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

Friday, July 29, 2016

Pride and Resistance

I made words on Autistic Pride Day. That's a thing that happened.

And I got quoted for Autistic Pride Day, by the folks who make one of my AAC apps. Also a thing that happened.

It turns out I have more words to type about pride as resistance, about unreasonable expectations of indistinguishability, than I typed that day. (How do you write like tomorrow won't arrive? How do you write like you need it to survive? How do you write every second you're alive, every second you're alive, every second you're alive?)

Indistinguishability from one's peers is a root of a really, really nasty plant. It's fruits are use of "loss of diagnosis" as the optimal outcome, It's fruits are considering that a person losing their autism diagnosis, but having anxiety and depression, means having beaten autism. It's something that Neurodivergent K has written about far better than I ever could, with the Indistinguishability series.

Indistinguishability connects to the perception of autism as something external to us. I'm still working out exactly how, but I know the connection is there. I think it looks something like this:

  1. If you can behave in a way that appears "less autistic," then you are, in fact, "less autistic." That's the indistinguishability and behaviorism idea. (Note the assumption that more vs less autistic is a sensible concept. Autism is not a single variable that varies linearly.)
  2. If you can choose to be less autistic, then you can also choose to be not autistic, thereby beating autism. (Note the assumption that being less autistic or not autistic at all is better.)
  3. Since it's apparently possible for an autistic person to become less or not autistic, it must be external to who we are. (Note that I don't think autistic people becoming non-autistic is actually a thing. I think faking it can be a thing that often leads to burnout, and that there are some similarities between "converted" lefties and "recovered" autistic people.)

Indistinguishability isn't quite the same thing as neurotypicality, to be clear. When you actually are neurotypical, that's still neurotypicality, but it's not "indistinguishability from one's peers" as written about with autism. Because the expectations get raised when people know a disability is part of the picture (neurotypical kids get to have a bad day, but "indistinguishable" kids will have it taken as evidence that they don't really belong in the mainstream classroom,) feigning neurotypicality is a heck of a lot easier when folks don't know that you're really anything else. That's the comparative safety of being passed off as merely weird... or quirky

But Autistic Pride as resistance isn't about choosing indistinguishability or neurotypicality or "beating" autism. It's about rejecting the idea that any of those things make good goals. It's about, even and especially as we are told that the best thing we can ever be is "normal," deciding that This is Wrong and that the best thing we can ever be is the version of ourselves that doesn't feel the need to hide. It's about asking:

  • Maybe I could stop myself from flapping, but why would I do that?
  • Maybe I could push speech to work more consistently rather than typing when speech is wonky, but why would I spend my time and energy there?
  • Maybe I could fake eye contact, but why would I do that?
  • Maybe I could learn not to jump at the bell, but why would I still my startle?
  • Maybe I could make my language less repetitive (Maybe I could... but why?) but why would I do that? 
And then it's about answering:
  • I won't stop myself from flapping. Flapping is a natural expression, and who I am is not wrong.
  • I won't try to reduce my use of typing. I will type when typing works better, rather than waiting until speech is insufficient. Speech is not superior to other methods of communication, and who I am is not wrong.
  • I won't fake eye contact. Eye(ball) contact is not natural for me, and who I am is not wrong.
  • I won't spend the energy to still my startle. If the bell or the flashing light or whatever else hurts me, people can be aware of this. If it's just a surprise and that's how I react to surprises, that's how I react to surprises, and who I am is not wrong.
  • I won't make my language less repetitive. If I'm going to put in the effort to change how my words work, it needs to be for the sake of making my communication more effective, not for the sake of making it seem more neurotypical. Echolalia, palalia, and patterns are part of my natural language, and who I am is not wrong.
Autistic Pride means resisting not only specific demands for neurotypical-passing (neuronormative) performance, but also resisting the ideas behind those demands. Who we are is not wrong.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Inspiration and Inspiration

Inspiration and Inspiration

I Hate one.
I am not your inspiration simply for existing.
I am not your inspiration because I am able to write and tell
my story that you will reduce to overcoming what wasn't an
obstacle with the help of the real barriers in a way I would
never approve of.
I am not your inspiration.
That is a complete sentence.

I Love-Hate the other.
I am inspired not in the way of a warm fuzzy feeling,
But in the way of words are demanding to be written
Art is demanding to be made,
And I can not eat or sleep or stop or work on my the
homework that is about to be due until this idea has
pushed its way into existence no matter the toll on me.
I harness my inspiration.
It writes my complete sentence.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Dear Neurotypicals: What if you use your words?

If we don't use our words, we won't be indistinguishable. (What's wrong with saying, "use your words"? Many, many things, including the part where it's ignoring communication that you actually did understand because you didn't like how it was phrased. Thanks, Neurodivergent K.)

But it's not just about words, is it? Once we're using words, you want them to be the "nice," polite words that don't challenge your ideas of how the world works. You want them to be your words, not our words. You want them to be in the right tone, which is, again, polite, and definitely not angry or demanding. (Why is it only called demanding when we're demanding to be treated as human, not when you're demanding we do things like make eye contact or stop flapping?) 

And then you want us to understand all sorts of things from your communication that weren't actually conveyed in words. So how about this: USE YOUR WORDS. Not your tone, not your social codes about connotations and extra layers, not your body language. If we don't get to use ours (the different ways of flapping mean things, didn't you know) because you won't understand, or you'll pretend not to, because you want us to use our words, then guess what? You can use your words. 

Your tone of voice is not inherently easier to read than mine. Your body language, with shifts in how you stand, is not inherently easier to read than my flapping. Your facial expressions are not inherently easier to read than mine. Your layers and layers of meaning behind your words conveyed in all those things are not inherently easier to understand than my flapping and grunting, and in fact they are a heck of a lot more complicated than my statements that mean exactly the words I said. 

And yet. You get to tell us to use our words, and this is somehow completely sensible. It doesn't matter that we've got a disability that literally makes it harder for us to use our words. We have to use them anyways, and it's not even our words we're really supposed to be using. We, on the other hand, don't get to give you the same demand: most of you all don't have any disabilities that make language use harder, and those of you who are demanding we use are words are usually doing so in a language you're fluent in too. That doesn't matter. Some huge percentage of your communication is happening through not the words, so have you considered using your words? 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Writing Accidentally Autistic Characters

Instigated by this Tumblr post, particularly the part where iridescent-enby asks what a writer can/should do if they realize they are writing an accidentally autistic character. How do they make the autism explicit without speaking for/over us (do they make it explicit?)

I’m responding as both a writer and an autistic person. Finding out that you were accidentally or unintentionally writing an autistic character is not the same as setting out to intentionally write an autistic character. When you set out to write an autistic character, you probably do research about autism. Hopefully, this research includes things written by actually autistic people, but... I'm well aware this isn't always the case. 

And advice about writing with autistic characters can be found. So can letters to writers about autism, examinations of common narrative methods for "showing" autism, analyses of problems like character development meaning "overcoming" autism or acting "less autistic," and discussions of behaviorizing vs. humanizing approaches to writing about autistic people and characters. I've even thrown my hat in this ring before, with "Who Gets to Stay Autistic?" In retrospect, I think I should have left the comma in the title: Who gets to stay, autistic?

There doesn't seem to be so much about what you do when you realize you're writing an autistic character. Which is kind of funny, because there are so many autistic characters running around who we're never told are autistic, who we recognize because we know ourselves. I definitely recognize characters as autistic while I'm reading. Alanna of Trebond and Olau, later Alanna of Pirate's Swoop and Olau. Annie Cresta, with the added dose of PTSD that literally all the Victors have. Hermione Granger, because if I am just like her, then she is autistic too. Emily, from Questionable Content. Dairine Callahan.

It's not hard to write an autistic character without setting out to do so, because we're people, and you'll see us around in life. We exist, and knowledge about autism is such that you'll often only realize that we're quirky or eccentric, not that we're autistic. Something is different about us, and maybe it's interesting to you as an author, but you don't have the word for it and therefore neither does your now-accidentally-autistic character. 

That doesn't mean you can't find out later. Most likely, you'll find out because all of a sudden autistic people are noticing that they have a lot in common with the character, and maybe we're even telling you about it. Somehow or other, you find this character you wrote is autistic. Now what?

If you realize a character of yours is autistic while you’re still writing things with that character, and they’re in a context where the diagnosis and some level of popular awareness of it exist, you can arrange for it to come up. They could hear that their accommodations request could get approved. (If it's approved, you don't need to devote a plot arc to making this needed accommodation happen FFS, what is the ADA anyways?) They could have a teacher ask, "I thought there was something in your IEP about that?" (The school social worker asked me this when I quit group. I never had an IEP.)  They could show that they've known all along by mentioning it off-hand. ("Not eating that. Autism thing." or "No, everyone is not a little bit autistic! If everyone were a little bit autistic, fluorescent lights [or other sensory issue for the person] would not exist!" if they get into a situation where someone makes the joke about everyone being on the spectrum.) They could show up in a T-shirt that indicates autism. (Shirts of mine which would work for this purpose: Autistic Party Giraffe by Sparrow, Autreats Amazing Annual Adulthood Accalamation from when Autreat still existed -- this one involves some verbal explanation since non-autistic people who went to Autreat as kids and then as adults could have this short as well--, and "I love someone lacking autism" from Tone it Down Taupe.)

They could run into another autistic character who does already know, recognizes them, and says something. (This is perhaps more realistic than you'd think: I have literally been approached by another autistic person and greeted with, “Did you know you’re autistic? Come have lunch with me!” Subtlety: not something we’re usually known for, and autistic people recognizing each other as similar is a thing that happens whether or not we have the word autism. If one has the word and the other doesn’t, this could be how the second gets the word.)

Whether or not it's practical to include a reference to make the characters autism explicit in the actual work, however subtle or obvious, you can respond with Word of Author (aka God.) Don't claim you were intending them to be autistic if you weren't, we generally don't like lies. But! You totally can (and should):
  1. Be noticeably not-insulted by the insinuation you could write (or play) an autistic character. Yes, folks have gotten insulted by the idea that a character they wrote or played or were otherwise involved in was getting read as autistic.
  2. Accept the possibility (probability) that the character is, in fact, autistic. We're pretty good at recognizing our own. 
  3. Be noticeably not-insulted by the idea that fans noticed something about a character you didn't necessarily intend. It's super easy to accidentally write an autistic character if you don't know that the real people they resemble (who you may have borrowed some autistic traits from) are autistic themselves!

Perhaps counter-intuitively, I would suggest that you not immediately go research autism for the purpose of writing the character if it becomes clear you’re writing an accidentally autistic character. If we're reading your character as autistic, that means you are already writing a good autistic character. Reading what supposed experts have to say about us is not going to help you write a better character. It will put stereotypes in your head that you will then need to work to avoid.