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

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Can't" is Actually Important

All these thoughts were brought up again in the context of sports, because one of the coaches for my ultimate team said that we weren't ever supposed to say "I can't," at practice. I'm fairly sure that was supposed to be empowering, and I'm just as sure that for me (and probably for a whole lot of other disabled people) it's actually terrifying. Thankfully, I was able to explain to the coach and have her understand why no, I really do need that sentence in my vocabulary, and I need it taken seriously when I use it. Bad things happen otherwise.

Part the first: What I find easy vs. hard vs. impossible doesn't line up very well with what most people find easy vs. hard vs. impossible.

This is the part where "differently abled" is a technically accurate description of my abilities, and the existence of societal factors putting values and expectations on certain abilities is why I still refuse to call myself differently abled. I wrote a post about that a while back.

However, this is mostly the part where the failure of my easy, hard, and impossible to line up with that of anyone else means that my abilities are apparently incomprehensible to a significant portion of the world. The idea that I can do calculus but not organize my own locker (not actually related skills in any way, shape, or form) or that I can be decent at Ultimate but not able to jump such that my feet leave the ground together and land together (therefore not actually a prerequisite skill, but I can at least understand why people assume so) is apparently incomprehensible.

This means that when I say I can do one thing, but not another, people are too busy being confused to accept this, and cognitive dissonance leads to my can't getting ignored.

Part the second: What I find easy vs. hard vs. impossible doesn't even always line up with what I find easy vs. hard vs. impossible.

That is, my abilities vary over time, and hugely so. Speech is the big example here, that on my best day I can win a face to face debate in class without preparation by explaining why my opponents evidence actually supports the position I was assigned, and then there are also times when I can not speak at all. There's also a huge amount of middle ground, where I spend most of my time. That middle ground includes things like how much I can say that's not scripted, how quickly I can get words from my head to my mouth, how obvious it is that my prosody is weird, and whether or not I can initiate a conversation.

The way my abilities get prioritized also doesn't match with that of most people, so the way my ability variation happens can confuse people. For most of my classmates, the ability to concentrate on graph theory homework or measure theory assignments would go long before speech did. For me, I have repeated evidence that speech goes long before my ability to pay attention in class, write papers, or do homework does.

Part the third: Not recognizing "I can't" is used to deny access needs.

This one is common. A person has an access need. I have an access need. We all have them, but sometimes when they're statistically less common, the fact that it is a need is ignored. No, I can't depend on always being able to speak. That's why I carry pen and paper, and that's why I carry the iPad. No, I can't tell people apart by their faces. That's why it takes me so much longer to learn people's names. No, I can't organize my own locker or desk or room independently. That's why I need help organizing my space. No, I can't consistently remember to eat three meals a day without reminders. That's why I need some sort of reminder system.

For some of these "can't"s the access need is that I have a work-around and just need people to get out of the way while I use it. However, when the people or institutions around me refuse to recognize the "I can't" as legitimate, either because can't is generally not accepted (hi, sports coach who had no clue what kind of disability issues sat around the issue of "can't") or because the specific inability is one that I'm not allowed to have for some reason.

Part the fourth: Deciding that a "can't" is actually a "won't" leads to very ineffective and very scary discipline.

When I was in school, some of my teachers recognized that I actually couldn't independently keep my locker organized and not full of piles of papers. So, once in a while, they'd pull the trash and recycling bins from their classrooms after school, sit down with me next to my locker, and help me deal with the mess. Together, we were able to get my locker back to a semblance of order.

I also had teachers who thought I just didn't care, and if they were smart about choosing the consequences I'd magically get my locker clean. This ranged from sitting me down and telling me I couldn't leave until it was done (ended with my crying in the middle of a pile of my stuff in the hall until one of the teachers who had figured out it was a couldn't found me) to having my enrollment in an appropriate math class held hostage to my "getting organized." That one ended when my eighth grade teacher finally realized that this clearly wasn't working, and that this was not an acceptable consequence to use anyways. It turned out that there actually was no appropriate class to enroll me in at the middle school, so they gave me an independent study that year. The idea was that I'd use the independent study to learn what was left of geometry and to do whatever math-related things caught my interest, and that I'd test out of ninth grade geometry when I got to the high school, taking Algebra II with the tenth graders instead. I actually tested out of two years of math and took Precalculus with the eleventh graders -- even when they realized that an appropriate math class meant grade-skipping me, they underestimated how far ahead I really was.

And remember, this is me getting off easy. No one hit me. No one tried to prevent me from accessing the mainstream curriculum (the mainstream just happened not to be appropriate for me in one subject.) No one decided I wasn't really ready to be a legal adult. I was "only" left to cry it out and I "only" had the stuff I could do held hostage to the stuff I couldn't do.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Back to School

I'm now a (partial) week into the fall semester, taking three classes, teaching one, playing Ultimate, and applying to doctorate programs. Since I'm wanting to combine disability studies (already an interdisciplinary field, though mostly humanities) with engineering, finding one department I can apply to is tricky. I expect finding an adviser is also going to be tricky, for similar reasons (I have some ideas of who I might like to work with, but they tend to be in departments I can't realistically get into, so even if I'm working with them, they're unlikely to be my on-paper adviser...)

Still, this is probably the lightest workload I've ever had for a semester. I have Monday and Wednesday mornings off, and Ultimate practice is literally my only Friday obligation most weeks. That means I can actually wear my disability scholar hat during the semester, which I wasn't able to do last year, and it means that I have time to have things go in unexpected directions without everything falling apart in new and interesting ways.

As far as teaching goes, I have one section of basic algebra and trigonometry. It's a different class from last semester, so I need to do new lesson plans, and I'm teaching Tuesdays and Thursdays rather than Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, which means longer classes but fewer of them per week. So far we've met once, and I've gotten the online math homework set up for the first chapter. I also had trouble getting the door open for the first day of class because we meet in the building with weird doors that have twisty handles that then don't actually twist even when the door is unlocked. It's also literally across the street from my dorm so I have the shortest walk of anyone to go to class, which is convenient.

On the student side, I'm taking measure theory, which has something to do with Lebesque integration and integrating badly discontinuous functions. It's also got something to do with ideas of size for weird sets that don't really have length, like apparently the Cantor middle-third set is uncountably infinite but also has measure zero. That is weird to me. That one was originally going to be Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for 50 minutes each meeting but is instead going to be 75 minute meetings on Mondays and Wednesdays. I'm happy because that means I will get to slightly more of Ultimate practice this week when I can start walking before practice starts instead of from class an hour into practice.

I'm also taking a graduate level probability class that will use some measure theory things -- I think most of my classmates for that class have either already taken measure theory or are in measure theory with me now. I've taken probability classes before that involve calculus, even multi-variable calculus, but they were a while ago (Fall 2010,) comparatively light on the proofs, and different from measure theory, so I suspect I'll be learning a lot in this class. It's a Tuesday and Thursday class, and I generally have something else going on about half an hour after this class so I have a break but am not done for the day.

The last class I'm taking is programming for scientists. I've got more of a computer science background than is strictly expected for this class, but I also don't have enough to reasonably go into anything that has programming ability as a prerequisite, so this should be a comparatively easier class. It meets once a week, on Tuesdays.

Programming is not the class I was originally planning to take as my third, though. I was planning to take multicultural psychology, but I've heard that the teacher for the section of that class I'd signed up for is not great about anyone who is "different," and that there have been issues in the past. I was tempted to take the class anyways and be the pain in her ass who makes her deal with accommodations, but I did that at Tianjin Normal University all of the '13-'14 academic year and I don't particularly want to do that again this semester while also applying to graduate programs. I might be willing to get into fights over basic and important stuff like my being able to type or write and have a person or computer speak my writing for me when I need to, but I can't actually deal with everything ever at once so someone else can have that battle if they want it.

I turned in my submission for the Spoon Knife Anthology from Autonomous Press, claimed a pinch hitting assignment for the Autistic Exchange, and I'm trying to edit a paper of mine for a journal submission but it's kind of scary. I'm also working on a chapter for a book, plus fiction stuff. Maybe I'll even give NaNoWriMo another shot come November, since I have such a light course load and all the writing stuff I have going on is either due by the end of September or doesn't have a specific due date at all.