Tag Archives: Autism

Communication page I used to handle that invasive woman I met.

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It’s been quite some time since I posted my letter to the woman who accosted me on my way to the para transit van. But I wanted to update people on how I handled the situation when she approached me the next day. Which was a success.

I knew that I have trouble coming up with new language of any kind in high stress situations, especially involving people with bad boundaries. So I spent most of the night creating a new page for my communication software.

I use Proloquo or Proloquo2Go for most of my communication these days. My super-expensive, clunky Dynavox has been collecting dust in a corner ever since I first got Proloquo2Go years ago. Proloquo2Go has two separate sections. One where you type and it speaks out loud. Another where you can say something by pressing on one or more pictures.

I created a page where everything was about boundaries in one way or another. These are things I’m often unable to say in real time. I have a hard time remembering its possible to say these things. And coming up with words. And monitoring my emotions in response to situations. And communicating around invasive people. And pushing words past what feels like a barrier between my mind and everything else. Let alone all this and more at once.

Here’s the page I created:

[Description: A communication page arranged as a grid with one sentence per square. Each one has one word or sentence. Words in parentheses are what the previous sentence is an abbreviation for: Back off. Don’t patronize… (Don’t patronize me.) Don’t talk to me. Don’t touch me. Don’t want talk about. (I don’t want to talk about it.) Fuck off. Get out of my face. Go away. I am not a child. I don’t care. I don’t do eye contact. I’m not kidding. I’ve a right to be mad. (I have a right to be mad.) it’s not funny. Leave me alone. Now. Please. Stay away from me. Stop it right now. Stop. That hurts my brain. You put me in danger. (You’re putting me in danger.) you’re hurting me. You’re too close to me.]

I tried to make it so that I could use various levels of politeness, forcefulness, and rudeness depending on the situation. One way I did this was with different icons. Obviously, “leave me alone” and “fuck off” are very different. But another way I did it was by adding icons for “please” and “now”, the two squares outlined in blue. This made it so, by hitting two buttons in a row, I could say “please leave me alone” or “leave me alone now”. So I have a pretty good variety of intensity I can use.

I was expecting her the next day. She had said she wanted to meet me in the morning. So I prepared myself. I tried to stay connected and aware of my surroundings. She sat down at the table next to me. And she watched until my staff person had to leave me alone for a minute. Then she approached.

Because I was expecting her, I was prepared for the onslaught people like her carry with them. That thing where when they get close to you, it almost feels as if they are overlapping with you. So in my head I made sure to mentally separate us, which made it easier to communicate. I hit “please” and “stay away from me”. She yammered some sort of explanation and went back to her table.

I maintained deliberate mental distance the rest of the morning that I was anywhere near her. My case manager later made an effort to find her. She’d heard the story from a guy who witnessed it, and she wanted to report this woman. But we never found her. And things went just fine the rest of the day.

In any alternate universes where I didn’t make this communication page, the likely outcome is much worse. I would have been pretty much trapped around this woman, and that would have done a kind of emotional damage that takes time to recover from. It’s nothing that has any kind of official name, it just leaves me more vulnerable to other people like her until I can reverse it.

Another important thing I did besides create the communication page, was to rehearse everything many times beforehand. If I don’t do something like this, it’s hard to use the communication icons. Contrary to popular belief, just having the ability to type or use icons, doesn’t solve every communication problem.

And without rehearsing, there’s a big chance I’ll never use a page like this. My fingers won’t know where to go. My mind won’t remember it’s possible. My eyes won’t remember to look through the page to find possible things to say. My will won’t be able to push through the barrier between experience and expression. And much more. That’s a lot of places for communication to break down.

It is absolutely vital that people who use communication devices, have ways to respond to violations of our basic boundaries. Disabled people are far more likely than others to have others behave invasively with us, ranging from subtle to violent. People teach us from our earliest years onward that such invasion is normal, natural, and something we should accept without complaint. We have to have the means to say no.

And we have to have the means to say no forcefully, even rudely. We need to be able to use cuss words, even if we have the kind of personality that would never use them. Sometimes the only reason that we appear unnaturally even-tempered is because we’ve never been allowed to be otherwise. We have the right to say fuck off, but people don’t always give us the ability to do so.

Of course, even if we say things like that, there’s no guarantee anyone will listen. Some people’s reactions when I get mad, remind me of the way people giggle at my cat when she swipes someone who touched her in a way that hurts her. It’s like she and I aren’t real enough to them, so our anger is cute and funny.

I’ll also never forget the time someone made an asinine comment when I was out in public. I typed a response and stuck the speaker up to his ear so he could hear it. All his friends burst out laughing. One of them said “Dude, that guy’s cussing you out using a machine!” Which is… so much not the response I was going for.

But still. We need to be able to have the full range of responses that other people can have. To do otherwise smacks too much of that idea that we should be passive and sweet all the time. Being able to say no, being able to cuss, being able to tell people to go away and leave us alone, these are some of the most important things people with communication impairments can learn to say. But often people don’t teach us that stuff, they don’t want us to know it.

Another important thing: Communication pages like this are not just for people who absolutely can’t ever speak. They are for anyone, anywhere, who for whatever reason would be unable to say things like this in situations where they need to be able to say it.

I’ve run into too many people lately who desperately need something like this, but are afraid to use it because they don’t fit the popular image of someone who needs a communication device. Some of them have even been told that it’s horrible or disrespectful of them to even consider using a communication device. But my position on it is that having the most effective communication method possible can result in better emotional and physical health, in some situations it can even save lives.

So given all that? If something like this can make your life better, for any reason at all. Whether you can’t ever speak, can only sometimes speak, can only speak about certain topics, can speak but it isn’t what you mean, can speak but typing or using picture icons works better or uses fewer mental resources. Or anything else like that. Do whatever works best for you, and screw anyone who tells you different.

Anyone who feels the need to act as the supreme gatekeeper of all things assistive technology… not only do they have too much time on their hands, but they are letting ideology get in the way of real people leading better lives. And that is just plain wrong, and fundamentally unfair to people who could benefit from a communication aid.

 

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Regarding Neli Latson

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(For those who don’t know, he’s a guy who was arrested for sitting outside a library while autistic and black.)

Before I even heard much more of the story than those details in the last sentence, I wrote the following:

And the guy’s both autistic and black. In America that’s two counts against you and cops have been known to make up stories in either case and outright kill both disabled and black people who have not assaulted anyone and then make up some “well he was violent/he LOOKED violent” thing to cover their own asses. And as an autistic person who has been in similar situations (had the cops called on me multiple times for sitting and waiting outside for people, walking down the street, and other major crimes) the cops don’t even always approach you from the front. And if someone grabs me from behind without warning I am going to fight back because who knows it’s not a rapist and my reflexes work like that.  Because I’m female and white and a crappy fighter (at least that’s my guess) I’ve been either detained in the police station or institutionalized as a “danger to others” at that point (after fairly nasty but not life-threatening treatment by the cops) rather than jailed or shot.  So far. But I can completely imagine that being me, and when it’s the cop’s word against yours weird things happen. (And don’t get me started about the “psycho” and “retard” jokes I hear cops swapping at times like that — including the time I was picked up as a missing person for something as benign as running away from a day program after a fistfight broke out, which I still see as a reasonable response.  They do not value us highly.  Not enough of them anyway. Dennis Debbaudt is the exception.) 

And, surprise, when more details came out, he was grabbed from behind and threatened with racist language. How did I know this? From spending my life since adolescence in situations where cops have been called on me. In all but a couple instances all I was doing was sitting down outside, or walking down the street (the exceptions involved a few times when I screamed and one time I was trespassing, but mostly it was just sitting or walking).

As for how he remembers these things so vividly, first off lots of autistic people have good memories (or good memories when the right thing triggers them, as in my case). Second off, these sorts of events are pretty effing memorable. I can still remember details of similar instances over half my lifetime ago.

If you want to know more then google it. I don’t have any links handy and I’m posting from my iPod. Comments on this entry will be heavily moderated, people wanting to express the idea that this didn’t happen or that this doesn’t happen can go to any of the huge number of websites out there that welcome that sort of thing. And such people deserve a wakeup call about what life is like for those of us who have any (or all) of a number of differences that are obvious enough and devalued enough to get this kind of crap. But if that’s you, this incident has me utterly furious and I’m writing to a deadline which already makes me crabby so just go away.

Edited to add: makoto/pome has commented with several links:

Here’s some links for people:
http://autism-news-beat.com/archives/1146
http://autism-news-beat.com/archives/1137
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ken-reibel/teen-with-aspergers-arres_b_610530.html?page=2&show_comment_id=50670437#comment_50670437
Audio interview of Latson’s mother:
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/aut_toknow/2010/06/20/lisa-alexander-from-a-voice-for-nelifight-against-
A web page she has set up:
http://avoiceforneli.com/

What I just told someone who didn’t match current autism stereotypes.

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It’s not really that you contradict what autism is, it’s that descriptions of autistic people came about like this:

Kanner saw a bunch of people and grouped them together. He observed some things about them. Some of the observations were accurate. Some were more conclusions than true observations. Then he came to conclusions based on both types of observations. Many of his conclusions were false. (Note: Most of Kanner’s patients would today have a high chance of being diagnosed as AS and all but maybe one or two fit at least one definition of high functioning. Several went on to college. There are many modern myths about who these people were.)

The next person came along and put more people into the category of autistic. These people included people who appeared like Kanners patients appeared, people who were like Kanners patients were, people who appeared like Kanners conclusions, and people who were like Kanners conclusions.

This has been going onin many iterations for generations. And since 1980 it’s been happening to Asperger’s patients and conclusions too. (His patients were roughly the same as Kanner’s, but he drew different conclusions.)

This means that people who get called autistic are an incredibly diverse group of people and that virtually nobody matches the conclusions. And yet those who either match the conclusions, think they match the conclusions, pretend they match the conclusions, or may or may not match but other people can force fit them to the conclusions — those people will get called more typical or more autistic. Even though they are neither.

So knowing all that I’m never surprised when people don’t match the conclusions. The conclusions come from generations of faulty observations, faulty logic, and faulty science. And then no matter what the conclusions are, people who match them or who think they match them or can be said to match them by others, suddenly start getting diagnosed more. It’s a disturbingly tangled thing and I wish more people noticed.

Adding on to what I said before: I am extremely disturbed by the amount of people, autistic and otherwise, who actually believe in the various tangled threads of the idea of autism. Why don’t they notice how these things inevitably have to come about? Why do they take people’s word for it that “This is so because someone with authority says it’s so”? Why do they put stock in tangles on top of tangles on top of the flimsiest foundations? Why do they believe whatever the latest thread of the tangle that is descriptions of what autism is, and then privilege those of us who (say we are/think we are/pretend we are/really are/aren’t but don’t have the power to resist being represented as if we are) the same as the ideas in that thread? Why don’t they notice the difference between being that way, thinking we are that way, force fitting ourselves and saying we are that way, pretending we are that way, and having those with more authority insist we are that way? Why are such people considered “more typical” even when they’re a minority? Why is it that people read Kanner or Asperger and believe their conclusions and value judgements as if they are true unbiased observations? Why don’t people see the contradictions between their observations and their conclusions?

It really harms people when people don’t question all these abstractions piled on top of more abstractions piled on top of still more, for generations now until they are steep towers reaching into the clouds, rather than on or near the ground. (Is it my inability to climb that high that makes it easy for me to question these things?) It makes me feel vaguely ill when I see the various consequences of autistic people themselves believing these abstractions so intensely — whether it’s people thinking there’s something wrong when they don’t fit a stereotype, or acquiring more status because they (do/think they do/say they do/pretend they do/have others with more authority convinced they do).

On growing up with strange sensory reactions, and the difference between passing and being passed off.

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In discussions with other autistic people about how other people have reacted to us our whole lives, I recently realized another thing that makes me different from some other autistic people (I honestly have no clue whether it’s most or only some). Which is in my reactions to my surroundings.

A lot of autistic people who, like me, were assumed (rightly or wrongly) to be anywhere from somewhat to highly capable by many people during our childhoods, seem to have something in common that I don’t have: They were most of the time a combination of several of… stiff, unusually formal, considered “dweeby”, reserved as far as interaction with their physical surroundings yet obviously “engaged” to a certain degree, and in general… lots of similar things I don’t quite have words for.

I was considered some of those things some of the time. But I’ve noticed some people assume that’s how all autistic kids who were regarded as highly competent tended to act. And they leave out of their calculations a lot of things that were true of me.

Yes, I was socially awkward, had meltdowns and shutdowns, and lots of other stuff. But I was most of the time very, very involved in my physical environment in all kinds of ways that made me stick out in totally different ways than many other autistic kids did. Note that it wasn’t all of these things all of the time. It was at least a few of them most of the time at minimum, and when I wasn’t hiding as well it was more than a few nearly all of the time.

I would sniff things. Books, pencils, wood of all types. If I saw a cat I would get down on all fours and politely (in the cat world) sniff their noses. I would sniff rocks, tanbark, metal, rubber, computer and TV screens, and many other things I came into contact with. Not to mention picking my nose and sniffing the contents (no I have never been able to stop no matter how much teasing or reprimands happened or even injury to the inside of my nose by peeling the lining off, it’s like trichotillomania, it’s not that easy).

I would also grab things and stick them really close to my eyes, or wave them around in the vague vicinity of my eyes (I have good peripheral vision so this means anything from just in front to on the sides). I would wave my hand in front of computer monitors. I would do things with my fingers just to watch them. I would spend hours watching ants or water (which I might also get my hands involved with) or lots and lots of other things involving getting things really close to my eyes. And chasing dust particles. Not to mention doing a very intense purr-like noise that jiggled my eyesight up and down.

I also did elaborate things with clothing, hair, and jewelry. Not for the purpose of decorating myself for the sake of others, but for the sake of being able to carry around things I could either grab and look at, or see anytime I had a mirror, or (in the case of braids) run my fingers over. This stuff wasn’t an enactment of a social ritual (which is good because sticking earrings and pins throughout your hair doesn’t get you anything but laughed at) or for any reason external, it was entirely so I could have lots of portable stimtoys. I could grab the necklaces and stare at them or suck on them, ring my bell necklaces in my ear, stare at, smell, or suck on my paisley shirts or busy-patterned skirts, run my fingers over coiled braids or other jewelry, or stare at the whole mess in the mirror.

meandbrothers

(The photo shows me sitting in between my two brothers, in my brother’s room, with lots of jewelry on, staring at one necklace or similar object.)

I also had some visual phenomena I would get really absorbed in. I see various patterns that probably range from retinal lights and afterimages to migraine auras (both my parents get migraine auras without the headache) to the occasional seizure. But I would get totally lost in that stuff, and find patterns in it the way people do with clouds. I got sent to at least two separate counselors (one in an academic summer camp and one in my brief attempt at high school) for staring at walls in my free time in order to watch that stuff. Other kids just used that as an excuse to do things like wave their genitals in my face to try to get me to stop (it’s amazing what people will do to you for the crime of not appearing to pay attention to them, even when they make it clear you’re weird enough they don’t want your attention).

I was constantly sticking things into my mouth long after that phase is over for most people. Not just pens or pencils either. I chewed sets of rubber jacks balls to the point of really embarrassing my mother once when someone caught me sticking several in my mouth on video. I did this the most often before puberty but I did it after too. I was really happy when someone gave me different lengths of aquarium tubing when I was nineteen for the express purpose of chewing. I chewed and sucked on my own skin, too, hard enough to leave marks. And my hair. And ran the outsides of my tongue over my molars over and over to create a sour taste. And had a metal necklace I sucked on and spat out over and over until the outer gold-colored metal wore off.

I also liked textures like velvet, cat fur, varnished wood, anything large and cold and flat, etc. and pressed anything from hands to cheeks to large amounts of my body onto them, or rubbed them.

I had a weird thing I did in chaotic environments like school dances where I would frequently stand right by the speaker because even though it was earsplittingly loud the music was more orderly than the crowd noises. (At first I’d dance if asked to, or outright find someone to dance with if the song was “Stairway to Heaven”, but later I found it easier to just spin in circles.) I also hummed, whistled, and sang, sometimes all in rapid succession, and had a single toned hum I would do by keeping my ears clicked so internal sounds were loudest and then humming to drown out other chaotic noise. Got pulled out of school assemblies for clapping my hands over my ears over and over to create a rhythmic pattern to people’s voices or music. Played single songs until I wore out several tapes and tape players.

And this is not to mention the spinning, which I did at every dance starting just after seventh grade instead of running up to the speakers or trying to dance with people. And which I also did plenty of without dances as an excuse. And the pulling out all the paper towels, and all the soap, from dispensers, then smearing the soap all over mirrors. And climbing things. And assorted other things that were more actions than any one sense being explored.

And doing something kind of hard to describe. In new situations my sensory input seemed more and more chaotic. (Been planning a post on something related to that too.) And after awhile instead of panicking, I’d started embracing a sense of total randomness. This is the same sort of thing that could make a person really lose it in new situations, but it’s sometimes possible to sort of ride it out like some kind of funhouse ride instead of becoming tense or fearful. (Or as an autistic friend of mine puts it, “As long as there are shopping malls, I will never need LSD.”) This is yet another thing you never hear about because it’s assumed “resistance to change” is just The Way Things Are for all autistic people instead of being one of many possible responses to a more central experience of having things become really confusing the more change or new or unexpected input there is.

And when I did talk about my special interests they were about things like fractals, chaos theory, alternate realities, and psychedelic rock bands. Or any and all kinds of surreal or nonsensical things (including going around saying weird things in several languages that I couldn’t actually speak except to say weird things in). (The embracing of nonsense being one more way to deal with the speed of things changing around that time.) This… did not help.

Then there was… the other stuff. The ways I seemed cut off from the world instead of overinvolved in the wrong parts of it.

Part of that was due to my being heavily tuned into internal sensations. Like when I would sit down cross-legged, pull my skirt across my lap, stare at it, and proceed to vividly replay in my head scenes from Red Dwarf or Star Trek (other times it was listening to white noise and picking out single frequencies to replay songs I had memorized). Other times it was just something like pulling my hair over my face like Cousin It (wonderful to stop seeing lots of overloading stuff), or sitting around with my eyes shut. Or what my parents just called “Staring” with a capital S, where I’d basically sit there and appear to be staring at nothing at all (which could range from overload to replaying things in my head to just some coincidence of my eyes and facial expression, or could even be getting lost in various visual oddities I discussed before).

The point of all this? When many people picture an autistic kid who went undiagnosed until early adolescence, they seem to picture the formal stiff thing going on. They don’t picture the kid who involved herself in all kinds of supposedly inappropriate sensory activities, and seems physically pulled towards these things as if by gravity. But that was me.

I didn’t do these things every second of every day. But I did them enough to attract all the wrong kind of notice. While some people called me a nerd or a computer or those usual insults, much of the teasing I got revolved around being very, very attracted to physical sensations of all kinds, or else looking very, very tuned out. There’s a reason my mother insists on comparing me to Luna Lovegood rather than a more stereotypical nerd (or to, say, Ernie Macmillan, who was so formal he sounded pompous).

Yeah I did get called a nerd But mostly I got other things. When you’re younger and you behave this way, you become a weirdo, alien, psycho, crazy, tard, space case, elf (yes that whole fantasy started because someone called me one — if I could pick a Tolkien creature to compare myself to I’d be an Ent) etc. When you get a bit older you get called even crazier. And then eventually everyone and their dog thinks you’re on drugs.

This is one reason that I question the entire concept of passing. I rarely spent five minutes around other children before they figured out I was different. Often it was more like five seconds. Kids weren’t generally picking up my intellect or nerdiness (they might pick that up later but not immediately), they were picking up my strangeness. Much of the time they said so quite openly and as we got older they were trying really hard to explain why I was strange. But I was always strange, there was never a point even when I did my best attempt to “behave” that this was ever in question. Even when neuroleptics drastically tamped down on my ability to explore my environment in those ways I could expect to wait seconds before I was pointedly and often out loud judged as some kind of Other. Even among kids in mental institutions where the rate of neuro-atypicality was higher, I only very occasionally connected with anyone and it was always their doing, others just either shunned me or found ways to do harm to me.

Weird thing is even though I heard all about being strange my whole life I always underestimated my strangeness. I rarely connected all the dots in others’ reactions to me. I knew I was different but since I couldn’t imagine how all the things I did looked to others, I assumed I was “normal enough” largely because of that and because I was always around myself and therefore found myself… not boring exactly, but like I was used to me. The same way I never knew my autistic brother stood out that much even though he did (although more in the stiff/nerdy way than the sensory/strange way, we are very different people).

But once I put the dots together? Passing doesn’t make sense. What happened was people saw every single thing I did and then since they didn’t know about autism they formed other explanations. So I was crazy, or on drugs, or wanted attention (why do so many people accuse others of wanting attention when the actions prompting it are entirely not focused on other people at all, while they don’t tell people that starting conversations is attention seeking even though it is???) or any explanation at all they could come up with. Sometimes several at once.

As I’ve discussed before, the drug assumption meant I have been both asked for (???) and offered pot, acid, shrooms, DMT, ketamine, speed, mescaline, harmaline, and assorted really obscure “natural” hallucinogens (I did not take more than three on that list, and only after being accused of it got me curious). This took no effort on my part, especially when attending a school so well known for drug use that it made a top five list of drug schools. All people saw was a strange girl dressed like a hippie who did lots of odd things, looked spaced out, and reacted to all kinds of sensory input in a very raw sort of way that often made me respond more to texture and pattern and color than to the socially agreed upon nature of the object. Plus I was fun to get stoned because it made me have even more sensory processing trouble and ratcheted up my anxiety so much that it was easy to manipulate me into doing amusing things like jumping out windows so people could laugh. (One of my support staff has another client who has a very severe cognitive
impairment. I was telling him about this and he told me she gets the exact same crap from her neighbors.)

Another thing that happens when people form these explanations is they begin picking up on irrelevant details that confirm their explanations while blocking out information that conflicts with their explanations. Because of my reputation for drug use, people would claim to smell marijuana coming out of my room whenever I burned incense (I never did that in my room). Have allergies that make your eyes red? Must be stoned. Have naturally large pupils? Must be on acid. Have trouble bathing or washing clothes? Drugs make people not care about that. Have fluctuations in your abilities? Must be based on when you’re high and when you’re not. You can’t win around this kind of fallacious thinking.

Kids who pass don’t get accused of being on drugs by everyone from children to teachers from the age of twelve or thirteen onward. Kids who pass as nerdy or “just gifted” don’t get ostracized and accused of being both on drugs and crazy, or sent to the counselor, when they go to a summer camp filled with nerds who are mostly classified as gifted. Most “just gifted and nerdy” kids thrive in those environments and tease the kids like me who are clearly odd for other reasons. My best friend met me in such a place when we were twelve after seeing me spinning by myself, asking someone who I was, and getting “That’s Amanda. She’s crazy.”

Nor do kids who are passing really well have it assured that they will be only given single rooms from a certain point on so as not to alarm their roommates with their strangeness (yes my roommates complained about rooming with a “crazy person” or “weirdo”). Even in mental institutions. (And kids who pass really well certainly don’t get singled out as strange in those places.) This is not passing. This is being flagrantly strange and having it bother people enough that they try to think up all kinds of reasons to explain it to themselves.

When most people explain things to themselves, odd things happen. They don’t see what you’re doing. They see their explanation. They see “crazy”, “high”, “stupid stunt”, or whatever they have explained things as in their minds. And if they have to have their expectations disturbed enough to explain things to themselves, then you are not passing.

I know a lot of people that things like this have happened to. Even people with purely physical impairments. A woman I know has muscular dystrophy and when she began hanging onto the walls for balance, people explained it away as attention seeking or anxiety induced. That’s the exact same sorts of explanations (with the addition of the ever present drug thing) that I got with a much lesser known autism-connected progressive motor impairment that caused me to freeze in place, be unable to cross certain barriers easily, or lose the ability to speak.

I once froze for a solid ten minutes, with (as I heard those around me noting) fixed dilated pupils pointed straight at a bright light, on a high school field trip. Nobody told my parents. People figured it was drugs or anxiety, and everyone was sort of pointedly avoiding the subject (and avoiding me) the rest of the trip, treating me like I had done something unspeakable. I frequently had the same thing happen in college and was said to be on drugs (never happened when I was actually on them). Happened in the psych system and was called psychotic or dissociative or just left unexplained. Happened around new agers and they insisted I was either astral projecting or somehow being very spiritual. The same thing happened to me at an autism conference, and someone with the same movement disorder told me the journal articles to send to my doctor. I did and he recognized it immediately and diagnosed me with that condition.

Is that “passing”? No. It’s “being passed off as”. It’s people seeing a thing, being uncomfortable, deciding on an explanation, and coming to remember the explanation more than the thing itself.

Similarly, now that that and other conditions have me using a powerchair full time, all the traits that had people who just saw me walking around thinking I was either autistic (if they knew anything about it) or intellectually disabled, the powerchair has become their explanation for all those traits. So now I’m back to being considered purely physically disabled by some people, which has led to overestimation rather than underestimation of my cognitive abilities.

I can do one particular thing throughout most of my life and have it explained in different ways depending on age, clothing (hippie clothes, school uniform, “regular” clothes, sloppy clothes), location (regular school, college, special ed, institution, apartment, at home with my parents), haircut (messy, combed, long, short, parted in different ways, nonexistent), range of deliberate facial expression (less or more limited due to the motor impairments), and a zillion other factors. But I’m the same person and my reasons for doing whatever it is have remained constant my whole life. I have seen kids doing things like eating paper or lying on the floor, and if they’re considered “gifted” then it’s eccentric or attention seeking, if they are considered druggies people figure it’s the drugs, and in institutions or special ed it’s because they don’t know better. But I bet the reasons for doing it are the same regardless.

But as someone who was a strange kid, and paid the price for being a strange kid, I am really uncomfortable with the concept of passing. Passing would be if I never did the things I listed in the first part of this except in private. Something I only ever managed in part. Having people constantly bugging you and making things up about you because you do these strange things is not passing. It’s having people pass things off as something else. It’s having teachers accuse you of drug abuse until everyone believes it and you become curious. It’s freezing up and having other kids laughing and jumping up and down on top of you and going “see she doesn’t feel it”. It’s being singled out for bullying even among other “gifted” kids and “crazy” kids. It’s having “crazy” or “druggie” or “does weird things for attention” be the first words people use about you when strangers ask who you are. It’s having even people you thought were your friends comment gleefully and frequently on these topics as if you are more a source of entertainment than a friend. It’s having people shake you, kick you, wave their hands in your face, and make loud guesses about what’s going on, every time you lose speech. It’s that one guy who likes to come up to you and tell you what “everyone’s saying” about you. But it’s definitely not, ever, even when doing your best acting, being treated like everyone else. Which is what passing would be. Passing has its own set of problems. But “passed off as” is not passing.

The other point of this post is that I’ve talked to even a lot of autistic people who assume that there’s only two general appearances that autistic kids can take: Sort of awkward and stiff and nerdy or dweeby, or else completely cut off from people and constantly rocking and doing other stuff like that. And while I sometimes did both of those sorts of things, I think I was usually something different from either stereotype. Much of what made me stand out and get both teased and “passed off as” various things, especially both before and after the few years I reined it in a bit, was the way I related to objects around me, and sometimes appeared zoned out. Most of which has to do with how I process information in the first place. And while I know many others who were and are like this, it seems like even many autistic people can’t resist having their imaginations constrained by the main couple stereotypes. And I almost never hear this particular appearance discussed. Lest this become a third stereotype, I should point out that there are lots and lots of different ways we can appear, and that a single person can appear different ways at different times. It’s just important to avoid stereotypes. They don’t help.

Aspie Supremacy can kill.

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A disclaimer: I don’t believe in real distinctions between aspies, auties, LFA, and HFA. When I use these words I am discussing the beliefs of people who do believe in them. Edited to add: aspie supremacy is a shorthand and people should be aware that the prejudice contained within it can and does affect many with the AS dx.

I think I am the person who coined the term autistic supremacy. At the least, I came up with it without having heard it before. It was 1999 and I came up with the term to explain certain trends to my psychologist. This, by the way, means that those people who are running around gloating about how us autistic activists brought these people’s offensiveness on ourselves, or ranting about how nobody cared until recently? They have no grasp of the history. None at all. I have been opposing this in all its forms for eleven years and know that others have been doing the same.

Others may use the terms differently and I don’t claim some kind of ownership over the definition but here are the ways I use these words.

Back then it was just a tiny number of people who thought this way. When I used the word, I meant people who went beyond just wanting equality. They thought they were better than nonautistic people. Not just in satire or jokes but for real. Some of them went even further and considered nonautistic people worthless or even worthy of death or being rendered nonexistent by (a distorted idea of) evolution.

A friend tells me this sort of thing is a normal, perhaps even necessary, part of a minority group’s journey to self-acceptance. Maybe, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Some people consider separatism a form of supremacy. I don’t, not unless the separatists are the ones with the power. A white separatist is a white supremacist and a segregationist. But when a minority (in terms of power) is separatist the reason is usually self-protection as much as anything. Sure, some supremacists become separatists but that doesn’t mean all separatists are supremacists. I am not a separatist but I understand the impulse to avoid those with the power to do you great harm.

When I use the term aspie supremacist I mean something more specific. I am referring to “aspies” who think they are superior to other autistics, or to “AS/HFA” who think they are superior to “LFA”. In practice this means, “We aspies are just different but autistics are defective”. “AS/HFA is part of human diversity but LFA has no value”. It’s the Carleys of the world cringing at the very idea of sharing a label with people who wear diapers (the joke’s on them as many “aspies” wear diapers too). It’s any and every way that the value and contributions of “AS” and/or “HFA” people a put above the value and contributions of “autistic” and/or “LFA” people.

Aspie supremacy is disgusting and despicable. I understand that all of us absorb certain cultural values but that is what makes aspie supremacy more dangerous than general autistic supremacy.

Autistic supremacy can do damage but it’s limited damage. They have neither power nor numbers on their side. They can rage on the Internet. They can cause damage to the few people around them offline. Even if one decided to cause as much harm to everyone around them as possible it would be tragic but in no way equal to the harm done autistic people all the time. Usually the most harm they do is getting people to believe that most autistic activists are like them. They just don’t have the power to do wide-scale harm.

But aspie supremacists… where to start. Their ideas are essentially very similar to the ableist society we all live in. A society that values “high functioning” whatevers over “low functioning” whatevers where the further you are from the norm the more “low functioning” they call you. Have you ever wondered why some of the people who hate autistic activists the most are often just as willing as the aspie supremacists to put AS/HFA in one corner and LFA in the other? To say “Maybe aspies are part of human diversity but Real Autistics ™ are defective?”. It’s because the aims of aspie supremacy are very close to the views of those in power. And to someone like me it’s a fricking slap in the face, and worse.

I am far enough from the norm that even my talents and objections do not keep me away from the idea of “LFA” and out of grave danger that puts me in. My body has permanent and life-threatening damage, the kind most common today in places where there are no doctors or vaccines, and all but forgotten in America. That’s because medical professionals have not seen me as a valuable enough person to treat. Once while I was beginning to go septic I heard one medical professional tell another I had the cognitive functioning of an infant (something I don’t believe of even people with the lowest IQs). I had no way to contradict him because I can’t speak and was too weak to type or do anything but squirm and wail.1 I have heard professionals say out loud that my life was not worth saving, that I really wasn’t a person, nobody home.

This means I am vastly more in need of being seen as an equal than people closer to the norm are. This is the part that neither aspie supremacists nor anti-autistic-activist types ever seem to want to get: On average the further from the norm you are, the more it is literally a matter of life and death that your value be seen as equal with the people with the most power. (I know there is life and death stuff for those closer to the norm too but we are talking averages.) So aspie supremacy is a threat to my life in a way that general autistic supremacy is not. Aspie supremacy is telling those in power, “You are right about those auties/LFAs/whatever, but not about us aspies. Why don’t you just let us in to that big room full of valued people, and close the door in the face of those who need the protection of that room even more.”

Also, anyone who argues that aspies should be protected from institutions (of all shapes and sizes), aversives, unproven medical treatments, and the like, but that LFAs “need” those things? That it’s a tragedy when someone kills an aspie but understandable (and perhaps even preferable) when someone kills an LFA? You and anyone who listens to you is doing the exact same thing. The more vulnerable you are to the worst of the ways we can be treated, the more protection you need from the idea that it’s all worthwhile or understandable for you if not for the more normal ones. This too is reminiscent of aspie supremacy in different clothing. It’s all more and more devaluation and it’s endangering the rest of us.

I know that to many aspie supremacists it doesn’t feel like that’s what they’re doing. It feels like they are just stating common sense, that aspies have more valuable skills, more logic, less dysfunction, whatever, than other autistics. But that’s because having a bit of relative privilege renders them unaware of the full consequences of their actions. They don’t realize that they have things backwards — the more devalued you are, the more you need equality, the more you need to be considered another important part of human diversity, etc. Not the less. And “less” is what aspie supremacy ends up meaning to those of us who (even when we have some very valued skills in a few areas) are more vulnerable to devaluation and all of it’s effects. Including the lethal ones.

1 Edited to add: When I say this I am not meaning to imply infants should be devalued. Generally when a medical professional makes the rapid judgement that someone “has the mind of an infant”, it’s a code word for “nobody’s home and we can do whatever we want”. This does say a lot about how infants are devalued.

The Fireworks Are Interesting

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The closer you get to the heart of things, the more words fall apart. First they get shaky. Then they start contradicting each other or getting paradoxical. Then they just fall apart, dissolve, vanish.

The way my thoughts work creates some similar problems for language. And it’s not just that I haven’t found the absolute best combination of words to translate my thoughts with. It’s that on a fundamental level the thoughts don’t translate.

My thoughts, such as I am aware of, are mostly observations of the world, that I have allowed to slowly and quietly settle themselves into patterns. They are not symbols of those observations. Symbols would have a better chance translating. They are also silent — no words pop in to describe them, there is no “loudness” about them, they don’t announce themselves with any kind of fanfare. I suspect to many people they would seem like an absence of thought.

I have also observed words. I have seen which clusters of words attach most frequently to which situations. And that is how I use words — as imperfect translations of situations that present themselves in my mind. I use words because they are the most readily recognized way to communicate with most people.

[With some people, words are not necessary. There are better ways to communicate. That is wonderful in every sense of the word.]

The way I use words can present problems though. I start with a situation and then I throw words at it. The problem is for any given situation there are many ways you could approach it with words. Some of those words might even seem contradictory if set side by side. But it’s not that the situation itself is contradictory, it’s just that language can be complex that way.

For instance, in my last post I described what could be called, and what are often called, subtypes of autism.

Someone replied saying they don’t believe in one type or many types of autism but that it seemed from my post as if I believe there are many.

The reality is more complicated than that.

Autism is not a thing. There are only the people who get called autistic.

I recently tried to describe the process that led to modern notions of autism. I have read many of the original sources for that and for other areas of psychiatric classification. My language skills were less fluent than stuff I normally publish online, but even though I am eating again (I was sick when I wrote it) I still can’t come up with more fluent language for the description I gave of the way ideas of autism have come about.

Were original people designated as autistic.

Original people had their be.

Original people had their “seem to professionals”.

Those not the same.

Then people later might identify with the be. Or with the seem to professionals. Or with the seem to professionals of the original seem to professionals.

So later version of who is autistic ==

People be like original people be.
People be like original people seem to professionals.
People be like original seem to professionals seem to later professionals.
(…)
People seem (to self or professional or family) like original people be.
People seem (to …) like original people seem to professionals.
People seem (to …) like original seem to professionals seem to later professionals.
(…)

Which total complicate what people see now as one thing and try to find one common deficit.

So when I say autism it is a shorthand for a modern language-based classification of a bunch of human beings that involved a lot of biases, historical accidents, and clutter-minded evolution of the sort I described above.

So when I say subtype of autism I mean there are people with some cognitive things in common, who also happen to be classified by those stilts-upon-stilts-upon-stilts standards as autistic. I mean to refer to real live people that I have observed patterns in. Not the baggage that comes with the words.

So I could just as easily have described us in a way that involved a questioning of the entire category system that gave birth to notions like “autism has many types” or “autism has one type”.

This may not be the same reason that the guy who replied to me doesn’t believe in those things. But it is still a lack of belief in those things. And my lack of belief in those things is not changed by my use of the words that most people are familiar with — autism, subtypes, and so on. My lack of belief in those things also is not a good reason for a troll to reply saying something like “If you don’t believe in those things then stop calling yourselves autistic damn you.” To say such a thing is to take my words on entirely the wrong level, and such comments will be cheerfully deleted.

There are third, and fourth, and fifth, and so on, ways to describe the situation in the last post or for that matter in any of my posts. It can be hard to know which one to use, whether to combine a few, or what. And no matter which way I choose, I will be leaving out a world of important things.

Because of this, please don’t persist in telling me what I believe after I have confirmed I don’t believe it. It doesn’t matter if you come up with ten separate examples of words you are totally certain prove I believe something or come at it from a certain viewpoint. If I say I don’t, then I don’t.

To get back to the way I think, I am not even certain I have “beliefs” (even if I use the shorthand as if I do). Once you peel back the layers of language that I use for communication… I have observations and experiences, I have patterns of observations and experiences, and so on. “Belief” seems to require jumping up into language again. So do many other concepts that seem more language-based than anything. Language forces me to use many concepts that have nothing to do with the way my mind works when I am not writing. Those concepts form weird mesh-like frameworks in people’s heads and they then associate me with the mesh-like frameworks instead of with the person beneath them. (And it’s not just me this happens to, but everything.)

But if you look between the words (not the same as between the lines), rather than at them, you can start to see things far more interesting than the words themselves. (This is not abstract. This is as concrete as it gets. The words are the abstractions.)

The use of language has the annoying property of insisting on the reality of lots of abstract concepts. Even seemingly concrete words like “green” are arbitrary, and different languages will divide the colors different ways. (The Irish language, I am told, has more than one word that translates as green and one of them involves colors that in English would be specific shades of green, grey, and brown.) Whereas just looking at an object of certain colors doesn’t require figuring out how any given language classifies them. So literally anything I perceive has to go through a horrid process of translation and distortion and oversimplification. Even the most “literal” language is hopelessly abstract compared to what language is trying to describe.

Every single time I write, I pick up a set of tools. Those tools are the phrases I cobble together into sentences.

“Subtype of autism” is one example of such a tool. It is a shorthand for certain people that I have made certain observations about.

Just because I happen to use the nearest available set of translation tools does not mean I have, in picking up those tools, agreed to the entire worldview of the people who built the tools. I don’t have to agree that autism is a real thing, or that it is not socially constructed, in order to use phrases that include the term. I use these tools because the alternative is silence, not because I have picked up an entire set of beliefs about the world with every phrase I use.

Even more, my failure to describe something does not mean I haven’t observed it. A friend once told me that she envisioned my brain as having these enormous clumps of detailed information, but without a way to access most of it. Most of what I know, I can’t say. What I do say is just an approximation of a sliver of what is in here. Notice how much trouble I had describing part of the history of autism. Even when not sick almost all my attempts have looked similar. Does this mean I lack awareness of what has happened? Does this mean I view autism as a concrete reality, as a type of neurology, as all these other ideas words bring in? No. Not even if I use the word “neurotype”. I know this can be hard to understand but it’s true. No matter what I say will leave out 99% of the information and distort the rest. Don’t be fooled by words.

All of this is just a reminder for everyone, of how and how not to read the words I write. I am not trying to force anyone, or to say everyone is able to do this. I am just trying to give a reminder of how I do and don’t work. If it doesn’t make sense, don’t sweat it. It’s hard to get words to make sense on a topic as completely opposed to words as this one. It’s a little bit like seeing antimatter and trying to use matter in it’s vicinity. The fireworks are interesting.

Aspificating snobbery over the DSM all over again

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I have seen a lot of “aspies” whining lately about the proposed changes in the DSM. Not productive critique of the new criteria, the medicalization of autistic lives, or the fact that the things most autistic people have truly in common have been left out of the criteria while peripheral things nonautistic people want to fix are spotlighted. No, nothing that useful. Just out and out whining.

“I don’t want to be associated with that other kind of autistic people,” goes the standard whine line. “You know… Those Ones.” The crazy drooling retarded low functioning diaper wearing nonverbal ones who can’t take care of themselves and need to be on welfare. Which one of those or many other pejorative categories depends on the individual variation in the snobbery. (What is it? Snob not otherwise specified? Not like those other snobs.)

I’ve written a lot of posts on this blog about aspification and snobbery of this very sort. It’s been sitting around in the autistic community for a long time. And now it’s coming out of the woodwork. I might link some of those posts once I get to my main computer, just for a refresher. But this is some of the most blatantly hateful and snobbish stuff I’ve seen in a while.

What I wrote to someone earlier:

And some of us might rightly find it insulting to be referred to as the ones that others had to be oh-so-tragically “lumped in with” (you know, “crazy”, “low functioning”, “retarded”, “autistic”, or other categories that people seem to do their darndest to distance themselves from).  Like we have disability cooties or something from the way some people behave, and like having the medical people put us in the same category as our “betters” is such a terrible threat (and like it changes anything about who any of us really are).

And it’s true. It’s insulting. It’s insulting to me. It’s insulting to anyone who bears the characteristics that any individual aspified snob might throw at us. And it ought to be insulting to all of those who don’t have disability cooties At the moment either. Anyone with any decency should be appalled that people are upset, not over anything that is really going to harm autistic people as a whole, but at the idea of being thrown in with the rest of us.

It’s especially interesting to see that one of the people most widely quoted as divorcing himself from people who wear adult diapers (like me) is someone who has never seemed to hesitate to use my writing (both with and without permission) but apparently can’t stand the thought of sharing a label with people whose underwear differs from his in certain key aspects, or with people who self-injure. I guess nobody had better tell Carley that lots of people diagnosed with Asperger’s are incontinent and/or have severe self-injury. He might want to create a divide within Asperger’s to wall himself off from such people in.

Funny but I have never minded as a person who has had both such characteristics, sharing an autism label with people without those characteristics. Anyone who delves deep enough into either science or personal experience of autistic people will find that the characteristics related to perception and cognition are the ties that bind us together, regardless of the more superficial characteristics that people divide us up by. Of the autistic people who seem to have the most similar experiences on those deep deep levels to mine, include people diagnosed as high or low functioning, Asperger and autism and PDD-NOS, with IQ scores from 20 to 160. The same can be said of those who most differ from me. The reason is the diagnostic categories are neither deep nor penetrating nor accurate. They divide those with the most in common and connect those with barely anything in common in such haphazard ways it should be obvious that they are falsity of the worst kind. And the same goes when people pick these singular outward traits and hold them up as the ultimate dividing line. Like many autistics I have been saying this since I first got a good hard look at what the categories meant. And surely the deep down bones-level traits are those that matter.

People often get the idea from the media that I prefer to be called low functioning. I don’t. I don’t think that such labels can ever capture the intricate and beautiful complexity that exists within all of us. Nobody should be reduced to such a term even when they do the harm to themself by self-applying such terms. But as a person who has received that label from several doctors without even knowing it, I will stand up and resist the way it is used, and will tell people that when they speak of what they want to do to people with that label then they mean me since I have worn that label. (It is not for them to say they make an exception for me, because when people with that label are mistreated I am mistreated because the label is forced upon me whether some random guy likes it or not. It is forced on me by doctors and by people who yell out of car windows alike and is not so easily repelled.). Such things do not fit into soundbites.

Anyway just let it be known that I totally and completely divorce myself from any person or community who shuns people like me or like any other random autistic person who doesn’t meet the standards of aspified perfection. This is not the way to celebrate human diversity and it is not the way to gain status for yourselves by throwing the rest of us to the wolves. We may share an official diagnostic category (in places where the DSM is recognized), people may finally be forced to acknowledge the sameness that many of us have believed in all along, but (thank God) we don’t all share such a terribly harmful set of ethics. And thankfully it’s okay to reject crappy ethics even if it’s not okay to reject people for having unsuitably proper characteristics.   

(“Better? Fuck better. We don’t exist for the beautiful people of the world, Ted. We’re there for the oddball. The rebel. The outcast. The geek.” A line from the movie “The Specials” that just came to mind. As it always does when I am confronted with outrageous elitism.)

Anyway as much as this is a rant against snobbery it is also a call to remember what is important. Look to that beautiful shifting central set of attributes that make us alike and different. Stop using the periphery to divide us. And just as we remember the central attributes that matter, we need to look to the central values that bring us together to assert that we are of equal value no matter how we seem to differ, that we all matter and are valuable, in a deep down way not a surface feelgood way. Because we need those roots to sustain us while other people are fleeing and pointing fingers at those they don’t want to be lumped in with. And because it’s too easy to get blown away by the ethical storms that surround situations like these.

There is so much beauty in those deep levels of who we are, and it’s so easy to forget it when people are going on at great length about how inappropriate it is to see our connections when we could be dividing on the basis of things as surface level as the fabric of our underwear or our IQ points. Yes those things can make a huge difference in how we are treated and what lives we lead, but isn’t that fact something we are trying to change, rather than intensify the oppression?

“Intentional” communities… not.

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I wrote part of this in response to a post on the change.org autism blog called Down on the Farm, about “intentional communities” (which aren’t really) built for autistic people (but not by us or with our meaningful input) along with some non-autistic people (who have much more choice and power than we do) in ways where the power structure screams institution even if the shape of the walls doesn’t (some people believe institutions are defined by their shape and number of residents, which is neither the sociological definition nor my definition — the definition I use includes a specific power structure that can occur anywhere).

The blogger’s response was not to actually critique all this in any meaningful way, but just to say:

I like the idea of [my son] Charlie working on a farm. He likes being outdoors and the kind of work one does when gardening strikes me as combining many of the things he’s drawn to do. Judging from his indifference to computers, he’s not likely to be a candidate for doing data-entry. And various sources have been saying to me, they’re aren’t going to be any of those sorts of jobs left when he’s an adult—-??!??!!?

Driving back from the post office earlier today, we saw a father and his young son digging in a huge pile of dirt in front of their house. The boy was younger than Charlie; I could see how eager he was to be helping his dad and I think the fact that he was getting to work with (play in) the dirt had a lot to do with it. Working at a desk isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure (even in the industrial-suburban Garden State—there are farms here).

Which completely misses the point of what these places really are.

I’m reposting my response here because I think it’s an important issue and I am disappointed in the blogger there for her treatment of it. Change.org is supposed to have a strong commitment to social justice and I see no such commitment in this kind of complacency about such a destructive place.

Here is my original post:

———–

I can’t explain why I think these places are a terrible idea. But I do.

Last year, an autistic woman (Danechi of And Stimming with Rainbows of Every Design) blogged about these places in a much more responsible way than they are being discussed here.

Her first post was called, The point of intentional communities is that they are *intentional*.

To quote the relevant parts (which are in response to the exact same community that is being discussed on change.org):

Bittersweet Farms is not an intentional community.

The point of intentional communities is that a person *intends* to live there. If they decide they no longer want to, they can leave. They make decisions about their own lives.

If a person is placed into a community by someone with greater power, forced to stay there unless the person with greater power moves them out, and has important decisions about their life made by those people in power, then they’re not in an intentional community. They’re in an institution.

Yes, even if it is on a farm. Yes, even if they are doing work on said farm.

And no, I will never willingly consider such a living arrangement for myself, even if I think intentional communities have the potential to be really cool, because Bittersweet Farms, and the Sacramento-area farm-institution in the very early planning stages are not intentional communities.

[…]

At most I can only realistically imagine an autistic getting a token role in this planning process. There’s no way we can get a majority. Even if we did get a sizeable minority, the power structures will still be the same, and they’re the most dangerous part of the whole thing.

Googling the name of the person in charge [of SAGE] shows that they’re a Rescue Angel and that they were somehow involved with the Green Our Vaccines Rally. I know what that means from an autism-science perspective, and I’m not happy with it, but I don’t know if it would have any significance from an institution-masquerading-as-pseudo-utopian-community-planning perspective.

Her second post on the subject is here:

I just spent time at another residential-farm/institution’s website reading the rationale for why agricultural life is good for autistics.

[…]

SAGE Crossing’s rationale/justification for concept has no similarity to my experiences, and clashes horribly with my worldview in general (that we should create a culture of inclusion). Theoretically a rural setting might be “safer” for autistic-me. (But is it for someone with my chronic illness? I think me-with-cystic-fibrosis is far better off in a city with nearby medical facilities.)

And there is no way that I’m going to live in a farm just because I flap my hands. People who flap their hands are allowed in cities too, for the record. And if all people who annoyed other people were sent out to the countryside, there would soon be so few people in cities that they would no longer qualify as cities.

Also, what the hell does needing to be anesthetized for routine medical procedures have to do with needing to live on an institution-farm? It seems like SAGE Crossing is just throwing out random stuff about autistics and assuming that people will infer we can’t be included in society based on these disconnected, irrelevant things.

I would like to ask why you don’t deal with these issues in the same manner that Danechi does. It seems to me that she thinks more critically, as well as more accurately and responsibly, about these places than you do. She has put into words things that I could only describe as a vague nausea and feeling of these things being wrong at the core, as well as being my worst nightmare. institution-wise (far worse than nightmares that call up images of totally rough and obviously degrading treatment).

When I say wrong at the core, I mean that the problem is not a superficial issue. It’s not whether some autistic people might like to live on a farm while others may not. (My autistic father grew up on a farm and his farm was nothing like these ones deliberately created for autistic people.) It’s about the power structure. And I am not equipped to explain what, precisely, is wrong with it. I don’t have that kind of language. I just know it’s terribly wrong, and become quite alarmed when I see writing by people who cannot appear to sense that at all. Especially on a site that is supposed to be about working for real change and social justice — which would require far more critical thinking about these matters.

If you want to talk about intentional communities, though, LeisureLand (another page, with photos, here) is a good example of an intentional community created by and for autistic people. And it is nothing at all like these more institutional versions of the same things. The institutional ones have an alluring form (at least alluring to some people) but a terrible substance.

At any rate, on a place like change.org I am highly concerned about posts that seem positive or neutral towards places as destructive as this one, and that appear to take places like this (and possibly group homes, etc., too) as inevitable, or inevitable for people with a certain level of difficulty doing certain things.

———–

…and that is where my original reply ends.

I think Danechi’s phrase institution-masquerading-as-pseudo-utopian-community-planning sums up the situation better than anything else I can think of. That’s what makes all the hair on my body stand up when I read about these places.

I’ve lived in a pseudo-utopian institutional farm community before, and my experiences there have done more lasting harm than straightforward beatings and attempted murder have (well, there were beatings there too, but they were not the worst part, merely the easiest to describe). I am sure such a remark would be really puzzling to a lot of people, but I don’t know how else to explain it. Certainly I was totally cut out for the kind of work there (simple, concrete, and repetitive), and I enjoyed the work-training program very much. Certainly it was less physically brutal than most. But of all the things I have had to untrain myself from in order to survive in the real world, that place has been the most strenuous, and the most resistant to my attempts to overwrite it.

At any rate, it concerns me that someone affiliated with Change.org can write about an institution-masquerading-as-utopia, and have their only response be a set of musings about whether their son might like it there. And it highlights a difference I have noticed between people who look to the core of such a place and find it highly alarming, and people who readily believe the propaganda and proceed to fantasize about how much they or their children might like living there.

Please remember it is propaganda, and does not speak to the reality of having your life controlled that thoroughly. Please remember that people who have had their lives controlled that thoroughly often cannot see the damage it has done until a long time later. You come to expect that kind of control and you forget what freedom was like, if you have ever even experienced it in the first place. And please remember that places created by one kind of people, and for another kind of people (where “another kind” can be understood to be different societal categories even when it’s not an actual difference in essence), are rife with power imbalances and the potential for great harm. And that carefully crafted utopias on the surface are often among the most insidious dystopias under the surface where you can’t get your hands on them in any concrete way.

Conceptualizing Autism

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I know I haven’t posted in awhile, and this isn’t really much of a post, but I just wanted to direct you to:

Conceptualizing Autism

Which is at Existence is Wonderful, and manages to clearly put into words a lot of things I’ve noticed but never been able to say all at once. (Something that Anne is talented at in general.)

Just one quote out of many good ones here. She talks of three different ways of looking at autism — in terms of neurological structure, in terms of lived experience, and in terms of outward behavior. Of the set of outward behavior normally used to recognize autistic people, she notes:

What is interesting, and perhaps a bit unnerving, is that this category is at once the one people tend to put the most stock in (in terms of identifying autistics, in terms of determining what educational supports we might need, etc.) and the one most subject to cultural biases, personal biases, misinformation, and the ever-changing social lens through which different kinds of people are generally viewed.

Excuses to be a jerk. (for BADD)

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This is my post for Blogging Against Disablism Day. You’ll have to wait on the poems/other writing, because I have to write this instead. I’m having trouble reading, so I am afraid this might be sloppy. And it is very long, getting into pretty high levels of detail on some things. I hope the intended ideas behind it are clear by the end. As usual, while I’m talking about specific sorts of situations with a narrowly-defined bunch of people, I’m thinking of something a lot more broadly applicable than that.

I have noticed a trend online, which is for people to say to others, “You are not autistic/AS, you are just using that as an excuse for poor social skills or an excuse to be a jerk.” I have an online friend who frequently gets this reaction, when she says something she considers just direct and someone else finds it insulting and flames her, and she tries to explain, only to get that response. Indeed, things like “Asperger’s is just an excuse to be socially inept” or “people who use Asperger’s as an excuse” have become givens in some parts of the Internet community. It is even accepted (with little to no apparent evidence) by some autistic people as fact.

There are several layers of disability stereotyping around this, and I want to attempt to disentangle as many of them as I can.

To lay some foundation, though, I want to talk about who autistic people are, using ‘autistic’ in the broadest possible sense. Please note that the statistics that bring us ‘1 in 166’ and ‘1 in 150’ and the like include people under the medicalized categories of not only autism but also things like Asperger’s and PDD-NOS, not that those three can even be distinguished at a superficial glance without knowing anything about a person’s early history. I don’t intend to talk more about who we are in terms of some sort of medical criteria though. I want to talk about who we are in the lives of people who know nothing about autism, or even those who know a little but believe themselves to know a lot. Because, with numbers so high, virtually everyone has known at least some of us.

Like a lot of autistic people, I have pretty good radar for other autistic people, or more broadly, other people who are neurologically atypical in some way. This doesn’t mean I can’t be wrong, but in all cases where I’ve been able to test it, I’ve been right. And these have been primarily places where a person would not be expected to be autistic. Prior to knowing about autism, I picked up on these things, but was only able to put them in relation to people I knew — people “like me” or “like my brother” or “like my father”, etc.

I have noticed, though, that other people, even many professionals, don’t always know what to look for. They think of “looking autistic” in a narrow way that has to involve, for instance, certain repetitive movements and a total lack of speech. When this is only one of many ways autistic people can look.

So I am going to attempt to describe what autistic people often look like. Be aware that non-autistic people can look like some of these things some of the time, and autistic people won’t all look like all of these all of the time. I’m trying to put into words something that I unconsciously map in a matter of seconds, and that will always be imperfect, much like all attempts I’ve seen so far to explain typical facial expressions to autistic people. But I hope to give other people some idea. It’s certain combinations of these things, not just one of them. And some relate directly to being autistic, while others are more about how autistic people might pass.

Some Of How I Notice Other Autistic People

One set of things I notice involves unusual patterns of movement.

The one most people know already, is what most people describe as ‘stimming’. Repetitive, unusual movements. Rocking of the torso (many different rates and rhythms are possible), rocking or shaking of head (front to back or side to side), flapping of hands (different directions, rates, and rhythms are possible), twisting and flicking of fingers and wrists, bringing the hands together and apart again, wringing the hands, moving from foot to foot, and many complicated movements that defy description, involving twisting, rocking, flipping, flicking, etc of lots of different parts of the body.

This can be movements that are just there in the background, it can be ones that seem to be related to emotion or level of overload, and it can be ones that seem deliberate.

There are also many people who have learned to disguise this to some degree or another. They might do mannerisms that are more typical-looking, but with an odd rhythm or intensity. They might do less typical-looking mannerisms with lower intensity, or switch between them so rapidly that they would pass as little mannerisms a person might ordinarily have.

One woman I know developed a whole series of ‘stims’ to do that cannot be seen if you are sitting in a desk, because she went to a fairly stereotypical Catholic school where you got whacked with a ruler for things like rocking. So she fidgets with her hands in front of her belly, and bounces her legs constantly. However, if she is forced to keep those body parts still, she will end up rocking or doing other things with her upper body. She can’t stop the movement, she can just move it to some other body part. Other people can actually stop these movements entirely.

I will also notice an unusual lack of movement. A person might move only as many body parts as they absolutely have to, in order to get the job done. Their body may, in between expressions and actions, remain as much as possible in a particular neutral position. This neutral position is one that other people can usually cover over more easily than autistic people, although some autistic people do manage to cover it well. I particularly notice their hands — slightly curled in, and their mouth — shaped like a trapezoid.

Their posture and walk can be unusually stiff or awkward-looking, or looking like someone much younger than they are would walk. Their arms might be straight down at their sides, held up with elbows bent near their chest, or clasped together. They might lean over slightly when they walk. They might have what seems to be a normal walk on one side of their body, and an unusual one on the other side. All of this may be more obvious when they run than when they walk. They might run with one arm held up in the traditional jogging position and the other flapping loosely at their side, or one rigid and one loose.

They might move with unusual speed or unusual slowness, or even a combination of both, with little to no movement in between the two extremes. Their movements may look heavily deliberate and premeditated, sometimes even if they’re not either one of those things, or not the sort of thing that ‘should’ be either one of those things. They might be clumsy, or extremely agile, or a combination of both in a way that is very odd compared to standard movement. They might have a wide discrepancy between ‘triggered’ or involuntary movements (which might be agile, or at least more agile or rapid), and voluntary movements (which might be slow, clumsy, or non-existent). This may be similar to people with other sorts of movement disorders (such as parkinsonism) without actually being those same movement disorders.

They might seem to string together movements in an unusual way, going through an entire series of movements on autopilot just to try to do something that comes in the middle of that series of movements, and then having to trigger another set of movements in order to get to the next part of what they want to do, and so on.

Here is a video of an extreme version of what I mean, being my rendition of what an attempt to boil water in a teapot can look like on a very bad voluntary-movement day (simulated by using the camera by remote control while not putting a lot of effort into suppressing the triggered responses seen in this video; on a truly bad day that way, I would not be able to suppress this sort of thing even with a lot of effort):

But such things can also be a lot subtler, involving fewer tries to get it right, and lesser degrees of overshooting the mark. A person can also be unable to move voluntarily without involuntarily moving other body parts that aren’t at all necessary to the movement, and that also aren’t the kind of movement that neurologically standard people do. (Neurologically standard people do seem to move more than they have to, but the moves are all coordinated into particular expressions and postures and such that are very different than what I’m describing here. A person doing what I’m describing will normally look awkward or unusual when doing it.)

The person’s facial expressions can look blank, oddly plastered-on, or unusual for the situation. They might also have standard facial expressions, but in a way that is more fleeting than usual and only possible involuntarily, looking fairly fake when they try to do them on purpose. They might be giving only fake eye contact, or giving very intense eye contact. They may have exaggerated expressions, or expressions that are barely discernible (I have two different smiles for instance, both genuine, but one of them is impossible to tell is a smile unless you know the position my mouth starts in, and the other looks like a regular smile).

An autistic person who is passing for non-autistic can have the movement pattern normally seen by a person who is extremely insincere. Sometimes similar to the “used car salesman” look, or the “Hillary Clinton” look for that matter. Except that in an autistic person, the apparent insincerity is usually due to a poorly-concealed effort to pass for normal, rather than an effort to manipulate people into spending their money/votes/whatever (not that a person can’t be doing both, but I’ll get into that later).

Another thing I notice is unconscious echopraxia, involuntarily engaging in the same movements as someone else, with no conscious intent and outside the normal realm of social mirroring (although it might sometimes be in addition to what looks like social mirroring, because an echopraxic person will often mirror things in both standard and nonstandard ways).

And of course, less social mirroring than usual, too. When I was 12 years old, the person who’d go on to become my best friend told me something, both of us totally unaware of autism at the time. She said that if I was in a room full of people, she’d bet that I would be the one person whose body language, breathing, and other movements were not unconsciously synced up with everyone else’s. I was perplexed by this at the time, but it’s now one of the ways I can pick up on people who might be autistic, in a crowded room.

There can also be attempts to mask involuntary weirdness by appearing to be voluntarily weird. Since chosen non-conformity can in some circles have higher social status than involuntary non-conformity, and since it can lead to an internal sense of being in control of one’s own weirdness, even though of course the person isn’t really. The person can seem afraid of being discovered as doing this, in some cases, too. So there are often autistic people among people who appear deliberately and ostentatiously eccentric, just as there are often people with learning disabilities among class clowns who’ve figured out it’s better to be considered funny than considered stupid.

(Be aware, though, that it can be very hard to tell, in an autistic person, the difference between something done deliberately and ostentatiously, and something done without having any other choice. This is because some of us have subtle motor or proprioceptive trouble that can lead to that impression in people who don’t know what they’re looking at, just as people can sometimes believe that people with Tourette’s are just ticcing for ‘negative attention’.)

Another thing to look for is a certain surprise factor. I’ve spent my entire life watching people be surprised at me: They’re either surprised by my intelligence and other abilities, or surprised by what I can’t do. Surprised is the wrong word sometimes. Sometimes they’re so surprised that they either try to disprove my abilities, or try to disprove my difficulties. Autistic people can be that bright person that you just can’t believe is really so dumb or spaced-out sometimes, or that dumb or spaced-out person that you just can’t believe is so bright or talented sometimes. Many of us spend our lives either being accused of cheating or otherwise pretending to be competent, or accused of being lazy or otherwise pretending to be incompetent, and a surprising number of us get both at once from different people, depending on whether they saw a talent or an area of difficulty first. This happens because most people fill in the blank areas of someone who looks capable at one crucial thing with “all these things I haven’t seen them do, they must be able to do, and if they’re not doing them it’s just because they don’t want to right then” and fill in the blank areas of someone who looks incapable at one crucial thing with “all these things I haven’t seen them fail at, they must be unable to do, and if they’re doing them there must be some kind of trick to it”.

Another common feature of autistic people’s abilities is day-to-day variability, and variability based on situation. In one situation, we can do things. Change one thing, or wait until we’re tired, and we can’t. Autistic people of all perceived “levels of functioning” tend to be accused of laziness, manipulation, or “playing dumb” at that point unless people understand that it’s really that variable, or that changing one thing can really make that big of a difference.

If you’re not autistic, keep in mind that in our areas of difficulty, we often have to work hard just to get to the level that you might consider the most basic level possible, and that expecting us to sustain even that level of ability, let alone those above it, is like expecting most people to be able to do calculus all day. There’s just no way.

So what this all outwardly looks like is a lot of surprises and a lot of variability in what we are doing, or can do. People who are trying to mask their incompetence at certain things will sometimes portray themselves as either “lazy,” “just screwing with you,” or as free spirits doing what their whims tell them to do and passing from one desire to the next in some sort of floaty and ethereal way. There are always social roles these things can be masked by, and even when they’re not positive ones, they can be more positive in some situations than being considered truly incapable. And being unable to do something can always be masked by “not caring” about it — “I don’t care about these ridiculously strict notions of personal hygiene anyway”, whether true or false, is a great way to mask an extremely low level of self-care skills that would, if noticed for what it is, potentially lead to real trouble. Affecting an intellectual-snobbish air of indifference to “such trivial matters” as ordinary social interaction can work for some people, too.

In a person who is passing, there is also often tension between who they’re trying to appear to be, and who they are. It can look like the usual angstiness some people go through; after all, most people hide certain aspects of who they are in order to fit in. But passing as non-autistic is a bigger disconnect than pretending to like bands you really hate, or even than pretending to like people you really can’t stand, or to feel feelings different than the ones you know you have.

Passing can mean, in its most extreme forms of disconnect, having no or close to no understanding of most of the words one is using, most of the interactions one is engaging in, etc. Possibly even not understanding the true nature of words, while using them all the time. It can mean not just feigning interest in things one is disinterested in, but feigning interest in things one doesn’t even understand, while, further, not even understanding what this ‘interest’ thing is that one is feigning. It can mean not just putting on different feelings than the ones you have, but not understanding what feelings you are putting on, nor how (or even that) they are supposed to relate to those sensations you do intuitively understand that occur inside of you in response to situations.

Basically, a skilled enough autistic person can take patterns of behavior and language they see around them, absorb them for long enough to acquire a huge repertoire, and recombine it into something resembling an entirely different personality than they actually have. And they can, again if skilled enough, do this with a level of unawareness more than most people can even imagine. Most people assume it stops at “saying things you don’t mean,” rather than “saying things without awareness of that particular concept of meaning,” or even “saying things without knowing what language is for”. For an autistic person, it really can be that extreme (and with the usual fluctuations and shutdowns and juggling of abilities, can vary between that extreme and less extreme).

So one outward thing to look for, is gaps in this kind of act. Seemingly incongruous statements. Insistence in someone who seems otherwise normal or eccentric, that people don’t really know who they are (especially insistence despite people trying to tell them this is the usual existential angst, rather than the result of a profound disconnect between comprehension and behavior). Sudden and seemingly over-reacting levels of rejection of another person’s identification with the persona they’re passing as. Pauses during speech that occur at slightly unusual points in time. Seeming to have two “layers” to their actions that are utterly contradictory in nature, with one set of actions pointing to their actual levels of comprehension and thinking and interest, and another set of actions masking it that might seem to point to higher levels of comprehension than actually exist.

Be aware that when the above happens, the disconnect is on the level of a disabled person passing as non-disabled, not a whiny person who just doesn’t realize how much like everyone else they really are. Yes, there are things all humans have in common. No, that doesn’t solve the severity of depression, disconnect, and alienation that autistic people often experience when passing, particularly when the person they’re passing as (or being passed off as by others, since passing can be entirely in other people’s heads, too) understands things they don’t. It’s a lot closer to a deaf person passing for hearing (while entirely missing at least 80% of conversations as a result), or a blind person trying to drive a car without crashing it or letting on that they’re blind, or a person from one culture being thrown into a totally alien culture (where nobody’s ever even heard of one’s own culture) with no preparation and trying to pass as comprehending, than a person with certain abilities trying to pretend they are similar to someone with roughly the same set of abilities but a different personality. Not that that’s easy either, but there’s an order of magnitude or two here that needs to not be missed.

Of course, not all autistic people are in a situation where passing is possible, whether due to their own abilities, the expectations of those around them, or both. And passing has gradations, too. It’s not like there are those who pass and those who don’t pass. It’s more like there are those who pass to different degrees, as different things, and in different situations. Passing can also be wholly unintentional and unnoticed, but I’ll get into that later.

Speech opens up a whole other set of possibilities of things to notice.

Tone is important. Often I’ll notice someone having more of a monotone than usual. This can range from subtle lessening of tone variation, to absolutely robotic-sounding speech. Some people have very little variation in tone, but more variation in volume. Their voices can sound flat to most people, but do show inflection, just not by changing pitch.

A person can also have a rhythmically varying tone that varies always according to the same rate. It may be just as unvarying in some ways as a monotone, except on a broader range of pitches, like a sing-song voice that repeats the same tones over and over again.

A person’s voice could also sound like they are making speeches every time they talk. I know of a few autistic people who mastered public speaking before they mastered conversational speech, and it can sound like that.

Their voice can also sound like a mishmash of different tones, sometimes a totally different tone, and accent, for each word or clump of words. When it shifts very often, it can sound like one of those automated telephone services that have different words programmed in with different intonations for each one, and a computer picks the order they go in.

It can also sound like a more smoothed-over version of this, with longer uses of the same tonal pattern, but still spliced together to some extent. Or it can vary between several of the things I described above, based on a whole lot of different factors.

A lot of times people are easy to spot by not having normal levels of modulation to the volume or sound of their voice. A lot of autistic people have what most people would consider a very annoying voice: Too loud, too nasal, the wrong pitch, the wrong tone, etc. But we can also have voices that are too quiet, very breathy, almost whispering. And, like movement, some people can do one or the other, but have trouble finding a middle ground for long. Many autistic people I know have some ability to control the volume of their voice if they concentrate on it, but the moment they slip up, they go back to loud or quiet.

Many autistic people have a sound in their voice that I do not know how to describe, but it’s a sound I associate with being cognitively very distanced from the production of the words. Some other autistic people could hear it in my voice when I spoke with seeming fluency, and they pointed it out to me. I can hear it in the voices of some of my friends, and have one friend where I can always tell when he’s having more speech difficulties because the sound gets more pronounced.

Someone tried, without ever hearing this sound, to convince me it was just a matter of nasal resonance or something, but it’s not that simple. I can hear it the same way other people can hear excitement or anger in each other’s tones by recognizing what their own voices would sound like. I know from the inside what it feels like, and what I sounded like when I spoke, so I can hear it in others. So much for a lack of empathy.

In people who use delayed echolalia as a functional means of communicating, or even of feigning communication, there are often certain telltale signs as well. The phrases used might seem slightly out of place. There are pauses in unusual places during the person’s speech. There are sets of sentences and phrases they commonly repeat to fill space while trying to come up with more words. There can be, if the mechanism is not working right or if the communication is only feigned, things said that are not the sort of thing you would think the person would ever really mean. The person might on the other hand come up with entire paragraphs beforehand, and then spew them all rapidfire out of their mouth.

There is always immediate echolalia, which tends to be pretty obvious. But there are also hidden forms of that too. My father and I both sometimes mouth things that other people are saying either right along with them or just after they say them, and if I hear a sound of a certain pitch my throat tightens as if I were trying to sing that pitch. We might echo noises in our surroundings too, not just words. I often involuntarily do cat, bird, and microwave oven noises, and I have heard of other autistic people who do car alarms. Some of us repeat noises or words over and over to ourselves, or have vocal tics causing forceful and involuntary noises or words. (These may be disguised as “just being silly” or “nervous habits”.)

Also I often hear autistic people who don’t talk at a standard rate for the society they’re in, either very slowly or very quickly. Sometimes almost too fast to understand. I hear people having trouble pronouncing words, too, which makes some people sound almost as if they’re not speaking at all, and other people sound slurred or indistinct in other ways.

And some autistic people seem more likely to stutter, either on sounds or on entire words. Or not to talk at all.

Many autistic people, maybe even most, seem to have real trouble with keeping language consistent. So they may vary a lot in how often they can speak, or how fluent or relevant to their thoughts it is.

And language itself is a whole different thing. Some autistic people seem completely lost without it, some seem to have extreme difficulty with it, and some seem to have both situations going on. If I see a person who absolutely can’t seem to function in any situations except those using language, I do think of whether they might be autistic. But same with if I see someone to whom all language is foreign, regardless of how proficient they are or seem to be. (For instance, I’m a very fluent writer when I can write, but language is very foreign to me, and I know people who are not as fluent writers but the only way they understand anything at all is through language.)

Another thing I notice is when people relate to things around them in an unusual way that suggests they perceive them differently than usual. Sometimes this involves noticing the texture, pattern, material, and shape of something more than the identity it acquires with words and social understanding. It can also involve physically interacting with objects in an unusual way, like smelling or tapping them.

One thing I find hard to put into words is an aspect of noticing that is different. It’s not just noticing things other people don’t, although that is a part of it. It’s also that there seem to be a set of things that people, especially in groups, are locked into noticing at the expense of other things. If a group of people is sitting around all seeming to pay attention to the same things as each other, and one person is noticing and relating to something outside that set of things, that is another clue, and an important one if it happens often and there’s no other explanation for it.

There’s also an odd thing I notice where, despite our tendency to stand out in other situations, many autistic people seem to not be noticed by other people. They can be standing right in front of someone, talking right to them, and everyone acts like they’re not there. It’s not a malicious sort of thing, they just don’t seem to notice the person at all.

I notice that when in groups of people, autistic people will often laugh just after everyone else laughs. They might have an odd laugh, and laugh harder than necessary in an attempt to prove they “get it” (which usually backfires).

I notice people talking so much that other people get bored and want them to stop, and they don’t notice, and keep talking. And also having trouble starting to talk. (Even both in the same person.)

I notice reactions to things that change, that other people might not react to. Even changing over from one room to another might be difficult, or from sitting to standing, or from any action to another. When change is unexpected, there’s a sound I can hear in people’s voices of barely-suppressed panic. And of course sometimes panic becomes more obvious.

And some autistic people seem to try to get used to riding change like a surfer rides a wave. Or find ways of masking a difficulty with change (and all that new information to process). Often having familiar objects helps, although what these objects are might not be obvious: Many autistic women I know, including me, have at some point or another used jewelry for this purpose, because it can be easily and unobtrusively carried just about everywhere and fiddled with, and is culturally accepted for women.

I notice autistic people in various levels and kinds of of overload, shutdown, and meltdowns. I also notice autistic people reacting very strongly to specific sounds, colors, etc. Whether because it hurts them because they’re sensitive to it, or because they just hate the stimulus or something associated with it, on an involuntary but emotional rather than perceptual level.

I notice some autistic people seeming what most people would call very rigid, and others almost the opposite.

I could probably go on for the length of a book, but I won’t right now. I think I’ve made the point that there are a lot of ways that I notice autistic (and other neurologically atypical) people. Next, though, I want to talk about what other people generally seem to see autistic people as.

How Other People Often See Us

One really important thing to be aware of is that, even if everything I just discussed and more would now seem really obvious, most people don’t seem to think of autistic people as autistic people, because they don’t know this category. They have different ideas about who we are, and their perception of us tends to blend in with categories of people they’re more familiar with. We’re not one set of people, in the eyes of most people. We’re assorted specific people, but we’re not seen as who we are, either. We’re just seen according to what roles people perceive us as having.

Here are a number of qualities I’ve seen attributed to autistic people. I am not saying they are right or wrong. I am just saying, these are the attributes other people often tend to give us based on qualities that are specific to being autistic, or specific to being an autistic person who is passing or being passed by others as someone else.

We’re the people who try really hard to fit in, but everyone knows we don’t. Some of us might be able to fit in as long as we’re content to be used by others in various ways — as the butt of jokes, or to get back at each other.

We’re that person who everyone played jokes on, but who kept coming back for more, being excited to be in on the whole thing even if it was only as the target.

We’re that person who always makes a point of laughing at that other weird person, in a bid for acceptance. And we get only partial acceptance at that.

And we’re that other weird person, too.

We’re the person everyone loves to hate, and can usually come up with some excuse to do so out of a repository of things we’ve said or done. But it’s really not that thing we said or did that makes them hate us. It’s something else, something intangible, about who we are. The particular thing they cite is just an excuse.

We’re that person people are embarrassed to be around, but also embarrassed to be embarrassed by.

We’re the people that get called spaz, retard, psycho, nerd, dork, jerk, loser, idiot, flake, space-case, and geek, among many other names.

We’re just plain weird.

We’re that person who always seems to do weird things, which must be for attention, because that’s why people do weird things. Or something.

We’re the people who just don’t want to do things, and that’s why we don’t do them. It has to be disinterest, not difficulty.

We’re the people where people always say of something we aren’t consistently able to do, “He can do that. When he really wants to, ya know.” And the people who say the flip side about: “She can’t really do that, someone must have helped her,” or “He can’t really do that, you must be imagining things,” or “She can’t really do that, she must’ve cheated.” Often we’re both in the same lifetime, even sometimes at the same time.

Our silence can be interpreted as everything from lack of the ability to think, to being stuck up, to being the “Strong, Silent Type” to not feeling like talking.

We’re the people who others look at our strange reactions to things and say we’re on drugs, even if we’re not. We might also be people who consequently find acceptance of some amount among drug users.

We’re the person who everyone calls “retarded” who suddenly comes out with things that seem very intelligent, and the person everyone calls a “genius” who can’t do some really simple stuff.

We’re flamboyantly, deliberately weird, intentional nonconformists who don’t care what people think about us, or who want to feel special.

We’re stupid, boring, and self-centered.

And it goes on and on. The one thing we don’t have is a place in most people’s heads as who we are. There are already all the above explanations and more. (Not that medical explanations of autism say who we are either. But there’s a whole lot of who we are that gets missed if you take our differences in thinking and perception, the ones that get called autism in the end, out of the equation.)

Disability Stereotypes

There’s one particular disability stereotype that’s going to become very relevant here. It’s the idea that disabled people get so many cool things and exemptions from things everyone else has to do.

It doesn’t matter that the parking spaces are close to the building because we need them to be, other people often will see them as a luxury.

Instead of seeing accessibility as barrier removal, a lot of people see it as giving disabled people special rights, privileges, and luxuries.

And there’s one other common attitude towards disabled people that’s relevant here: There are a lot of disability-themed insults, and lots of hatred and bigotry towards disabled people, not to mention all the systemic injustice and all that. But at the same time, a lot of people would feel extremely guilty about teasing or bullying a disabled person, or getting mad at someone for being disabled.

Just combine those two perspectives about disability, and stir a little.

And then… cognitive dissonance.

So there’s all these ways that autistic people can stand out, but most of us don’t stand out to most people as autistic. Even the ones who are the most obvious, often are mistaken for some other kind of strange or disabled.

People already have these ways of relating to us.

And many of those ways are not complimentary. They have a lot bad to say about us, and to say or do to us.

And then it turns out… we’re autistic.

Then the little “I must feel guilty about this if they’re autistic” thing kicks in, if they’ve absorbed that particular way of seeing things.

And most people don’t want to see themselves as mean, or the “sort of person” who would do these things to a disabled person.

Some people will at that point apologize.

Others, though, will want to stay mad at us (because people who are mad at someone often do), or else want to continue to have their excuses (based in estimations of our character, covering for discomfort with the fact that we’re unusual in the first place) to treat us poorly.

It’s really hard for some people to go from, bullying the outcast nobody likes anyway (so it doesn’t even quite count as bullying, does it?), to bullying a person with a genuine disability. It’s really hard for some people to go from “I’m mad at someone because they said something offensive,” to “I’m mad at someone because they’re literal about language.”

It’s a lot easier, to think any of the following, “This is a jerk. This is a person with all those bad qualities that make them someone we love to hate. This is just some idiot who keeps coming back for more, so he deserves what he gets. This is a gullible person it’s fun to mess with.” Etc.

It can even seem like you are granting one of those special privileges out, if you say “Hold on, I was wrong to do this, or think this, about this person, because they’re being literal, not obnoxious.” Or whatever.

And so there’s guilt, there’s cognitive dissonance about not being “that sort of person”, there’s resentment of what seem to be special privileges.

And so it becomes either, “You don’t have Asperger’s, you’re just using it as an excuse,” or “You may be autistic, but that’s no excuse.”

As with any set of negative stereotypes, if a person comes a long who is both autistic and mean and seemingly uses autism as an excuse to be mean, they confirm the stereotype. And then everyone who is just doing things an autistic way, gets to confirm the stereotype without even fitting it.

By now, people at least ought to know that the presence of women who are or seem irrational doesn’t mean women are particularly and specifically irrational. But stereotypes like that are still confirmed in people’s heads by the existence of people who fit or seem to fit them.

And of course, if you hear something often enough, it seems true even if it’s not.

So then there’s this sort of urban legend, that the Internet is filled with hordes of jerks who use autism as an excuse to be jerks. And the moment an autistic person shows up using autism as an explanation of something about themselves, then that stereotype is thrown in their face.

And autistic people ourselves have certain choices of how to respond to that.

We can say, “Yes, that stereotype is true. But the people who fit it, make the rest of us look bad, make it worse for the rest of us by confirming it, etc.”

We can just watch it happen.

Or we can say, “Hey hold on a minute, that’s a stereotype, and a harmful one at that. An explanation isn’t an excuse. We do have this particular kind of trouble with language, or engaging in typical interactions, and we are going to make mistakes that can be explained by being autistic.”

I’m sure there are other things too.

But every time an autistic person uses the “They make the rest of us look bad” thing, they’re falling into the same trap as women who direct their anger at being considered irrational, at particularly irrational women, instead of at the source of the problem. They blame those who fit, or seem to fit, the stereotype, for its existence and continuance, even though that’s not the source of negative stereotypes about people.

And they then continue it.

And people then continue to use it against autistic people.

In the end, this stereotype itself looks to me like an example of something that is frequently as an excuse in order to be a jerk… towards autistic people.