Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A Review of the Loud Hands Anthology

I’ve been slowly working my way through the Loud Hands anthology, and I have to say, it’s pretty good. Some might be thinking, of course you would say that, your writing is in it! Well I leave it up to others to judge my writing on its own merits or lack of them, what I want to talk about is the other writings in the book.

There are so many good pieces here, I hardly know where to begin. Jim Sinclair’s historical and ground-breaking piece, ‘Don’t Mourn For Us’ (p13),  forms a good intro - written in the early 1990s, yet it’s just as relevant today. Then there’s his other seminal piece, ‘Why I Dislike “Person-First” Language’ (p152), also from the 90s, and also just as relevant.

There’s also Ari Ne-eman’s retrospective on how ASAN got started (p 66), where he states that one of the reasons for its beginning was that “good intentions and love were quite frankly just not enough… When people that you talk about, or set policy on, or conduct research regarding, are not in the room, even good people feel licensed to say horrible things. You cannot help people through pity and fear.” (My emphasis, as it’s something we should never forget, or let others forget.)

Nick Walker’s ‘Throw Away the Master’s Tools; Liberating Ourselves from the Pathology Paradigm’ (p 156), is a little more ‘academic’ or ‘intellectual’, and some may not like it for that reason, but as someone who came out of the feminist and anti-racism movements in the 80s, ‘the master’s tools’ is a phrase that has great resonance for me. It’s basically about how we need to step out of the dominant mentality, in this case the ‘autism as pathology’ mind-set, and create a new frame of reference, and new language, to describe our reality. Language is power, and changing the language is the way to empowering ourselves. I feel it’s a very important piece of writing.

Julia Bascom’s ‘Quiet Hands’ (p 119) is another important piece – even though I’ve read it before on her blog, it still gets me every time. Her ‘This is Why’ (p 134) also moved me to tears, as did Amanda Forest Vivian’s ‘They Hate You. Yes, You” (p 124). They also left me feeling angry and anguished about what’s been done to us, what’s still being done to us, as did Julia’s ‘Grabbers’ (p 137), and Shain Neumeier’s ‘Inhumane Beyond All Reason’, on the terrible things done to autistics and other ‘different’ people at the Judge Rotenberg Center. There’s so much out there that needs changing, and Zoe Gross’s ‘Killing Words’ (p 163), is a potent and chilling reminder of why we need to change things.

The most important thing about this book, however, is not so much the individual pieces, fine as they are, but what the whole book represents. Most autism books I’ve seen or heard of so far are either autobiographies by autistic people, books for parents of autistic children, or ‘self-help’ books for autistic people, often by those who are on the spectrum themselves. There’s nothing wrong with any of these, but I do feel Loud Hands goes a step further than all of them. More obviously ‘political’, It collects and collates important existing advocacy pieces, brings in new ones, and presents a vision of where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going. It’s a new type of writing ‘about’ autism, one which has been slowly nurtured in blogs and social media groups and forums for quite a few years now, but this is the first time it’s all been put into a book, and published, and put ‘out there’ for all to read, and in doing so, it makes a powerful statement about us.

I believe that this book is our ‘Declaration of Independence’, our Communist Manifesto, our Long March, our October Revolution, our Stonewall Riot, our Our Right to Love, our The Female Eunuch, our ‘burning’ of bras (actually just publicly dumped in a trash can at a protest outside a beauty contest, but the media has never let feminists forget it), our Sisterhood is Powerful, and any other powerful event or book or document of liberation or explosion of collective frustration that you can name, that started some ball rolling, outlined some group or movement or country’s priorities, allowed one oppressed group or nation or another to redefine themselves, and get, or begin to get, their oppressor’s foot off their neck. I believe that some day Jim, Julia, Zoe, Amanda, Nick, Ari, et al, will be seen as our George Washington and Founding Fathers, our Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Audre Lorde, our Shulamith Firestone and Robin Morgan and Germaine Greer, our Susan B. Anthony and Kate Sheppard and Pankhurst sisters, our Gandhi and Steve Biko, our Harvey Milk and, well, anyone else you can think of that did so much for their people, their brothers and sisters, their race or gender or sexuality or nation.

It’s that important. Read it.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Autistic People Should

By Our Selves

Autistic People Should... embrace and celebrate their autism. It’s a core part of us, to reject it is to reject the Self.

Autistic People Should… stand tall, be proud of themselves and what they’ve achieved, even if it’s only survival in a hostile, uncomprehending world. (That deserves a Nobel prize all on its own!)

Autistic People Should… cherish themselves and love themselves as a child of the Universe, exactly as every other human being and creature on the planet is.

Autistic People Should… understand that no matter what anyone else says, and no matter what problems they undoubtedly have, there is absolutely nothing wrong with them.

Autistic People Should…. find others who are also autistic – community is the way forward, to both self-esteem and changing the world to make it better for us.

Autistic People Should… question, question, question, all the stereotypes and myths, all the ‘objective’ research (which is all too often not objective at all), all the solemn or gloomy or doom-laden or hysterical pronouncements about what autism ‘is’; they should search their own hearts, look at their autistic friends, acquaintances and/or family, and come to their own conclusions.

By Other People -

Autistic People Should… be loved and cherished by those around them. For themselves, not for who others want or expect them to be, or think they ought to try to be.

Autistic People Should… be accepted just as they are, by those around them, even if they are non-verbal, having obvious difficulties, or all too obviously ‘different’.

Autistic People Should… be respected as human beings in their own right, even if others find them hard to understand.

Autistic People Should… be accepted as a normal human variant, and catered for as such, in the same manner we now cater for other differences.

Autistic People Should… be consulted as a matter of course, on ANYTHING that directly affects them or involves them.

Above all -

Autistic People Should… know that they have the right to existence, the right to fair treatment, the right to human dignity and freedom from torture and abuse, the right to choose and direct their lives the way they want, the right to say ‘no’, the right to be as independent as possible, and above all the right to simply be their own true, quirky, lovely, fantastically individual, beautifully autistic selves.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

We Are No-one's Responsibility

We autistics fall through the cracks, when it comes to ‘The System’. We are no-one’s responsibility, there is no agency charged with our care, no Autism Minister in Cabinet, no Department for Autism, no anything – in any country in the world, as far as I am aware (if I am wrong, please correct me!).

To some extent, this is because of our ‘newness’ to the scene, and our not fitting into existing categories whose care has long been the province of one government department or another. Those with mental health problems, for instance, have for centuries been taken care of by various institutions, and more recently by mental health agencies – whether or not the care has been the best is debatable, but nonetheless it has been there, from the days of ‘Bedlam’ (Bethlehem Insane Asylum) onwards.

In much the same way, those with neurological problems, whether genetic (eg Parkinson’s), age-related (eg Alzheimer’s) or acquired (eg brain injury), are the province of scientists and doctors specialising in their conditions, and also (in NZ) the Neurological Foundation. Those with physical disabilities are taken care of by various Disability or Health agencies, as well as in many cases also having well-established associations or foundations, all of which function within the ‘mainstream’ of society, and excite little or no controversy.

We don’t have this. But we nonetheless have our needs, and so there’s a gap[1]. And in this gap two things have flourished –
1) The parent-led autism groups, which range from the reasonably good to the absolutely diabolical. Not naming any names, but we all know who the latter are!
2) The ‘autism industry’, ie all the ‘quacks’, hucksters, ‘cure-peddlers’, scare-mongers and parent-fleecers, basically anyone who is trying to make a buck out of scared and overwhelmed parents.

For the most part, neither of these two groups (as we adults on the spectrum know all too well) want to listen to autistics, or let us participate in any but a token way, or meet our real needs, or even just rethink their stance on autism.

So whose responsibility should we be? Who should take care of us, meet our real needs, advocate for us, make submissions to parliament, etc, etc, for us?

There can be only one answer. We will have to do it for ourselves. There is no-one else that can do the job, no-one with the willingness or the depth of understanding of our needs and viewpoints, no-one else who has the mandate to express our views and agitate or advocate for us.

Yes, I know that it is hard. Very hard. I know that we all have our battles, and that many of us are barely getting by, struggling to stave off job loss or homelessness or daily sensory stress or breakdown of relationships or the hostility of those around them. I know how hard our lives can be, oh how I know!

But we have to do it nonetheless. We really don’t have a choice, given the state of our lives. We need to organise ourselves, formulate our agendas, define our most pressing problems, and make our voices heard – through whatever medium, and in as many ways as possible. Our lives are shitty precisely because we have no voice, our needs are not catered for, we are grossly misunderstood, etc. Anything and everything we do to try to change that has to have a cumulative effect – a bit like chipping away at a brick wall – eventually, it will start to crumble, and then collapse. The wall is our own personal Berlin Wall, behind which we are trapped and silenced, and it’s time for it to come down.

How we go about it will naturally largely depend on the abilities, inclinations and resources of both the individuals and the groups they form. Some of us would be good at, say, writing letters to the Editor of a magazine or newspaper, or writing books, or creating photos, paintings, posters or even movies that will raise public awareness. Others will want to tackle petitions or submissions to government, or public speaking, or research. Or liaise with the media, maybe even convince them to do a ‘TV special’ on us. Yet others will prefer to help in other ways – making banners or placards, raising funds, offering a bed or a meal to advocates/activists from out of town, or organising transport to get to a meeting or presentation. Some will simply get up the courage to speak up and challenge the ignorance of those around them, or to ask for accommodations at work, or for their autistic students or patients. There are many, many ways we can take part, no matter what our circumstances, or level of ‘functioning’. We need to just start from where we are, and see how our role develops. But be assured, we all have one.

Autism ‘Awareness’ Day is coming up in April – I suggest we use that as an opportunity to do something, however small, that will help our cause. That is my challenge to all of you – and I include myself in that too, of course. I would love it if 2013 was the beginning of real change in our lives, both individually and collectively. I know we can do it.

Maybe someday, there will be ‘Ministers for Autism’, government departments whose charge we are, agencies that can truly help us, truly meet our needs. Maybe. But until that day comes (and I’m not holding my breath waiting, given the current economic climate), we are on our own, and we have to do it for ourselves – and for the future generation of autistics coming along behind us.

Be strong, my friends.

[1] In some countries, or parts of countries, we get some, usually grudging, partial support from disability agencies or government departments, which we are often clinging on to by our worn-down fingernails. But on the whole, they don’t really know much about us, or want to, or want to properly cater to us. Some doctors, scientists, psychologists, etc, are doing research on us, but as most of this study takes the ‘pathological’ bias as its starting point (ie they start by assuming our way of being is ‘wrong’, and the NT way ‘right’), it tends to just fuel the autism industry.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Things I Don't Understand - Number Two

Status-seeking, social climbing, keeping up with the Joneses, impressing the neighbours, showing off, conspicuous display of wealth, whatever you call it, I don’t get it. Sure, many expensive and ‘prestige’ items are very nice, and handy to have. I’d like a few of them myself. But to buy something that you really, really don’t need, simply in order to impress others? Especially if the people you are trying to impress are not your friends, you don’t even like them much, or even really know them? Why would you bother? What on earth does it matter if So-And-So down the road has a new Ferrari or BMW, and you’re only driving a Ford? Or What’s-Her-Name from the school committee makes a smug point of mentioning the new extension to their house, or their flash new pool? (Okay, on stinking hot days like we’ve had here lately, I would envy the pool, but otherwise… :) )

I especially don’t understand it if people spend money they don’t in fact have, in order to impress others. Seriously? They’d bankrupt themselves, in order to get one up on the Smiths next door? Is that really the sum of their ambitions in life? I pity them, if so, for the pettiness of their minds, their visions. And I would still never do it. Even if I didn’t think it petty, even if I didn’t have better things to do or to worry about, I still wouldn’t do it. I simply DON’T CARE enough. I don’t care about status or privilege, I am not impressed by wealth or rank or power. And if I don’t know someone, I don’t care much about impressing them either. Why should I? I have enough problems in life without worrying about the opinions of people I barely know, or don’t know at all.

My efforts (such as they are) to ‘impress’ others are typically with the following in mind :-
a) To ensure my personal safety – usually by being very inconspicuous, and unnoticed;
b) To impress a potential employer that I’m the right person for the job; or
c) To convince someone in authority – a doctor, police officer, etc – that I need help or support, or simply to be believed.
That’s it. I don’t care about showing off, and not just because I’ve never had much to show off. I could have an income of a million dollars a year, and, after my own needs were taken care of, I’d start looking round for firstly, how to help out my family, and secondly, how to help others – my aspie/autie friends and associates, say, or my favourite charities. I wouldn’t buy flash yachts or cars, or expensive designer clothing and jewellery, etc; I don’t need or even especially want these things, especially not if the money could be used for a better purpose instead. It seems both selfish and silly, not to mention vulgarly excessive. There’s an environmental (I think) activist saying I’ve been trying to remember, something about excessive consumption being obscene, or ‘excreta’. I’m reminded of it every time I see or read about some rich person’s lavish yacht, or diamond necklace worth millions, or other evidence of a lavish lifestyle. I always think of how many Third World kids that could feed and educate, how many charitable projects it could fund, or how many low-socio-economic schools and families could be helped by it. That anyone could waste money on fancy yachts and so on when there is so much need in the world seems such a skewed set of priorities I literally cannot understand it.

And yet others further down the social ‘food chain’ admire them, and try to emulate them, or convince others they are halfway to that state, or closer to it than them, even if they don’t really have the wherewithal to do so.


One further note here – it may be that I feel this way not just because of being aspie, and a ‘socially aware’ one, but also because of being ‘creative’. In ‘The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (one of my personal ‘bibles’) she remarks that “To be an artist is to risk admitting that much of what is money, property and prestige strikes you as just a little silly”. Quite.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Tyranny of Normal

In freeing ourselves from our oppression, possibly the biggest force we have to fight is what I call “The Tyranny of Normal”. By this I mean the powerful and largely unquestioned assumption amongst so many professionals and parents of autistics, and even much of the media, that being neurotypical is the superior or ‘healthy’ state, that autistic is inherently a ‘wrong’ or ‘pathological’ state, and hence the very best thing that can happen to us is to be made over into NTs. That nothing is more important or more worthwhile than this, and any ‘treatment’, up to and including harsh physical restraints, abusive punishments, the administering of bleach, electric shocks and even death are preferable to a person being ‘obviously’ autistic. Hand-flapping, lining up toys, flat voices, refusal to make eye contact and hours spent on computers are sins to be eradicated, and ‘indistinguishability from their peers’ is the sacred, shining, holy grail of autism ‘treatment’.

To be free of this tyranny, we have to challenge this assumption. I’ve just been reading, and loving, Nick Walker’s fine article “Throw Away the Master’s Tools: Liberating Ourselves from the Pathology Paradigm”[1], in the Loud Hands anthology, which expertly dissects it. He wants to replace the ‘pathology paradigm’ or commonly accepted viewpoint with a ‘neurodiversity paradigm’, where being autistic is simply a ‘different’ state, and autistics become simply another minority group, “no more intrinsically ‘disordered’ than any ethnic minority”[2].

And yes, the ‘low-functioning’ are included in this. (Functioning labels are largely based on the pathology paradigm anyway.) The Tyranny of Normal rules all of us – from the non-verbal child who is held down and has mouthwash forced into his mouth when he stims, to those who ‘just have a few quirks’ that need ‘ironing out’. As Amanda Forest Vivian points out, “when people claim that ‘cure autism now’ and the disease [mentality] and the Judge Rotenberg Center are not about me, well I beg to differ. The only reason they’re not about me is that I’m old and verbal enough to not be vulnerable to that kind of abuse. They would be all too happy to practise it on me if they could. Autistic people do not get abused because they are low-functioning, they get abused because they do weird things.[3] (My emphasis. This is an important point forgotten by many who seek to separate ‘high’ from ‘low’ functioning.)

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I have to say I can’t accept that being NT is really so superior. NTs lie, cheat, steal, start wars, abuse and oppress, create ‘isms’, perpetuate prejudice and divisions, and generally make their own and other people’s lives hell, in all sorts of small and large ways. We are generally honest, straightforward, high in integrity, lacking in class-consciousness and prejudice, and (to start with anyway) all too trusting, friendly and open. Yes, I know that NTs have many fine qualities too, and nor do I think autistics are all perfect. Far from it. My point is, that both NTs and autistics are human, with both good points and faults, and neither state should be exalted as ‘superior’.

Nor can I accept that being ‘different’ is really such a ‘sin’. Preventing behaviour that’s harmful of oneself, others, property, etc, for instance meltdowns, aggressive behaviour, running away or faecal smearing, that’s one thing[4].  But hand-flapping? Lining up toys? Rocking, humming or spinning? Talking in a monotone, or monologuing about trains (boring as the latter might be)? Loving lampposts, or rocks, or butterflies? Refusing to wear certain fabrics, cutting labels out of clothes, or hating the radio? Being able to list all the Kings and Queens of England since Alfred The Great? Loving Disney tunes – even at 29? What is really so wrong, so harmful, about these things, that they must be eradicated, and all of us turned into blandly boring ‘normal’?? How are these really any different to the guy with a collection of several hundred flags, featured on TV[5] last night? Or the NZ couple who covered their house with paua (abalone) shells? The people who take part in ‘extreme’ sports, or spend their entire lifetimes trying to prove UFOs exist? If ‘abnormal’ behaviour can be accepted in NTs, why not in us? Yet all of the above types of ‘harmless’ behaviour in autistics have seen someone try to destroy, suppress or eradicate them – many times, with extreme harshness. And other people have supported such harshness, precisely because the individual is autistic (and therefore, anything is okay if it promises to ‘get rid’ of the autism, even if it wouldn’t be okay for any other person, because autistics are somehow ‘less than’ human, or the ‘wrong’ sort of human).

I know that talk of ‘neurodiversity’ doesn’t go down well with some autism parents, especially those who are so anxious, and so overwhelmed, that they will listen to any ‘expert’, try any ‘therapy’, if it will stop their kid’s screaming in the supermarket, or teach them to talk, or get them toilet-trained, or prevent them running away, etc, etc[6]. I do know that it can be difficult, and that many parents, especially when their autistic children are young, feel like they’re living in a war zone. I sympathise, hell I even empathise. And (up to a point) I support any treatment that truly helps with such things – but not those that are harsh, punitive, harmful, useless, or done with the end goal of ‘eradicating’ the autism – especially if in doing so, they communicate to the child (or even in front of them, even if they’re non-verbal) that autism itself is ‘bad’.

Why? Because autism is not a set of behaviours, but a profoundly different way of thinking, feeling, looking at the world and reacting to it. It’s a neurological style, and an intrinsic part of us – and can no more be separated from us, than we can stop being the gender or race we are. So anyone communicating that something so central to us is ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’, we invariably assume it means that we are bad and wrong. All manifestations of our autism (even if it’s not diagnosed, doesn’t have a label), become evidence of our ‘inferiority’ or wrongness, things to be hidden away, repressed out of sight. Which can lead to stress illnesses, rock-bottom self-esteem, self-hatred, shame, anxiety, depression, even addiction, self-harming or suicide attempts. Many of us adult autistics are all too familiar with these. The cost of this ‘Tyranny of Normal’ is severe, and can’t be allowed to continue, for all our sakes[7].

We need to challenge this assumption that being neurotypical is so superior a state that it’s worth anything to make us that way. We need to put an end to the sacred status of ‘indistinguishability’. It’s time to overthrow the Tyrant, and assert our right to be free, and to be our true autistic selves.

[1] Nick Walker, “Throw Away the Master’s Tools: Liberating Ourselves from the Pathology Paradigm”, in Loud Hands – Autistic People, Speaking, ed Julia Bascom/The Autism Self-Advocacy Network, pgs 154-162. Washington DC: The Autistic Press, 2012.
[2] Walker, p 161.
[3] Amanda Forest Vivian, “They Hate You. Yes, You.” In Loud Hands – Autistic People, Speaking, p 127.
[4] Though even here, I am against harsh, ‘normalising’ treatments – surely trying to understand an autistic child, and why they do these things, what triggers them, and work with that, has to ultimately work much better than ‘normalisation therapy’, which merely seeks to suppress ‘symptoms’.
[5] On NZ’s TV1, Seven Sharp, 7pm, Tuesday 19th February, 2013.
[6] By the way, though I do recognise they can be hard to separate from it, none of these things are actually intrinsic to autism. See my following paragraph, for what autism actually is.
[7]Normalisation’ is also of course often ineffective – many of us, despite our or our families best efforts, remain obviously ‘different’ and ‘other’, and prone to ridicule, bullying, violence and discrimination, even as adults.

Monday, 11 February 2013

A Guideline For Our Would-Be Non-Autistic Allies

Neurotypicals who mean well and want to be allies of autistic people, often understand us even less well than we do them. So I’ve compiled a rough guideline for them to follow. Feel free to share it with whoever you think needs it.

Firstly, let go of ALL assumptions you have about us.
These include, but are not limited to, the following –

1) That our behaviour is prompted by the same forces that would prompt similar behaviour in a non-autistic person. So if we appear rude, arrogant, cheeky, insensitive, selfish, etc; it’s because we know the social rules and are deliberately flouting them. And if we’re not looking you in the eye, it’s because we’re dishonest.

2) That if we display a ‘wrong’ emotion, or none at all, it’s because we’re being deliberately rude, etc, as above. Or because we don’t have any feelings. Or that if we don’t answer when you ask what we’re feeling, it’s because we’re snubbing you.

3) That if we complain about noise, smells, bright lights, etc, or ask for special foods eg gluten-free, that we’re doing it to spoil other people’s fun, make life difficult for others, because we like to moan and bitch, or are just attention-seekers. And if we don’t get accommodated, and we cry, withdraw, or meltdown, it’s for the same reason/s.

4) That there is nothing good or worthwhile about being autistic. So if our thinking, behaviour, emotions, reactions, interests, whatever, differ to yours, that they are automatically inferior/ wrong/ pathological/ to be corrected/ eliminated.

5) That we are incapable of empathy, sympathy, compassion, altruism, helping others, or seeing their point of view. So if we do seem to be acting that way, it’s an error, a rare exception, or simply a misinterpretation. Or that individual is ‘not really’ autistic at all.

6) That if we have communication difficulties, or are even non-verbal, that this means we are less intelligent/ intellectually handicapped, and should be spoken to in that slow, deliberate, patronising way people use for ‘those poor souls’.

7) That even if we are obviously intelligent, we will never have meaningful lives - get an education (except perhaps in IT), hold down decent jobs, have adult relationships, marry or raise children. Or that if we do do these things, we’ll invariably make a botch of them, be bad parents, etc. Or if we are successful at them, then we’re ‘not really’ autistic at all.

8) That we ‘don’t want’ to connect with others, or make friends, and/or that we are incapable of forming communities of our own. That nothing about non-autistics could cause us to withdraw from you.

9) That our current state is all we’re capable of, no matter what our age – that we’ll never grow, develop, or evolve as individuals, the way ‘normal’ people do.

10) (And possibly most important) That you know what our agenda and needs are without asking us, and don’t need to consult us first before acting on our behalf.

Especially discard any assumptions that are the result of
i) You once met one autistic person who is/was ‘like that’.
ii) You or your best friend’s uncle’s cousin’s brother-in-law live, or once lived, next door/down the street from an autistic person.
iii) Some ‘expert’ said so – you read it somewhere, or saw it on TV.
iv) The smoko/water-cooler/morning tea ‘experts’ at work said so.
v) Your neighbour/best friend/auntie/teammate said so.
vi) ‘Everybody’ knows that.

Secondly, stop patting yourself on the back for having anything to do with us.
We are your fellow human beings, albeit different, why should you be congratulated for interacting with other humans? This attitude infers that we are a ‘lesser order of creature’, who should be pathetically grateful for whatever crumbs of ‘charity’ you throw our way. And that if such gratitude is not forthcoming, you’re perfectly entitled to flounce off in a huff. If you’re going to be of any real help to us as allies, you need to get past your ego.

Thirdly, inform yourself about us.
1) Read professionals such as Tony Attwood, Lorna Wing and Teresa Bolick to give you a general understanding about autism and Aspergers.
2) Read up on the criteria for formal diagnosis of all forms of autism.
3) Research Sensory Processing Disorder, Alexithymia, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, prosopagnosia and other such ‘Co-Occurring Conditions’, as these complicate our lives considerably.

Fourthly, (and above all) listen to us.
1) Read anything by adult autistics like Lianne Holliday Willey, Jerry Newport, Michael John Carley, Stephen Shore, Claire Sainsbury, Temple Grandin, Jennifer Birch, Daniel Tammet, to name just a few of the many excellent autistic writers.

2) Sample some of the many fine blogs by adult autistics, such as Inner Aspie, A Deeper Country, Autistic Hoya, Just Stimming, No Stereotypes Here, or Cracked Mirror In Shallot. And if you stumble across blogs written by ‘autism-positive’ parents, read those too.

3) Check out the Autistics Speaking Day site. Learn how and why this was started. Also check out other online writings of autistics like Ari Ne’eman, Jane Meyerding, Jim Sullivan, Dave Spicer or Rachel Cohen-Rottenburg, or sites like The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, and those of autism organisations like ASAN and GRASP.

4) Browse through some of the many autistic forums (eg Wrong Planet) and any open social media groups for autistics. Be prepared to be surprised by the range of feelings displayed, thoughts shared, issues discussed, jokes cracked, and pain revealed.

See what we at the ‘coalface’ of autism say about our lives, what they are really like. Learn about the struggles we endure, the challenges we face, the hostility we receive, the lack of support or understanding we labour under. Read how so many of us never reach our potential, or drop out, or get abused, or take refuge in addiction, or consider suicide, or get depressed, or just crawl into our homes like a hermit crab into its shell, because the world has hurt us so badly. Most especially, read how totally invisible adult autistics are.

Read, and weep - and realise that this is just the beginning of your education.

Now you’re ready to be our allies.

- Penni Winter

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Things I Don't Understand - Number One

There are lots of things in this world that I really don’t understand, so I thought I’d start an (occasional) series about them. Today I want to talk about sitcoms.

Now it’s not that I don’t get the ins and outs of the plots (though given the intellectual level of most of these programs, that’s not saying much). What I don’t understand is why they are considered funny. Most of them seem to revolve around people making idiots of themselves in one way or another, which, given my own socially-bumbling history, I usually find too painful to watch. I identify too much with the characters. (So much for us aspies lacking empathy, huh?) And even if I didn’t, I still don’t get why that should be considered funny.

So that’s one problem I have with them. The other is with the tendency of the characters to lie when faced with difficulties. A typical situation (eg in those endless re-runs of Friends that NZ TV seems to like, and which I’m able to watch for about two minutes tops before changing the channel) is some difficulty arises, and Character X says to Character Y, “Don’t tell Z!” And of course, right on cue, Z walks in stage left and says “Don’t tell me what?” Characters X and Y stutter “ah, ah, ah…” and then proceed to make up some elaborate story that is about as far from the truth as you can get, all to the tune of canned laughter. Then they have to think of ways to back up that story, usually more lies, the plot thickens, and various complications abound. In the end, the truth almost always comes out, or some version of it, and Z is usually more upset or angry about the lies than the truth, while I’m always left thinking, why don’t they tell the bloody truth in the first place, and there wouldn’t be all this ruckus!

And yes, before someone points it out, I KNOW that if they didn’t tell that BS, there would be no story, or a vastly different one. And that this telling of lies is not limited to sitcoms – serious drama does it too. And yes, I do also know that telling ‘white lies’ is considered socially acceptable, in order to not hurt other people’s feelings. It’s only in sitcoms however, that it seems to be the one (weak) gag they seem to hang the plot on most often. I also know that sitcoms are ‘lowest common denominator’ TV, ie not exactly mentally challenging. Pathetic plots and stupid gags are their usual fare. I know all this.

But I still don’t get why telling lies or making an idiot of yourself or someone else is supposed to be so funny.

Signing Off For Now,