Autism Thanksgiving Prep Helps Part 1: Early Shopping

I’m no Thanksgiving expert, but I’d like to give an insight into how dealing with Thanksgiving works with our family.  

In our house, Thanksgiving prep begins early, at the beginning of November, or the end of October.  We clear out a space in the freezer for our turkey. We decide what we want on our menu, and get the non-perishable and freezable ingredients, like the turkey, corn and cranberry sauce. Much of our Thanksgiving is bought in this early time, and I myself set it aside. (I’m basically in charge of cooking now, which I can do well. No, the ability to cook a major meal does NOT negate my autism, thank you. Neural conditions do not work like that.)  

We then, over the coming weeks, buy fresh ingredients as the holiday gets closer. We have just today bought our rich half and half for the potatoes, and cream cheese for the celery. Hey, it’s my Thanksgiving. We’ll have it ready by the time Thanksgiving rolls around.  

Having a major hand in preparing the dinner helps me to anticipate the Thanksgiving holiday coming up. It consists of traditional dishes (like the celery for us), traditional eating all weekend, and traditional putting up of the Christmas décor.  

I think giving the autistic person responsibilities concerning the Thanksgiving holiday gets them into a mindset that everything will be okay. You may have to serve chicken nuggets just for them, along with having to wait until they’re older for them to eat like you, but usually the eating Thanksgiving meal comes. It may take a while. 

Of course, I learned to eat Thanksgiving food watching others eating. This might help some of us.

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For the Parent(s) of Autistic Children

CONTENT WARNING: Ableism, vaccine blame,  

I know, I know, most parents of autistic children consider Autistic Adults as nothing but clueless, not-autistic-enough morons. Why should you care what us morons known as Autistic Adults have to say? They’re not autistic enough to speak about your child! Truth is, all autistic children becomes us morons.  

  1. Autism is Not Going Away – So accept it. – Your child was autistic the whole time. Perhaps they regressed after a long time of growth and development. Current theory correlates the cause to over pruning of the child’s memory ways at about 18 months to 2 years old. Besides, if you don’t tell them, they will eventually find out themselves. Add a rejection of the autism diagnosis, and you will plant permanent seeds of doubt that they actually love you. It happened to me.  
  2. VACCINES DID NOT CAUSE YOUR CHILD’S AUTISM!!!!! – Unfortunately, now that vaccine-preventable diseases are making a comeback, I have to SCREAM the above point.
  3. Yes, your child is communicating; you’re not listening.  – Children with autism, even though they may not use words, they are trying to communicate. They may communicate physically. They may communicate through song. They may communicate through behavior – most of them communicate through behavior.
  4.  Meltdowns are not tantrums; they are something else altogether. – In case you don’t know: your child does not turn into the Hulk on purpose. It is usually an overwhelming sight, sound, smell, taste or touch that causes that. I’ll give you an example:  From October through December, there are, in some stores, some strongly-scented cinnamon brooms, or cinnamon-scented pine cones, in some area for sale. I once told my mother that these heavily cinnamon-scented articles literally burn my nose. (Yes, I do know what literally means.) I get a burning sensation, and it takes nearly everything in me not to have a meltdown right then and there. If I were a child, the meltdown would probably be inevitable. Sure, I’ve had my meltdowns every now and then, but they can be prevented. Perhaps knowledge they will come has now prevented the more recent cinnamon-related one.
  5.  About ambition: let them have some. You don’t know what potential is inside your child. – There is a common misconception that autistic people have little hope of living on their own, or even outside an institution or family successfully. As a woman, I keep my house clean, do regular chores, and care for my mother, who is disabled. I can cook, pay bills and easily manage a budget. I haven’t yet learned how to drive, but that is coming. I can pretty much do everything else, though. Why am I tooting my own horn so much? Your own autistic child has so much potential to unlock, plus there are coming opportunities I and others before me have never had. Nurture them! 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. My mother is lucky to still have me; there are autistic adults out there who want to ban parents altogether.

Baby Steps in the Right Direction

So, I watched an episode of “God Friended Me.” It involved a woman and her autistic son. I believe the portrayal of the autistic son was realistic, albeit there were several stereotypes I have to point out.  

Let me say, first of all, that I liked the casting of the family. The actors were black. Personally, I do not see enough diversity in the casting of autistic people, especially since people tend to think we all are white males who look and act like Sheldon Cooper. We’re not clones; Hollywood and Television City tends not to see that for the most part. Personally, I want more diversity in autism portrayals.  

So, let’s talk about some stereotypes. The first stereotype I came across was that the child was nonverbal. I know nonverbal autistic types exist. The truth is, most of us are verbal – quite verbal in some cases, but I digress. It’s mostly a stereotype. A second stereotype is that the child has extraordinary talent – a savant trait, if you will. Now, it was not explicitly named, though it was heavily implied. I don’t know how many of us have a real savant trait, but I hear it’s not the majority. Finally, there seemed to be a sort of “magic key” stereotype that also creeps into many portrayals of mental illness as well. Why do they do the “magic key” thing anyway? Most of the time, it does not work. 

Maybe I’m being too hard on stereotypes. The actor was not portraying an autistic meltdown, for example, and the child was finding his own way to communicate, which is often a foray into more traditional avenues of communication, such as the child’s smile.  Maybe having one or two stereotypical behaviors helps identify the character, as long as there is truth to them; the lack of empathy stereotype is wrong and harmful, though. It may be some time before we get a real, authentic portrayal that offends few.  

After saying all this, I still believe “God Friended Me” took steps in the right direction.

About “Refrigerator Mothers” and I Never Had One

A common, albeit extremely ancient, myth is that autism is caused by mothers, known as “refrigerator mothers,” being cold and unaffectionate. Well, that’s not how my mother worked.  

I remember as a child specifically being held and hugged by my mother many times. Often, she would tell me I needed a hug, and would often give me one. I enjoyed them, even though I may have been stiff about them in the past. (Did she know how to explain the proper hug response?) Well, this is one of the many examples of the warm and inviting personality my mother has.  

Other examples include the parties my mother would throw for my siblings and I. They were awesome! For example, I would get a summer sleepover for my birthday. We would get candy and cake and movies…and all the gossip we could handle, though I was often the subject of the gossip. I tried, but could not quite get into the inner circle.  

The thing is, I had no one explain to me the various tenets of social interaction. For example, no one told me that people do not sort the candy by color. So, how do you expect a girl who does not learn by osmosis, the way neurotypical people do, to interact well with people who learn by osmosis? Poorly, of course. It’s like a five-year-old trying to drive a car. They’re going to crash it.  

So that’s the thing that autistic people need. Explanation and education. Maybe if there were social interaction classes, like the old “finishing school” stuff back in the 1950s, without the gender stereotypes and controlling women aspect, I would have had a chance. But even my best friend would bully me and stab me in the back, and I think my autism was to blame, because people hate different. I’m only an autistic human; be gentle.

What’s Funny Now?

CONTENT WARNING: Talk of offensive humor 

I remember, some years ago, I was  at a Christmas party at a former therapist’s house.  She had dioramas of little taxidermized Titmice (small birds) decorating the house. Being the somewhat humorous person I thought I was, I looked at them, and as somebody passed by, remarked, “Nice tits.” She got the joke of course, but if you said that to any woman, or with any bird nowadays, especially in the age of #MeToo, it would not go over well. So, there’s a question I am asking now: 

Was it even funny back then?  

So now, I’m wondering what’s funny now?  

I mean, blonde jokes, those holdouts from the 1990s, are no longer funny. People joking about trans urges are no longer funny. Here’s how that played out: “Family Guy” had characters remark that Bruce Jenner was an “elegant and classy woman.” But now, what is Caitlyn Jenner but an elegant and classy, albeit majorly tone-deaf, woman? Also, there were so many jokes about Donald Trump being president, but guess who is president? Donald Trump. No matter where you are on that issue, we can all agree that offensive humor is broken. Besides, using “retard” or “autistic” ought to garner a swift throat punch from any person who falls under the hate, am I right? 

Maybe you have to earn being the butt of a joke now, and that’s perfectly fine by me.

All the Ways I’m Not Sheldon Cooper

Now, for some Godforsaken reason, when I come out as autistic to some people, they suddenly see this:

4830_sheldon_cooper.jpg

And they will NOT STOP COMPARING.

Since I have to spell it out, point by point, I am going to. All questions will be rendered to Captain Obvious, standing over there.

 

  • “You’re in my spot” – Sure, I have a “spot.” But I’m not entirely going to yell at people for sitting in it.
  • Extreme Arrogance and Self-Superiority – “The Big Bang Theory” seems to equate autism with arrogance. I’m not arrogant. As a matter of fact, I have to be told on a regular basis that my voice and life matter.
  • Reacting in the Worst Way – One of the hallmarks of Sheldon Cooper, and sitcom characters in general, is that they react to criticism in the most dramatic way possible.
  • Empathy – Sheldon Cooper, in this aspect, is a false stereotype. Autistic people have empathy, and the fact that I have to tell you this well into the 21st Century vexes me to no end. In many online tests, and by people in the know, I have been told I am an empath. I may not express my empathy in “reading between the lines,” but I literally take on emotions of others. There is almost no boundary. I often hold back tears when someone else is crying. Anyway, I have also taught myself on such important things as facial expression and sarcasm – while Mr. Cooper sees no need to do the same, even when he really needs to.
  • Sex/Gender – Sheldon Cooper is male. I am female. I and my fellow female autistics have been told by many professionals that we don’t exist. News flash, autism researchers: autistic women and girls exist! Autistic people of color exist, too!
  • Savanthood – Apparently, Sheldon is a savant in physics. I have been told I am one in spelling and grammar. Not everyone is a savant, though. And not everyone is a physics savant.
  • Physics Snob – Now, Sheldon is a physics snob. He looks down on other forms of science. I do not.
  • Executive Function: Cooking – Can you imagine the high amount of money the group in general spend on takeout? I can cook, and pretty well, too. Sure, I have the occasional takeout, but I can fix quite a few meals, too. Even from scratch.
  • Changes – I can deal with changes in relationships, hairstyles and even food, among other things. Sheldon cannot.
  • Bathroom Schedule – I go when I need to. Sheldon needs a schedule.
  • Diagnosis – I am officially diagnosed autistic (on paper). Sheldon is not diagnosed. At all.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. So stop comparing me to him.

How to Choose a Church if Autistic

CONTENT WARNING: Religion, Stigma, “Vaccine Blame” talk 

Many autistic people long for connection with things bigger than themselves. Worship tends to help those who believe in entities such as God.  

I’m going to present Christian examples, simply because that is what I know. Feel free to add your own tips and religious experiences.  

As always, correct me if I’m wrong.  

  1. Openness to Acceptance: Now, this is a hard one to start with, but there must be an acceptance of different kinds of people in the church. In Christianity’s core, Jesus’ mission (and Christians’ by choice of religion) is to “seek and save the lost.” By default, that means you ought to go looking to bring as many people, and as many different people, as you (and God with you) can. That includes the autistic.
  2. Education: Sometimes, a church and its parishioners can be turned toward acceptance by education. I know it’s hard, but educating people about the range and spectrum of autism may be necessary in the course of worship. 
  3. Vaccine Acceptance, Not Blame: Vaccines do not cause autism. End of story. And if they do not accept vaccines for any reason, then walk away. You will be exposing you and yours to debilitating, often deadly and preventable illnesses. 
  4. No Stigma/Shame: A common belief, especially in more legalistic places of worship, is that autism and mental illness are symptoms of moral failing, and that they must be corrected. In Christianity, this is a common theme among religious leaders, that God must be punishing a person with illness and disability. They are often wrong, since there are usually genetic components to these conditions.
  5. Acceptance/Encouragement of Healthy Practices: I once got encouragement from a fellow parishioner to take my required medicines to keep me healthy at church. This is actually good and proper. Medicines are often part of God’s plan to help with illnesses, disabilities and conditions, physical and mental. But, I digress. The point is, stay at a church that encourages good health practices in love.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Feel free to add more.