Real Thanksgiving Talk

I’m talking mostly to the American folks, who celebrate Thanksgiving, but you can apply these tricks to any holiday you’re celebrating. Now, admittedly the Halloween talk came a bit late, but I’ve decided to get a jump on the Thanksgiving Attack Plan. And if you’re smart, thanksgiving prep for an autistic person begins November 1. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s the day after Halloween. Maybe if we get some jump on the real autism talk, or my flavor if we get truly real about it, here’s a few tips to consider when getting into Thanksgiving prep with an autistic person: 

  1. Have regular meals at the table. This can be done year-round, and if you do this, your child will know what to expect sitting down for a Thanksgiving meal. 
  2. Accept the child’s autism. This will get a lot easier if you accept that the kid is autistic, and was always autistic, and will always be autistic. I am forty years old, and I am still autistic. And that is a set of traits, not tragic. Get the tragic narrative out of your head. It is possible for your autistic child to have a good, autistic life. Nowadays, I do the Thanksgiving cooking. As far as anyone goes, the cooking on Thanksgiving is no small feat. And I do it my way. 
  3. Thanksgiving decorations, if appropriate. Something that helps me personally is the holiday decorations. It gives me the sense of excitement that I need to propel me into Thanksgiving meal planning, Thanksgiving guest expectations, Thanksgiving celebration, and Thanksgiving rest if needed. However, if this is inappropriate, go ahead and leave this one out.  
  4. Keep the favorite dish of the kid’s on the table. I know, this can be a tough one, especially if the kid will eat nothing except chicken nuggets, or white food, or nothing spicy, or what have you. But it will give the kid a sense of security and acceptance , making them feel like a part of the family. For me, that Thanksgiving food was a cherry walnut salad. I know, it’s a little adventurous, but if the favorite food is kept on the table, they’ll feel more like part of the family.
  5. Don’t take it personally if they only eat the favorite food. It is not an affront to you if they do not eat the turkey, or the cranberry, or the green bean casserole. Often, it is a sensory issue with the food. It may be too slimy, too saucy, or even too hot or cold. Relax. Here’s a point: If your neurotypical kid was, say, a vegan, would you be able to get them to eat the turkey? 
  6. Have a place for the kid to “chill out” when things get too loud. I get it-I’m dating myself when I say “chill out.” You may not need it, but sometimes, a kid needs to chill out. For the autistic kid, that may be sooner and more often than most others. And if the kid is headed into a meltdown, wouldn’t it be better to be prepared?  
  7. See if the kid can help in the preparation. This is a sneaky way to get your child prepared and anticipating, instead of dreading, Thanksgiving. Age-appropriate preparation, help and interaction is necessary. I began with setting the table. Then I moved to putting together the pickle and olive tray (separate cartons, relax!). Eventually, it was mixing cold dishes. I then began to hep cooking the ten or so side dishes we still cook. And then, I graduated to the turkey. It’s a natural, gradual process.   
  8. Let the kid stim or rest away, even if you’re sitting down for the meal. Again, this is a meltdown issue. Would you rather have someone sit out and be okay, or a knock-down, drag-out, possibly table-destroying meltdown? 
  9. Don’t pressure the kid about eating everything on the plate. The real beauty of preparing a large meal is that you can eat it all weekend. My family would eat a small amount of food, and eat the rest of it over the weekend. It was great.  

I’m going to need some help concerning more tips as to what we as autistics and the ones who love autistics can do. Any more tips?  

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Real Talk About Autistic Halloween, from a REAL AUTISTIC

Now, I know this comes a bit late for some families with autistic children, but here it comes anyway. It’s an open secret that Halloween is tricky for many people on the spectrum. However, I have come to love Halloween just as much as any other holiday. I am autistic, so I’m going to pass on some tips that have helped my particular hue of the spectrum.  

  1. Let the autistic person choose the costume – early on. The anticipation and buildup were key in my case, and coming up with costume ideas that were either accepted or substituted for better ones was key to my preparation. I had, and still have, a vivid, active imagination, and could come up with a bevy of ideas. From an angel, to a medieval peasant (substituted for flapper later on), to a witch, I always had chosen my costume early on.  
  1. Don’t even mess with a mask. Growing up in the 1980s, the only masks available were those terrible plastic ones that left a line around the face because they were so small, and the breathing holes were barely there. “Was that even legal?” I thought half the time. So I never wore a mask. And the question of makeup? Well, that is an individual thing. Your kid knows if they can handle makeup. Let them help you with that answer. But, I digress. The point is, just don’t even mess with the mask. 
  1. Keep it Simple, Silly. One year, all I needed was a black sweater dress, tights and a witch’s hat. That was the costume. That was a modern (1980s) witch. Maybe the costume is a simple pun. One time, a sibling went dressed in black, with various (small!) pieces of clothing pinned to them. What were they? Static Cling. The point of this? Don’t stress too much. You’ll stress out your kid by accident! 
  1. Early celebration helps me. Nowadays, Halloween is stretched out to begin on midnight, September 30. Helping to plan the entire month actually helps autistic kids. If you won’t listen to us autistic people, listen to the parents who give dry runs for trick-or-treating.  
  1. Make sure the costume fits the rules of the party. Many times, I would go to a “Harvest Festival” or “Fun Zone” at the church I was attending at the time. I would have to go as something non-scary, which was no problem to me, because I could be a huge number of things. What a tragedy it would be for your autistic kid to be turned away from an event because their costume did not follow the pre-set rules! Honestly, who would want to relive that every Halloween?                                      
  1. Do not restrict movement! This was discussed a little bit in Tip 2, but restricting movement is horrifying to an autistic child, especially one that has suffered the abuse of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). If the movement is restricted, the child will be uncomfortable, and therefore will not want to participate. So, ask yourself a few questions with the costume you might be forcing on your child: 

-Can you sit in the costume? 

-Can you go to the bathroom in the costume? 

-Can you run from a creepy sex predator in the costume? 

  1. Do not force a child to do something they do not want to do. This is the most important rule, and the one which will give the child the most pleasant experience they can have. If the child does not want to wear the mask, do not force the mask on them. If the house is too scary with the decorations (or the barking dog), don’t force them to go up to it. If they do not want to go in the scary maze, do not go! Would you force your neurotypical child like this?  

I hope these tips can be helpful, even if they are delivered a little late.  

The Four Social Rules every Autistic Person needs to Learn

I have been violated in the past in all of these rules being broken. I had to learn these rules last night.

Autism and Expectations

Trigger warning – although this post doesn’t mention any detail of abuse, it is about the dangers of teaching someone not to trust in their right to say no

From a young age I was taught three things:-

  • The messages I get from my body are wrong
  • Not wanting to be touched is wrong
  • That I must override these feelings to be accepted

From encouraging an autistic child to give up a harmless stim (which may be helping them to cope with negative sensory information), to telling them that eye-contact doesn’t hurt (when it does translate to pain for some), or that hugs are pleasant physical contact (when they may be too much sensory information all at once) or that labels aren’t painful (when the feeling of being clawed at may be very real), navigating what will be believed as real, and what will be dismissed as silly or attention-seeking…

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Hollywood Autism: It Is Definitely Wrong

I have noticed that there are many stereotypes associated with autism, and I intend to knock every one of them down every single hour of my life if I have to. I have a list of these stereotypes, along with a response on each one of them.  These stereotypes are often applied to characters who are not canonically autistic (like Sherlock Holmes 2010 and Sheldon Cooper), so they get the diagnosis, too.

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Here are several stereotypes: 

Stereotype: Autism is a White Person’s Disease 

Almost every portrayal of autism is marred by the fact that it absolutely HAS to be portrayed by the people in power. As a result, most of them are white. This might lead most people to believe that autism is simply a consequence of something in white civilization. As a matter of fact, the only non-white portrayal of autism I knew of until I did a Wikipedia Search were of Billy Cranston, of the Power Rangers movie, and Isidore Latham of Chicago Med, of a Very Special character arc.  

Stereotype: Autism is Male Only 

This is shown in the disparity of male-to-female portrayals of autism. Of the 67 listed Film Characters listed as autistic, only 12 are female. Most people think that, due to the mostly male portrayals of autism, especially in more popular film and television shows, that autism is more male. As a matter of fact, there are women I have spoken with online who are still awaiting a paper diagnosis simply because they are female!  

Stereotype: Autism is Rain Man 

Now, Rain Man was a groundbreaking movie in its time. It brought awareness to a little-known diagnosis back in 1988. But we have moved beyond Rain Man. Autism diagnoses are being given out at a proper rate. People do not have to meet all the criteria of autism in order to get a diagnosis…or do they? More on that later. 

Stereotype: Autism is Savant Syndrome 

Now, this might be wishful thinking on the part of the parents, who want their children to be something more than the tragedy that people make difference out to be, but most autistic people I know have no savanthood. As a matter of fact, the most recent television portrayal, Freddie Highmore’s The Good Doctor, had to differentiate between autism and savant syndrome, to literally spell it out and drop a house on the viewing audience. This stereotype is common among the non-official portrayals, as seen in the Progenitors Section. 

Stereotype: Autism is a Lack of Empathy 

How many times do I have to tell people this? Just because they express something differently does not mean they have something more or less!!! Autistic people express themselves quite differently from others. It is a hallmark of the condition. Just because we aren’t born with a capacity to “read between the lines” when someone is talking, does not mean we cannot feel what others feel. If you want us to read between the lines, teach us! 

Stereotype: Autistic People are Cold and Uncaring 

Again, another stereotype that relies heavily on the fact that some things must be taught. If a person must be taught to be warm, why not see and teach them? (In the case of Rick Sanchez, I think he drinks because he cares so much for most members of his family.) This stereotype also goes to the parents, and in my own case, I can tell you it is wrong. My mother is one of the warmest people you will ever meet. She taught me how to be warm and expressive.  

Stereotype: Autistic People Can’t Communicate 

This is a folly on the part of most neurotypical people. Just because we communicate differently, does not mean we aren’t communicating. Far from it. The tugging of the autistic person on your shoulder? Communication. The stimming? Communcation they are uncomfortable. The refusal to go into a certain place? Communication. The crying? Communcation. The meltdown? Communcation. We are communicating; YOU ARE NOT LISTENING. 

Stereotype: Autistic People Are Violent 

This goes back to the meltdown that is imminent when a person is overstimulated. This can easily be avoided by simply asking the autistic person, “Are you okay? Do you need to go somewhere?” Or similar questions. They are simply trying to escape.  

Stereotype: Autistic People are Math Geniuses 

The stereotype that does not ring true with me at all. I am NOT a math genius. I need a calculator for the simplest of math problems. This is one I fell victim to my entire life. I thought I was stupid because I was not a human calculator. This also helped me realize that there are stereotypes in media portayals of autism. 

Stereotype: Autistic People Have Marilu Henner Memories 

Of WHAT, exactly? Just because we remember different things about events and people does not mean we remember everything. If I had a Marilu Henner Memory, I would be able to use it! 

Stereotype: Autistic People Have No Sense of Humor 

This is also something that can be taught. Get off your high horses and do it, people! I learned humor through my family, and I can wield it expertly. 

Stereotype: Autistic People Can Melt Down at the Drop of a Hat 

Again, not true. There are usually signs that the person is about to melt down. Are they stimming? Do they look uncomfortable? Have you asked them if they are okay? As a matter of fact, there is this really radical, out-there method of finding out if autistic person is okay. It goes like this: 

YOU: “Are you okay? Do you need help?” 

Most of us are verbal and will answer truthfully.  

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Now that I’ve hopefully cleared up some misconceptions about autism, are there any more I need to clear up? Tell me.  

Must I Have an Art Studio to Be Depressed? and Other Stereotypes of Depression

A take down of various stereotypes dealing with pop culture’s misgivings about clinical depression, as presented by this Buzzfeed article. 

Now, I try not to talk too much about myself, but sometimes my own personal experience and the portrayals of that experience in pop culture and media can be so unduly, undoubtedly different. These are not all the misgivings and stereotypes in Hollywood Depression, but they are ones I can address easily. For example: “First of all, depression always looks beautiful — beautiful characters crying, staring out windows, taking a listless shower, etc. etc. etc., beautifully.”

Now, let’s get one thing straight: not everything is a wonderful plate of listless ennui fashioned for some invisible camera. Sometimes depression is eating too much, or eating too little. Sometimes, it’s the ugly cry. Sometimes it’s being too depressed to even cry. You ever think about that?

Characters with depression are pretty much always reduced to being ~sad~.”

Have you ever considered that people with depression are not always sad? We are not a single emotion. It’s like a person, on the flip side, with mania. People with mania are not always happy. I often find myself putting out a fake smile, or a genuine smile at times, but I still find myself often angry, often sad, yes, and even often happy. Again, we are not cartoons.

“Most of the time, depression is triggered by Dramatic Plot Elements.”

This was not true with me. Depression, in my case, came upon me slowly, in the night, under cover of darkness. It was slowly and undetected, until it was almost too late. I did not even remember showing signs of depression or major red flags, until my mother came to me after just receiving a call about something I had written. (More about that later.)

And because of that, depression always culminates as a big blowup or breakdown.

No, no huge blowup, no huge breakdown. As a matter of fact, when my depression was discovered, I had barely any feeling left in my body, and although I could not communicate it at the time, I was starting to see things under a cover of hazy gray. No, there was no gigantic yelling and screaming fit.

Or if a character valiantly pretends they’re fine and doesn’t succumb to their depression, the audience is obviously supposed to think they’re strong and brave.

This goes back to the fact that “Strong and Brave” people are uncharacteristically portrayed as not having any feelings. This is a tenet of toxic masculinity, or perhaps of not showing any vulnerability. Perhaps this stereotype is what often leads to suicide

In fact, most of the boring parts of dealing with depression are erased.

Of course, because they’re not either “beautiful” or “dramatic,” but they’re real life. Why don’t you ever show the real side of depression, Hollywood? Try showing not having the energy to lift a hairbrush? Or, just looking in the mirror with barely any energy to open your eyes?

Depression is treated as an alluring or mysterious trait that draws the attention of a love interest.

Oooh, romance! The fix-all for any sadness! That is an insult to anyone and everyone with clinical depression. If romance and/or sex was the cure, the clinics would do that. Besides, this points out an insidious stereotype that depression is rational. Depression is not rational. It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain.

AND THEN THAT LOVE INTEREST ALWAYS ~FIXES~ THE PERSON WITH DEPRESSION.

As above, this is not only wrong, it is insulting. Chester Bennington had the great wife, the great kids, and yet he still took his life. Depression is not rational.

If treatment IS explored, it’s always super easy and straightforward.

Well, often treatment is a long, tedious process. It often goes with trying to find the right medicine, the right therapist, the right clinic. Nobody ever tells you that. Again, depression is not rational.

Speaking of therapists, they’re usually portrayed as pretty useless.

What did talking out and working out the issues ever do for anyone, right? Wrong. Working out and talking out the issues has often averted wars. Why does it not work for people willing to talk, listen and be honest?

When treatment is shown in a positive light, it’s always super linear and FAST.

This is wishful thinking. We always want the quick fix, the easy solution, the fast-working drug. If those worked, we would do that. It is also insulting to those who need more research, more diagnosis, more help.

There aren’t many examples of high-functioning people with depression, rather than people whose depression completely derails their life.

Now, I currently have a “high-functioning” form of depression. You know what I feel about the functioning label, but when people are handling their troubles well, apparently they are not worthy of the Hollywood stereotype. Even people who actually are handling their depression must be derailed and sent back to the mental ward to show the seriousness of the problem.

Pretty much every depressed character is also suicidal at some point.

Now, I may have been suicidal at one point, but I am not suicidal anymore. In fact, when I was getting my diagnosis, I was actually beginning to climb out of the pit of suicidal ideation. I was regretting my decision. Then, a diagnosis was given and I received more help.

More often than not, a character with depression fits a specific stereotype.

I know this particular type. You know, the girl who wears black all the time? In my day, we called them goths; you might call them emo. I must tell you the truth: the goths in my particular high school were actually quite happy people. I thought about going goth for a time, because I bought this stereotype, but as I look back, the people in black actually seemed very pleased. Maybe there’s a thing for being yourself?

Also, take a look at me. I am currently wearing a bright pink dress with yellow, orange and purple patterns on it. I have brown hair that was once blonde, green hazel eyes, somewhat tanned skin (for Kentucky, anyway,) and big curves. I own a rainbow of clothes I rotate regularly. I have a Pomeranian dog, who loves me to death, and a mother who encourages a happy home. What is goth about this particular depression sufferer?

And let’s be real, even with positive representations of depression, more often than not, the characters are white.

Even though I am white, this fact is true: people with depression are not. Trouble is, you kind of have to be white to be noticed by Hollywood. Maybe that’s why most persons of color think mental illness is “white people s***.” This stops a huge number of people from getting the help they need, simply because they think it’s a tool of The Man to keep them at the bottom of the heap.

Medication is treated like this evil, personality-zapping stuff you should avoid at all costs.

Again, not true in my case. As a matter of fact, the medicine I take actually helps me function better. Before I took medicine, I liked Pearl Jam, Green Day and rock music in general. After I started taking medicine, I still liked Pearl Jam, Green Day and rock music in general. My personality has not changed.

And depressed characters are always super creative and artistic.

I certainly WISH! If I was super creative, artistic and talented, don’t you think I would be in a different kind of existence? Like, actually making money instead of living off the government?

For some reason, going through depression always ends in some sort of cheesy life lesson.

If there is one thing about depression, it does not really give you some life lesson. If there is any lesson, it is this: sometimes you have to fight for what you want, whether it’s love, money, or even your life.

And finally, most of this is covered in the span of a Very Special Episode — or, if we’re lucky, a small arc — then forgotten about forever.

Don’t even get me started. Depression is not something to be forgotten about. I am reminded every time I eat breakfast. I have been with my diagnosis for twenty-two years! There is no reason for me to stop working on my health.

All in all, I am utterly disgusted that I have to address mental illness stigma and stereotypes seventeen years into the twenty-first century! When are we ever going to learn?

Get Me Out of This Stinking Cradle! I’m Not a Baby!

As I’ve been roaming around online, I’ve come across a disturbing thing: A person faced what has been called infantilization of autistic people. The commenter got a flat-out accusation of lying because she was not “innocent” and “sweet” like an autistic should be. I wanted to go to this person and ask whether or not she understands that autistic children grow up, but sadly, I can’t. This is a problem among people who think of autistic and other disabled people as children. This usually denies us rights that neurotypical adults enjoy all the time.

Now, what are these rights supposed to be? Well….

THINGS CHILDREN CAN’T DO THAT ADULTS CAN, UNLESS ALLOWED

  1. Make Decisions
  2. Hold Bank Accounts
  3. Have Sex, Even in Marriage
  4. Get Married
  5. Anything Sexual
  6. Have a Relationship outside Parent/Child unless allowed
  7. Control their own finances
  8. Dress themselves
  9. Feed themselves
  10. Have their viewpoints considered
  11. Be listened to
  12. Answer their own questions
  13. Have their own interests, including Special Interests
  14. Vote their own way

…And the list goes on and on.

Now, I don’t say we ought to let those who clearly can’t take care of themselves be loosed upon the world with that responsibility. What I am saying is, teach the children age-appropriate responsibility. And do NOT assume that the person is not “getting” the concept now means they will not get the concept later, or even sooner. What I am also saying is, ask yourself if it is appropriate to the person’s age to handle the responsibility you are trying to teach them. Most of the time, it usually is. Adulting should be taught to autistic people. Adulting, that is, handling adult tasks and responsibilities, is usually appropriate to the autistic adult.

Back to the “innocent” and “sweet” way that autistic adults “should” be, according to the person who thinks they should. What makes you an expert on autism? Why do they have to be children? Don’t you know every child eventually grows up? You don’t think an autistic person can be forty years old? Boy, you are in for a shock. I was born in 1977. Do the math.

I don’t need to tell you how I carry myself as an adult. Besides, you would probably think I am lying when I say I am autistic because I am not some sweet little baby you can put in a cradle and control. Why do I even have to justify my autism to you? You won’t listen, anyway.