’s unique set of circumstances, problems, and needs, and thinking up ways to help them. Great for one-to-one support to colleagues and students. It means I can also broker interesting connections between people.

7. I will assume the best of everyone.

My dislike of hierarchical structures means that – social communication problems notwithstanding – I’ll talk to anyone. This doesn’t mean I’m not anxious about the interactions (I’m autistic, goddammit), but it does mean that regardless of someone’s standing or status, I’m unlikely think negatively about someone unless they give me good reason to do so, and I’m also unlikely to be nervous about talking to them simply because of who they are.

For me, it seems entirely logical to believe that no person, or group of people, is superior or inferior to anyone else. We’re all human, and to think that one group is “better” than another seems a perplexing notion to me. But because I am different from the majority, I recognise difference, and the importance of difference, in others. Our differences inform our experiences. They inform whether we are privileged or disadvantaged, dominant or marginalised. They cannot be denied.

That’s not to say I don’t have some biases. We all do; we can’t help it because we’re influenced by our lived experiences and the circumstances in which we had those experiences. But because I care about the people I work with and for, that’s something I’m working on.

Okay, so here are some other things about my autism that need to be ‘appreciated’…

It works both ways, folks. In appreciating all the ways my autism impacts positively in the workplace, I also have to appreciate what aspects of the workplace cause me difficulty.

And it’s important that those around me do the same.

I need the people I work with to understand, and appreciate, that I am often working far harder than they are simply to operate in a neurotypical-dominant environment. I am always fending off sensory and information overload. I am consciously having to analyse and process interactions with colleagues and students. And I am rarely afforded the “luxury” of being able to work uninterrupted, or choose exactly when to switch tasks. Often this is dictated for me, and not always in a way that is conducive to me transitioning smoothly between different pieces of work.

When I get angry about being interrupted mid-task, I need people to appreciate that I am not being intentionally rude. Of course I don’t want to be rude to people and come across as a complete arsehole. Autism, or any other “difference”, is still no excuse for being an arsehole. But please bear in mind that every day of my life I am expected, and required, to operate in an environment not ideally attuned to my particular operating system. And yet I’m still expected not to ever make other people uncomfortable. Given that an interruption has already caused great disruption to my brain’s functioning, it’s not always possible for me to remember my “script” of acceptable responses to that interruption. I need people to accept and appreciate that when they interrupt me, it will take my brain a long time to get back on task, and this can be very, very stressful. Believe me, I’m trying to be nice.

And so, given that I care so much about doing a good job, and about the people around me, I need them to appreciate that if I do or say something wrong, or something that upsets others, the chances are I will be ruminating over it, and feeling guilty about it, long after the other person has moved on, forgiven, and forgotten. It may be a small incident, and mean “nothing” to them, but the likelihood is, I will still be analysing and processing the incident for a long time after it actually happened.

So the upshot of a lot of this is that I need people around me to appreciate that I am almost always tired. And when I say I’m knackered, that means I really, really am.

I’m good at what I do. I’m employable, and far more than that. I am not merely a collection of deficits, deficiencies, and difficulties. I have undoubted strengths.

And like all autistic people who work, I want to be appreciated for these strengths, while also asking those I work with to appreciate my need for support, and undertanding.