Tag Archives: Stereotypes

A bunch of stuff that needed saying

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The following stuff is important stuff I wrote elsewhere on the net. If some of what I'm saying doesn't make sense, ignore it, it's just context that I'm not able to describe right now. The main thrust of what I'm saying should make sense without understanding the full context of what I wrote. And I can't rewrite it all right now for this blog. So the following is pretty much as I wrote it. Also sorry for all caps in places, it was because where I was writing it I couldn't use other forms of emphasis. And please don't assume that this is all about autism. Everyone always assumes that everything I say is all about autism. It isn't. Most of it isn't. Not even the stuff that talks about autism is all about autism. I am fed up with just about every such assumption because my world isn't made up of only or mainly autistic people and when I talk about things I always get replies saying “This applies to people without autism too” and I want to say “no shit Sherlock, that's what I meant in the firs

This turned into a long post, and it may not apply to the people I’m replying too, but this conversation just brought up a lot of things I’ve been thinking but having trouble saying.

Thank you for writing that. It’s really important.

Also another point I want to make. There are many autistic people whose best method of communication is nonverbal. By which I mean, not speech, not writing. Some of us this is true of, can communicate well by speech or typing also. Some of us can’t. But we usually have trouble with receptive language — either some of the time, all of the time, or especially, during the early formative years of our lives. I’m one such person.

Most people don’t know this because the current theories of autism all involve us being terrible at nonverbal communication. By which people mean, terrible at one specific kind of nonverbal communication that most nonautistic people are good at. Also, most autistic people who can talk about their experiences in words, are (or believe themselves to be) bad at nonverbal communication, and their experiences get seen as applying to all of us, when this is not true.

So for many of us — nonverbal communication, and the world of things outside of words, are our best way of communicating. Whether we can also use words or not. I wrote about one such group of autistic people in my contribution (“Untitled”) to the Loud Hands anthology. Because I want people to know we exist. Because I want other people like me to know they aren’t alone, in an autistic community made up mostly of people who experience themselves as terrible at nonverbal communication. Where people even say that autistic communities are communities where people can use text or other forms of language, rather than having to deal with nonverbal communication. Even though there’s plenty of us who do better in person, BECAUSE we communicate best nonverbally, because words, whether we can do them or not, whether we are or seem good at them or not, are so hard and so difficult and so painful to keep using.

There are entire groups of autistic people out there who communicate with each other using our own unique forms of body language that are different from nonautistic body language, different from other autistic people’s body language, specific to ourselves, specific to each other. Who communicate best reading each others writing, looking for the patterns that exist between the words, rather than inside the words themselves. Who communicate best by exchanging objects, by arranging objects and other things around ourselves in ways that each other can read easier than we can read any form of words. Who share the most intimate forms of communication, outside of words, outside of anything that can be described easily, in between everything, seeing each other to the core of our awareness. Who see layers upon layers of meaning outside of any form of words.

In “Untitled” I was writing about my favorite communication ever, my video chats with AnneC (and her cats, when they show up, which Shadow absolutely loves communicating with me over video and reminds her every Friday at the right time because he loves it so much). I don’t necessarily do the best at visual stuff the way most people think of it. But I can see the patterns of movement in other people, including cats, whether or not I see them well in the usual forms of visual perception. And those patterns of movement tell me more than any word ever could.

I can even read nonautistic people fairly well at times — just not in the ways nonautistic people read each other well. That’s one of the problems with nonautistic research into autistic people’s abilities to understand nonverbal communication. Most of it relies on the understanding and use of words at the same time as understanding the nonverbal communication. And most of it relies on the kinds of nonverbal communication that nonautistic people are most aware of. This frustrates me to no end — how can people research forms of understanding that they don’t themselves have and therefore they don’t themselves understand even exists? I’ve actually told researchers ways they can research autistic people’s understanding of nonverbal communication without having to resort to the faulty methods they usually use.

And one researcher told me, when I asked, that every parent of an autistic child she ever met said that their child picked up easily on things like stress in the household, but that SHE ACTUALLY DISREGARDED IT UNTIL I ASKED HER, BECAUSE SHE’D BEEN TAUGHT THAT AUTISTIC PEOPLE COULDN’T READ BODY LANGUAGE. I’m totally serious. If researchers are that biased themselves, how can they possibly hope to even notice that we can understand things they assume we don’t understand?! I taught that researcher a bunch of very simple ways to test that without relying on the painfully stupid research methods that guarantee researchers will find only what they expect to find — relying on us to use and understand words, relying on our understanding of actors and stage conventions rather than real people’s real nonverbal communication, relying on nonautistic people’s limited ability to read autistic body language, all sorts of other flaws that seem obvious but that researchers themselves seem never to notice. So hopefully she will set up some real experiments that show our real abilities.

Anyway. Back to what I was saying. There’s entire subgroups of autistic people out there _ not just my own — who rely on nonverbal means of understanding the world, and nonverbal means of communication. That’s one reason I usually put myself in my videos — because I know that certain other autistic people will be able to read me like a book, even if nonautistic people usually can’t. And that nonverbal communication is a crucial part of my videos. (See why the entire first half of “In My Language” has no words in it. I was trying to make a point about the best way I communicate, the best way many people communicate, autistic or not, verbal or not. Mostly lost on people, who think it’s a video about autism. It’s not. It’s a video about communication and understanding and personhood, that happens to be made by an autistic person. Big difference. I told CNN why I really made the video, and they left out that part of the interview in favor of putting their words in my mouth. I think my real intent was too political for them.)

Anyway. I may be a writer, but my real best form of communication has nothing to do with words. I use words because I have to. Because most people won’t understand me if I don’t. I don’t use them because I like them, or because I “can’t do nonverbal communication so text is best for me”, or any of the usual reasons most people assume. If I could never use language again, spoken or written, I would be really happy. But the world won’t let me do that, so I carry on using a means of communication that is outright painful for me.

I don’t know the people in the video, but I know that the way their bodies move makes intuitive sense to me and communicates things whether they intend it to be so or not. (The forms of nonverbal communication I understand best are unintentional, in fact. That’s one reason tests using actors don’t work on me. I know an autistic woman who failed a test of nonverbal communication because it used actors and she kept describing their real feelings instead of their acted ones. What this says about nonautistic people’s understanding of nonverbal communication is… interesting.) Whether they are able to use spoken language or not, the video would lose a lot if it only relied on showing them speaking or typing the words.

And I really dislike a lot of the self-advocacy movement for relying mostly on the self-advocacy that happens through words, written or spoken. This leaves out people who can’t do either but who are nonetheless quite capable of advocating for themselves through their actions and movements. If I hadn’t spent a lot of my life forcing myself to do words, I might be such a person, so I am always aware of this. Words are not natural to me the way they are to some autistic people. They’re difficult and my development could have gone either way. There are also people who, no matter how much effort they put in, could never have used or understood words, and they are also extremely important, and they are also capable of self-advocacy, and they are still capable of communication that is more full of meaning than the communication of many people who use words.

I wish there were videos using their communication — which by definition wouldn’t involve words. Both people who would have been able to use words had they put in a crapload of effort at critical times in their development, and people who would never be able to use them no matter what. Such people exist. I sometimes wonder if they are too inconvenient for some autistic people to remember. I hate when people tell parents, “If you just gave your child a communication device they would be able to type words (or use picture symbols) and everything would be solved.” You don’t know that. You just can’t possibly know that. I hear that a lot, this idea that autistic people would all be able to communicate in words if only they were given a means to type them instead of speak them. And it’s so not true that its utterly ridiculous. I hear it both from people whose main way of communicating is speech, and also from people who use typing, and people who use both. It’s wishful thinking and it’s not true. There are people whose understanding of the world is just like a typical “aspie” except they couldn’t speak for motor reasons, and they are the most likely of those who use typing, to believe this myth.

Reality is that there are lots of people who will either never be able to use words, never be able to understand words, or both. Or whose use or understanding is so limited that they will never be able to use words as their primary means of communication. But they do communicate, whether the communication is intentional or not. And they do matter. And they are capable of self-advocacy. And they should be included in self-advocacy movements if those movements ever expect to represent autistic people, developmentally disabled people, cognitively disabled people, disabled people in general, whatever group is trying to represent itself in that movement. And in order to include them, you have to show their movements and their sounds and all the things they do that aren’t words.

It’s true that many people who are thought not to be able to use or understand language, actually are. And it’s terrible that they are overlooked. But in their desire not to overlook such people, many people claim that all disabled people who can’t communicate through speech fall under this umbrella. And that’s simply not true. In order to communicate with people who will never use words, you have to learn their language. (And surprise, that’s one thing that “In My Language” was actually about. And it would be about that whether I used typing or speech to communicate — either one would be my “second language”, and as such I can easily, easily envision a situation where I never learned and never would learn to use speech or typing, both of which I used at different points in my life.) And each person has one. Sometimes several people have a language that is in common but is not words. Sometimes each one has a separate way of communicating that is not words. But either way, you have to learn how they communicate, not force them to either communicate how you best communicate, or else be considered “non-communicative” for the rest of their life. And yes it’s possible to get consent to use their communication, it’s just sometimes harder work than asking a yes or no question in words.

And a community that doesn’t include such people isn’t my community. The developmental disability community is far better at including such people than the autistic community is, even though not all of the DD community manages it either. One reason I’ve spent a lot of time communicating with people who can’t use words in any form is because I’ve been in the developmental disability system for pretty much my entire adult life and have spent a lot of time with a wide variety of people. And I’ve spent a lot of time communicating with people who can’t and may never use speech or typing or even picture boards. And that’s something that certain segments of the autistic community are sorely missing. Even parts of the autistic community that involve people who don’t use speech, are often made up of only those people who were able to learn typing, and often put forth the (false) idea that everyone could learn typing if only they tried hard enough or were exposed to the proper teaching methods.

The response someone made is true: Some of the people in the video use typing, so they could never be shown speaking the words in the video. But I’d like to go further than people who use speech and people who use typing, because unlike a lot of people, my social world is made up of a lot of people who can’t do either one. And also made up of a lot of people who, even if they can use speech, typing, or both, those are not their best means of communication, and it would be better to show us using our best means of communication rather than merely the form of using words. Not everyone has words but everyone has a voice and a means of communicating. And not everyone who uses words sees words as their primary voice or their primary means of understanding things, and that needs to be respected. And I’m sick to death of spending time in communities where most people seem to miss these facts, and automatically see having a voice as the same as using speech or at least using language.

“I don’t know that person’s program.”

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That's a sentence I've heard a lot. And when they don't say exactly that, they say things that mean the same thing. Usually in the developmental disability system, for some reason, although I can easily imagine it in other contexts.

What it really means:

“DD people aren't like regular people. When people do things to them that would be horrible if they happened to other people, there's always a logical reason that justifies whatever is happening. Staff and case managers rarely if ever abuse power. All of their decisions have the best interests of clients at heart. So if something looks terrible, chances are that there's a reasonable explanation behind it. I just don't know what that explanation is. And I likely never will, so I'm not going to judge.”

They say this when staff scream at an old woman with an unsteady gait every time she falls, and refuse to help her get back up or allow her to hold onto things for balance.

They say this when staff publicly humiliate a man who clearly has trouble moving to avoid obstacles, when he accidentally bumps into someone.

They say this when staff do their best to keep a boyfriend and girlfriend apart. Or when staff are okay with boyfriend and girlfriend, but balk at the idea that two women with intellectual disabilities have fallen in love. As if it's even their job to decide who can love who.

They say this when parents simultaneously put on a big public show of wishing their son could move out on his own like he wants to, but sabotage his every attempt to do so. Because they had planned out a whole life for him in the group home they run, and can't handle the idea that he doesn't want to live under their control the rest of his life.

They say this when a staff person kisses a grown man's leg and says “I kiss you boo boo aww betta!” in baby talk.

They say this when, in the name of integration, staff prohibit disabled people from speaking or socializing with each other. I just saw an instance of that last one, which is why I finally remembered to write a post on the matter.

They say this when we get outright tortured. Tied down. Skin shocked. Slapped. Pinched. Made to smell ammonia.

I wish I could upload the scenes from real life that play out vividly in my head. But like as not, people likely to say these things wouldn't consider me a reliable observer. They never do, when you start pointing out the truth. When you see yourselves as people. With all that this means.

Suddenly you are either too severely disabled to understand what's happening, or you're not disabled enough to grasp why treating people like dirt is necessary. Or both at once. And they'd much rather you were highly submissive, maybe even the really cool type of client who helps staff out by giving them information about other clients.

All of this requires seeing DD people as less than. It just has to. There is no other way to justify these actions towards us.

And I know how people see us. As in, I know what we look like inside their minds. Sometimes we're human — almost, anyway. Not quite. There's something vitally important inside every real human. And to them, we either don't have it, or are missing large chunks of it. So we go around in human bodies but there's pieces missing in our minds and our souls. Even people who don't believe in souls in any religious sense, still perceive something inside us as only partial.

I know this because this is one of those viewpoints that isn't content to stay in the minds of others. It tries to force its way as deeply into us as it can manage. Until many of us look in the mirror and see only part of a person.

I can't describe the violence that involves. It's horrible. And a whole system of relating to us, forces its way into our lives. It tells us that we are taken care of, that we can relax, go to sleep, almost. And then it suffocates from inside. There's no words for it.

I suspect the drive to say this about people comes from several places at once.

If you work in the system, there's not wanting to see yourself or your coworkers or people who could be you, doing something horribly wrong. Much less on a regular basis.

I also suspect a strong desire to trust the society they live in, not to do horrible things to people. Or at least, not to do horrible things to certain kinds of people.

A member of my family once told me that it took him a long time to believe what happened to me in mental institutions. He said that in order to come to terms with the reality of the abuse, he had to destroy a strong desire to believe that the society he lived in was safe and just. Him telling me that was far more honest than a lot of people are.

That desire to trust society gets in the way of understanding every kind of injustice. I am amazed that people trust a society that does its best to shut out and destroy all but a handful of people. But they do.

And not seeing us as quite exactly people, is the one thing that you can't avoid if you think like this. Because if you see us as people, you have to see what happens to us as dreadful. And you don't immediately, upon being told of the latest awful thing, say any variant on “I don't know that person's program.”

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.

 

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).

Cats can use mirrors.

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Conventional wisdom goes that since, when given the classic and highly species-biased “mirror test”, cats “flunk” it, then they don’t know that their reflection is themselves, and don’t in fact know that mirrors reflect things and that they can see behind themselves using mirrors and so forth.

AnneC and I are trying to debunk a lot of similar myths about cats. The tests cats are given are often not cat-friendly and don’t reflect cats in their usual environment doing their usual things. And I’ve long known that Fey uses mirrors. In fact sometimes she uses two mirrors at once — the one over the sink and the one on the bathroom door — to make direct eye contact with people. More than one staff person who thought cats couldn’t use mirrors, have been startled, some even terrified, to see a cat looking them straight in the face using a mirror or two. One even screamed and dropped what she was carrying and just kept repeating, “Your cat looked at me in the mirror. Cats can’t use mirrors.”

Here’s a photo of her using one mirror to look at me as she hears me come up behind her with a camera:

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As to why that scares people? I think it’s the same phenomenon that has terrified many people about me. They see me going about my business and stereotype me as not being what they consider a real person. Then I do anything from looking at them to typing something and they visibly startle and begin to act scared. They respond to me as if a potted plant got up and walked around. And I see people doing the same to Fey all the time.

And why that is… I’m not entirely sure. I almost expect them to cross themselves like we are demon possessed. They think of us as something unnatural, something deeply wrong that just shouldn’t happen that way. And there’s something deeply wrong with that in a whole different way than what they think of us.

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.

On adjustment, dogs, and not “smiling through the pain”.

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I’ve recently seen a lot of people comment on disabled people’s opinions, in the context of “adjusting” to whatever condition we’re said to have.

Basically, if a disabled person is fine with being disabled, then it’s clearly some kind of defense against having to “hope” for a cure. The idea of just being okay with the way your body functions (at least to the extent most people are) seems to be unthinkable to some people. And the idea that disabled people’s opinions come from deep emotional conflicts over the fact that our bodies work the way they do… just no.

I used to talk online with someone who had cerebral palsy. She said that every time she had a negative emotion, it was considered to be “not adjusting to her disability”. Even though she was born that way. She didn’t need to adjust, she’d always had a body that operated the way hers does.

The fact is that a lot of disabled people either actively don’t want to have bodies that function in typical ways (at least not in all respects), or else basically don’t want to be bothered.

About not wanting to be bothered:

Lots of children dream of becoming sports stars. This may lead to them getting into that sport on a child’s level, but very few take it to the point of making it their life’s goal. Often, they do not have the kind of body, or reaction time, or cognition, suited for whatever that sport is. And generally they find other things to do with their lives, enough other things that not being a baseball star doesn’t ruin their lives, and most of the time they don’t even think “Gee, I’m not built to be a baseball star.” It’s just not part of how they work, and so it’s not even an idea that crosses their mind often.

Not everyone is built to be a sports star. Most people don’t lament not being one, or they might do so a little but not a huge amount. This is because it’s considered normal not to have a body optimized for that particular thing.

The same is true for disabled people. We don’t have standard bodies (I’m including brain in body for simplicity of language here, and also because it is a body part), any more than most people have standard sports-star bodies. Most of us don’t lament that fact. Those that do (especially those who suddenly became disabled), generally get over it.

Or as one person said, whose name I wish I remembered so I could cite wherever she wrote this, “I don’t wake up in the morning and think ‘Yep, still disabled.’” (That’s either a quote or a close paraphrase, I’m not sure.)

Most people see disability as this huge, life-altering, scary, tragic, horrible, unremittingly unpleasant, thing. And so they imagine that’s how most disabled people see it.

Some of us do. But most of us — even many people with shortened lifespans — see it as an inconvenience at worst. We may or may not do things to make our bodies function in more typical manners, but most of us do not spend all our time engaging in pointless exercises in self-pity. The fact that some people expect that we do (and that all our other thoughts on disability are just a defense against feeling sorry for ourselves) says more about the people who say that (and their conception about what it’s like) than it does about us.

Dave Hingsburger once compared me to a three-legged dog. I had clearly found ways of doing what I needed to do, with the body I’ve got, rather than emulating someone with a more typical body. I was also not particularly wallowing in a huge sea of negative emotions for having the body I’ve got (why would I?). He’d seen a three-legged dog that was the same way.

In fact, three-legged dogs and cats generally do just find ways of doing what they’ve got to do with the bodies they’ve got. Not because they’re “too simple” to know better or something, nor because they’re any stronger or braver than humans are, they just for whatever reason don’t tend to automatically go in the direction of “Woe is me, I am disabled.” They seem to just figure out what needs to be changed and change it (if they weren’t born that way, in which case they just figure out what to do the same way anyone does).

I think that human beings could take a lesson from dogs and cats this way. Not like “Wow it’s so inspirational that that cat still walks around even though she’s got to use a cat-wheelchair for her back legs.” (What do they expect her to do?) Not like, “Wow that dog really overcame his disability, and we should do the same!” More like, why throw all these pointless and meddlesome ideas on top of an experience that’s close to universal when taken across an entire lifespan?

It seems though that many people view disability as necessarily something that you have to be in a constant adversarial role with. In which case you have to “adjust” to it or something. But… really, views about disability are not all tied back to some imaginary experience people would think we are having as disabled people. People seem to think they have to make a relatively simple thing more complicated than it is, adding all kinds of layers of emotion and misconceived thoughts to it.

So, no. My views about my body, such as they are, are not all “adjustments” to having it, any more than most people’s feelings about their bodies are “adjustments” to having their bodies. But it seems like in some circles you have to have a more-or-less standard body in order to be allowed the privilege of not having their thoughts and feelings (especially positive ones) about their body be considered an “adjustment” to the awful state of affairs that their bodies are presumed to be. Or as the book Pride Against Prejudice by Jenny Morris said, just because we are happy does not mean we’re “just smiling through the pain” or “just putting a good face on it”.

About this “can’t defend themselves” stuff.

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I’ve seen some other people, such as Dave Hingsburger, begin to get really irritated with responses to a certain situation. Basically a movie that says ‘retard’ a lot and stereotypes people with developmental disabilities. Many people have been responding saying that it’s awful because disabled people are defenseless, incapable of defending ourselves.

I commented in one spot about that, and nobody responded to me. But Dave Hingsburger commented on it, and lots of people responded to him. They said that they had very young children, and that no child can defend themselves, and therefore it’s okay.

But can’t anyone see that doing this on the (strongly implied) basis that we’re all children is the problem?

If a movie were putting out horrible stereotypes of women, enough that women felt the need to protest, and of course those who cared about women also felt that need, would anyone say, “Poor things, they can’t defend themselves”?

Well yes, some people might. It’d be recognized as a damaging and inaccurate stereotype though.

And I don’t think anyone would dream of saying, “But… but… I have a little girl. She’s only four months old. No four-month-olds can defend themselves against this stuff. So it makes total sense that people say women in general can’t defend themselves.”

It’s no different if you say it about babies or young children with developmental disabilities. This is stuff that affects us all — everyone it’s applied to. Most of us are adults. To defend a stereotype of us based on the fact that it’s true of children, is just one more added stereotype.

I hope this makes sense, I’m having trouble getting the words for it. But I am finding myself more irritated at the assumption that it’s okay to talk about an entire group of people as if we all have the same defenselessness as a young baby (and that a young baby in a certain category being defenseless, means it’s okay to call everyone in that category defenseless — hey, I guess everyone can’t defend themselves then, yes?), than I am at the original thing people are objecting to.

Please violate only one stereotype at a time.

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What seems like a really long time ago, elmindreda wrote about The difference slot. The idea being that:

The basic idea is that each and every person has their difference, and that it should be respected. Note the singular form, however. When they learn of my autism, which is usually the first major difference to come up in conversation, they seem to think “oh, so that’s her difference”. They then proceed to fill in my difference slot in their mental table, and everything is as it should be.

Or, so they think.

Then, a little while later, I happen to mention some other thing that makes me very different from most other people, and their belief system collides head-on with reality. Usually, it’s another one of my disabilities that triggers it. This is when they almost invariably go “…” for a while, only to finish with “you have that too?” In other words, “your difference slot is already filled, and you can’t have another one”.

What I’m writing about is similar, but perhaps from a different angle. A phenomenon I’ve seen over and over again runs something more like, “Please violate only one stereotype at a time.”

This can apply even if you only have one “difference” (be that autism, physical disability, whatever).

If you have several differences, of course, the problem becomes exponentially harder to deal with.

And there are a number of different ways to deal with the prejudice you encounter where people might be able to handle you violating one stereotype, but leap all over you if you happen to violate more than one.

Some (false) stereotypes I happen to violate, just by way of example:

  • People who use mobility aids such as wheelchairs, canes, crutches, walkers, etc. must use them full-time.
  • Autistic people who are non-speaking or nearly so, must always have had no speech.
  • Autistic people who are non-speaking or nearly so, must be non-speaking entirely because of autism, not because of something else.
  • Autistic people can never pass to be normal or ‘just eccentric’.
  • Autistic people can only pass for normal or ‘just eccentric’, never for anything else.
  • Autistic people who pass can never stop passing, or if they do it’s always by choice.
  • Autistic people are only allowed to lose certain skills within a short window in the first few years of life.
  • Autistic people only lose certain skills right after a vaccination.
  • Autistic people, when they lose skills, only lose skills because they are autistic, never because of anything else.
  • Autistic people, when they lose skills, never gain skills at the exact same time.
  • When autistic people lose skills, it’s always immediately obvious to everyone around them that this is what’s going on.
  • The time an autistic person is diagnosed reflects the time that they became (or appeared) autistic, rather than the time anyone else noticed.
  • Everything unusual that an autistic person does is because they’re autistic, they never have additional conditions (i.e. the “difference slot“).
  • Autistic people are completely unaware of other people and their surroundings.
  • Autistic people can’t communicate at all.
  • Autistic people live in their own little world.
  • Autistic people have one pattern of mannerisms all the time and never vary them and never lack those mannerisms altogether.
  • Autistic people are incapable of love.
  • Autistic people can only be interested in one thing.
  • Autistic people who have an interest in people always look (to people who think that standard gestures of interest are the only way of showing interest) like they have an interest in people.
  • Autistic people can either speak to communicate or not speak to communicate, never alternating between both, and certainly never some odd in-between state.
  • Autistic people who chatter on and on about their interests are a ‘kind’ of autistic person, and that ‘kind’ of autistic person never has trouble communicating in speech and/or language.
  • When an autistic person needs everything the same, you can really tell.
  • Autistic people who have meltdowns do it for no good reason.
  • Autistic shutdowns always take the form of falling asleep.
  • Autistic people are never classified as gifted.
  • People classified as gifted never lose that classification as they get older.
  • When autistic people violate stereotypes (such as, in my case, doing things like failing to hide my facial hair), it’s because they don’t know any better, never because they have made a reasoned choice to do this.
  • Autistic people who do advocacy work don’t really care about other autistic people, they just want to make trouble and/or go on an ego trip.
  • Autistic people who do advocacy work or other work that pertains to autism can really only speak from their own experience, they never have expertise from other sources than their own experience.
  • People who can’t take care of themselves, can’t take care of anyone else either.
  • People with movement disorders always have the exact same degree of difficulty with movement in all situations.
  • People with movement disorders have the same degree of difficulty with all forms of movement.
  • Disabled people have no sexuality.
  • Disabled people never have more than one thing going on at once (that difference slot again).
  • Women who are romantically interested in women have never dated men.
  • Autistic people have never dated anybody.
  • There is no difference between the act of producing speech or typing, and the act of using speech or typing for communicative purposes.
  • There is no difference between the act of producing speech or typing that sounds right (or approximately right) for the situation, and producing speech or typing that actually communicates what the person is thinking (unless the person is being deliberately misleading).
  • Disabled people always have the exact same type and degree of difficulty with something, it never changes or fluctuates or anything.
  • Lesbians can’t also be Christians.
  • Two people with the same disability label are going to have the exact same difficulties with everything, or else one or the other of them should not have this label.
  • Whatever the majority of the current society a person is in considers “a disability”, is the same thing every society a person could be in considers “a disability”, there is no such thing as a set of strengths and difficulties that in one place and time is considered within the realm of normal and in another place and time isn’t.
  • Because of the last stereotype, if a person is not noticed as “disabled” by the society they live in at one time, then they must not have had the same condition that another society (or even another part of society) considers “disabling”.

That’s a whole lot of stereotypes, and that’s just off the top of my head. I’d venture a guess that most people violate at least some stereotypes of some kind. But some stereotypes have more consequences to violate than others.

And what I’ve found, is that people prefer people to violate as few stereotypes as possible at once. If you can violate no stereotypes or only one stereotype, that is great, that is expected and mostly acceptable. The more stereotypes you violate, the more trouble you get in.

And there are a number of ways to react to this, as a person who violates many stereotypes. I’ll just list some of them, not an exhaustive list either.

  1. You can take the attitude of basically, “Yeah I violate a lot of stereotypes, screw ‘em if they can’t handle it.”
  2. You can be open about violating stereotypes, but ashamed at the same time.
  3. You can be open about violating stereotypes, but claim that everyone else fits the stereotype.
  4. You can be open about violating stereotypes, but claim that none of the stereotypes ever apply to anyone.
  5. You can actively try to hide some or all of the stereotypes that you violate.
  6. You can just fail to mention some or all of the stereotypes that you violate. (I’m talking about on purpose here. I’ve certainly failed to mention some that I violate by accident, only to find that people really thought I was doing it to hide the fact that I violated them, when that was the furthest thing from my mind.)
  7. You can try to hide some or all of the stereotypes that you violate, while at the same time condemning people who violate the exact same stereotypes openly.
  8. And you can even take a step beyond that. You can go to people that you know cause trouble for people who violate those stereotypes. And you can, while hiding a lot of the stereotypes that you do violate, say, “Hey, look at me. I’m okay. I don’t violate all those stereotypes. All those people who violate those stereotypes are really bad people. I’m not a bad person though, and I’ll say whatever you want me to say, including condemning people just like me, as long as you accept me.”

Like most people who violate these stereotypes, I’ve done most of them before. And I’d never entirely condemn anyone for doing any of the ones that involve hiding, even the last one I mentioned, because sometimes it’s what people need to do to survive in any number of ways.

But obviously, some of them can be hurtful, either to the person doing them or to a lot of other people, and this can be both directly and indirectly, and intentional or unintentional.

Doing the ones that involve just hiding those traits in some way, while in some ways innocuous, do make it somewhat harder for people who do violate them to be open about them. It’s easier to be open about something like that when you know that other people are as well. (And yep, autistic people can find things easier just because other people do them, we’re not immune to that whole thing.)

Doing the ones that involve actively condemning other people who violate stereotypes, and the ones that involve actually aiding people with more power who condemn (or do worse things to) other people who violate stereotypes, can not only really twist up the conscience of the person who is doing them, but actively do harm to people who violate the stereotypes. In these cases you’re basically actively adding to the prejudice that already exists against people who violate the stereotypes, and in the last case you’re aiding people who have the power to act on that prejudice in ways that can shut people out of powerful positions, shut people out of receiving services, or other things like that.

And there can also be a kind of harm in saying that nobody fits a stereotype. A person saying that should take great care to see whether it’s actually true. Otherwise, you can end up inadvertently creating an opposite stereotype. And if you say that you don’t fit the stereotype but everyone else does, you’re obviously reinforcing the stereotype.

But, in the end, I have to say that the idea that people must violate only one stereotype at a time is just as nonsensical as the difference slot. (And I’m still not feeling great, although I’m feeling way better than I was, so I’ll end here and hope that any dots I have not connected in my writing above, can be connected in the heads of people who read this.)