college, routine

A glimpse into my daily routine

Good morning! The format of today’s post will be a little different than what you’re used to, and I hope it’s effective, for a variety of reasons. In this week’s blog, I want to walk you through an example of my stringent daily routine— but before we get to the actual walkthrough, let me talk a little bit about why routine is so important to me.

I’ve always needed to have a solid schedule— I’m the kind of person who thrives when I’m busy, not even in the sense of constantly running around (although I do do that) but just setting a list of tasks for myself. I wrote about executive dysfunction a few months back on this blog, but to give you a refresher, it’s one of my biggest arch-nemeses. Executive dysfunction is common in autistic and ADHD people, as well as those struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Basically, it’s when your free time escapes you and you accomplish barely anything if nothing at all. It’s the name for when you accidentally spend the whole afternoon scrolling social media, or procrastinating on homework, or any number of other “unproductive” distractions.

For me, executive dysfunction is the biggest obstacle standing between me and what I consider a productive day. I have a number of strategies to keep executive dysfunction in check, the most important of which is my daily to-do list. The tasks vary based on the day, and some days’ to-do lists are longer than others, but it’s always there, and it’s immensely satisfying to reach the end of the day and realize I’ve crossed everything off.

A close second to the to-do list is another factor, which feels like a given but is still really important. My daily routine is crucial. I’d like to do a post on this blog in the future about what happens when expected routine is interrupted, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. Instead, I want to walk you through a typical Monday, as it stands in my college life. Every day of the week is a little bit different, but they also repeat themselves— at least in slightly related versions— so Monday is like Wednesday, and Tuesday is like Thursday.

Anyway. Let’s dive in.

5:34 AM: My alarm. Rise and shine. I tried this thing last year— my first year living alone— where I set multiple alarms, but that resulted in way too many instances of me accidentally turning them all off because my half-asleep brain thought there’d always be another one, so… one alarm this year. Much better.

6:00 AM: Morning prayer at my college’s abbey. This is a new thing I’ve started doing this year. It’s a good way to start the day for me.

6:45 AM: Out to run. If I don’t exercise on weekdays, it throws my whole physiological routine off.

7:15 AM: I get back to the dorm. This is followed by a little more exercise in my room (or, if I’m lucky, the gym, but the gym at my college has very senseless and stupid morning hours).

7:45 AM: By now I should be getting ready to shower. This part of the morning is generally the slowest of my day— waking up early means I can take my time getting ready.

8:00 AM: I’m done with my shower by now, and a variety of tasks ensue: packing my backpack, making tea, calling my mom.

8:45 AM: I use the time between now and the start of class to either finish work I haven’t gotten to yet, or start on my to-do list for the day. I usually don’t leave my room during this time.

9:30 AM: My first Monday-Wednesday-Friday class— intermediate Greek.

10:30 AM: My second class for the day— a 1968-present US history class.

11:20 AM: Believe it or not, this is the end of classes three days out of the week. From the building both those classes are in, I normally walk right to the mail room and check my box, and then to the dining hall to pick up fruit and whatever other food I feel like putting in my fridge.

12:00 PM: By now I’m back in my room again, and the next hour consists of probably doing my Greek homework or something else that needs to get done. A lot of the free time is dedicated to situational stuff that varies based on what’s going on in my classes or my remote internship.

12:30 PM: Over to the dining hall for lunch.

1:00 PM: I clock in at work. I have two on-campus jobs this semester, one of which is brand-new, but this is my job from last year, in the dining hall bakery. It’s the highest paying department on campus, plus you get a discount on your meal card. All to scoop cookie dough. It’s a good deal.

5:00 PM: Work is done for the day. On my way back to the dorm, I pick up something for dinner and put it in my fridge. In my room, I make more family phone calls and unload my backpack.

6:00 PM: Choir rehearsal. My choir practices on Mondays and Wednesdays, and performs weekly at Sunday night mass.

7:00 PM: More rehearsal— but this time for my other mass-related music activity, the music ministry for Wednesday night student masses. We usually pick music and test keys on Mondays.

8:00 PM: From here, my schedule diverges based on whether it’s Monday or Wednesday— but since this is Monday, it means I head back to my room. I finally get around to eating dinner pretty quickly after those rehearsals are over, and I’m in for the night.

8:30 PM: After I eat, it’s probably writing or reading time. I don’t do a ton of homework in the evenings— I prefer to get it done during the awkward hours between classes and obligations.

10:00 PM: I’m in bed and done for the day.

This is a very typical example of a daily schedule that helps me keep my routine in check. I thrive on this schedule— it keeps me in line, and I always feel productive at the end of a good day. I’m not making this blog post to show you that I’m busy, because honestly, Mondays and Wednesdays are my busy days, and Tuesdays and Thursdays are much less on the move. As for weekends… they’re anyone’s guess.

That’s all for right now! Here’s where else to find me.

Next Time: Feeling weird.

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media

Who is Greta Thunberg?

Good morning! Today, I’m hoping to use discussion of something less than ideal that’s been happening online as a surrogate for a more feel-good topic. I’ll try not to be too loud, but boy, did the Internet recently make me mad.

“Madison, you need to stop getting angry over things on the Internet.” Look— I get it. Devoting all your energy to finding things online to be mad about isn’t healthy. But that’s not what I do. It’s just that discussion of autism and neurodiversity on social media tends to be flawed, controversial, divisive, or all of the above. Also, since this is a blog about autistic life, and since I only know a grand total of, like, two other autistic people in my life outside the web, a lot of that life has to exist within the Internet.

Anyway. That’s not what we’re here to talk about. I want to introduce you all to a young, autistic public figure who’s making waves in the socio-political landscape at the age of sixteen. She’s a superstar.

greta-thunberg-6

This is Greta Thunberg. Born in Sweden in 2003, she’s been famous over the past year or so for leading school strikes and other organized events in order to raise awareness for the protection of the environment. She calls upon leaders— both in her country and internationally— to pay attention to what she has dubbed the climate crisis, and her activism has led her to global recognition. She’s also autistic.

I had heard Greta’s name a few times before about a week ago, but it was around then that I started to learn who she really is, what she stands for, and, unfortunately, why she was suddenly in the news. I don’t want to give any more platform or viral recognition to the person who started the whole deal, but I do think it’s important to talk about, especially on this blog.

Here’s what happened: a certain Twitter user posted a video of Greta doing an interview. In the video, Greta is talking, and then suddenly becomes disoriented and loses her train of thought— after a few moments of quiet, she laughs and says, “Sorry— my brain isn’t working correctly.” Spectators give her an encouraging cheer, and the video cuts out. It’s a moment that any autistic person can understand, especially given that Greta is so on the spot. For a lot of autistic people, speaking in front of crowds is a huge challenge— not to mention speaking in your second language, at the age of sixteen. I’m glad that the onlookers in the video are encouraging and supportive of Greta. There’s nothing about the video that feels awkward— it’s just an autistic person demonstrating a natural autistic mannerism, and people are supportive in response.

But here’s where it gets really cringey… the Twitter user who posted the video decided to make fun of Greta. The caption read, “‘Sorry, my brain isn’t working correctly.’ Looks like Greta Thunberg has early-onset Joe Biden disease.”

Joe Biden isn’t really relevant to this blog post, and I don’t know why I keep defining painfully obvious terms for the sake of being thorough (see: me defining Sesame Street in my post a few weeks ago), but to provide just a little context, Joe Biden is a candidate for US President who often gets made fun of for being old, forgetful, and dim-witted. Although the person who posted the video of Greta and compared her blanking in the interview to Joe Biden’s forgetfulness may have had intentions to just make fun of Joe Biden, it was really unacceptable and gross to make fun of a young, disabled public figure for the sake of making a political statement.

Because what ended up happening was, the video of Greta became something of a joke online for a couple of days. People were now making fun of this autistic 16-year-old on a large scale, and it was awful.

This blog post isn’t about the political statement that the person on Twitter was trying to make. Rather, I want to talk about how Greta responded— and what the implications of Greta’s role in the public sphere are for other autistic young people.

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Greta posted this response on Twitter. She went on to say that she is public about her diagnosis because she wants people to see that autism isn’t an “illness or something negative”. She emphasized the importance of embracing differences, and she effectively shut the trolls down. It was inspiring, and highly fitting for the situation.

So… Internet trolls aside.

Greta Thunberg is so, so important for the neurodiverse community (and, obviously, the broader global community due to her important climate activism, but that’s beside my current point). Her autism really is a superpower— it’s helped her become an influential figure at the age of sixteen, and she has such a bright future ahead of her. She’s living, breathing proof for autistic kids that they can accomplish their dreams, not in spite of, but right alongside their autistic existence. She’s not famous for being autistic— she’s famous for being passionate about what she does, and she happens to be autistic.

We need more people like Greta Thunberg in public roles, especially young people. She’s a beacon of hope for autistic people everywhere, and she responded to trolls and haters with grace and unrelenting confidence. I can’t wait to see what her future holds— and shame on those who put her down and ridicule her just because of her differences. We, as autistic and disabled people, see you when you do that— and we keep it in mind.

Here’s where else to find me.

Next Time: A glimpse into my daily routine.

college, routine

Back to school: sophomore year

Okay… so I’m back at college.

I won’t even sugar-coat it. I wasn’t at all looking forward to this transition. But I do want to start out this blog post with a disclaimer of sorts. What you’ll read about today from me has everything to do with all the difficulties that come from being autistic in college. These sentiments, while valid and important parts of my experience, aren’t meant to portray that I hate everything to do with college, because that’s just not true. There are certainly parts of the college experience that haven’t been ideal for me, but at the end of the day, college is a vital and beneficial part of my educational experience. It needs to happen for me, and I’m doing a pretty good job at it, all things considered.

I also do love my school, and I love the history department there, where my field of study lives. I enjoy the activities I’m involved in, and the overall environment that my college presents is the ideal one for me at this point in my life and my education. This was the best choice for me, and it’s a great school. I need to make sure I make that perfectly clear.

The point is: I don’t hate college. I certainly, absolutely don’t hate my school— I love my school. There are certain things about the college experience that are just very difficult and often uncomfortable for me.

So I think the point, with all these disclaimers out of the way is that I can’t stand in front of you and pretend like it’s not hard. Because it most certainly is.

A lot of the sentiment I got in the weeks leading up to school’s restart seemed to reassure me that it’d be much easier to transition back to school the second time around. This didn’t help with my general dread of that occasion. I had a good summer, and I was well settled into my summer routine, having finally picked back up on some personal activities and hobbies I’d neglected for a good portion of the earlier year. Still, people kept asking me: are you ready to go back to school? Don’t you miss it? Don’t you miss [insert a variety of things about my school that people thought I’d get excited about if they asked me]?

And the answer was always… not really. Because it’s not that I don’t enjoy the things I love about my school while I’m there. The barest truth of the matter here was that no matter how many times adults tried to get me excited about it like I was a child reluctant to enter kindergarten for the first time, I was not getting any more excited about leaving home and going back to my less comfortable environment again.

That’s really all there is to it. Home means comfort. School means challenge.

Oh but Madison, don’t you know that the most important growth happens outside your comfort zone???? Listen. I get it. You have to be challenged to grow. I personally find that mindset just a little ableist, because some neurodivergent people have serious sensitivities outside their comfort zone, and therefore growth should be impossible, at least according to that philosophy. But I don’t really feel like getting into that today. The point is: I understand what that sentiment means, for the same reason that I acknowledge that college is something that has to happen for me. I just also think that just because “growth mindset” is the buzzword in so much of academic and educational life, does not mean that disabled people are going to magically be able to forget all of their limitations in the name of embracing the growth mindset.

The point? I was not looking forward to moving day.

And yet, it rolled around. I’ve been back at college for over a week now, after arriving on Sunday the 25th of August. The adjustment to the actual school schedule happened pretty quickly, although the first week of classes felt like it took about six months to elapse. It’s always been the case for me that when going back to school, I really don’t take that long to adjust to the academic schedule. It’s everything else that takes a little bit of time.

To address the notion of moving in being easier the second time around, I think there’s an element of truth to it. For one thing, moving in as a sophomore is different because the transition takes place over the course of a single day rather than a weekend-long orientation full of a packed schedule, social overload, and orientation leaders trying to keep you exhaustingly busy so you won’t have a homesick breakdown. Orientation is a questionable process, but I guess I understand the general intention of it.

There’s no orientation for sophomores— just a room to set up and an afternoon to get settled before you dive into classes. In a way, that was better for me. But it didn’t make the actual act of leaving home and being alone in a dorm any easier. It didn’t make the institution of communal living any more welcoming or comforting. Nothing about this was easy, but at least this time it was familiar.

Freshman year move-in was, in a lot of ways, a nightmare. I wouldn’t call what happened last weekend a nightmare at all. It was just a re-introduction of a discomfort and challenging environment that I was already familiar with. I knew what to expect, and I expected it to be hard.

I don’t even quite know if this blog post has been coherent enough to get across what I’m trying to say. I think the point of all this is to give you an update on the fact that I’m back in school, and that it’s still hard, but it’s nothing that I didn’t expect, and nothing that last year didn’t already familiarize me with. I know everything is going to be fine, and I’m hoping to have a successful year again. Writing about this hasn’t really made me feel any better about the whole transition, so I think I should be done with it for now. I think these kinds of honest and difficult posts are good every now and then.

I’ll try to be a little better at getting my point across next week. Until then, here’s where else to find me.

Next Time: An autistic teen in the news.

routine, writing

Summer 2019: in review

Welcome back to Tuesday blogs, brought to you by the fact that I’m officially back in school. We’ll have plenty to talk about the transition into my sophomore year of college, and what’s up next, in later blog entries, but for the time being, I want to do a little reflection. I’m writing this on Sunday, although it’ll go up on Tuesday, so I’ll already be slightly more adjusted to the college routine than I am now once this is public.

Today, as the title of this blog post implies, I want to round up this past summer.

I have this slightly unhealthy fixation on productivity, and I have for a long time, since at least middle school. When I’m presented with any given amount of free time, I immediately feel the pressure of making sure that that free time is “productive”— in other words, spent in a way that makes me feel as if I’ve accomplished something and that I haven’t wasted my time. This happens with mere periods of hours, or longer times like school vacations— but summers are always the kicker, because it’s much larger-scale.

I think some of this has to do with executive dysfunction— the phenomenon present in a lot of neurodevelopmental disabilities and mental illnesses where time seems to escape while you’re doing next to nothing at all. It’s my biggest fear during long periods off from school, and I have to create a rigid schedule for myself as a result, lest I fall victim to my own guilt after a period of nothing concrete getting accomplished.

So, anyway. Summer rolls around. I am pumped. It’s four (okay, three and a half) months off from school. Usually, at the start of the summer, it’s hard for me to conceptualize just how much time I have. It feels endless when you’re looking at it in May.

I would say summer is my favorite time of year, but it’s not actually my favorite season, technically speaking; that’s autumn. But I will say that in terms of doing the things I love, summer is the time of year when I have the best capability to do that. This mainly means writing, but also reading, gardening, being in the sun, and now, something I took for granted up until last fall, just being in my house and/or spending time with family. So even though I enjoy fall for its weather and food and general vibe, I’d say that summer is the season I most look forward to.

Not at all to say that I look forward to summer because I hate school. I like school. I just like that summer gives me time to myself, which is harder to find during the busy school year, especially at college.

Anyway. Going back to the pressure on productivity thing, I felt a lot of pressure when I got out of school in May. I had a number of things that I set out to accomplish, which included doing a deep clean of my room, catching up on my Goodreads reading challenge, writing a bunch of reviews, and writing something, anything. (ICYMI, I was having an identity crisis a little earlier this year because I’d been really out of touch with writing for a few months.)

It was daunting. But here’s the report, four months later.

I did clean my room a lot. It was a decision that came on the heels of not knowing where the heck I was going to fit all my dorm stuff when I moved out for freshman year, because my room at home was a disaster. That felt good— a big, organizational cleaning project does good for my soul.

I also read a lot this summer, and rediscovered my local library, which was the best financial decision I’ve made in a long time. I mean, why would I buy random books if I don’t know whether or not I’ll enjoy them? I made the mistake for way too long of just binge-buying books from Barnes & Noble based mostly on the appeal of their back cover/inside flap blurbs, and… y’all, it’s a mistake. I ended up owning so many books I hated.

But that’s okay! Because: the library. As for the writing… it was looking bleak for most of the summer. I had some signs of life circa mid-July, and tried to start something only to realize that it wasn’t quite there yet in terms of development, and I didn’t have enough stamina on it for that reason to get much further than Chapter Three. It’s a work-in-progress, and I’ll return to it later.

But when that died out, I was worried. I thought it meant I wasn’t going to get anything done during the summer at all, and I knew the likelihood of me starting a writing project during the school year was slim if I hadn’t already been doing it during the summer. I was scared. If I didn’t write the whole summer, I knew I was going to chalk it all up to a failure. Writing was the one thing I really hoped I would do this summer.

And, well, spoiler alert. I’m writing again.

It happened out of the blue. I was on the beach on vacation, and I started rambling to my mom about how I was tired of not writing, and how I had story ideas but none of them felt quite ready to start becoming a draft. My mom ended up doing this really awesome thing she’s done a few times in my life where she sits through a massive brainstorming session; we bounced ideas off of each other for upwards of an hour until the story finally started to make sense. I know my dad will get offended if he reads this and doesn’t see mention of his name during this part, because he was also on the beach and participating in the conversation, so I’ll note that he did come up with some great ideas too.

I don’t talk to people about my writing that much at all— I always feel like I’m rambling when I do, and my parents are usually the ones who hear most of my earliest planning, particularly my mom. I don’t know why it took me that long to just talk about my ideas, but once I did, I woke up the next morning and something magical happened.

I just started writing.

I wrote the whole first act of this newest work-in-progress over the course of the month of August. I’m onto act two now, and still going strong (pray for me). This may not seem like that big of a deal, but this was a huge event in my summer, probably the most important thing that I’ve done in a really long time. I was scared for a second there. I was wondering what was going to happen next.

So is my special interest writing bug back? I can safely say I’m moving in that direction.

I know this blog post probably reads less like a discussion of autistic life and more like a general life update, but I think it’s important to note these summer accomplishments, because I conquered executive dysfunction pretty nicely during this lengthy break from school. Between my multiple summer jobs and the above activities detailed, I kept myself just busy enough that I wasn’t overwhelmed, and had time left over for fun. For a summer that I was absolutely terrified of wasting, I’d chalk it all up to a summer well spent.

And that’s important to me. Because I really tend to obsess over productivity.

So, onto the school year. I have thoughts about this transition, and thoughts about what it means to be in my second year of college, and lots of other thoughts besides those related to the former two points. Stay tuned for my second full year of blogging.

Actually, when is my blog-iversary? I think I’ll make a post on that day, even if it’s not a Tuesday.

Until then, see you next Tuesday, and you know the drill. Here’s where else to find me.

Next Time: On the transition.

media

Sesame Street and Autism Awareness

Believe it or not, this is actually the last Wednesday blog of the summer. This is because my second year of college starts next week (second year!!! yikes), so I’ll be shifting back to Tuesdays for my schedule’s sake and staying there for the duration of the school year. This will be an adjustment, and it’s not one I’m particularly looking forward to— but more on that later.

Today, we’re talking about a pillar of my childhood— Sesame Street. You might think this has nothing to do with autism, but you would be wrong. As for why I’m only just writing about this now, I’ve seen some buzzing controversy on #ActuallyAutistic social media that has to do with this topic, so I figure now is as good a time as ever.

So let’s back way up. If you don’t know what Sesame Street is, I’m going to assume you’re either not American or living under a rock, and I will explain it for both of those categories of people. Sesame Street is a beloved, long-running American children’s show that documents the various adventures of a group of animal puppets. The show often features real kids or even guest-starring celebrities alongside the puppet characters, and its purpose is mostly educational, teaching lessons about math, language arts, and social skills.

From time to time, the show incorporates new characters, but the main cast has remained largely the same for the fifty (yes, really) years that it’s been on the air. In 2015, Sesame Street introduced its first new puppet since 2005— Julia, a young girl who is autistic.

Image result for sesame street julia

I’ve always been aware of Julia’s existence, and I’ve long considered it an absolutely wonderful thing, especially for autistic kids and their families who watch the show. Autistic representation isn’t exactly widespread, certainly not in such popular media as shows like Sesame Street, and Julia’s introduction to the show was an impressive feat for multiple reasons. It helps autistic kids see themselves on TV, and it also teaches neurotypical kids about neurodiversity and disability in a very accessible and easy-to-understand way.

And while I’ll confess that I haven’t seen an episode of the show, aside from brief clips, since Julia’s introduction, research has told me that this representation isn’t like the mainstream caricature of autism we so often see in media. I’m referring, of course, to the socially distant, societally rejected, middle-aged white dude. Since Julia is a literal puppet, race doesn’t really factor in here, but that’s not the point.

The actual point is that the treatment of her autism by her peers on the show is wonderful. Of course her autism poses difficulties for her, but her friends go out of their way to help understand and better accommodate her. Especially in a children’s show, that is such a refreshing take. So often, autistic people are faced with barrages of “this is how the real world is and you’ll have to learn to adjust to it”— but for Julia, the world sees her, acknowledges her differences, and treats her kindly as she learns to exist in that harsh world. She has a supportive and loving family, and her friends are always loyal. She’s seen as just another member of the gang, who happens to have a neurodevelopmental disability. Julia was even seen in the most recent Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, wearing noise-cancelling headphones as she rode on a float with her friends.

The inclusion of Julia in the cast has helped to shine light on some of the best autism awareness via popular media that I’ve ever heard of. The show praises autistic individuals and celebrates them, both for their differences and the ways in which they’re not so different from anybody else. In developing her character, Sesame Street partnered with a number of organizations, notably including the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. I’ve written about ASAN briefly on this blog, but they really deserve their own spotlight post at this point, because they’re the only “autism organization” in the United States that’s run by actual autistic people.

You’d think that autistic people being the primary organizers of major autism charities and organizations would be a no-brainer, but… that’s a blog post for another day.

I wish that this post ended here, and that it was just an ode to Sesame Street’s representation— but I’ve recently become aware of something that makes it all a little more sticky. Earlier this summer, ASAN announced they had made the decision to split from its partnership with Sesame Street.

In the linked article, which is a news release directly from ASAN’s website, you can see the details of this decision, but I’ll paraphrase them here because they’re, well, vital to my blog post. Basically, Sesame Street has decided to partner with Autism Speaks. They’ve started to feature Julia in PSAs about Autism Speaks’ latest “resources” for families of autistic children, and ASAN is vehemently opposed to everything about Autism Speaks as an organization.

When I heard about this, I was sort of like oh, come on. Can we not have one thing to ourselves?

Because I was so rooting for Sesame Street not to mess this up. While yes, I’m sure the representation of Julia on the show will continue to be positive and uphold its standard of acceptance, the inclusion of Autism Speaks’ resources under Julia’s character rubs me and a lot of other autistic people the wrong way. Autism Speaks states in its most recent resource, the 100 Day Kit for families of children with autism, that it “is dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a possible cure for autism”. What would Julia be if her autism were cured? She wouldn’t be the same person.

There’s more to cringe at here— if you look into the details of the 100 Day Kit, you’ll find comparisons of autism to childhood cancer, and the implication that families of autistic children go through the five stages of grief upon diagnosis. But at the risk of getting too long-winded, I want to sum up what my point is here. When you introduce a character whose representation is as beneficial as Julia’s, everybody is rooting for you. When you partner with an organization that has long been known to reinforce a harmful narrative with regard to people like that character, it’s disappointing for so many people.

There’s a petition on change.org for Sesame Street to reconsider their partnership with Autism Speaks. For some of you, this might not seem like such a big deal, but I think it’s so important that autistic kids continue to see themselves in a character who isn’t being used as a surrogate to advocate for their eradication. I hope you might consider signing it.

In the spirit of this post, I’ve created a list of resources as a main page on this blog. They’re hand-picked by yours truly, and I hope they’ll be helpful to any of you who are searching for better organizations to support in the wake of all my Autism Speaks discourse.

For more reading on the Sesame Street situation, visit this article written by an #ActuallyAutistic person, which I used for research to write this blog.

Here’s where else to find me.

Next Time: The summer in review.

social, special interests, the real world

Maturity

As I mentioned in my last post, my birthday was last week. I’m nineteen now, which in my opinion is a sort of weird age to be— I’m still technically a “teenager”, but I’ve aged out of high school and am moving on to more young adult things, like student loans and excise taxes and credit card applications. I don’t know if I can really call myself a “teen reader” in my book reviews on my other blog, or if I can refer to myself as the target audience for the young adult fiction I write. I think I’ll hold onto those two assertions for at least my final “teen” year— after that I’ll probably have to give it up. Not the reading or writing— just the referring to myself as a teen reader/writer.

But for now, I’m nineteen. I had a great birthday, and the prospect of getting a year older raised a good topic for blogging for me. Let’s talk about maturity.

I don’t quite know how to put it— I’ve been both mature for my age and immature, at the same time, for most of my life. I think this in part depends on whose perception it comes from, but I’ve felt hyper-aware of the fact that my maturity level (or lack thereof) isn’t akin to my peers’ for years. This isn’t necessarily a problem today, because I think things have balanced themselves out, but it’s certainly been prevalent throughout my life. At some points, I’ve been mature for my age; at others, vastly immature.

It’s happened in waves— I’ve heard from most of the adults in my family that I was a weirdly mature kid, speaking in complete sentences before I was supposed to and having opinions on things six-year-olds don’t generally know about. I think part of this can be attributed to the fact that my memory and learning skills as a small child were relatively advanced; I memorized maps and astronomy books and played songs by ear on the keyboard. I also read at a level and speed way above average.

All of this makes it sound like I’m using this blog as an excuse to brag about my skills as a small child, which isn’t the case. Fast learning as a child doesn’t necessarily equate maturity— but it was definitely a part of why a lot of adults characterized me as mature for my age. I think my conversational skills were more important, and I know why, too— all my mask behaviors and social skills as a kid came from learned mirroring of those around me, mainly my parents. My mask as a kid was an imitation of an adult, because that’s what I knew. I didn’t learn masking from other kids. I learned it from my parents, because I was around them most.

And though those mask behaviors and quick learning skills have stayed with me all my life, I found something weird happened with regard to my maturity around middle school. Suddenly, I was socially deficient in comparison to my peers, which resulted in a perception that I was immature. A lot of this had to do with the interests I partake in, and the way I entertain myself. And for a long time, long past the point of when it would’ve been age-appropriate, my special interest was something that brought my maturity presentation way down. People who have known me awhile know about this time in my life, but for those of you who are new, the special interest I referred to in this post that held onto me from about ages ten to fourteen was in an online game that, ultimately, got too young for me. I got into it when I was right at the target age, and then by the time I was a freshman in high school, I could recognize, okay, fourteen-year-olds don’t unironically play this game.

But I didn’t get rid of that special interest— and hindrance to my maturity— because I wanted to. It organically faded out of my life, the way special interests do. Since then, if you’ve been keeping up with my ongoing identity crisis, my special interest has been less clear, but the one thing I know for sure is that I haven’t latched onto another seemingly childish hobby or interest to make such a vital part of my autistic life.

And that has helped. The perception of my maturity has balanced itself out as a result. I’m no longer posting penguin memes on my Instagram account and causing my middle school classmates to cringe. But this doesn’t mean my maturity insecurities are gone. They come up time and time again, this time for a different reason— dropping the mask.

Because my unmasked self, without going into detail, can be seen as pretty immature. This isn’t a problem when it comes to people in my life who understand, but I get really embarrassed when I slip up and then get infantilized because of the way I act. Unmasking means potentially exposing what looks like emotional immaturity, and then people won’t take me seriously as a result.

Being autistic makes you feel emotionally underdeveloped, even when the truth is that autistic emotional processing isn’t immature but merely different from the mainstream, neurotypical perception of that phenomenon. It’s not inherently immature to not always know what to say, or to miss certain social cues, or to stim in public— but society is structured in a way where that sometimes feels like the case.

The reason? Everybody acts like everybody else. If you don’t act neurotypical, people will look at you funny. Earlier this summer, when I did a post on the viral autistic America’s Got Talent contestant Kodi Lee, I pulled a quote from Kodi’s mom in the audition video where she said, “When you’re autistic, it’s really hard to act like everybody else.” This isn’t a particularly unique or groundbreaking statement, but I was struck by the fact that it sums up so much of my life in one uncomplicated sentence.

Faking it is possible, but it’s socially exhausting. I would like to live in a world where autistic people didn’t have to mask to be taken seriously— and maybe one day we’ll get there, but the future isn’t looking so promising in that regard. Granted, we’ve come a long way in the past thirty or so years in terms of accepting neurodivergence rather than institutionalizing the neurodevelopmentally disabled. But we also have a long way to go.

I’ve written about autistic acceptance on this blog before, and I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not fully on board with the whole “I must socially exhume in public and if you don’t accept me you’re a bigot against disabled people” thing. But I also think that autistic people deserve to be taken seriously, in their unmasked, plain state of being. Just because we function differently doesn’t mean we’re immature.

So I think that’s the cycle— mature as small children, and then immature as adults. I hope this perception will change one day. We’re long overdue for it. And I’d really like to be taken seriously as myself, not as the masked version of me that I have to put on for the world.

Here’s where else to find me.

Next Time: Sesame Street!

social

Why I didn’t text you back

Yes. This blog post is a day early. The reason for this is that tomorrow is my birthday, and I don’t want to post it then. I might have considered posting on my birthday if the topic for this week’s post were a little different, but it’s mostly just going to be a self-callout today, and I don’t exactly want that kind of energy on August 7th. That’s a national holiday.

Don’t roast me for my ego. I’m trying this new thing where I love myself.

Anyway, it’s August, but it’s still summer. And here’s what happens. Summer looks so big outside the bounds of summer, especially for me, a college student, who was dying to get home as my spring exams got closer and closer. Summer is when you make all these promises to people that you’re definitely going to hang out, because the summer looks so big. It looks wide open and full of promise. And don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of promise in summer. There’s plenty of room for plans.

But I have a problem. A big one. It’s called communication issues. And I didn’t realize that it was autistic.

Here’s what happens. I don’t text people back.

It’s so, so bad. And I’m fully aware of how bad it is. I’ve grown up with texting, having never known a world without the technology of constant communication-on-demand. It’s a quick and easy way to get in touch with somebody, at least in theory. The whole idea of a text is that when you send one, you’re expecting a fast response back. And most people have their phones on them all the time, so there’s really no reason not to text somebody back.

Except there is. For some people. Including me.

If you’re reading this, and you know me, there’s a good chance you’ve been a victim of mine. I’ll leave questions unanswered, plans not solid, and conversations hanging… and I’ve lost friends because of it. Which I fully deserve. I’m of complete awareness that I am God-awful at texting, and I’m not a reliable person for communication in that medium.

Here’s why. Texting is social, and my social energy depletes so quickly that sometimes I just can’t find it in me to send a text. And I know that people will say, oh, that’s because your generation has no social skills and you’re always glued to your phones!!! Which is a discussion for another day. The point stands— social situations take so much more work for me than they would for a neurotypical person, and so I’m terrible at texting. It’s the exact same reason I struggle to feel comfortable in conversations in person. Texting demands the mask— maybe not so much masking as a face-to-face interaction does, but it definitely demands something.

This is, obviously, due to the social inhibitions that come with autism, but it’s also not a uniquely autistic phenomenon. Through social media and personal research, I’ve learned that people who struggle with depression, social anxiety, and other mental illnesses experience similar difficulties with technological communication. Any mental or neurological condition that causes social struggles will also cause this.

It happens in bouts— some days, I’m feeling motivated to respond to people and clean out my message notifications, and then others, I’ll let them all pile up. I go through phases of having dozens of unread text messages to not even letting a number appear on the Messages app. (This makes it seem like there are a lot of people texting me all the time, but it’s just a testament to me not wanting to open group chats, muster up the energy for a conversation, or anything in between.)

Texting and the quick accessibility of technology and social media makes people feel like we have to be “available” socially 24/7, especially my generation. While I understand the convenience of this type of communication, it can also become toxic and socially draining. But this isn’t a social commentary on technology— it’s a blog about autism. And I’m here to say that your autistic, mentally ill, or socially anxious friends aren’t ignoring your texts because they don’t want to talk to you. They’re ignoring your texts because it takes a lot for them to participate in a conversation.

I will be the first to admit that my balance of separation from texting and engaging in it is not a healthy one, and that my ignoring people based on my social capabilities makes me seem like a total ass. I own that. I fully admit that that is one of the major reasons I have historically felt lonely, left-out, and generally yucky when it comes to my social life. I retreat into myself a lot more when I’m not doing well, and this summer has been a more anxious one for me, so I’ve been particularly bad at it.

I’m not trying to make excuses; I’m merely hoping to provide an explanation. This has been hard for me to acknowledge and even more difficult for me to control. I fall off the face of the earth for days, weeks at a time. I would get tired of me, too. And no, this isn’t a pity parade. I hate that I’m not more fully able to text, to make plans, to participate fully in the social world. But now I’m self-aware enough to know that that’s something that comes hand-in-hand with my autism.

So what am I going to do about it? That’s something I don’t really know the answer to. I’ll always be socially wired the way I am, but it really would be nice to not feel so awful about my social life all the time.

I’ll keep you posted, though. Until then, here’s where else to find me.

Next Time: Getting a year older.