Friday, November 2, 2018

Autism 101

David Cameron Staples (aka Catsidhe), Autism 101 on Catsidhe

Autism 101

I did a talk, and the second time I gave this talk, it was recorded. (Well, most of it. The last couple of minutes of Q&A were dropped because the first five minutes was spent swearing over getting the slides working. But that first five minutes has been cut, so it's straight into the talk.)

It's called Autism 101, and seems to have been well received.

It turns out that advocacy is hard, especially if you have a condition which affects communication with Neurotypical people, because about 90% of advocacy is in convincing NTs to help. And, of course, it is difficult to convince people to help with a condition which affects communication if you have a condition which affects communication, because Irony is a universal law alongside Gravity and Stupidity.

And it's especially hard when the responses are mostly along the lines of "That's great, that's awesome, that's a really good project, you're doing great stuff here, but you can't have what you're asking for." It's navigating a labyrinth, where most of the paths lead to dead ends, but the very act of getting there has made other paths unavailable. No, really, the movie Labyrinth is a very good analogy for it. The first trick is finding a way to even get into the labyrinth, and then you have to find out how to progress from the outer ring, and then it's dead ends and changing paths and oubliettes and goblins and people who may be helping and may be sending you on a wild goose chase, and you can never tell which. It's exhausting.

But I keep doing it because I can, on behalf of the ones who can't, so that they don't have to. Thus all the hard work and fighting for each small win. A talk at a conference, which turns out to be popular. Eventually, soon, a website to tell autistic students how better to deal with being autistic students and their teachers and peers how to deal with them. And eventually, I'm hoping to make that website include information for staff on the spectrum. And then for people who think they might be on the spectrum (because if you are on the spectrum but don't know it, then you will feel not included by information stated to be for autistic people because you don't know whether it applies to you or not and don't want to assume, even though that exact feeling is in itself a sign that it probably does apply to you and did I mention Irony as a universal force?). And for parents who think they have autistic children and don't know what to do about it (and don't know where to go for help, and might wonder what's so bad about Autism Speaks anyway).

And eventually (maybe sooner than I dared hope) there will be quiet spaces on campus marked on the map (for those who know to look). There will be quiet rooms set aside for the use of autistic people, to recover a spoon or two between classes. There will be not just information, but assistance, and advocacy, and maybe even community between the autistic members of the university community, and beyond.

This isn't all me, by any stretch. I have a co-conspirator, who is also on the spectrum, and is also pushing and talking to people and making contacts and running at the limits of her spoons, and she has achieved more than I would have been able to alone. Still, it's basically just the two of us doing this (and both of us have actual jobs that we're doing at the same time). But we're pushing through, as best we can. And if we're successful we will know it because then it will not just be us two anymore.

Because this is needed. I have personally met people who are worried about their children and didn't know how to help them. Who are autistic and in the closet, whether they're passing and successful or being bullied and are struggling. Who don't even know they're on the Spectrum, and privately worry about why they're different and why they can never let those difference be seen. These aren't hypotheticals, these are real people, and they all deserve better.

Autistic people who are struggling need assistance, and, because Irony, they need help to even ask for that assistance.

Autistic people who have been passing and successful deserve to be able to own their autism and wear it with pride. And that's not just for them, because autistic people generally need to see people who are autistic and succeeding. We need role models. Because so far the only autistic people most people see are on the media, and they are almost universally freaks, jokes, or both. We need people to see us as people, and, because Irony, those of us who have succeeded have typically done so because the first thing that they learned was how to hide it. The picture of autism is of failure because success is invisibility. The autistic people who are struggling need to be able to see that it doesn't have to be that way. That they don't have to be ashamed of who they are. And the parents of autistic children need to able to see that, despite what they may fear, it doesn't have to be a tragedy. That their children too can be proud of who they are.

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