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.

Advertisements

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.  

Kroger April Early Shock

Well, Kroger has decided to get their Autism Awareness out early this year. That was a shock. I know I was expecting it, but something inside me this year has decided to raise anxiety. I mean, stuttering has come out of me this year, too. I don’t like it. 

It’s not quite full-blown yet, but it’s starting up fast. Today I saw two women wearing the Kroger Autism Awareness Shirt – light blue with a “ribbon” made up of primary color puzzle pieces. They haven’t pulled out an infographic station yet, though. As I have said recently, you know how I feel about the puzzle piece. Anyway, the start has hit me hard this year.  

Maybe I ought to ask how those who wear the Autism Awareness Shirt are connected to it. If it means an autistic relative, maybe I can give a few tips on how to help. Who knows?  

I think I need to go self-care a bit right now.  

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?  

Learning to Adapt

I saw a rerun of “America’s Got Talent.” On the show, a deaf woman sang her own original song, with her own original, beautiful voice, and with her own way of feeling out the notes and vibrations; she had her shoes off to feel them through the floor. I thought that bit was amazing. It got me thinking: I know what we do when we have a perceived disability: We adapt. We adapt to get through the world not made for us.

For some of us, the learning process is easy, especially when the person is supported and accepted as they are, without shame or blame. Unfortunately, the vast majority of us have a hard, trouble-ridden process of adapting. I used to speak stiffly and with echolalia well into adulthood, especially since I was not taught how to mimic good speech properly, in the right environment. I know that through childhood and early adulthood, I have been bullied, made fun of, tricked into compromising pranks, and even mocked by adults supposedly watching out for my best interests. However, I later found these adults who looked out for me in a group “program” setting. It was there that I finally felt like I was in the “inner circle” I longed to be in. I finally, in my thirties, found the way to speak with a natural flow and rhythm.That group therapy has been discarded through budget cuts now, but it was the first time I actually felt like I fit in somewhere. It was a new feeling to me; I did not know what to with it at first. The point of the story is, in the best environment, where I am supported and encouraged, I learned an essential skill.

A lot of people with autism do not receive this essential support at all, or not until late adulthood. I guess I am one of the lucky ones. I would like to get some tips on how to create that particular environment online, where I apparently have a tiny sphere of influence. I want to create a space where people can easily be themselves and supported, without blame or shame. I want to create a space where we can learn to adapt and practice adaptation safely. Anyone want to help?

On the Road to Being a Real Woman 

I’m not going to lecture you on what constitutes a real woman or a real man. What I’m going to do instead is share with you a realization about what being a woman is, as opposed to being a little girl, in a new aspect. Now, I’ve been critical of the general societal perception that thin is in. I’ve even gone so far as to call the skinny girls of the world “broomsticks” out of sheer jealousy. But this morning, something inside of me changed. It’s not my attitude toward thin is in. It’s my attitude toward the girls and women who fit this particular image. I’m not hateful towards them anymore. I have no reason to tear the thin ones down, simply because they are thin. It’s not their fault they’re thin and therefore beautiful by society’s standards. Just because they were born lucky, doesn’t mean they stay that way.

There is no need to tear a person down, because they’re perceived as having more value than you. It must be hard for them, too, because of this perception that you have to compete.

I’ll admit it. I’m fat. I can’t compete. But knowing this frees me to find the inherent value I have inside myself. There is a purpose to my existence. If there was not, I would not be alive. Believe me, those who love me have fought to keep me on this planet, even though I have had a strong desire to leave at times in my life. Yes, I have had to fight my own desire for suicide. But I have won. To paraphrase Alice Walker, I may be poor, I may be fat, I may be ugly, but I am here.

I’ve also learned that I can get a man on my own, without having to compete with anyone. A real man won’t make you compete. Boys want women to feel insecure, to compete and focus on them, as if the woman is his mother. Boys need mothers. Men need women. Which brings me back to the real woman.

A real woman is not that hard to spot. She is the one who builds women up, not tear them down. She can stand on her own without a man. She can want and desire a partner, but she does not need one. A real woman works on her healing. Trust me, the world wants you to be a girl, because girls are controllable. That’s why the world works to break you as a girl, to freeze you – keep you as a girl. Girls wallow in their hurt. You can see this in earlier posts.  Trust me, I have not quite made it to being the real woman. But I have taken a step toward it.

The Cold Within, by James Patrick Kinney – A 1960s Poem For Our Time

Read this poem, take it in. This is the political problem for our time – cold, hard hearts ON ALL SIDES.

*****

The Cold Within  – by James Patrick Kinney

Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told.

Their dying fire in need of logs
The first man held his back
For of the faces round the fire
He noticed one was black.

The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes.
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy shiftless poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.

Their logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.[1]

*****

I’m not asking you to change political beliefs. I’m asking you to open your heart.

America needs a hero.