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.

Show More Little Persons of Color!

Just a little thing to grind my gears a bit….

Well, “The Little Couple” is on TLC right now. (Should it now be called “The Little Family” because they have two kids? I don’t know.) I like the show a lot, since it follows a couple that’s pretty typical. She’s a doctor, he’s an entrepreneur. The thing is, they’re Little People. Sure, they have needs and whatnot due to their being of short stature, but it is just a part of them. Being Little People does not take over their lives. Maybe that’s why I like it so much. I also noticed they’re white and generally upper class. It would not bother me so much, except that I do not see a lot of Little People of different races or classes a lot on TV. I mean, it would be ridiculous to say that Little People of Color don’t exist. The TV family’s son is Chinese, and their daughter came from India, so of course people of color are being secretly represented.

But this is often not the case.

The only other time I saw a Little Person of Color was on Cops. He appeared in two segments – one ending with his arrest, and the other ending with a job offer from a nearby nightclub that employed Little People. (The segments took place in Las Vegas.) I wonder if, being white or upper class, would the guy from Cops have had a better shot, and not needed a job offer from the nightclub? He might have been a doctor or entrepreneur. Perhaps this intersection of race and limb size has increased his suffering and decreased his chances.

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.

My Relationship with the Mask

Masking autism is nothing new to me. There is a public persona, and there is a private persona.  

It’s not to say that nobody wears a mask at some point. I believe everyone wears a mask to hide their pain. The autistic person’s mask, on the other hand, is much more encouraged to be put on because their private persona is literally vilified. They are taught that their private, and therefore true, persona is a weirdo, a freak, and has no place in this world. 

I’m no stranger to this treatment. Even my sweet nephew called me a freak in anger at one time. People throughout my school years taunted me, teased me, mocked me, and finally excluded me. Even people I thought were my friends. In truth, I spent the last day of school walking home. Alone.  

This is why I developed a mask…too late for high school, though. A mask worthy of the so-called compliment “But you don’t look autistic!” A mask made of body fat, smiles and social graces which has caused people not to think I am autistic. Finally, I was accepted, but not happy. I was polite; but I was not real.  

The mask has saved me from countless taunting and exclusion from my peers, for the most part. It has made me a few friends. Until my late thirties my mask was worn firmly on my face, to the point that I did not know where I ended and the mask began. It was as if my mask had taken over and become my skin. 

But the mask has worn out its welcome. It has gotten some sort of sand or gravel behind it and is hurting my face.  

So, by starting this blog, and healing through therapy and support, I have slowly peeled the mask off, along with some layers of dead skin, to heal and develop the thick skin I was supposed to have years ago. I need to get real. I need to heal.  

I am now working on integrating the public and private personae. I have not arrived at the point where I can take the mask of fully yet, but I am getting there. One day, I’ll finally be able to be myself, fully. I will not need a mask anymore.