Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Zisk, Alyssa Hillary. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Zisk, A. H. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Monday, August 4, 2014

Growing up into an Autistic adult

This is in the Down Wit Dat August 2014 Blog Hop, BTW. The theme is about how disabilities and such are a natural part of life. 

Well, at this point I'm 21, almost 22, so I'm definitely already an adult. I've been working part-time in math education since I was 17, almost 18, and I've done some other kinds of work (research, information technology, physics lab TA.) Also I just read Mel Bagg's What Not Changing Us Means.

When we say we don’t want to change, we’re incorporating all four dimensions in life already. We’re incorporating growth through time into our concept of the thing we don’t want changed. We’re saying “We don’t want to be changed” in the same way that a cat, faced with becoming a dog, would say “I don’t want to be changed.” The cat isn’t denying the important passage from kittenhood to adulthood. The cat is saying I want to grow as a cat, not a dog.
Basically this. (I mean a lot of other things, too, I really do suggest that you read sier post in addition to mine, or even that you read sier post first since a lot of what I'm doing here is responding or building or putting on some of the specifics as it applies to my growing up into an autistic adult, rather than a non-autistic adult.)

But also the responses. A recent New York Times article that I am not going to give the honor of linking because it is terrible (it thinks early intervention leading to a child losing their diagnosis is 1) good, and 2) going to last.)

Basically, it works under the idea that an autistic child growing up into a non-autistic adult is a good thing, which is a social and cultural and otherwise made by non-autistic "experts" assumption about how autistic people should live sort of assumption. It also works under the idea that if you can reach this sort of indistinguishability once, it will last. That's not accurate, BTW. Neurodivergent K talks about that in The tyranny of indistinguishability: performance better than I could, the essential point is that as demands increase the effort needed to emulate them increases and gets even further from autistic needs.

But because autistic development and non-autistic development look different, are moving towards different... slightly closer to stable than in childhood but still always changing adult areas, and because people tend to expect non-autistic development of autistic people rather than admitting cluelessness, there's an idea that we will get less obvious as we grow up when the opposite is more likely to be true.

Back to Mel's words and the cat/dog metaphor for one way that it works:
Quite frequently when they say that they sneak in something about making us into dogs, only they call that part of the growth from kittenhood into adulthood. “Sure, learn about stalking mice and stuff, I’ll give you that, as compromise or something, but hey, wag your tail when you’re happy, not when you’re mad. That’s the right way after all. You can’t deny change. Didn’t I just talk about important skills of the adult dog… er… I mean cat?”
 Don't flap your hands, it's silly/childish. Make eye contact. Use oral speech. Sit still. These are things expected for non-autistic development in the culture of my particular bit of the USA. (Eye contact expectations are hugely variable with culture. Signed languages have a long history, and they have been an acceptable alternative that most people know in quite a few places, for quite a few reasons.)

Because of how widespread those expectations are, I actually did learn to do a lot of that (iffily, badly, actually pretty easy to distinguish from my peers even though I've always, always, even still meet the definition of indistinguishable that Lovaas and co use: placement in a general educational classroom and at least one non-disabled friend, and can we talk about how this definition depends on the person still being a student?)

In growing up into an autistic adult, I've stopped doing some of those things. I've started using the skills that I need for navigating the world as I am, rather than for trying to navigate the world while pretending to be non-autistic. (By Mel's metaphor, I've started switching out "adult dog" skills taught to me as universal "adult" skills for "adult cat" skills that serve my actual needs.)

I carry an AAC device- in my case, either my laptop with eSpeak or my iPad with Proloquo2Text (or just a notepad application when I was in China because I never figured out a Chinese text to speech on the iPad.) I have one of these things and a pen and paper on my person pretty much all the time. A side effect of knowing that I'm covered even if oral speech does give out on me, funnily enough, is that I'm more likely to retain the ability to speak, but that's not actually the purpose of carrying the devices. The reason is that I'm not always able to speak orally, and it's important for me to have a way to be understood even when I can't. My autistic body language, while very communicative for people who understand it, isn't reliable for this because people tend not to understand it. Folks have a tendency not to realize I'm upset or uncomfortable until I've actually melted down, which is too late as far as I'm concerned.

I carry a stim toy, a fidget, whatever you want to call it. It's usually a Tangle, Buckyballs, or a square of satin-bound blanket. Any one of these can take care of my need to be not-still. I've also used knitting and making chain mail for this (the armor kind, not the junk mail kind.) When I'm taking care of my need to be not-still in one of these ways, I'm less likely to pick at my skin, which means my face itches less. That's actually a big enough thing that once I realized the effect was there, it got added to my list of purposes for carrying a stim toy. [As opposed to being more likely to retain speech, which I don't care all that much about.] The original reason was being better able to center myself and also better able to concentrate on whatever I want to concentrate on, which has tended to be school stuff.

I don't dress like most people. I tend to go for either T-shirts and athletic shorts (both out of the mens section) or homemade dresses and skirts. In the case of skirts, the shirt might be homemade too, or it might be a T-shirt. The common factor is comfort- I'm talking about cotton knit dresses, the kind of dress people think of as for kids because adults use more "mature" and not-stretchy fabrics that aren't as comfortable and harder to keep clean. Don't even get me started on stockings. I have refused to wear them for as long as I have been able to enforce this refusal. Actually longer but until I turned 18 I could sometimes be overruled by a parent and that was terrible.

I flap and rock and spin and jump more openly now at 21 than I did at 12. At 12, I was still simultaneously trying to get my weirds read as deliberate and trying to be more typical, more indistinguishable, than is anywhere near sustainable for me to be. At 21, I know that while the "make it look like deliberate weirdness" carries some benefits, it also means people are better able to ask me to change it, which doesn't go well because I really can't. Not sustainably, anyways. I also know that trying to act like a non-autistic adult super-duper not sustainable. That's kind of the reason behind "I really can't" on the changing said weirdnesses.

People tend not to read me as autistic anyways, because autistic... adult? Does not compute. Autistic person with college degree? Does not compute. Autistic person... as the teacher? Computes even less. Autistic person... read as woman? What? That can't be a thing. And yet... here I am. Here we are, I should say, because it's not all that unusual. Fairly sure all those things apply to Neurodivergent K, for one example. Melanie Yeargeau for another. Ibby Grace, too.

But people not attaching the word autistic to the pretty noticeable differences?

1) Doesn't make the differences stop being a thing. I jump, rock, flap, spin, openly stim, etc. I've had at least three broken bones, none of which got diagnosed at the time and one of which was very explicitly a non-diagnosis due to my not acting like I was in enough pain- I went hiking on a broken foot without realizing it was broken. I use language weirdly. I ran a 5k barefoot once. My records are fairly littered with autistic traits that didn't get called that, which means that I had the differences and that they got noticed.

2) Doesn't mean they didn't notice the differences.  R****d was my bullies insult of choice fairly often, and definitely the one they went for when I was jumping and flapping my hands. Crazy and weird were the two "negative" words that anyone had to say about me in high school. One of my college professors commented that I speak in a "unique" way. Chad Stokes (State Radio, Dispatch) still remembers me as the person who ran the 5k barefoot.

3) Definitely doesn't make me somehow not autistic. Seriously, I have no idea how the idea of "If we don't say the word then she doesn't have it" is supposed to work, but something along those lines seems to have been the philosophy that made it take so long for me to get diagnosed. But yeah. In terms of stuff I do in my life, both online and off, I probably do count as that ideal result because I'm in general education classrooms and have friends. The reason I can do those things is that I don't try to act like I'm non-autistic. My classmates and teachers from my year in Tianjin can totally attest to just how obviously autistic I am. So calling "doing stuff as an adult" the same as "not autistic anymore" (in metaphor, calling "adult" the same as "adult dog") makes zero sense. Actually negative sense.

I'm an Autistic adult doing things. Not a magically-not-autistic-anymore adult because I am doing things. Seriously. Should. Not. Be. That. Hard. To. Accept.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully said, Alyssa! I've been spending the past few years untangling myself from the guilt I've felt for never being willing to give in and “be normal” in the ways you described. As a result, I'm *way* more relaxed and self-accepting and so much happier thank I used to be.


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