Feminist Aspie

Autistics Speaking Day 2015: IRL

(As always, 1st November is Autistics Speaking Day – please do check out the other posts on the website!)

I haven’t been on here much recently; university is really hectic at the moment, and the time and energy that isn’t going into my studies is going into various other little side-quests. I don’t feel too disconnected though, because some of those side-quests are autism-related. Firstly, whilst I don’t want to go into details for anonymity reasons, I’ve recently embarked on a new project which involves writing about autism someplace else – publicly. It’s still online, and yet it feels more, y’know, IRL. It’s me, not just an alias I created specifically to express what I never felt I could around the people I care about, and it feels like a big step. The second thing I’ve been doing recently is starting, slowly and tentatively, to properly address some of the problems I’ve been having over the last couple of years and, I suppose, seek support through more formal channels. It sounds big and scary when I put it like that, but in reality it’s more like tiny baby steps that, taken individually, don’t seem worth worrying about.

I bring this up because I’m thinking about the year that’s passed since last year’s ASDay and realising that, in seemingly small and unconnected ways, I’m beginning to accept and embrace my autistic self not just in theory but in practice. The idea of learning now, as an adult, what sets me off and how to minimise the risk and how best to recover afterwards and how to explain all that to people seems like a bizarre concept, but it’s been happening to me for a while and it’s an ongoing process. For those of us who grew up believing that passing for neurotypical was the ultimate goal and that our differences were purely behavioural without considering sensory and other underlying differences in autism, it’s surprisingly common to have to re-learn how your brain wiring works and how to work with rather than against it. Some things that I thought were harmless need to be dealt with carefully or they can build up and lead to overload; on the other hand, some things that I thought were Very Very Bad can be mitigated and dealt with or even sometimes enjoyed, with some forward planning and supportive family and friends. My biggest challenge, as perhaps made evident by the whole “secret WordPress” thing, has been and is still opening up to people IRL (by the way, I include online communication with people I know in my definition of IRL, because why should that communication be less valid?) and again, the progress is slow, but steady, and perhaps increasing in pace. Even if the potential worst-case-scenarios never arise, I’ve found that just knowing there are people on side makes a world of difference.

What does this all mean? Well, in short, I’m one month into term and haven’t gone into shutdown yet (although who knows, maybe I’ve spoken too soon), I remain absolutely terrified of the future but I’m working towards making the future seem like an actual possible thing, and I’m feeling more like myself, like this version of me, in the big and scary realm of IRL.

Baby steps, as it turns out, can go a long way.

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Autistics Speaking Day 2014: Human

(This post is my submission for Autistics Speaking Day. There are loads of great posts on there already, and many more will be added today and over the next few days, so please go and have a look!)

Hello there. Let me introduce myself. I’m a human.

I have a name, although I don’t really use it on here. I’m a student, a blogger, a feminist, a sister, a daughter, a grand-daughter, a friend, an autistic. Not mutually exclusive.

Right now, I’m typing this because I lack the necessary executive function skills to stop what I’m doing and actually get a good night’s sleep. That, or I’m just enthusiastic about this post. In reality, it’s a bit of both. Also, like so many of my fellow humans, I spend far too much of my life procrastinating from studying. I take BuzzFeed quizzes, I tidy up, I play 2048, I make tea, I listen to music, I pace and pace and pace across the floor on my tiptoes because that’s what music does- sorry, does that sound weird? Fair enough, I suppose some people prefer coffee. But at the end of the day, I almost always somehow manage to get that essay written on time, and I tend to last longer with actually going to the lectures than a lot of my friends too; maintaining the routine helps me feel safer.

Outside of that, I play guitar (or rather, I should practice more often!), I go to a few student societies, and I quietly blog, mainly about feminism and autism, under the world’s least imaginative pseudonym. I’m currently catching up with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I also really like Doctor Who. Really like Doctor Who. Nonononono but you don’t understand. Actually, I think you might; there’s no bold obvious line where the “slightly above average level of fandom enthusiasm” ends and the “autistic special interest” begins.

When you first meet me, I am almost definitely quiet. Nervous. Awkward. I’m better at the whole “people” thing some days than others, depending on a million and one other factors. Sometimes I feel like I can take on all the world, sometimes I feel like it’s all going to crash down on top of me, most of the time I’m somewhere in the middle. This doesn’t make me “high-functioning” nor “low-functioning”. I don’t suddenly regress, or am suddenly cured. I have varying emotions, and I have varying energy levels, being a human and all. Having said that, I find online interaction far easier even just amongst people I know in real life. On Facebook, I’m known for my love of and constant use of reaction GIFs, despite sometimes finding real-life, real-time facial expressions impossible to navigate; I don’t have any logical explanation for this, but maybe that’s okay. I mean, most people don’t find themselves having to explain their personality to people like that.

Let’s go back to emotions for a second. There still seems to be some confusion on this re: autistic people for some reason, so just to confirm, I do have them. It’s just that they’re often over- or under-expressed. I cry with laughter far, far more often than I cry with… um, crying, which is a rare occurrence. Unless, of course, I’m having a meltdown. Anger, frustration, lashing out was a real problem when I was younger, but these days I’m better able to nip those situations in the bud before they arise, and rant freely into the void of the internet instead. These days, I think it’s fair to say that my primary emotion is fear. I’m scared of talking to people, family arguments, sudden loud noises, sudden total darkness, crowds, my ex-boyfriend, and yesterday I managed to creep myself out – intentionally, in a sort of fun way – watching YouTube videos of game corruptions. But my biggest fear, for some reason, is probably that pesky heat/suffocation/being-trapped combo that, combined also with an actual over-sensitivity to temperature and humidity, just sort of gets in the way of everything far too much. But I’ve totally missed out on the whole bugs-and-spiders thing so, y’know, swings and roundabouts. Anyway, sometimes I panic and/or get too overloaded with sensory input, so I have a meltdown or, more commonly, a shutdown. If I can get out and get back to my room or somewhere else that’s nice and safe and quiet, these days I can generally handle it myself. What I can’t handle is your judgement.

Yet, despite the perceptions of autism as a tragedy, I find that the good is at the very least equal to the bad. Sound hypersensitivity means that music is even better, for one thing. Special interests are just the best thing, many of which have stemmed from music, although of course there’s Doctor Who too. And I’ve grown to love my neurodivergent body language, even as those around me don’t understand it or, in some cases, want to suppress it because it’s weird and therefore bad or because they think some other group of people won’t like it (and they say autistics don’t have a concept of irony…). My fingers flutter or fly inwards in defence, I tap the walls, the tables, the floor, my toes bounce with my full weight whether I’m pacing in my room or exploring the outside world and I’ve never had to think about high heels, I repeat words and phrases to myself and rehearse and perfect my lines for the conversation I’m about to have, I’m jumpy and twitchy and sorry sorry sorry sorrysorrysorrysorry. Okay, so that last bit’s sort of a pain, but I’ve even found it to be a great conversation starter. It’s a thing I do; it’s a part of me as much as everything else I’ve mentioned. I’m not perfect. I’m human.

I worry about how I’m going to get my work done on time, how I’m going to talk to whoever I need to talk to without drawing a complete blank and not being able to use words, my family and friends back home, what to have for dinner, how on earth I didn’t immediately realise that remark was sarcastic, the weather, the weather, what I’m going to do this weekend, if that guy could even possibly like me back, if I could even possibly risk going to that social event that sounds really fun and exciting but also loud and crowded and scary, whether or not the world and its people can overcome and recover from the effects of kyriarchy, whether or not I can overcome and recover from the effects of that constant, constant, constant feeling I’m being judged for not being neurotypical.

My autism cannot be separated from my humanity; my autism is a part of my humanity. To me, all person-first language does is imply that my autistic traits need to be somehow isolated from the rest of my personality for me to be seen as, well, a person. But they’re not. I am multi-faceted. I can be good, bad, flawed, happy, sad, angry, scared, so so scared, strong, weak, changing, all of the above. Most of the time, my general state of being has been influenced by my being autistic, positively, negatively, sometimes both. So, because I’m often afraid to be visibly neurodivergent in public, I’m often afraid to be multi-faceted around other people too. Of course, then I’m apparently too robot-like and stereotypical and feel bad for that too, but I digress.

I’m autistic. I’m also a person. An autistic person. And if that doesn’t make sense to you, perhaps you need to re-think your idea of what is required to be human.

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Autistics Speaking Day 2013: You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party

For those of you who aren’t aware, 1st November is Autistics Speaking Day; it’s really worth heading over to that blog over the next few days for a wide range of social media posts to raise awareness and acceptance of autism, advocating the inclusion of autistic people in the ongoing conversation about us. So I thought I’d blog about something I’ve been thinking about for some time now; maybe I just notice this more because I’m at uni, but the entire culture of “proper” social occasions at the moment seems to be built around what’s actually a fairly narrow group of people.

Again, this might be more pronounced in a university environment, but “party” seems to basically mean “vaguely meet up at some point in some noisy overcrowded room, get drunk, and overwhelm all but the most extroverted/popular almost out of the group entirely”. Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong at all with that sort of thing in and of itself, I’m sure some autistic people really enjoy it, and to be honest I can find sometimes find some of it quite fun, on the right day, even if it’s basically just watching, but it seems like that’s all that there is. It just doesn’t occur to people that some of us can’t handle that much input, can’t filter out all that background noise and follow the conversation, can’t just magically know when and where to go like everyone else seems to be able to (hint: it’s not when and where the club ticket says it will be), and all sorts of other stuff I haven’t worked out how to articulate yet. Or, as I keep telling everyone, “I can’t people“. (People-ing is a verb in my vocabulary now, sorry about that.) It’s also worth noting that, at least to a certain extent, this isn’t necessarily a problem specific to those of us on the spectrum; I have several allistic/neurotypical friends who also seem to “get it” and, for various reasons, also “can’t people” even if they do manage to hide it better than I can, and in my case not liking alcohol probably plays a massive part in it too. Like I said, the whole thing is inadvertently excluding all bar a fairly narrow group of people.

Except, well, I actually can people, I’m just not very good with that one situation that’s usually the only option for people-ing. Last week, having gone to law drinks to catch up with everyone and meet the new freshers, only to spend the entire time focusing on just barely coping and intermittently screaming and despairing at the inevitability of it all, a friend and I ended up leaving after an hour, but on returning home we inadvertently ended up sitting on the stairs (she lives on the floor above me) and talking for hours. (And I don’t just mean infodumping about Doctor Who, either!!) It really made me think. This is far from a new occurrence. That post I wrote the other week in which I mentioned a party that night? As it turned out, I didn’t actually even make it there, because everyone had already gone for pre-drinks somewhere, but not where I guessed they would be, and nobody could hear their phones, and usually I keep being told to arrive later than the stated time because people logic but then pre-drinks are also a thing and they’re earlier and it’s all massively confusing, and I felt horrible about it afterwards because it genuinely seems like everyone else has telepathic communication, but then I thought – would it really kill you to just be a bit more clear about what’s going on beforehand? That issue is probably more autism-specific that the first one (literal-minded and all that), but there’s just so much that isn’t accessible to a lot of people. And when that’s all that there is, taking the sensible route and just not going leaves you feeling massively lonely.

So yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about all this (and, I admit it, part of me just really wanted to use that blog title…) and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, particularly if you’re autistic (that’s kinda the point of Autistics Speaking Day, after all!) but it seems to be an issue with a really wide scope and different perspectives would be great. What would make people-ing more accessible to you?

(Post reproduced on the Autistics Speaking Day blog. It’s also really worth reading Coffee Zombie’s response to this post, which I can hugely identify with.)

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