Feminist Aspie

#DDoM2015: We Are Not Just Things To Be Dealt With

TRIGGER WARNING: Abuse, including child abuse, murder and references to autism “therapies”.

Tomorrow, 1st March, is the annual Disability Day of Mourning, organised by disability rights organisations such as Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, ADAPT, Not Dead Yet, the National Council on Independent Living, and the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. Disabled people organise vigils and read out the names of disabled people killed by their parents or caregivers; a list which grows year on year at a horrifying rate. It’s reached the point where ASAN has compiled an Anti-Filicide Toolkit; the point where we need to actively teach people not to murder us for being who we are. Worse, when such a killing reaches mainstream media, the world reacts not with horror but with sympathy for the killer for dealing with us for so long – that is to say, for not doing it sooner – and their sentences, if they are even given, are lighter. The victim, meanwhile, is seen as nothing but a burden, a problem, a thing to be dealt with.

Sadly, this awful thought pattern shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider the way we think about disabled people.

For example, autism is far too often considered from the point of view of a neurotypical outsider, rather than from the autistic person. Our sensory processing differences are rarely even acknowledged; our coping mechanisms are seen as “behaviours” which are different to neurotypical behaviours and therefore must be stopped. Our communication methods are dismissed; we are framed as deficient for lacking fluency in neurotypical non-verbal communication, yet neurotypical people make no attempt to learn ours, even for those people who can only communicate non-verbally. Even if we are diagnosed young, we often only learn about our own neurotype from the point of view of someone in our position via the Internet, for those of us able and allowed to access it.

When many neurotypical people talk about “the autism community”, they view it as including neurotypical people themselves, not as allies but as the main voices and authorities. The focus is on “autism parents” and “autism families”; not autistic people themselves, because we’re the things to be dealt with. Sometimes I even see phrases like “families with autism” (to describe families where one person is autistic), just to make it absolutely clear that they see autism as a thing to be dealt with by neurotypical family members.

The biggest voice of all is the neurotypical-run organisation Autism Speaks, despite being abhorred by the vast majority of autistic people for reasons outlined here; amongst them, a video called “Autism Every Day” in which a (then) board member talks about wanting to drive herself and her autistic daughter off a bridge, stopping only because of the effects it would have on her other, non-autistic, daughter. She says all this in front of her autistic daughter; nobody thinks of her as listening and understanding, because she’s not seen as a human, she’s seen as a thing to be dealt with. Just four days after the release of this video, Katherine “Katie” McCarron was murdered by her own mother. In November 2014, London McCabe was murdered by his own mother too – by being thrown from a bridge.

Autism Speaks, amongst others, signifies autism using a puzzle piece. Because we’re puzzles to be solved. Things to be dealt with.

And how are we dealt with? Abuse (abuse trigger warning for all links in this paragraph). Institutionalisation. The unimaginable horrors of the Judge Rotenberg Center. “Therapies”, like ABA, aimed at making autistic people outwardly act neurotypical; because what’s on the outside is all that matters, we’re not seen as having an “inside”, we’re seen as things to be dealt with. “Quiet Hands”. I’ve even heard of clicker training – yes, as in clicker training for dogs – being used. Ultimately, the result is conditioned compliance. The result is people feeling unable to say “no”.

They don’t really see us as people, and overcompensate in their language. As a general rule, autistic people prefer identity first language, but many neurotypical people often actively argue against this, telling us time and time again that we’re somehow being offensive to ourselves, even in response to our words about the aforementioned abuse. Their sentences do all sorts of gymnastics to avoid the word “autistic”- person with autism, person living with autism, person who just so happens to have autism – and all I hear is “I can only see you as a person if in my mind I push your autism as far away from you as possible, because it gets in the way of my view of you as a person”. Again, things to be dealt with.

Those of us who are verbal and who can pass for neurotypical are categorised as “high-functioning”; it sounds like a compliment, but it’s a trap. It means we’re put on a neurotypical pedestal, deemed “not really autistic” or “recovered” (Autism Speaks are still happy to count us in their scare-statistics though…) and therefore not taken seriously. Our differences are still, suppressed, openly mocked and used against us, but when we acknowledge them ourselves – for example, if we request accommodations – these same differences are denied totally, and we’re told we’re over-reacting. “High-functioning” is, ultimately, a threat; you know how we treat the autistic people who can’t or won’t pretend to be neurotypical, it says, so you must pretend – at all costs. The impact of those messages is so hard to undo, even when you know rationally that it’s wrong and ableist for people to expect that of you. And frankly, it’s exhausting.

Most people don’t think about autistic adults at all; media focuses almost entirely on children (or rather, almost entirely on the parents of autistic children…) and representation of autistic adults in fiction is usually very one-dimensional and stereotypical, and rarely involves input from actual autistic people, because it’s aimed instead at neurotypical people as “inspiration”. We’re not considered a part of the audience, we’re just a one-off “inspirational” plot line to boost ratings. We’re things to be dealt with.

This all means that everyday, unquestioned, “normal” expectations – how experiences should be, the amounts and methods of everything you should do, how you should feel in some cases – do not include us. The exclusion is subtle, and usually accidental, but it’s there, because society at large doesn’t consider that humans exist with different needs which need to be accommodated. In the UK, only 15% of autistic adults are in full-time paid employment, and of course there’s the social aspect, which cannot be measured with numbers. We keep quiet, partly because we know we won’t be taken seriously, and partly because we were never given the tools to ask for help.

Neurotypical people use this false high/low functioning dichotomy to silence us; if we speak out, they think we’re clearly too high-functioning to count, and Not Like Their Child; never mind that most adults are not like most children, and no person is the same as any other, and they’re neurotypical themselves so have no right to say we’re not autistic enough to be part of “the autism community”. Too often, “autism experts”, or to use Autism Speaks’ phrasing “autism champions”, are neurotypical – be they professionals or parents – because they have the experience of dealing with us.

Our own activism is dismissed as too negative or political because it goes against widely believed autism narratives, or dismissed as not real or a fringe issue because, due to the inaccessibility of the neurotypical world, it mostly takes place online. We’re stereotyped as lacking empathy, tact and compassion, and these stereotypes are used against us. We’re always the ones apparently failing to see other points of view, even though neurotypical people built and maintain this society to accommodate only themselves. Neurotypical and autistic perceptions are different, but it’s always ours that are deemed to be wrong. We’re too impolite, up until the point where we’re just compliant. We’re too vocal. Too selfish. Too sensitive.

Autism Speaks switched hashtags in a (failed) attempt to escape the voices of actually autistic people speaking, so we know they can hear us; they’d just rather we shut up. When mainstream media does listen to us, it requires the “balance” of comments from Autism Speaks. We have to fight our way into the conversation about our own lives. This only demonstrates that it’s not actually about us. It’s never been about us. We’re not the subjects, we’re the objects. The things to be dealt with.

With all that in mind, is it any wonder so many disabled people are dying at the hands of the people who claim to love and care about them the most? The whole way we think about disability frames us not as people with feelings and needs and rights, but as things to be dealt with, whatever the means.

This has to change. Ableism kills.

The list the names of disabled people murdered by their parents or caregivers remembered tomorrow can be found here, alongside more information about the Disability Day of Mourning 2015.

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On transphobia and TERF hypocrisy

(TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of misogynistic, transphobic and transmisogynistic violence, and transphobia more generally. DISCLAIMER: I’m a cis woman attempting to be vaguely useful; trans people, if I’ve got anything wrong, please do let me know.)

Feminists. I’m not angry, just disappointed. No wait, I’m also angry. As women, we have first-hand experience of oppression under patriarchy. As feminists, we understand how sexist men react when we point out that, well, society as it stands really isn’t all that fair. They mock, derail, try out all the usual tropes to avoid taking any responsibility for the problem, and/or losing any of their current male privilege. We’ve seen and heard it all before. We’ve questioned ourselves. We’ve learned how to not defer to them every time, we’ve learned to spot and dismantle those tropes as they appear. Basically, I’d like to think we know our stuff when it comes to how privilege and oppression works. So why is it that I keep seeing feminists go on to use those very same tactics to avoid taking responsibility for cis privilege and transphobia?

I’m going to use both the terms “transphobe” and “TERF”, so it may be helpful first to properly differentiate between the two. Transphobes are cis people who hate, and/or perpetuate the oppression of, trans people. TERF stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists – basically, TERFs are transphobic feminists who use feminism to deflect criticism for their transphobia. Not all transphobes are TERFs, not all feminists (or radfems) are TERFs, but all TERFs are transphobic and all TERFs purport to be feminists. And no, “TERF” is not a slur. Slurs are words used against the oppressed group to remind them of their place, their historical oppression, the power that the slur-user has over them; in many ways, slurs are a threat. The word “TERF” does not remind TERFs of their historical oppression by trans people, because that oppression obviously does not exist. The word “TERF” simply reminds TERFs that they’re transphobic, and a lot of people seriously don’t agree with them. You know how misogynists don’t like being called misogynists? That’s the same reaction that’s happening here.

terf venn diagram[Image description: A Venn diagram labelled “transphobes” on the left, “feminists” on the right, and “TERFs” in the middle]

In feminist circles (pun not intended…) the fight against transphobia tends to be focused on TERFs, so they respond with things like “but it’s not just us!” and “what about THOSE transphobes?”. I’ll look at that response in more detail later, but for now, suffice to say that many TERFs have media platforms, which means they have a great influence over others (particularly other feminists), and in many cases they are presented as the face of mainstream feminism, so other feminists have to work hard to ensure that trans women feel safe and are included in the feminist movement, and this of course requires standing up to the TERFs. Weirdly, despite being feminists, TERFs tend to use many of the same arguments as sexist men…

Misogynists: “I got told this was “misogynistic”! The “patriarchy” isn’t real!”
Transphobes: “part of a worrying pattern of intimidation and silencing of individuals whose views are deemed “transphobic” or “whorephobic”.”
The latter is, of course, a direct quote from That Free Speech Letter (which also attacked sex workers, because attacking trans people apparently wasn’t enough). Putting words in quote marks doesn’t make the concepts behind them any less real. Calling words “made-up” is futile too, because that’s true of all words.

Misogynists: “Not all men are like that”
Transphobes: “Not all cis people are like that”
TERFs: “Not all radfems are like that”
Who cares? Stop talking about how you’re Definitely Not Like That and start speaking out against those who are Like That. Calling out transphobia is not an attack on all cis people or an attack on all feminists (or radfems), it’s an attack on transphobia and our response as cis people and/or feminists should be to listen and change to avoid transphobia in future.

Misogynists: “But I don’t hate women! What happened was awful, but…”
Transphobes: “But I don’t hate trans people! What happened was awful, but…”
Our society has pushed awful oppressive ideas on us all our lives; even those of us who recognise this fact mess up so many times, because it’s just so normalised. You don’t have to actively hate an oppressed group to perpetuate hate against them; most people perpetuate this hate without realising. Don’t get defensive – look at where you’ve messed up and learn from it.

Misogynists: “And here is a token woman who agrees with me!”
Transphobes: “And here is a token trans person who agrees with me!”
Your one token does not negate the views of the many others disagreeing with them. Trans people are not a hive mind, just as women are not a hive mind.

Misogynists: “How come you’re focusing on women when gender stereotypes hurt everyone?”
Transphobes: “How come you’re identifying as non-binary when the gender binary hurts everyone?”
First I should point out the glaring discrepancy in this comparison: the former is a choice, whereas the latter is not. Having said that, both arguments are based on the same false idea that everyone being affected means that everyone is affected equally. Not true. The gender binary coerces cis people to conform to roles in which very few people (if anyone) actually fit. The gender binary forces trans people to conform to an entire gender which goes directly against who they really are. Trans people are being murdered and abused for not conforming. Men do not experience misogyny. Cis people do not experience transphobia. It’s that simple.

Misogynists: “Hahaha, Tumblr throws a tantrum over every little thing”
Transphobes: “Hahaha, Twitter throws a tantrum over every little thing”
The specific websites aren’t really relevant, they’re just the versions I hear most often from these people; however, what is relevant is that these people are often saying these things on the very websites they’re apparently criticising. Often on Tumblr, “Tumblr” is used as a euphemism for “the various oppressed groups who are making the most of this one space they have to talk about their own experiences”; basically, laughing at “Tumblr” sounds less obviously awful than laughing at women, or trans people, or anyone else who has the sheer audacity to exist whilst not being a cis straight white abled man. Substitute “Tumblr” for “Twitter” and you’ve got every tweet from a TERF over the past week laughing at how “Twitter” gets angry so easily. And for the record, “little things” aren’t quite so little when you’re actually experiencing them.

Misogynists: “Stop whining about sexist articles, what about women in other countries who can’t vote or work outside the home?” (usually accompanied by a load of racism too)
Transphobes: “Stop whining about transphobic articles, what about the mass murder of trans women?”
TERFs: “Stop whining about us, what about transphobic men/male violence?”
This week, several cis people have basically accused trans people of not caring about themselves enough. Really not okay. Usually, the person making this argument only ever raises the “bigger problem” when making this argument; they don’t care themselves, they just want the people calling them out to shut up. Aside from that, someone else’s bigotry doesn’t magically make yours okay, even if it is less violent. In fact, so-called “harmful views” are exactly that, harmful – transphobia perpetuates violence against trans people, just as misogynist men don’t have to be physically violent themselves to perpetuate violence against women. I’ve included the specific TERF argument I’ve seen everywhere because although it has the same basis as the first two statements, it’s wrong on a few extra levels; TERFs are being focused on because trans people and other feminists want to make the feminist movement safe for and inclusive of trans people, and because the TERFs are themselves focusing on hating trans people (trans women in particular) rather than combating male violence and/or using their cis privilege to confront transphobic men, plus many feminists and trans activists aren’t focusing on the “bigger problem” right now because the TERFs have caused harm which now needs to be undone.

Misogynists: “Focusing on violence against women is giving women special treatment, what about this other issue that affects us *all*?”
TERFs: “Focusing on transmisogynistic murders is giving trans women special treatment, what about this other form of sexism that affects *all* women?”
Nobody should have to wait their turn to be seen as full humans with full human rights. Nobody should have to wait their turn to not be murdered at an horrifying rate. Just because an issue doesn’t affect you personally doesn’t mean it isn’t important or urgent.

Misogynists: “Feminists are so angry and irrational, you can’t have an objective debate with them.”
Transphobes: “Trans people and their allies are so angry and irrational, you can’t have an objective debate with them.”
Nobody should have to debate their own rights, their own experiences, their own life, every single day. It’s much easier to stay calm, civil, patient and polite when you’re not the one whose existence is on trial. The experience of the dominant group isn’t objective; to say it is perpetuates the idea of the dominant group as the norm. Women are constantly dismissed for being irrational and emotional, putting us on the defensive whilst the initial misogyny goes without comment or criticism. Feminists must surely know how that feels. It really confuses and saddens me that some feminists, having experienced this themselves, go on to inflict it on others anyway.

Misogynists: “Men won’t listen to you if you’re this hostile all the time!”
Transphobes: “Cis people won’t listen to you if you’re this hostile all the time!”
Except they won’t listen if you’re nice, either, because to many of these people, “nice” means “quiet and compliant”. Sometimes this is twisted into “people just want to learn and you’re just driving them away”. Strangely, that argument only ever appears after somebody has either been malicious from the start or outright refused to listen after being called out. People who just want to learn, well, they listen, and learn, without major drama, and it goes unnoticed.

Misogynists: “You hurt my feelings! Apologise for pointing out that sexism just then!”
Transphobes: “You hurt my feelings! Apologise for pointing out that transphobia just then!”
The hurt feelings of the oppressed group – the ones attacked in the first place, and in the context of being attacked constantly – never come into the equation, because the harm done to them is normal, not noteworthy.

Misogynists: “I know I’ll get criticised for this, but *is sexist* LOOK AT HOW BRAVE I AM FOR SAYING THE THING FEMINISTS DON’T WANT ME TO SAY”
Transphobes: “I know I’ll get criticised for this, but *is transphobic* LOOK AT HOW BRAVE I AM FOR STANDING UP TO THE TRANS BULLIES”
See also the racist “we’re not allowed to talk about immigration” trope, when in fact that’s ALL the person is talking about. The idea of this is to frame the oppressed group as a powerful mob who somehow control us all; and yet, mysteriously, the “silenced” views are everywhere whilst the “dominant”, “bullying” views are rarely heard at all.

Misogynists: “Criticism and boycotts by feminists are taking away my freedom of speech!”
Transphobes: “Criticism and boycotts by trans people are taking away my freedom of speech!”
The Freeze Peach trope has been done to death already, and I discussed it only a couple of weeks ago. But take a look at this. Here is an interview with Dapper Laughs – yep, apparently he’s still a thing – in The Independent today (TW: rape). Look at what he says, and compare it with That Free Speech Letter. The gist of the arguments is terrifying similar. Actual literal Dapper Laughs, for crying out loud. Need I say anymore?

So there you have it – right now, certain feminists are starting to sound a lot like the misogynists they’re supposed to be countering, without a hint of irony or self-awareness. Identifying as a feminist does not absolve you of transphobia, no matter how you frame it. TERFs call it feminism, but this is not the kind of feminism that I want to be a part of.

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Lost In Translation

“Do you want to go get a coffee?” I want a coffee. I want to have a chat with you. I want a date with you.

“I had a nightmare on Friday.” I had a really bad dream on Friday night. Friday itself was awful.

“Don’t come unless you really want to.” Come, but only if you really want to. Please please please come. Please please please don’t come.

“It’s at 10.” We need to arrive before it starts at 10. We need to arrive at some point after 10. We need to arrive somewhere else entirely for pre-drinks at 9, and I have no idea what’s happening after that.

“This is against the rules.” This is against the rules. This is technically against the rules, but everyone does it and literally nobody cares – I mean, I’m only a sign, I can’t stop you – just use commonsense and don’t do anything dangerous, disruptive or harmful to others.

“I’d hate me if I were you.” If I had problems interpreting neurotypical language like you, I’d be really annoyed at me because I’m sometimes unclear and don’t say what I mean. Quick, reassure me that you don’t hate me. I think we’re a bit of a mismatch and you should direct your affections elsewhere.

“BYOB.” Bring your own booze. Bring your own beverage, whatever that may be.  Bring your own booze, but if you just want soft drinks, we have those already; they’re supposed to be mixers, but nobody will mind if you drink them on their own. Also bring cups. We have cups, you don’t need to bring those.

“I’ll just wait for everyone to settle down…” Quite a few people are still arriving and/or doing other things, so I’ll wait a few seconds until they’re finished. You there, the one that’s just arrived and is still ordering her diet coke, hurry up and sit down.

“Oh, you came, thanks so much!” Thank you so much for coming. What are you doing here?! YOU ACTUALLY CARE!! You’re creepy.

“Do you want to go get a coffee?” I want a coffee. We haven’t had the chance to talk in a while and I want to catch up. You asked me on a date a while back and this is me reciprocating.

(Inspired by this Dinah The Aspie Dinosaur comic, and also by my own cluelessness)

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Free Speech: You keep using that phrase…

free speech inigo montoya

[Image description: A picture of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, captioned with the following: “Free speech”. You keep using that phrase, but I do not think it means what you think it means]

Seeing as everybody else is doing it – let’s talk about freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech means that you have the right to express yourself without being killed, imprisoned, arrested, or generally having your other rights and freedoms removed – and even in the strictly legal sense, this has qualifiers. For example, the European Convention of Human Rights (enshrined in UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998) notes that freedom of expression may be subject to “such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society” including “for the protection of the reputation or rights of others”.  In other words, branding universities as anti-free-speech for things like harassment policies or rules against racist, sexist and/or homophobic language is seriously misguided.

Again, freedom of speech means that you have the right to hold and express opinions. It does not mean that other people have to listen to you, agree with you, or accept your bigotry without dissent. And it definitely does not mean you have the right to a platform. I mean, I haven’t spoken at a prestigious university institution or written for a nationwide publication either. Believe it or not, neither have most people. Incidentally, marginalised groups who are regularly put down by The Freeze Peach Debate are even less likely than more privileged people to have these, well, privileges. Those platforms are far from a right.

We have got to the point where people are are complaining about how ~completely silenced~ they are via the medium of their national newspaper columns, or in articles and blog posts that go viral. Alternatively, these people sometimes have their oppressive views quoted uncritically in such articles as part of The Freeze Peach Debate. They’re not being silenced at all.

Yet, some of them are even comparing their lack of (an additional) platform to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Comparing being no-platformed or being disagreed with to literally being murdered . Invoking an unrelated tragedy to manipulate the reader’s emotions and make no-platforming seem horrific by association. I’ve seen this from people on all sides and it’s really not on. It’s trivialising, it’s upsetting… Just bloody don’t.**

Moving swiftly on, why is it that the poor, silenced Freeze Peach Advocates are never as vocal when the police kettle peaceful protests, or create violent conflicts that are later blamed on protesters? Why are they never as vocal when such protests and vigils are targeted by individuals from the often more powerful institutions being called out, whether by online trolls beforehand or (actual or threatened) disruption of the event itself, with the intention of making people feel too unsafe to show up? Freedom of expression means freedom of expression for everyone. It’s almost as if the anti-no-platformers are more concerned about protecting bigotry than actually advocating for free speech… By the way, the concepts of “safe” and “unsafe” are not just buzzwords for you to dismiss as a fad. I can’t believe this needs to be said, but anti-sex-work rhetoric actually does harm sex workers; TERF rhetoric actually does harm trans people; racist rhetoric actually does harm people of colour. As highlighted brilliantly by Stillicides’ Misogyny Triangle, oppressive attitudes aren’t just an opinion. They’re actually dangerous. Remember, the protection of the rights of others.

In these contexts, the Freeze Peach Debate is usually little more than a derailing tactic. When someone is perpetuating an oppression and the relevant oppressed group stands up for themselves, the big conversation ends up always being the Freeze Peach Debate, and never being about the awfulness that created the situation in the first place. Rather than raising awareness of the underlying issues, marginalised groups are put straight on the defensive- again. And it is always marginalised groups; the anti-no-platformers will only ever refer to them as “students” to try and avoid looking like they’re perpetuating oppression, but the students in question are invariably from liberation campaigns. It’s like when people criticise “Tumblr” when they themselves are Tumblr users; they usually mean either social justice advocates more generally, or particularly people in marginalised groups never represented in mainstream media.

Importantly, though, that’s not to say you can’t criticise people who experience oppression – I mean, freedom of speech, right? Feminists: Remember that women can be oppressive too. No-platforming a woman for views harmful to sex workers is not misogynistic, any more than no-platforming a gay man for misogynistic views would be homophobic. Intersectionality isn’t just a word that looks good in your Twitter bio, it’s a very real concept. Women can be oppressive too. As a student who has spent the past few months debating on student feminist Facebook groups about no-platforming men, I’ve found it really bizarre that, in light the Kate Smurthwaite debacle, there’s suddenly this idea that only women are no-platformed, when some quick research proves otherwise. Or even short-term memory – a pro-life Oxford society inviting two cis men to “debate” abortion, anyone? It was only three months ago… Basically, no-platforming is far from being a tool of misogyny; in fact, as Stavvers pointed out earlier today, the heavy criticism of no-platforming by feminist societies is strongly linked to the patriarchal idea that women are not permitted to have boundaries.

Finally: For people who are so passionate about freedom of expression, the anti-no-platformers sure are angry about people disagreeing with them…

**Relax, I don’t have the power to stop you saying things I don’t like, nor would I want that. But I do have the power to tell you you’re being a dick.

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