Guest Post: Morénike Onaiwu on Why the Autistic PoC Anthology is Important

Today I’ve invited Morénike Onaiwu to write about the importance of the Autism and Race Anthology that Autism Women’s Network is fundraising to put out with Lydia Brown (aka Autistic Hoya.) While I do find the anthology incredibly important myself and could sit here and type up a ton about representation, I feel that it is important to carry the principles that having an anthology about Autistic PoC be written by Autistic PoC exemplifies into how I help promote it. So aside from signal booting about it on my social media, I’m pleased to welcome Morénike to be the first guest post ever on this blog. 


 

A family shot of a woman with two young children sitting piled together on an indoor hammock.

Morénike and her two children.

 

Though I was obviously “born this way,” on paper, I’ve only been “officially” Autistic for under a year. What now seem to me like obvious signs of being on the spectrum were always explained away as “something else.” For adult Autistic women, such experiences are not uncommon. However, I strongly believe that it is not just my gender that contributed to my being “missed” for over three decades. I am certain it is at least partially due to my color as well. You see, I am a black woman – and growing up, autism simply didn’t “look” like me.

My name is Morénike, and I am a board member of the Autism Women’s Network (AWN) as well as an Autistic advocate and parent (of Autistic and non-Autistic children). I’m honored to appear as a guest blogger today to post about a topic that’s very important to me – and that I believe should be important to you. Though I am somewhat of a newbie to Autistic advocacy, my interest and commitment are sincere. But regardless of who I am, this issue is one that I hope you will be willing to lend your support to.

There is a quite a bit more understanding of autism in 2014 than there was in the ’80’s when I was a child. However, one thing that hasn’t changed much is that neither the public “face” not “voice” of autism is reflective of the diversity of Autistic people, whom do not all have the same skin tone as Temple Grandin or the child actor from “Parenthood.” Autistics of all hues are working to increase the solidarity of various groups within our community and to amplify the voices of those of us who are less represented, so things are gradually improving. But change takes time. In the large, multicultural city where I live, I can still easily pick my two Autistic children out in a crowd when we attend local autism events; clearly there’s still much more to be done.

Fortunately, an exciting Autism Women’s Network (AWN) project is underway that will highlight the voices of Autistic people of color. Edited by another AWN board member, Lydia Brown (a talented Autistic writer and blogger), the project – an Autism and Race Anthology – will fill a much-needed void and will help to make the discourse surrounding autism more inclusive of racialized individuals. I cannot emphasize enough how significant this project is. However, to make this anthology a reality, we need help!!! YOUR help. Here’s how you can make this anthology a reality:

  • Signal boost this project. Tweet about it! Post about it on your blogs, on tumblr, on Facebook, on other social media venues. We need to spread the word far and wide.
  • Donate. A little money can go a long way. AWN is committed to making the anthology accessible, so it will need to be created in various types of media formats. To do this, funds are required. Only about a third of the money that is needed has been raised. We really need more! Please donate, and also share widely to encourage those that you know to also help with a donation!
  • Submit! We heavily encourage any person of color who identifies as Autistic to contribute to the anthology. Submissions are being accepted from now through the month of November, and acceptable formats include poetry, narrative, and more.

Please visit the link below to get more detailed information about the anthology and how you can help. Thank you!

Donate via the Autism and Race IndieGoGo.

Check out the submission guidelines for the anthology and consider submitting.

Initial Thoughts on John Scalzi’s “Lock In” (Spoilers)

I just finished John Scalzi’s Lock In, and I have an array of thoughts. I’ve decided to post it here instead of my (poor, under used) book tumblr for two reasons: 1) it is a very disability centric work and 2) a lot of my reflections on it are not just disability centric, but also neurodiversity related. NOTE: There will be spoilers in this post. If you wish to avoid spoilers, skip the read more/reading past the warning.

I really enjoy Scalzi’s work generally. It’s far from perfect, of course, but generally speaking he tries pretty hard to do good. In the past he’s done things like announce that he will not make appearances at fan conventions that do not have a strong anti-harassment policy, signal boosted and backed up via giving them guest posts on his popular blog when friends have reported sexual harassment, and talks bluntly about discrimination. Sure, he has flaws both structural and personal, but he has grown greatly over the years.

His writing is also, in the general rather than disability sense, pretty accessible on a whole for his genre. I have Audio books of his Old Man’s War universe of books, and Old Man’s War in particular is one of those books that I’d rec to someone who isn’t super familiar with but willing to get into reading Science Fiction. (Trust me when I say that Science Fiction is a genre with a LOT of not terribly accessible writing.)

the Cover of John Scalzi's "Lock In" featuring plastic figurines of people. most are a pale white color. but a few are bright red. The author's name and title are in the center.

Cover Image via John Scalzi and TOR

The basic premise involves a bit of background, and summarizing it here is going to make it sound more complicated than it feels in the novel. In the universe of Lock In, a flu like epidemic strikes. At first it sees like any epidemic flu- high mortality rate, sure, but normal- until the second stage sets in: meningitis. And not just any meningitis- this one will put you in a coma and a certain percentage will wake up with their brain re-wired. Sometimes it’s minor, but for a decent chunk of the population they wake up to a form of Lock In Syndrome- their brains have changed so much that even though they are awake and conscious, they no longer have control of their bodies.  Other survivors of the second stage of the illness, those with less extensive brain changes, have the ability via technological enhancement to allow the consciousness of those who are locked in to “borrow” their bodies. They are called Integrators.

After FLOTUS  Haden contracts the locked in form, a ton of legislative dollars got dumped into a fund that would cover both care and treatment as well as quality of living research areas and the illness is named “Haden’s” after her last name. Neural nets are developed to  allow those locked in access to a digital world. At some point an engineer develops robots (Threeps) that can be “ridden” by those locked in, and they are once again able to access the outside world.

The book takes place 20 years later. While there’s some bigotry towards Hadens, there has been a lot of pretty darn effective accommodations via the epic assistive device of the Threeps. Thanks to that, Hadens can do just about any job anyone able bodied could do- and some that they cannot. Additionally, the digital world of the Agora has allowed for the development of a Haden’s culture of its own, complete with identity-first language usage, and some younger folks end up rarely using a Threep preferring the online world and jobs that they are able to do from there. (In this universe, I’d be able to continue my social media contracting work even if I were a Haden.)  Unfortunately, this also means that there are fiscal conservatives who want to cut nearly all money for Haden’s research, support, and development- and they do nearly just that. As the book starts there is about a week until the defunding legislation (The Abrams-Kettering Act) goes into effect.

Into this setting we follow Chris Shane, a new FBI agent- who happens to also be a PoC Haden- as his first week on the job kicks off with what looks like a murder. His new partner, Leslie Vann, is a former integrator and together they work in a special department that handles cases involving Hadens and Integrators. (For procedural purposes, any crime involving a Hadens or an on duty Integrator are considered inter-state, since the body of a Hadens could be anywhere while the Threep comits/is involved in crime. Ditto for an on duty Integrator.) The murder ends up becoming something much more, and we are treated to a pretty good tale that is something between corporate and procedural thriller. In the end I really really enjoyed it, but for me personally I had a hard time with some aspects up until the final few chapters. However, I will say that I already want to read it again just in the time that it’s taking me to write this post. I hope that Scalzi writes more in this universe, if only a short story set immediately afterwards- I want to know what was being said in those speeches!

You can read the first five chapters of Lock In on TOR’s Website. You can read a long short story that goes into details about the background in an interview narrative style on TOR’s website. It is called “Unlocked” and stylistically reminded me of the book World War Z. You can of course purchase it on Amazon, but please consider purchasing from a local book dealer or independent retailer- see details at the very end of the post. 

From here out there are spoilers, read at your own risk. Continue reading

Perils of (Buy?+) Copy+Paste

I have noticed something a little disturbing. Well, perhaps not terribly unusual- may actually be a standard in the world of publicists for all I know- but still disconcerting. What is this? The copying of another person’s article or release as framing for your own work.

I’m not talking necessarily plagiarism- oftentimes, the original writer is cited someplace, in a terribly unobtrusive way. Sometimes, the story was paid for from a news service.  Certainly not Plagiarism. And in the general population, it would be nothing.

But what I’m talking about isn’t just in the general public, general sphere. It’s used by the people who are supposed to be our defenders- without checking that the article or release’s approach is appropriate. It’s one thing to link to an article that has appeared elsewhere. I’ve done it, even when the article in question irritated me. But to run it under your letterhead, or to purchase it for distribution, is something else entirely.

Let me use an example that came through my inbox today:

I got a forward that was originally distributed by the people Organizing the Reinventing Quality Conference in Baltimore, Md this week. I was a bit upset by the approach that the article in the email used, so I started to check them out. From their website, they looked interesting. Lots of talking up about bringing in community living, self advocates, etc. (I’d love to hear from anyone who is better familiar with them and their reputation among self advocates; savannah@autismwomensnetwork.org)

But talking up isn’t unusual even in organizations that aren’t so supportive. It is a tough lesson to learn- one that might make an advocate, particularly one that has ASD related issues, bitter. But many organizations assume token language usage, alongside the more obvious issue of token representation. Not being sure what to think, I plugged the Lede into google.

I discovered a couple of things. It turned out to have been originally written for the Raleigh News & Observer. As a general news  source, the treatment in the article was typical, though frustrating. And it isn’t unheard of for companies the size of their owner, McClatchy, to sell distribution rights (McClatchy-Tribune).  All perfectly normal in the industry.

What bothers me is how many groups- and the sort of groups- have reprinted the article as is. Some do so in a way that clearly shows- albeit at the end of the article- that it was retrieved from a distributor, like Behavioral Health Central. NAMI- for all the issues I have with them- doesn’t even host the full article, and instead links the reader to the News-Observer’s site to read the full article. All of these have various levels of appropriateness in distributing this article. As much as it personally pains me, NAMI’s approach was the most appropriate.

But back to the email I received. This is how it started (where a byline might be):

Image shows the email, with the logo of a non-profit, followed by edit dates, the title of the article, the lede (with Raleigh in caps at the start) and no byline in the normal position

And here’s the bottom (where the full information is given on Behavioral Health Central):

Bottom of the email, with the last line of the article, followed by a name, a phone number, than an edited date and links to two PDFs, followed by the email client's buttons for "reply", "reply all", and "forward"

Someone who is familiar with journalism or publicity might think to google the lede. But my guess is that the majority of readers won’t- maybe their background is in social work, or maybe they are parents. I know the org that forwarded this to me has a primary family base.  To these “average” people, the language would appear to be authorized by the distributing organization.

My opinions on the article itself can be found in my last post. I disliked the perspective. But when a non-profit or other organization promotes an article- especially with such limited sourcing- counter to the interests of the population they claim to serve, there is an ethical problem.

Now, that was just one example- one that was specifically centered on a journalistic article that was distributed without proper sourcing.

But the problem is vaster than that. I have seen publicists copy over releases from government agencies to give context to the information their client is trying to get out. While giving context is an important step, that context needs to be in the language and perspective consistent with the organization you are representing. It is both lazy and unethical to refrain from copy editing the entirety of what you put out there to be consistent. And if a publicist were to submit something this way to a professor in college, they would most likely receive a reprimand.

I have a proposition. Why don’t we all take a moment to find some standards as to what we do and don’t put out there. Here are my suggestions:

1) When distributing an article, source clearly. Don’t cut out the original distributor. Use bylines in their customary place. I would even prefer that the sourcing be put in the by line. EX: “Michael Biesecker for the Raleigh News Observer.” But even putting the sourcing clearly at the end (EX: “Originally published in the Raleigh News Observer”) is at least consistent with Journalistic standards.

2) Use language consistent with the organizations/people we represent. While there does need to be a recognition of the language and views of the public, that doesn’t make it okay to use language inconsistent- or even opposed- to the organization or people. Instead, use it as a chance to promote their language and views, even if only subtly.

3) If creating context, don’t simply copy and paste someone else’s release for it. First of all, it’s lazy and bad work. Secondly, it limits your ability to promote who or what you you are supposed to. And occasionally, it might promote things that are *unwanted* instead.

Transgression and Inclusion

I was just at NYLN‘s Reap What You Sow Institute last weekend. It was amazing- I’d like to talk about that more at some other point. What I’d like to bring up instead is the Sins Invalid performance.

Sins Invalid is a performance group focusing on disability and sexuality, with a centering on People of color and queer artists. We had Leroy, Maria, and Antoine live- One of Antoine’s performances is available on Youtube, if you care to watch.  As for samples of Maria and Leroy’s works, Maria’s My Vagina Manifesto and Leroy’s Man to Man Talk.

The performance last saturday was amazing. But more than that, it was thought provoking- in a way transgressive as much effective art is. I was very moved, and did end up typing something up (couldn’t express and speak at the same time) and showing Maria and Leroy at different points later in the evening. It was in essence this:

Society does not make a space to see us, and no one has told us to make a parting in that fabric to emerge alive and proud in our community. I am made sad by the thought- the thought that so much beauty is denied because there has been no one to say “Come Come come forward and up. We are all community.” That inclusion and acceptance is so *transgressive*.

I think that to think- really think- about this is something challenging, but also transformative. Then, I think that that is kinda the point of transgressive art- to provoke a transformation of thought that might nto otherwise happen, or at least won’t happen so soon.

So think: What is it that makes inclusion and acceptance so transgressive? What is it that offends so much that we are made invisible, unseen in our local communities? Why?

And How can we make a transformation in our world- to create an artistic venture, if you will- that takes us from a transgression to fact?

News and Numbers

First, some Personal News: I’m the new Assistant Director for AWA-Pa Alongside the wonderful AspieTeach, our Director for PA. Please check out the site and let me or her know If you have news or resources for women on spectrum in PA!

Also in the Positive, The Rethinking Autism “Autistics Speak” video (My post is here) Is getting a lot of response. My biological father and I talked today, And he’s been showing it to people at work, friends, and Even his Therapist. They even used it as a way to prompt discussion is session.

In a broader sense, Rethinking Autism has been getting some community Media Exposire. AWA Radio had Dana on, and she’s scheduled for Mad as A Hatter (air date might vary, V’s been ill). If you have a media outlit, please consider asking Dana on! I’ve had several people tell me they’d love to see Rethinking Autism’s latest video have a broader Audience, and I know Dana would love that as well! After all, our message is meant for everyone, not just the Autistic community.

And now, Numbers games:

a couple of articles are out about statistics in the Autism Community. One news Study claims we are at 1 in 91 US kids on the spectrum. This, of course, is including the entire spectrum. What is interesting about these new studies is that previously, we had claimed to have a lower prevalence (1 in 150) than other countries (UK claims 1 in 100).

Another Study Claims the numbers are at 1 in 110 and which has been covered by Left Brain/Right Brain. It should be noted that this was based on parent reports of behavior received via Phone surveys- not the most scientific way of collecting data. It’s imprecise, but it certainly gives us a lot of leads for future studies that will hopefully involve more reliable data collection. Also, some of the parents claimed that their children are no longer on spectrum, which raises further questions. I reccomend the above linked article for a good analysis of this study. (USA Today also covered this story.)

Speaking of all these numbers, left Brain/Right Brain have a good question- Do We Need an Epidemic for People to Take Autism Seriously? This post is a well written and detailed look at the numbers and epidemic centered tactics used by various groups, and comes away with an answer- No, and Epidemic language might even defeat the purpose. Definitely recommend this one.