social

Social Clashing

I really didn’t even realize it was Tuesday until about five minutes ago. In my defense, it is the summer, and this tends to happen to me. I kind of alluded to the idea of it during last week’s long ramble about executive dysfunction. What happens is, I lose track of the general concept of time, to the point of not really knowing what day of the week it is, and because writing a blog post is pretty much the only thing that makes Tuesday different than any other weekday… well, anyway, at least I actually did remember. I can’t even post this until the electricity in my house comes back, so you might be getting this post a little later than I actually finish writing it.

But anyway. Today, we turn our attention back to a social topic. I know, what joy. Haven’t you missed the eternal untapped well of content that is the way I deal with the social world? As is often the case with social topics, I get to put myself on blast a little bit today. I want to talk about ‘clashing’ with friends and acquaintances, and how I’ve gradually come to accept the fact that I can be a slightly difficult person to get along with.

If you know me in real life and/or are my friend currently, you might deny that I’m hard to get along with. The thing about having friends is that usually, those people choose to be your friends because they enjoy your company. I think most of my friends at present would deny that I’m a difficult person to get along with, or maybe even that I have social issues at all. Masking helps a lot with that, and although it can be socially draining, I’ve found that masking is worth it in the grand scheme of things, because it helps me actually maintain friendships. As I’ve recently realized, having friendships and a social life that exists outside of my college dorm room is a really good and beneficial thing for life.

But the thing is: getting along with people is not always a hundred percent easy. And it’s because I’m a difficult person.

The best way for me to explain this is by backing up, because the most prime examples I can think of where I’ve ‘clashed’ with another person happened in high school. I don’t know what it was, exactly, about High School Me, but I had a lot of situations where I’d get into a social conflict that wasn’t exactly an argument but still felt like drama. This makes me sound like I was a popular person who was stirring the pot everywhere I went, but that was far from the case. The truth? In high school, I didn’t understand myself socially, nor was I socially confident enough, to figure out how to handle some of my friendships.

For example: I had this friend in high school. She was a genuinely kind person, who was always enthusiastic, and who loved uplifting her friends. (I use ‘was’ only because we don’t talk anymore.) We’d known each other for a long time through other schools and extracurriculars, so by the time we got to high school together, I felt like we were what you would consider ‘close friends.’

The problem with our friendship was this: she was a huge extrovert, and I didn’t know how to handle her socially. This was nothing at all against her, because like I said, she was always nice, and she never did anything at all to deserve the way I treated her. This is once again a case of me making myself look like a bad person on my blog, but the truth is that I was mean to this girl. Not deliberately, like with insults or anything like that, but more that I got overwhelmed by her social energy way too easily, and I’d shut down and/or get noticeably grouchy for absolutely no reason at all. I’m not proud to say it, but this resulted in me ‘snapping’ at her one too many times. She did nothing to me, but because I couldn’t ‘handle’ her, so to speak, I was mean.

This isn’t something I’m proud of at all. Like I said, we don’t talk anymore. This isn’t because we had any big fight; we just drifted apart after I graduated. I know that that happens with plenty of high school friendships, but I still feel bad when I think about how I let my lack of ability to ‘cope’ with neurotypical social situations turn me into someone who would randomly be mean to her friends. It’s true that our personalities were totally different, but that was no reason for me to be a jerk. This particular friend from high school was not the first, and probably will not be the last, person with whom I’ve ‘clashed’ socially simply because they’re very different from me and I don’t know how to handle it. I even do this with less close friends. There’s a reference in this blog post, albeit a very brief reference, to someone who I was struggling to get along with at the time I wrote the post, and looking back on that, I have literally no idea why I was so stubborn about that person. She became a friend of mine after I got over myself; she was always extremely kindhearted and sweet. I was the problem. I usually am.

I think it works like this: if one thing happens that my brain clocks as difficult to process, a friendship can get kind of complicated for me. I wish there was an easier way to explain this, but if you’ve ever had me frustrated with you, I think you might know what I’m talking about. There’s a small but notable handful of people I’ve encountered throughout my life with whom I’ve become frustrated for no apparent reason, and once I get myself into that mindset with a person, it’s hard for me to get myself out. I’m extremely glad to say that this has not happened to me with a friend in quite awhile; with the exception of the situation referenced in the above-linked post, I haven’t had a real problem with this since high school.

I honestly think that a lot of it is and has been a maturity thing. I’m not completely unhappy with the person I was in high school, but there are a lot of social decisions I made in high school that I regret, especially all the deliberate self-isolation I took part in because I thought it would be easier. College has helped me open up to the idea that it is, in fact, beneficial to have friendships in your life. I can’t pretend that I’m a fantastic friend, because I’m not. I am atrocious at texting, and I go off the map during school breaks. Given my poor communication skills, I wonder why some friends bother with me at all.

But this isn’t my pity party; we do enough of that on this blog. I think the point I’m trying to make today is that autistic social mannerisms have led me down paths I regret with regard to some of my past friendships. Once my brain decides that I’m ‘annoyed with’ or ‘overwhelmed by’ a friend, I have, historically, been grouchy with people for what seems to them like no reason at all. As I said above, with my example of my high school friend, it’s the case 99% of the time that that person did absolutely nothing to me, or even if they did ‘do something,’ it wasn’t nearly significant enough to create a whole social grudge against them. This is simply an immature and stubborn habit I’ve had in the past, and it’s something I’m very much working on.

The fact remains that this is something I’ve done. It was so bad in middle and high school that I can almost name a steady succession of different people who I ‘clashed’ with, for a good five or six consistent years. I think there was a part of me, especially before my diagnosis, that was so fixated on feeling socially isolated that I pushed people away to reinforce my own ideas about feeling different. Because I got diagnosed at the very start of high school, I think there’s a possibility that I maybe even latched onto my autism as an explanation for why it had been difficult to get along with some people in the past, and then used it as an excuse when I would get socially overwhelmed by other friends.

Although I said I didn’t have a big fight with the girl I used as an example, I have ruined or seriously damaged friendships over this. Like I said, I don’t do this anymore, thankfully, but there was a huge stink in my small circle of friends during the spring of my senior year of high school, and it was all thanks to me starting unnecessary, petty drama. It’s the reason I wrote that whiny Friendsgiving post my freshman fall semester of college. You should know that, several years removed from the whole situation, I’ve realized that I pushed myself away from those people on my own accord. They didn’t do anything to me. There was a period of my life where I was so fixated on the idea that my social life would always be doomed to be hopeless because I was autistic that I decided I shouldn’t bother with social things at all. I even decided, albeit subconsciously, that I would actively work against having social harmony in my life, because if social situations were always going to be hard for me anyway, then what was the point?

You can see the issue with this line of thinking. I’m grateful that I’ve grown enough to move past it. But I still regret being mean and/or grouchy to people for no reason in the past, and I don’t expect anyone to forgive me for it. Being disabled and having social difficulties isn’t an excuse to be mean. This is what I’ve learned, but I haven’t always known it.

This has been a slightly vulnerable post, since you never really enjoy writing about yourself being a jerk, but honesty has always been my policy on this blog, so that’s what you’re getting today. I think I’m done for now, but I’ll see you next week. Here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: What are sensory issues like around the house?

routine

On My Own Time

Friends, sometimes it becomes the case that the very circumstances under which I’m posting my blog for the week have to do with the topic at hand. Today is one of those days. As you can tell, I’m not posting this first thing on Tuesday morning, mostly because it’s currently mid-morning as I’m starting to write it, and I haven’t planned ahead as much as I have some other times in the past. Luckily for me, things do tend to get done, even if they don’t get done in the most efficient timeframe. And that brings us pretty neatly to the topic I want to write about today, so without further ado… let’s revisit executive dysfunction.

I feel like executive dysfunction is one of those things where I continue to realize more and more just how much it affects my life. I didn’t even know exactly what executive dysfunction was until about two years ago, and since learning about it, I’ve become more and more aware of its effect on my day-to-day life. Here’s the first post I wrote about executive dysfunction, which, to give you a little catch-up definition, is the phenomenon experienced by a lot of autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people where time seems to escape us while we do nothing at all. You don’t have to be autistic to experience it, but it’s a common trait among autistic people.

Although this is a slightly over-simplified way to describe it, it might help to think of executive dysfunction as the clinical term for a really frustrating kind of procrastination. It means struggling with time management, your attention span, and creating structure for yourself. It can make it more difficult to work on your own time, when compared to the neurotypical experience. I’ve struggled with executive dysfunction a lot since going to college, since college gives me a lot more free time on my own, where I could and should be accomplishing productive things, but sometimes let time escape me instead. I’ve written about it in that first post I linked you to above, but also here and here. I think the fact that I’m in college, and creating my own schedule, is the reason that I’m so much more aware now of how bad my executive dysfunction can be.

But why am I bringing it up again now? After all, it’s summer— schoolwork and a schedule are things of the school year, right? Well, sort of. After two summers of part-time jobs with various sensory difficulties, I have a new summer job this year. I’ve been working for only a week so far, but already, I’m extremely aware of my own executive dysfunction difficulties, and I thought it would be a good opportunity for a blog about it. You’ll have to bear with me on the repeat topic, but as is the case whenever I repeat a general topic on this blog, I’ll try to give you some new and engaging information.

So I have a new job this summer. I was lucky during the spring semester, and wound up getting a research grant to be paid to complete a project over the summer through my college. This is a really ideal summer job choice because it not only is going to help me with my senior thesis (lest you forget that I’m a senior in the fall, a fact that makes me uncomfortable but continues to exist), but it’s more relevant to my general interests for life than my previous summer jobs have been. I’ve never really written on this blog about what comes after college, mostly because ‘life after college’ is something which the mere idea of gives me very much anxiety, but I do want to go to graduate school, and my research job this summer will help prepare me for.

All of that is pretty much just a long way of explaining the fact that I just started my new job. And the thing about research projects is that you pretty much do them on your own time. There are parts of this program that give your life a little structure, like the fact that you have to set yourself a timeline to ensure your research gets done on time, and weekly lunches with other researching students, and check-ins with the professor who’s serving as your project advisor. But for the most part, the days themselves are on your own time. I got my first taste of this over the 2020-21 winter break, when I completed a smaller-scale research project, but this summer is a much bigger project, and I’m working eight weeks full-time. On my own. With a project to complete. That’s where the executive dysfunction comes in.

I’m one week into my job, and though I have definitely done my work, I’ve also re-discovered firsthand just how difficult it is to keep my executive dysfunction under control in a situation where I’m working on my own time. I’ve been known to lose entire days in the past doing next to nothing, and with my research job, I’m in a situation where I can’t afford to lose entire days. Every day counts toward accomplishing the goals of my project, and I’m still getting used to the fact that I’m the only one who can make this project happen. In essence, it’s like a war between my desire to be productive and the executive dysfunction. And believe me, it’s not a good time inside my head.

It’s difficult to write this kind of blog post without inadvertently making myself look bad. When I talk about executive dysfunction, and especially when I’m talking about it in relation to my Official Responsibilities like school and work, I always feel that I have to scramble to ensure you that I am getting the work done, and that it’s just more difficult for me to keep track of myself while I get that work done. To prove my own point, I do want to emphasize that I do get my work done. It would be kind of hard to be a functional human being if I didn’t. I just have a really hard time getting there sometimes, and that’s something I have to deal with. It’s become a lot more prominent to me in the time since I’ve started this job, and I have a feeling this is just a foretaste of what’s to come.

The reality of my life is that I am always going to struggle with executive dysfunction, which is disheartening especially given the fact that I want to go to graduate school, and that I like the idea of working independently. It’s extremely difficult for me to deal with this particular part of autistic life, because I want to work on my own time, but simultaneously, I understand that it’s difficult for me to do so. Executive dysfunction makes me feel inadequate and underqualified to do the kind of work and research that I want to do, even though I know I’m perfectly capable of doing it. Many would tell you that it’s just a matter of applying yourself, and that you won’t lose time if you really put your mind to working hard— and believe me, I can try to talk myself into a productive mindset, but there are times when it just doesn’t happen. There are days that get wasted. I do the work, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have difficulty along the way.

The truth is that I can do it, and that I’ve always been capable of doing it— whatever ‘it’ may be. It’s just also the case that the way I get to my goal in any independent project or job might look a little different than the way a neurotypical person would do it. The road toward accomplishing my goals, even if they’re small, personal goals I set to get myself through a day of work, is more like a long and winding path that eventually winds up in the right place. I don’t mean at all to say that I’m not up to the challenge of setting goals for myself and being productive, because being productive is how I stay functional. I just know that if I’m given something to accomplish on my own time, executive dysfunction is going to find me.

Executive dysfunction is by far one of the most frustrating parts of my autistic life. It’s always going to be here, and it’s always going to find a way to stress me out when I’m working toward a deadline. It happens to me with schoolwork, research work, and even independent hobbies. I very much struggle to get rid of it, but it’s easier just to try to tolerate it than to beat it down into a box altogether. There isn’t any succinct way to guarantee that I’m going to breeze through my routine with no interruptions from my brain. The best I can do is hope— and know that no matter what, I will get the work done.

I know that this blog post doesn’t make me seem like the most functional human being, but I assure you, as I said above, that I can do it. I don’t want to sugar-coat my experience for the sake of looking good on the Internet, and I’ve never really shied away from roasting myself on this blog before, so why would I start now? If nothing else, I hope that what you take away from this post is that executive dysfunction is an extremely frustrating habit that neurodivergent people can’t control, rather than an actively chosen procrastination. I’ll probably write more about this in the future, but I hope I’ve said something coherent today.

Here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: I am not the easiest person in the world to get along with.

sensory

Verbal Stimming

Hello, and welcome! As you can see, it’s still Tuesday, and I’m posting on a Tuesday in the summer. I said during my post last week, which was the first official post of summer 2021, that I was still going back and forth as to whether or not I was going to follow the trend of the past two summers and switch the blog day to Wednesday. I’ve determined over the course of the past week that Tuesdays, at least with the schedule I’m on right now, are no different from Wednesdays, and so I think I’ll keep the posting day as Tuesday for the time being.

Today, you get to hear about a topic that’s really significant to my everyday functioning, and because of its significance, I’m actually surprised with myself that it’s taken me this long to actually get around to doing a post on it on this blog. I may have alluded to it here and there in past posts, but today, we get to focus entirely on it. This is a post about verbal stimming, and let me walk you through what that means before we get into specifics.

You’ve heard from me about stimming a few times now, such as in this original stimming post from way back when, or in the post about not being able to sit still, or in the even more specific humming post. Stimming is a really broad thing that most autistic people have in common, and even some other neurodivergent people who aren’t autistic use stimming as a self-stabilizing or soothing mechanism. Each of those posts I linked above covers stimming in a slightly different way, because there are a lot of different types of stimming, and even though most autistic people stim, no two autistic people necessarily stim in the same ways. I could write many, many blog posts about stimming, and still not really be done.

But before I go further, let me take another step back and define stimming, since it’s been awhile. Stimming is the process by which an autistic (or otherwise neurodivergent, but most commonly autistic) individual moves around, uses their voice, or focuses on a concrete sensory experience in order to self-stabilize or self-soothe.

I know that that definition is a little hard to envision if you’re not familiar with the concept of stimming, so let me think of some concrete examples for you. Even people who don’t know much about autism might know the stereotype of an autistic person who rocks back and forth while sitting at rest. That rocking back and forth is actually stimming, and chances are it’s helping the autistic person relax, although many people interpret stimming as a sign of distress. It’s true that stimming can be a coping mechanism when experiencing sensory overload or when otherwise distressed, but happy stimming and neutral stimming exist as well.

Stimming is inseparably tied to sensory experiences, and I would venture to say that this isn’t just the case for me but for lots of other autistic people as well. I’ll be the first to remind you on this blog, and have before, that I can’t speak for all autistic experiences, but stimming is often an inherently sensory experience, because it has to do with sensory responses to the world around you. If there was a more coherent way for me to connect these dots for you through words, I would, but hopefully that makes at least a little bit of sense.

So now we move onto the actual focus of the post, which, for today, is verbal stimming. This is something I know I haven’t really talked about much, but I do it legitimately every day. Maybe the closest I’ve gotten to tackling this topic in the past would have been the humming post, which I already linked to once, but is still a generally good one.

Verbal stimming, though, is its own entire ballgame. The thing you should know about me, which may surprise many who know me in life, is that I have two modes of speech which are completely distinct from one another: normal speaking, and verbal stimming. Essentially, they’re two different ‘voices’ I speak in, and I fluctuate between the two of them based on where I am and who I’m speaking with.

The only people who have really ever heard my ‘second voice,’ or the voice that isn’t my ‘normal’ voice, are people who have been inside my house, and even then, not everybody who has ever been inside my house has heard me talk like this. I won’t get into exactly what I say when I verbally stim, but the best way I can describe it is ‘broken’ speech— almost as if I’m talking to an animal or a small child. It’s gotten to the point where my family uses my habitual verbal-stim phrases to talk to our dog, because I always use stim-voice around the dog, and she responds to that, so now everybody talks to her like that. Stimming can take many different forms, and verbal stimming is an act of self-stabilizing by repeating habitual words, using a certain tone, or otherwise making noise.

The thing is that if you aren’t part of a very specific circle of people who are mostly related to me, you’ve never heard me do this. Chances are, if you haven’t heard me talk like this now, you never will. This doesn’t reflect at all on the levels of trust I have with different people or anything like that, but it reflects on the fact that I find it embarrassing. The ‘second voice’ I use when I verbally stim isn’t one that I would want to use in public, because, quite frankly, it sounds ridiculous. When I go home and go into my house, I flip a switch, and usually I’m talking in my ‘second voice.’ The same thing happens even when I’m at college and get on the phone with my parents. I think I’ve been known to carry on entire hour-long conversations over the phone with my mom without speaking ‘normally’ at all.

If you imagine that this might get annoying to family members or other people who see me in an unfiltered state, you’re right. I’m sure it does get annoying. I’m sure there are times when my parents would like to have a normal conversation with me where I don’t go off onto a random tangent in a strange voice, and make it virtually impossible to have an actual, productive conversation. I don’t exactly choose when I start to talk like this; I just do it when it feels natural to do so. I also tend to fall back on it when I have nothing to say— I like to fill silence with noise, sort of in the same way I need to be moving around because I can’t sit still. Next to nothing that I say when I’m verbally stimming makes any sense whatsoever, at least not to someone listening, but I do have habitual phrases and things I say that make sense to me in my head.

My family is pretty good at ‘speaking my language,’ and it even gets to a point where they’re able to talk back to me in the same voice, and we can communicate in this way that must seem so strange to an outsider. I tend not to speak in the second voice around unfamiliar people, or around people who haven’t heard me do it before. Being at home, though, does sort of activate a comfort switch somewhere in my brain that makes me feel like it’s okay to verbally stim, so sometimes people who are over hear it by happenstance. My brother, for example, has his girlfriend and/or his friends over a lot, and all of them have heard me talk like that just by way of being near me in the house. Though I’m good friends with his girlfriend and trust her, I do wonder if his friends, with whom I’m less close, think I’m a little crazy when they hear me talk like that.

That’s a generally good example of the self-conscious sentiment that’s attached to verbal stimming. This is also the reason I don’t let people hear me do it in public. I find it embarrassing, and though it’s automatic when I’m at home, there are times when I’m able to ‘control’ it enough to talk like a normal person. The more time I’ve spent on my ‘best verbal behavior,’ the more likely I am to engage in a lot of stim-talk when I next get the chance to unwind. This is one of the most ‘obviously autistic’ things I do, and although I know the autism positivity movement would tell me not to be ashamed of it, it’s hard sometimes not to get caught up in self-embarrassment.

If you’re wondering if you’ve ever inadvertently heard me do this… well, I think you would know if you had. You should probably be glad if you haven’t, because you’d probably think I was a little weird. But then again, maybe I should stop worrying about what other people think about things I can’t control.

For now, I think that’s all, although I’m sure I’ll touch this topic again in the future. I hope that this has given you a little insight into what verbal stimming is like. Here’s where else you can find me in the meantime.

Next Time: I have a new summer job, so let’s talk about how executive dysfunction ties into that.

college

Junior year: in review

Okay, so this one isn’t quite as bad as the past few weeks’ blog posts have been in terms of the time of the day it goes up, but I’ll admit that it’s still distinctly not 8:00 in the morning. There really isn’t even any excuse for the lack of planning ahead this time around, because, as you’re about to find out very plainly based on the topic of this post, the school year is over, so it’s not even like I can use finals or classes or whatever else as an explanation. I know that I sometimes shift the blog day to Wednesdays during the summer, or at least that’s what I’ve been doing for the two summers of this blog so far, but for now, I’m going to stick with Tuesdays. If you get an update post from me a few weeks down the road saying I’ve decided to do Wednesdays instead… well, that’s relatively inconsequential, I guess. It’s not like anyone is hanging on the edge of their seat waiting for these blog posts.

Anyway! On to the main point. I really need to stop doing that thing where I tangent for three paragraphs at the start of a post before I even remotely begin to get to the point. As we speak, I’m still doing it. The topic for today’s post is a repeat topic, at least in the sense that we’ve had this type of post twice already now, and we’ll have one more of them in the future. This is your beloved school-year-in-review post. As of Friday the 14th, I am officially done with my junior year of college. If you’ve been following along, that means three school years have elapsed since I started this blog. And that, my friends, is a scary thing.

But before I get into the real content of this post, I want to make a note. A lot of my feelings over the past few weeks, as junior year has come to a close, have been focused on the future. For example, seeing all the grounds workers at my school set up for graduation, and seeing senior friends post on social media about the end of their time in college, and witnessing end-of-year traditions take place— all of those things have made me overwhelmingly aware of the fact that, as a junior, I’m next. I got into this a little bit in the post from a few weeks ago about how my experience of college is complicated in its own right, different from my neurotypical peers’, and quickly passing me by. I’ve also probably alluded to it in various posts, even if it’s just a throwaway line about the quick passage of time.

With this said, I don’t want to focus on the fact that I’m a senior next year in this particular post. When I do semesters or years in review, I try to make them reflective rather than apprehensive. I’m someone who dedicates huge amounts of her mental energy to worrying about plans, schedules, and ways the future could look as it is, and that isn’t what these types of posts are for. I’m sure that, given the fact that next year is my last year of undergrad, we will see plenty of worrying about the future on this blog between now and my graduation. But for today, we’re not thinking about that, as hard as it might be for me to get myself into the mindset of not doing so. We’re going to think back on the year, as is my tradition whenever a school year ends.

And, well… uh, what a year it was. I understand, as a general disclaimer, that pretty much every human being on the face of this earth at present has had a ‘weird year.’ Everyone has been having a weird time since last March, myself included. While I understand that my experience is not universal, and that there are many, many issues in the world today, I am looking forward to the gradual getting out of the woods with regard to the pandemic. That isn’t what this post is about, but it would be impossible to talk about the 2020-21 school year without talking about the pandemic. Of course it affected things— it did so for every student.

But I am, as evidenced by the general existence of this blog, a person who has a slightly different experience than your ordinary, neurotypical college student. So let’s talk about junior year, and why, despite its weirdness, it had to happen.

It’s no secret that I had a terrible fall 2020 semester. You can find proof of that right here, in the reflection post I wrote after classes ended. It was a bad time for my mental health, thanks partially but not entirely to the COVID stuff and adjusting to a whole new way of life on campus. As I wrote about at length last year, and even during the quarantine semester, the tough thing about COVID for me was not only the anxiety about the state of the world but the fact that I was having to adjust to a whole new way for college to be, when I had only just gotten used to the way college was pre-pandemic. In other words, my entire expectation of the way college was supposed to work, something I had spent a lot of time and energy getting used to, changed effectively overnight, and I had to re-adjust entirely. This would be hard for anybody, but was especially hard for me given the way I cling to routines and predictability.

So that was hard. I never did one specific post that I can link you to about the changes in routine thanks to COVID, but you’ll find my complaining abundant in the fall 2020 series of posts. On the whole, I think that the spring semester has definitely been better than the fall was. It started a little weird, what with the weather, and my tendency to slip into seasonal affective and get down in the dumps, but by mid-March, things were looking up in a way I didn’t expect them to. It was only relatively recently that I decided that spending the duration of the semester in my room by myself was not the way to go, and by the time I really started to make the best of what I had… well, the school year ended. And now I’m here.

The tough thing about this school year was that, with the exception of maybe the last month of school, I felt like I was losing an entire ‘normal’ year of my life, and I know that I won’t ever get that back. I know that everybody has been feeling that way, but I think that for students, especially in high school and college, it’s something that’s especially obvious. I’m never going to get another junior year of college, and that’s a hard thing to sit with.

And yet: COVID is a thing that exists, and has existed. I can’t go back and change the way this year went, as tempting as it is to imagine how things would have gone if it had been a normal year. The fact is that I have to accept that this is just how my junior year of college was. And despite the total routine disruption, and the damage to my mental health, and the difficulties of online learning, there’s nothing I can do now that will put me in a different place. I’m here, and I completed this year the way it was, and that’s how it went. The most frustrating part for me, I think, is that I think I really would have started to enjoy myself at school a lot sooner if I hadn’t been dealing with all the other issues.

For what it’s worth, I’ll tell you this, because I think it speaks to my level of adjustment now versus at the start of the school year: this was the first time I can remember where it was actually kind of hard to come home from school for the end of a semester. Not in the sense of not wanting to be home, because trust me— I always want to be home. But when I left campus last Friday, it was my first time having a genuinely hard time saying goodbye to people there, and I think that speaks to how far I’ve come. I put a lot of stress on myself socially, and I’ve long regarded my social life as a sign of functionality, and I think the fact that I got sad leaving school because of social circumstances says a lot. It was never a matter of not wanting to go home, but it was definitely a matter of being sad to say goodbye to people.

I realize that I haven’t done a whole lot of big-picture reflecting in this post. I think overall, this was an okay year. It was a hard year, and it was a weird year. But it had a good ending, thanks mostly to my own initiative to actually interact with other human beings, and thanks to some help from other people, too. I think it was only towards the end of this semester that I decided I just had to make do with what I was getting, and not wallow in what could have been if things were ‘normal.’

Academically, things were okay, too. I’ve been having a small nervous breakdown about my grades very recently, but I hold myself to high standards, and I know it’ll probably be fine. I was inducted into honor societies for both of my majors this spring, and I think I’ve made a lot of school progress in addition to personal progress. Accomplishments on the academic end are nice to report on this blog because, lest we forget, college is a place where I go to get an education, and not just to write blog posts in my dorm room about my lack of social functionality and sensory issues.

I have complicated feelings about this summer, because I’m very grateful and glad to finally be home, but I also don’t want to take it for granted, or for it to go by too quickly. Because you hear from me every week, you’ll obviously find out how it goes. In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed this general life update. I know this post might not seem like it has that much to do with being autistic, but when you’re autistic, everything has to do with being autistic. And completing another year of college is yet another example of accomplishing something I never thought I was going to be able to do.

I’m getting there. Here’s where else you can find me, and I’ll see you next week.

Next Time: On verbal stimming.

routine, special interests

Cycling

I don’t really have an excuse for being late to post this again. Like I said last week, I guess it’s not technically ‘late’ if it’s still Tuesday, but I always feel ‘late’ doing a blog in the afternoon as opposed to having it ready to go in the morning. If it makes you feel any better, this is the last Tuesday of my junior year, so at this time next week, it’ll be summer, and hopefully I’ll have my life together a little more by then.

But anyway. I’m finally writing this blog, and although unintentionally, I just had a real-life example of what I’m about to write about happen to me while I was eating lunch. Maybe it was good that I didn’t wind up doing the post until right now.

Today I want to talk about something that’s kind of specific to my life, and explain what it has to do with being autistic. There isn’t really a quick or catchy way to describe the phenomenon, exactly— it’s more just that I can give you several paragraphs that I hope come close to getting my point across. To be more specific, what I want to write about today is being annoying— and not in that weird self-pitying way I wrote about it that one time, but in a more self-aware way, where I acknowledge some of my own issues.

So what am I actually talking about? I’m referring to something that happens to me in my day-to-day life, wherein I become extremely focused on something that is either out of my control, very immediate, or both. I’m not referring to special interest anxiety, since that’s a different but related thought process. I’m referring to the idea that I will latch onto a problem or situation with the hope that it’s going to resolve itself or go away, and often stay fixated on it until something changes. This isn’t a broad thing that happens, as with special interests, but rather, a way that my brain processes the day-to-day workings of the world and the unpredictability of daily life.

I’ll coin a term here— ‘cycling.’ I’ve seen cycling used as a descriptor in other settings, such as to represent the way in which an anxious person’s mind spirals while they’re overthinking. Although I do experience my fair share of anxiety, when I refer to cycling here, I don’t necessarily mean that there’s an anxious piece attached to it. Instead, it’s just something that keeps going through my brain. When there’s an immediate and obvious problem, or even just a decision I have to make, I cycle through it over and over, usually not coming to any kind of firm conclusion to the process. In essence, I get stuck in this mindset, and I focus more on repeating myself and deliberating the problem than actually thinking about how it might get resolved.

The ‘issues’ in question, that I find myself cycling over, are almost always cases of disruption to my routine, or my inability to make a decision about something. I recognize here that I can’t continue without giving an example. And lucky for you, I have not one but two at the ready. The first happened a few weeks ago, and was the reason I got inspired to write about this topic on the blog. I realized that my car was making a funny noise, and my grandfather, who owns an auto repair shop, told me that I needed to have a part of my brake replaced. This was an ‘issue’ in that we realized there was a problem on a Saturday, while I was at home for a weekend, and I had to go back to school on Sunday. Because my car would have to be fixed, it meant my parents had to drive me back to school, and that I wouldn’t have a car on campus for a short while.

The only people who encountered me on Saturday afternoon, when I was realizing that I wasn’t going to get to drive myself back to school as in a normal Sunday routine, were my parents, but they saw the cycling in full force. I couldn’t do anything about the fact that my car needed to be fixed, so my solution was just to not shut up about it. When I have a plan that things will go a certain way, and then that plan gets suddenly disrupted, I tend to cycle over the small details— in this case, not having a car to drive back to school by myself in. When given the chance, I always do this verbally; it happens externally instead of inside my brain.

As you can imagine, this drives my parents crazy. I make the broad generalization of my parents because they’re pretty much always bearing the brunt of it, my mom in particular. There are only so many ways you can have the same useless conversation about a problem that can’t be fixed. In the case of my car, it was me repeating over and over that I didn’t want to not have my car at school, and that it had thrown me off. None of what I say while I’m cycling is helpful, because it’s mostly, if I’m being honest, just whining and complaining. It gets me nowhere, but the way my brain likes to latch onto things dictates that I just talk like that sometimes.

With my car situation, it was interesting, because after I got over the hump of my parents driving me back to school, and I was once again going about my weekly routine while my car was getting fixed at home, I kind of stopped talking about it. My parents asked me, after my car had been fixed and returned to its rightful spot in the college parking lot, why I hadn’t been talking about the car all week— because they had expected it to preoccupy me. I told them I’d decided not to bother them about it, because it wouldn’t be productive. They were surprised, but this was a rare case of me being self-aware enough not to cycle.

Sometimes, though, I lose sight of my own self-awareness. There have been many times when I’ve been in a conversation with my parents, and I’ll start to cycle on something, and they’ll tell me that we’re not doing this right now. Consistently, when this happens, I get mad. In the moment, I feel that they’re shutting me down, and I get grouchy and standoffish, because I’m a stubborn person at heart. Once I’m removed from the conversation, though, I recognize that my parents have to tell me we’re not doing this right now, or else I’ll literally repeat myself having the same three thoughts for the duration of the conversation, and not let anyone talk about anything else. True, I might not want to hear it at times, but my parents shutting me down when I’m cycling is for the best.

Cycling happens with minor things, too, the way it happened to me at lunch today. It was my favorite lunch menu at the school dining hall, and once I finished eating, I was sitting there deliberating whether or not I wanted to go back through the servery and get a second helping. As you can tell, this was inconsequential and stupid, but I spent a solid fifteen minutes debating this out loud. Given that I was sitting with two other people who definitely did not sign up for that, I can only imagine how annoying I must have gotten. I eventually decided against more food, but there was really no need for fifteen minutes of going back and forth about it.

I think the broader truth about cycling is that it shows something about the way the autistic brain works. Latching onto things isn’t just something that happens in the case of special interests; my brain has a tendency to latch onto even small things, ones that don’t last a long time in my mind. I don’t know exactly what the technical, clinical term is for a neurodivergent brain that likes obsessing over inconsequential and consequential things alike, but I feel like it has to exist. It would be an oversight for me to not attribute this to my autism. It’s one of the many reasons I get tired of my own brain on a daily basis.

But anyway, that’s that. And because it’s a really nice day outside, I’m going to go be outside. Here’s where else you can find me, and I’ll see you after school is over.

Next Time: Junior year, in review.

college, social

Enjoy Yourself!

First of all, I know that this blog post is late. I guess ‘late’ is a relative term, considering it’s still Tuesday, so I technically haven’t missed any kind of personally imposed deadline, but it does feel late to be posting a blog so far into the day on Tuesday. I don’t even really have any excuse this time; schoolwork has been sort of busy, but not so busy that I couldn’t have written this yesterday. In a way, my ‘excuse’ for writing a later blog, if you could call it an excuse, very much has to do with what I’m writing about today.

But before we get to that, I do want to give a final wrap on autism month. Because, friends, as you are about to see, the 2021 autism awareness/acceptance series has ended, and we’re going to be getting back to the more personal stuff. At times, I know that this blog gets unnecessarily personal, and I wind up treating it more like a deliberately public journal of my college life. Though every topic I write about does, in some way or another, have to do with me being autistic, today is definitely going to feel like one of those journal-y times. I’d like to thank you for enduring my general existence.

And with that, let’s get to it! Today, I have some interesting news to share with you: my junior year of college is winding down, and I’m actually kind of bummed about it.

But let me explain a little about what that means. If you’ve read this blog for awhile, it will come as no surprise to you when I say that this has been a weird school year. The fall semester was particularly tough, what with adjusting to “COVID college” and all-around not doing my best. Because it’s a habit of mine, you’re going to get a spring-2021-semester-in-review post from me two weeks from today, so I won’t really try to round up the semester in this post, exactly. What I will say is that it’s gone by extremely quickly. And I’ve become extremely aware of that fact over the course of the past week or so. It’s May 4th— finals season is nearly upon me. And after that, my junior year will be over.

Which… okay. There are a few reasons that that’s hard to wrap my head around.

First, I think the end of junior year is a significant moment, be it in high school or college, because not only is it pretty probable that people you’ve become good friends with are graduating, but you’re also becoming more and more aware of the fact that you’re next. At this time next year, I will be about two weeks shy of graduating college. And right now, as a junior, that feels like something I’m fundamentally not prepared to do.

I think a big thing that has made me so aware of the fact that the year is ending is that, for pretty much the first time, I have close friends graduating. That’s sort of alerted me to the fact that college is going to end, and that a lot of friends I’m socially close with right now won’t always be as geographically close as they currently are, which, for me, puts the social part into jeopardy, since I’d wager to say I’m a pretty bad friend. As a result, I’ve gotten into this weird place, where I feel that college is passing me by, and graduating friends has alerted me to the fact that I’m running out of time.

Let me try to also explain why any of this is relevant to my blog about autism, and not just an emotion that a lot of juniors in college are experiencing right now. Something you should know about me is that at this time four years ago— i.e., when I was a junior in high school, faced with the prospect of only a summer separating me from senior year and the college process— I legitimately could not even think about college without crying. That’s not an exaggeration; it is a hundred percent the truth about my experience during junior year of high school. One fleeting thought about having to live away from home, and I was an anxious, crying disaster. And yes, that had everything to do with being autistic. College, for me, was a terrifying prospect: it involved routine change, a new environment, starting all over, and being (partially) on my own for the first time in my life. I genuinely did not think I could do it.

And yet: here I am. I think there’s something to be said for that.

This post is getting so self-reflective that you’d think I’m the one about to graduate, not my senior friends. But I think my point stands. I’m caught in this strange headspace, in which I feel college passing me by, and very much want to take advantage of it while it’s still here— but as an autistic person who struggles socially and emotionally, I’m not sure how I can do that, exactly. It’s almost like I’m longing after the neurotypical experience of college, and yet I know I wouldn’t truly want that, because that wouldn’t be me. I am who I am, and I experience things the way I experience them, and I wouldn’t want to change any of that.

But I can’t help but feel that I’m on the outside looking in, especially when it comes to social things. I’ve said before and will say again that I have friends, and they’re absolutely wonderful people, but they’re situational and often individual; I don’t have a ‘friend group’ the way a lot of people in college do. And make no mistake: I’m not unhappy in my social situation; I’m actually incredibly grateful for it. I have people, and I wouldn’t want to change what I have. I just feel like maybe I spent a little too much of college trying to self-isolate, in the social way, not the COVID way, and now that I’m finally getting the hang of letting myself have meaningful connections with people… college is almost over.

Because I am doing better at that. I’ve spent very little time alone in my room since I got back from Easter break, and for me, that’s a big win. Instead of staying in, I choose to go out and do things when I have free time, because the way I see it, I have all summer to be alone, bored, and suffering from executive dysfunction. Right now, I want to enjoy myself. And I’m realizing how limited my remaining time to enjoy myself in college actually is.

This blog post is kind of a blend of more than one sentiment— a.) I’m not ready for my junior year to be over, and b.) as a self-aware autistic female entering my twenties, I don’t think I’ll ever really figure out how social lives are supposed to work. I recognize that these things might not seem like they have that much to do with each other, but for me, they very much do. This is the perfect example of my social experience of college as an autistic person, because I have so many things on my mind and limited ways to articulate them, even if I know they’re very much related to one another.

So I think the bottom line today is this: in the social world, I want to enjoy myself, and historically, as an autistic person, that is not as easy as it sounds. But I’m trying, and I think I’m doing a lot better at it than I ever was. Maybe the trend will keep going up, or maybe I’ll struggle some more. In the meantime, I’m really not ready for this year to be over. And I think that speaks volumes to the level of comfort I’ve managed to establish at college, considering there was a time when I cried at the mere prospect of looking into application requirements.

Make of that whatever you will.

Here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: I can really fixate on a worry if I put my mind to it. It drives people crazy.

autism awareness month, media

Autism: Not Your Edgy Joke

So the first thing about this week’s blog post that you will notice is that, for the second week in a row, it’s not going up first thing in the morning. Forgive me. I’m not even as busy this week as I was last week, and yet here we are. I think at this point, I’m just drifting through the last few weeks of the semester against my own will. It’s ending quickly, whether I like it or not. I think I’ve lost almost all conception of time, but we won’t talk about that now. I’m sure we’ll have a nice, reflective blog post to go over all of that in a few weeks’ time. For now, I just want to apologize for my lateness.

And now let’s get to it! It’s the last Tuesday in April, which, if you’ve been following along, means that we’ve arrived at my last autism month blog post for 2021. ICYMI, in April, I shift the focus of my blog from more or less personal documentation to a source for raising awareness about topics on autism that don’t have to do with my own personal experience. Formerly known as autism awareness month, and more recently called autism acceptance month (check out this post for more on the change in terminology), April is a time when you can finally stop reading my over-glorified journal and learn about some broader topics.

With that, today, we come to my last April post for the year. I want to talk about something I’ve maybe alluded to in posts past, but never have actually dedicated an entire post to— at least, to my knowledge. We’re going to tackle the subject today of autism being the butt of a joke. And to do that, I have to give you a little bit of context and explanation.

First of all, why am I bringing this topic up during autism month? There’s pretty much one main reason for that. Autism month, as a general concept, is the month of the year where the autistic community and people who support us try to raise general awareness and acceptance for autistic issues among the population who might not be as familiar with the autistic community in the first place. It’s the same kind of thing as, for example, breast cancer awareness in October. Admittedly, of course, I’m comparing a disability to a terrible disease, and I don’t mean at all to imply that they’re the same thing, or that they imply the same kinds of struggles, because they don’t. This is just a common example that I thought of off the top of my head, which I think people would be familiar with.

So anyway. That’s why I do this on my blog this month. And the reason I’ve decided today to tackle the topic of joking is because I think that for a lot of people who aren’t autistic, and who don’t know autistic people (or at least don’t know that some people they know are autistic), jokes can be one of the only places they actually hear autism being talked about at all. And that’s a problem. And I’ll explain a little more about what I mean.

I’ll be honest— I’m not sure if this is maybe just an Internet thing, or a generational thing, or something to that extent. But I know that particularly in the past couple of years, say since 2015 or so, I’ve seen a good-sized increase in jokes at autism’s expense. Both in person and online, I’ve heard the word “autistic” used as a substitute for any of the following insults or adjectives: stupid, unintelligent, inconvenient, weird, boring, and the list goes on. I’ve heard people, even my own relatives, say that someone is “being autistic” because they’re doing something that even loosely resembles a common autistic mannerism. The only way I can make this simpler is to introduce another ableist insult, one that’s a lot more common— the misuse of the word “retarded.” In a similar way to how “retarded” gets abused as an insult, I’ve seen “autistic” used, on and off the Internet.

I don’t have to tell you that this kind of language is hurtful. I’m also not here to pretend like I can fix the way that other people talk. For a lot of people, especially impressionable young people who spend a lot of time on the Internet, I think there’s a perception that “edgy” jokes can be okay no matter what, and that even if a joke comes at the expense of, for example, a disabled person, that’s just the way it is, and people just have to learn to deal with “edgy” humor. The thing about “edgy” humor is that it’s not funny when you start making disability the butt of your joke. I think there’s been a rise in this among my generation in particular, and it’s disheartening as an autistic person to see “autistic” and “autism” constantly being used just to make posts on the Internet seem funnier.

I wrote a post a long while ago about how we shouldn’t judge people we might perceive as “weird,” because first of all, we should never judge anyone for their mannerisms or interests in the first place, but second, it’s really important not to ridicule disabled and neurodivergent people. I think that casting certain people out as “weird” based on their interests or mannerisms is how we contribute to a harmful culture for autistic people. Autistic people are on the fringes of the social world in the first place because the way we act, think, and do things is different from our neurotypical peers. Autism jokes are easy to make, for that reason— a lot of the time, symptoms of autism are pretty visible, and it’s easy to make fun of someone who is visibly different.

Here’s the problem. You might think that calling everything autistic is just you being edgy on the Internet, or just a fun joke between friends, but whether or not you know or accept it, you’re harming autistic people by making us into some kind of edgy joke. When people joke about autism, or about any neurological condition, other people think it’s okay to do the same. It doesn’t feel good to see a disability that you live with, and that affects a pretty large part of your life and personality, being made into the laughing stock of edgy people who think that everything is fair game for comedy. A joke is only funny if the people at whose expense it is being made are laughing, too— and I know that some autistic people might be okay with the occasional good-spirited joke from a close friend or relative, but it gets pretty tiring when people describe everything they don’t like or find cringeworthy as “autistic.”

I don’t direct this blog at other autistic people. I, personally, do find it uncomfortable even when people who themselves are autistic describe everything as autistic, but that’s very much my personal experience, and it isn’t universal. I can’t tell other autistic people how to have a relationship with their own disability, just the same way no one can tell me to do so. For that reason, I find it difficult to criticize autism jokes when autistic people are making them. I also don’t have a problem with a good-spirited joke from a trusted friend or relative who I know isn’t doing it to be mean. I don’t mean to imply that you can’t find humor in the autistic experience, because you can. My younger, neurotypical brother has made some pretty funny good-spirited autism jokes before, and because he isn’t getting on the Internet and talking about how autism is cringey, this doesn’t bother me. It just doesn’t sit well from neurotypical strangers, or even neurotypical people I know, who aren’t giving careful thought to who their jokes might harm before they make them.

And again: I completely understand that this blog post will change literally nothing. Edgy people will continue to be edgy, both on and off the Internet, and some people will never cease their jokes, even when people say they’re hurtful or contributing to a hurtful culture. This is just the way that the world works. But I hope that by writing this post, I might be able to at least convince you, the reader, to rethink the next time you want to use “autistic,” “retarded,” or another word relating to disabilities as a synonym for “unpleasant,” “weird,” or “inconvenient.” There are other words to use, ones that aren’t charged by the stereotypes and stigma that surround neurological disabilities. Language matters, and I hope that in this last autism month post from me, you might take that away.

We’ll be back to some more personal writing next week. Until then, here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: Junior year is winding down, and I’m feeling strange about it.

autism awareness month, identity, media

The Neurodiverse Community

Friends, I should admit right off the bat that I didn’t actually realize it was Tuesday until a short while ago, and that I’m writing this blog on the day it’s going up, which is not usually what I do. For that reason, even though I’m writing this introductory paragraph in the morning, I need to apologize if this post winds up going up a little later than my posts habitually have as of late. I have a lot of school-related things to do today, and I didn’t want to skip putting up a post, but let’s just say I’m on a time crunch.

In a way, if you feel so inclined, I think you can think of this blog post as a sort of sequel to last week’s post. Because we’re still in autism month, one could argue that each post in this series is a sequel to, or at least goes along with, the previous one. And by the way, yes, I think I’ve decided that I’m going to use ‘autism month’ to refer to April from now on, due to the disagreements over whether it’s autism awareness or acceptance, and the fact that I don’t have a problem with either term. But the point is that I think this post follows up to last week’s post in a number of ways, and we’re going to start with an image that I showed you last week.

Friends, in keeping to the topic of autism awareness and acceptance, neurodiversity is the talk of the town for this particular post. Because this symbol for neurodiversity acceptance has gradually come to replace the puzzle piece, I want to expand a little on the term ‘neurodiversity,’ what it means, and why I have slightly controversial opinions about the way we use it. If you aren’t used to me having controversial opinions about my own disability by now, well… I’m sorry, in that case. I’m about to subject you to more of them.

So to start, we should back up. I’ll give you a brief recap of what I went over last week, at least with regard to this symbol, as a way to introduce my main point for the day. If you missed it, I focused last week’s post on the shift in language surrounding autism, and the rise of the autism acceptance movement as a response to autism awareness. I took note of the fact that because I’ve been off social media— particularly Twitter, where, well, way too much is happening all of the time— I haven’t noticed those changes firsthand, and rather just sort of realized that they’d happened very recently. This time, I want to talk about neurodiversity, and why it’s sort of broadening the discussion about autism, and why I think we should be careful when doing that.

Neurodiversity, put simply, refers to the idea that not all brains are the same, and that diversity among minds is a wonderful thing that we should celebrate and embrace. I agree! I think, in part, the neurodiversity movement came out of the wider social media-driven movement to embrace diversity in society that we’ve been seeing really pick up over the past ten years or so. Neurodiversity has become a buzzword in online circles pretty recently, and I’ve realized something about it.

I’ll be honest: I’ve known the word ‘neurodiverse’ for just about as long as I’ve been aware of the fact that autism exists, and I used to use ‘neurodiverse’ and ‘autistic’ almost interchangeably. The same goes for the term ‘neurotypical,’ which is the opposite of neurodiverse, and simply refers to someone who doesn’t have any developmental disabilities or neurological conditions. The way I just defined that term is actually not how I used to use it; I used to use ‘neurotypical’ as meaning ‘the opposite of autistic’ or ‘someone who is not autistic.’ But part of the point I’m trying to make in this blog post is the following: these words don’t mean what I thought they did, or at least their definitions have changed.

Because the thing is that ‘neurodiverse’ doesn’t actually just mean ‘autistic’ anymore, nor does ‘neurotypical’ mean ‘not autistic.’ Instead, these words are umbrella terms, and to use the word in its own definition, they refer to people whose brains are and aren’t ‘typical.’ The neurodiversity umbrella does include autism, but it doesn’t end there; it also includes ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and other developmental disorders. I’ve even seen ‘neurotypical’ used to refer not only just to people who don’t have some kind of developmental disability but people who don’t struggle with mental illness.

The point is that, again, these words don’t mean what I thought they did, or that their meanings have changed over time. I think that’s part of the reason we have a new symbol for the community— the color spectrum and infinity symbol are meant to represent the broad spectrum of those who are neurodiverse, and likely something about infinite possibilities. I was previously under the impression that the new symbol was simply the autistic community’s replacement for puzzle pieces, but I’ve seen it used to represent the whole neurodiverse community, so I believe it’s gotten a little broader.

I think there are many, many great things about raising awareness for neurodiversity. This opens the door to have many important conversations about how there are many different types of minds, especially when it comes to helping neurotypical people understand. Not only this, but a neurodiverse community allows for solidarity among people who struggle with the difficulties of developmental, learning, and intellectual disabilities. As one example, there are a lot of shared traits between autism and ADHD, even though they’re two separate disabilities, and a community can open the door for dialogue about our shared experiences.

I think the one thing that we should be wary of when it comes to creating a neurodiverse community is over-generalization, and I’ll explain what I mean. As I’ve done in the past, I think some people say ‘neurodiverse’ when they mean ‘autistic.’ Before I realized that ‘neurodiverse’ could refer to other things that aren’t autism, I did this, but now I see a minor detriment in doing so. By saying ‘neurodiverse’ when you mean autistic, you’re lumping a broader community into a discussion that might not actually involve them. This is essentially me giving a PSA that it’s okay to say autistic when you mean autistic.

Because the thing about having a community of people who have some similarities but also some differences is that it’s important, and valid, to still want community among people who share one specific trait, too. I think the autistic community being a part of the neurodiverse community is great; I just hope we don’t lose the autistic community itself in the process. Like I said, there are simply some experiences that are unique to being autistic. That goes for any disability under the neurodiversity umbrella as well; I think that maintaining spaces for voices who are all disabled in the same way is important. The great thing about having a community is that you can find that balance.

So I guess the takeaway today would be this: the word ‘neurodiversity’ is more inclusive than it might seem, and refers to a broad umbrella of disabilities that don’t end with autism. It’s okay to say autistic if you mean it, but it’s also okay to say neurodiverse if that’s what you mean! All autistic people are neurodiverse, but not all neurodiverse people are autistic.

Thanks for coming on this terminology journey with me! I have so much to do today, so wish me luck. Until next week, here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: On autism being the butt of jokes.

autism awareness month, identity, media

Out Of The Loop

So here’s a true fact: I was planning on writing a blog post today that probably would’ve been controversial. I decided writing against that blog post, not because I necessarily feel like I have to avoid controversial topics on this blog (my posting history will tell you as much) but because I wasn’t sure I actually had enough material on that particular topic to make it into an entire post. I will, however, tell you a little about what that post was going to be. Because it’s April, and I’m doing my annually scheduled autism awareness series for the month, I was planning on writing about how the phenomenon of treating autism as some kind of fun accessory for clout on the Internet is actually harmful to autistic people. I realized in planning this out that it would kind of be too similar to a post I already wrote, in which the moral was no, we are not all a little autistic. The point I planned to make today was very much along the same lines, which is why I decided not to write it for today.

But since I am still sticking to my program of writing autism awareness-themed posts for the month of April, let’s move onto a different autism awareness topic. In fact, in moving onto this topic, I need to adjust my language entirely, as it turns out: because ‘autism awareness month’ is not the common way to refer to April anymore. After a couple of years of debate on the Internet, I’m sensing that the language has finally shifted for good— April is ‘autism acceptance month.’

This tells me two things— one, as I sort of mentioned last week in my Autism Speaks post, the way we talk and think about autism as a society is changing! And two, I have been seriously out of the loop. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

I actually want to tackle those two points in reverse order. My second point, about me being out of the loop, will sort of help us move to talking about the first point. With that, I can start: I’ve been open on this blog about my relationship with social media. I’m Catholic, and have made a habit of giving it up for Lent, which, if you might not know, is the 40-day period leading up to Easter. When I first did this, it was really hard to wean myself off of it, because, like a lot of people my age, social media is/was a really big part of my life; the Internet is everywhere. I used to be really active on most social media, but especially Twitter. I wrote a post about this last spring when Easter had passed, and I had the option to return to social media— but wound up not doing so.

Why does any of this matter to my autism blog? Well, because being away from social media, especially Twitter, is the reason I’ve been out of the loop. It’s the reason I didn’t see the shift from autism awareness to autism acceptance in terms of the language we use to describe the month of April. Twitter is, after all, where I got my start talking about autism in public. I definitely don’t consider myself an activist, because I don’t think I put in enough work to qualify as one, but I do at least advocate for honesty about autistic experiences via this blog. I always had issues with some of the gatekeeping practices and online drama at play in the Twitter autistic community, which, in hindsight, is one of the major reasons I stopped using Twitter, but I can’t pretend like Twitter isn’t a huge center when it comes to disability advocacy. It’s why I continue to promote this blog with my entirely dormant Twitter account. Because of hashtags and algorithms, advertising my blog on autistic Twitter gives me a better chance of someone maybe seeing it, and giving it a read.

To be clear: this blog has never been for my own personal gain. I’m not trying to build a platform, and I’ve said as recently as last week that I’ll never pretend like I can speak for all autistic people. I can only speak to my own experience, which can be and is very different from the experiences of other autistic people, for a number of reasons.

Anyway, to talk about the move to autism acceptance: I saw the roots of the shift in language back when I actually was active on autistic social media. I think the rationale behind shifting from awareness to acceptance is that ‘autism awareness’ holds connotations that are strongly associated with Autism Speaks, and the many members of the autistic community who choose to reject Autism Speaks didn’t want to be associated with that. In moving from autism awareness to autism acceptance, people are saying that rather than be ‘aware’ of the supposed harm that autism causes, we should accept autistic people for who they are.

Though I’ve never had a problem with either term, the shift does make sense to me. I’ve warned you before, and will warn you again, that my opinions on terminology, symbolism, and other controversial topics among the autistic community may not be the most popular ones. I straddle the line between “Autism Speaks is a harmful organization and we should reject their every message” and “Autism Speaks has a huge platform, and we should pressure them to use it for good.” I wrote about this last week in more detail.

I guess my point here is that I was surprised to see that autism acceptance has finally gained traction, but like I said, I’m fine with the terminology. I realized that the shift had truly happened when I went to plug last week’s blog post on Twitter. As I tried to insert the hashtags for autism awareness, to signal boost, I discovered that Twitter had inserted a symbol after the autism acceptance hashtag, but not after the autism awareness hashtag. I understand that that may not make any sense if you’re not familiar with the way Twitter works, but what that told me is that Twitter had made autism acceptance their ‘official’ hashtag for the month of April, and autism awareness had been cast by the wayside.

Which, if nothing else, was interesting! I think this proves that while I’ve been out of the loop, the autistic online community has made a ton of headway in changing the way we talk about autism. For the record, I think that this is a step in a good direction. I just also don’t think that if someone decides to refer to it as autism awareness month, that that person is uninformed and harmful to the autistic community. I wrote two years ago about the fact that well-meaning people who support Autism Speaks don’t always know what they’re supporting, and I think we should always keep that in mind when we talk about the month of April.

One other thing I noticed, in realizing I’ve been out of the loop, is that the symbols associated with autism are changing, too. If you remember the great puzzle piece discourse of 2019, you might recall that I’ve never had a huge problem with puzzle pieces as used to symbolize the autistic community. My interpretation of the puzzle piece has always been that autistic people are merely a piece of the diverse puzzle that is the human race, or, alternatively, that autism is just one piece of ourselves. I understand why some people don’t like the puzzle piece— another interpretation implies that autistic people, by being autistic, are ‘missing a piece,’ hence the rejection by the wide community. But again, my opinions aren’t always popular, and I know that. I’m only telling you what I believe.

So what’s the new symbol? Well, it looks like this:

This is the ‘neurodiversity acceptance’ symbol, with the rainbow gradient meant to represent the spectrum of autism (and I guess other neurological conditions, too). I’m not sure I have enough of an opinion on this to comment on it, but I thought I’d show it to all of you, for what it’s worth. As with the awareness/acceptance dichotomy, I really have a problem with neither.

I think the moral of the story here is that I might not be up to date and hip in terms of what’s going on in the autistic online community. But honestly, I have never claimed the title of activist. This blog is about my personal experience, and my opinions don’t always line up with everyone else’s. That’s okay, because I’m still autistic, and my problematic opinions about the way we talk about autism don’t make me less autistic; I’m allowed to have opinions about my own disability. I may be out of the loop, but my mental health is better for it.

In this little corner of the Internet, I’ll keep telling you what I believe. For now, that’s all. Here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: So what is the ‘neurodiverse community,’ anyway?

autism awareness month, media

Autism Speaks: a general update

Friends, I come to you today in a state of slight shame, with a confession, which you will already sort of be aware of if you saw the very brief post that I put up this past Saturday. You see, in the days since you last heard from me last Tuesday, the month of April has arrived. The arrival of this month, and in particular the occasion of April 2nd, should have been a bigger deal on this blog this year than it turned out to be. April, if you might not remember, is Autism Awareness Month, but April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day. Though I ‘celebrate’ this day for awareness, I didn’t give adequate warning about it on my blog this year, and I feel like a pretty lazy autism advocate as a result. I barely even know if running a blog counts as autism advocacy in the first place, but feel like it counts for something.

Anyway. The point is that I didn’t give you guys a heads up about Autism Awareness Day. April 2nd came and went, and I’m sorry I didn’t say anything. In my defense, I’ve sort of lost track of the concept of time these past few weeks, despite my best efforts. On the bright side, though, you’ll notice that I mentioned that April is Autism Awareness Month, and so our awareness of autism doesn’t have to be confined just to one day in the beginning of the month. With that, I would like to officially kick off the 2021 autism awareness series! I’ve done this two years in a row, and this will be my third. The posts for the month of April will specifically have to do with autism awareness, and will be less personal to my own experience.

So with that, let’s get started! Today we’re going to return to something I’ve written about every now and again on this blog, which is always a little bit of a touchy or controversial subject. Let’s talk a little about the organization Autism Speaks, and we’ll do this as carefully as possible.

If you want to read the instances where I’ve written about Autism Speaks in the past, you can check out this link, or this one, or even this one. Last April, for my autism awareness series, I posited the question of whether Autism Speaks might be changing their famously ‘problematic’ tune. If you want a recap of the road so far when it comes to me writing about Autism Speaks on this blog, I will now summarize: Autism Speaks is the most famous autism awareness organization in the world, with much of their research and outreach centered around finding a cure for autism or at least finding a way to lessen the burden of autism on families. If this sounds harsh, it’s because a lot of autistic people, myself included, do find their messaging harsh, or at least that has historically been the case.

As I said in the post linked above, I have gotten the sense in the recent past that Autism Speaks might be changing their tune a little. What I mean by that is that I think it’s possible that the organization is responding, or at least paying attention, to the mass criticism of their practices from the actual autistic community.

For a bit of background, it’s been a really long time since I was involved in the online autistic community (I am not a big fan of the ideological gatekeeping practices and other harmful social media tactics that a lot of grown adults take part in on the Internet), but I know enough about it even still to know that Autism Speaks has been completely blacklisted from most autistic Internet circles. Instead, autistic people turn to organizations run by and for people who are actually autistic. This is great, and I think it should be more commonplace. In general, we should promote organizations as resources which are actually run by and for the people they claim to represent.

But here’s what I will say about Autism Speaks: the now-year since I made that post, I’ve noticed even more changes in the organization’s rhetoric. Their logo, for starters, has changed; the puzzle piece is no longer blue but a gradient of multiple colors, which I think is a nod to the growing movement for neurodiversity acceptance, often symbolized by a rainbow gradient infinity symbol. A logo change is a logo change, and ultimately could just be performative, as a shift in the coloring of a puzzle piece doesn’t mean that much on its own. What I think is more notable is the shift in messaging I see in their advertising, and we’ll move there now.

As of April 2021, Autism Speaks’ website greets you with the following message: “We’re working to create a kinder, more inclusive world for people with autism, and we invite you to join us.” If you click through their links, you’ll discover that they’re partaking in a “Year of Kindness,” which is supposed to promote acceptance, inclusion, and opportunity for people across the entire autism spectrum.

What I take from this is that Autism Speaks is trying to put more of an emphasis on acceptance, and maybe a little less of an emphasis on eugenics. A little more clicking through their website does tell me that they’re still promoting “early childhood intervention,” which is a vague way of referring to behavioral adjustment therapy, a very controversial tactic used to attempt to direct autistic children towards neurotypical social practices. Clearly, there is still work to be done when it comes to this organization’s mission. But I can also very obviously see the impact of autistic pushback against the messaging Autism Speaks has promoted throughout their history.

I think this is notable enough to dedicate a blog post to for the following reason: Autism Speaks has the largest platform for talking about autism in the world. There’s no other organization, individual, or community that the world hears from more, when it comes to autism, because for people for whom autism is not a major part of their lives, Autism Speaks is the most familiar they’ll become with it. It’s the resource that people who don’t know anything else about autism would most closely associate with autism. For example, the only reason Autism Awareness Month is April, or that World Autism Awareness Day is April 2nd, is because Autism Speaks made that up at some point and it stuck. Hence my point about their platform. And I think that messaging, when you have the biggest platform in the world for talking about a disability, is hugely important.

So yes, it does make a difference, even if it’s only a small step, when Autism Speaks advertisements are talking about a Year of Kindness versus helping find the autism cure. That language is less harmful to the community, and it’s a step in the right direction. I have my qualms with this organization, and always will, but the shift in their tone has left me pleasantly surprised.

With this post, do I mean to recommend dropping support for other autistic groups and embracing absolutely everything Autism Speaks has to say? Definitely not. I think it’s still extremely important to hold Autism Speaks accountable for the harm they’ve done to the autistic community and the stigma surrounding the disability in the past, and I don’t think a couple of changes in the way they advertise or their logo make up for the years of demonization of an identity. But I do think that all of this change means that, at least, Autism Speaks is seeing the criticism directed at their organization, and making an effort to be better. I think they’re listening, and I think that’s at least some semblance of progress.

The bottom line is this: the biggest and most famous autism organization in the world is changing the way they talk about autism, and I think that’s a sign of hope for autism awareness and acceptance among the general, neurotypical public.

Again, this doesn’t erase past problems, nor am I attempting to imply that Autism Speaks won’t pull some complete tomfoolery in the future, because I have no idea what they’ll do, or what advertising campaigns they’ll launch, or what their true goal really is. (Are they aiming to eradicate autism from the gene pool, or to push acceptance for autistic individuals? I have no idea. I know we can’t do both.) You can take my opinions with a grain of salt if you wish, but know that I’m an autistic person who is and has been extremely sensitive to this organization, so I think the fact that I’m pleasantly surprised about this does count for something.

And that’ll be a wrap on our first 2021 autism awareness month post! I’ll see you next week, and here’s where else you can find me in the meantime.

Next Time: I’ve been out of the loop when it comes to the neurodiverse community.