I have things I want to do, want to write about. I wanted to write about disability voting for Persephone Magazine (I contribute occasionally, though lately it’s mainly been food posts). I’ve had a number of things I intended to write about for here. But every time I’ve tried to sit down to write something prompted by myself, I’ve ended up staring at the writing field blankly.
I’m frustrated with myself. A part of me spends time berating myself, reminding me that I can and do write fairly well some times so I ought to be able to churn something serviceable out when I want or need to. It’s more than writer’s block- I get that too sometimes. I have all the ideas there, but the brain fog has been interfering with my ability to put them into the text box coherently.
I know where the fog comes from- it’s my fibro and arthritis pain mixing with my neurology. But I also know where the frustration and the self doubt comes from too. I’m not the only one struggling with that one.
I’ve had friends who have told me things about their struggling. Some do have brain fog, but a number of them don’t. Some have had disabilities their whole lives, some have had them without words for them, and some who gained disabilities later on and their lives. Many have very different tasks that they struggle with. Some of them struggle more with tasks I also struggle with. A number of them struggle mainly because the things they need to succeed aren’t met or are met hostilely.
See, it’s the hostility that makes a lot of it all worse. A hostility to the idea of alternative needs in order to accomplish things. Hostility to the idea that one experience of a situation is not going to be the same for each person. And this hostility breeds some dangerous, some might say poisonous, memes in our culture.
I think I’ve talked about memes before, not in the internet sense but in the anthropological and sociological sense. They are basically a unit of culture. An idea, an image, archetypes- these are memes, elements that make up culture and society. We live in one which perpetuates hostility towards people with disabilities. And a lot of the memes that make up that hostility are ones that we find ourselves repeating when we are frustrated.
That our needs aren’t real. That we are actually just not trying hard enough. That we are actually just bad people, or lazy people, or selfish people. None of these are true, but they are memes in our society that we have for people.
There’s lots of things that perpetuate it. Some of it is direct- people actually saying these things. Some of it is a consequence- someone using these views to “legitimize” denial of access. And some of it is subtle- like inspiration porn. A lot of people have talked about that last one in recent months. But all of it is a part of our society and culture. Not a good part, but still a part.
And we are all taught culture through these memes. It’s not an avoidable thing. True, some people don’t get the direct impact of it from the subtle parts alone. But they get it indirectly, from the messages that the people around them absorb and then act upon.
It is impactful, the expression of these memes. Someone with attention issues might need to doodle to keep their mind on a speaker, but get called unprofessional for doing so even though they need it to process what they are hearing. Another person might suffer from chronic migraines when around certain stimuli (like florescent lights), but have their need to have alternative lighting treated as being finicky or annoying. Someone who might need things in simpler language might get left out of choices about their lives, or are told that their goals aren’t reasonable without explanation. A child who uses an AAC device might find themselves or their parents pressured into a segregated classroom.
Years of this cultural environment takes their toll. When a person subject to it, to the “pointy end” of it, becomes frustrated about something, it turns inward. The fact that they’ve worked themselves to exhaustion, or have agitated a difficult part of their health by going beyond where their limits are, doesn’t prevent them from calling themselves lazy. After all, other people have said it about similar efforts by other people. The same with worries about being called “selfish” keeping people from asking for accommodation, or “drama seeking” when you report discrimination. None of these are legitimate statements, but they are all things that society’s attitudes attempt to legitimize through cultural means.
We feel these things as consequence. We feel that maybe we are lazy, maybe we are just bad people, selfish people. It is a difficult thing to stop thinking when things go bad. It’s hard to unhook those representations we see, the ones that tell us that failure is just because we didn’t do x enough. That we aren’t y enough for our struggle to be real, that we must be some sort of bum, drama queen, or whiner.
But it’s not true. We’ve lived, survived, a hostile world that would rather believe those things- that people like us must just be lazy fakes, that we are just bitchy people, that none of our reality is true. We’ve been raised in a culture that believes those things, we’ve had it ground into our minds.
Just because we resist doesn’t mean we don’t stilll have that thought in there. It’s been ground into us. Even those who come to life as a PwD later on, as it’s a societal thing, not an individualized thing. It’s a horrible thing, a painful thing, a thing that challenges us and makes us want to destroy parts of ourselves at some points of our lives.
We are real. And we don’t need to destroy ourselves. We don’t.
The medication I took earlier in an attempt to dismiss the brain fog is wearing down a little, as it doesn’t last too long, and soon I’ll be back in a place where the ideas are there where the words are not. I’ll read things and have feelings, but barely be able to come up with a way to say that I have them, let alone make a meaningful or thoughtful response. I’ll be able to put together other people’s points into meaningful words, but be unable to order my own points. And I will be frustrated at some point.
And I will survive it. Maybe I’ll come back to this, or you will, to remind myself, ourselves, what the self-doubts and self-flagellations really are- internalizations.
I was in 6th grade before I could spell music.
I was reading on a “college” level, and spent a lot of my time doing that reading. But I couldn’t spell “music.” I spent about 4 years living through of variations on the following conversation:
Sibling to a new friend: This is my sister Savannah.
Sibling: [Sometimes after I've rambled enough to get called "smart," sometimes not.] Guess what? She’s in [x] grade, and she still can’t spell “music”!
Friend: No way!
Sibling: Yep. Savannah, spell “music”
Me: [attempts several possible butcherings of the spelling of "music" becoming increasingly frustrated.]
This type of conversation left me so frustrated, I forced myself through that one word. Thankfully, with that one word down, my siblings stopped playing this game and let it be.
On my early educational records, it reads “Dyslexia” and for many years it was pointed to both appropriately and inappropriately as an explanation. Sometimes, the issue was more language processing, others fine motor skills. On some occasions it actually was possibly dyslexia, but from reading the experiences of other people with various learning disabilities it wasn’t anywhere near as often as it was said to be the reason.
I know that the difficulties I had learning to read at first- I didn’t read until late in 3rd grade- don’t match the experiences of other people whose late reading skills were due to dyslexia as much as they match other types of visual and language processing difficulties. Some spelling, though, I can see the places it does match- not completely, but enough to believe it’s a factor.
After a while, I came up with ways to get around it- work arounds in my brain when it comes to words and letters. To this day, I struggle to find consistent ones for numbers. So no, I don’t remember your number, the zip code, or any number of things. It takes me 2-3 years for a zip code that I write regularly, and a couple years when my mother changes her number. My sister has had the same number for 7 years, and this year is the first year I can consistently recognize it.
There are plenty of times, particularly under stress, when those work arounds stop working though. They are like any number of other skills- they get harder when someone is sick or under stress. Lately, that’s been a little more common for whatever reason. I think it’s because of long term housing stress. My neurologist says I should ask my psychiatrist if my meds could be involved. I really don’t know.
What I do know is that spell check is amazing for me on a number of levels. And I have learned to spell a wider number of words flat out thanks to it than I miss. But sometimes spell check on a particular program doesn’t work- it flags terms that are spelled correctly, or it misses that a word is wrong.
Usually it’s fine. I fix it, and I’m on my way. But sometimes?
Sometimes I spell occasion “occation” and a particular program doesn’t pick up on it. I send something on, and then even the nice reminders leave me panicking.
It’s not something I can say “look don’t do that” because it is something that is needed, and it’s something I’m grateful for after the initial panic. It’s actually antithetical to my access needs to not have those corrections made in official documents, or in essays submitted places, or the like. I embrace that I need a copy-editor for certain projects, and that I can’t copy-edit for people because of my needs.
But there’s still a part of me that anticipates it.
“Savannah can’t spell. . .”
I don’t really talk about my mother on here too terribly much- though if you talk to me on facebook or twitter or any of the “social” media I do- especially in comparison to talking about her ex, aka Rick aka her second husband. But there’s a reason for that- because she for her part did well with me. I’m not saying she’s perfect- she does indeed struggle with some of the attitudes that she’s internalized about abilities and supports- but she was still amazing.
Last fall, my posts about intent, and about how the parent movement tends to erase or drown out Autistics, had one person remark that I was arguing that parents are a part of the problem. Actually, I think it was “are the problem” but . . . yeah. I don’t think parents are the problem so much as that their voices and ideas are too often prioritized of that of the PwD that they are parents to. Indeed, I recently attended a rally full or parents with great intentions- intentions of undoing the cuts to services in my state. But they felt it was okay for them to over talk the time limits when self advocates didn’t, to use patronizing language about their adult children, and to erase the efforts of self advocates with Developmental and Intellectual disabilities around some of the laws that protect our rights. Really it’s a perfect example of what the problem is- that we live in a society where these things are considered okay. But I digress.
My mother worked pretty hard at advocating for me in school as a kid. She even got heavily involved in advocacy around service provision, as the county tried to say that I would need shipped to a residential facility (which is an institution for youth, essentially) to have my needs met. My mother worked super hard to keep me at home and in school, even when we were being told that even graduating high school might be a “pipe dream.” (Hint: I’m the only one of my siblings to have graduated HS. My brother has a GED, and my sister is still working on passing the GED.)
She also, during the time that my behaviors were the most difficult until she married her third husband, was the primary wage earner in our household.
But beyond all this, she instilled some of the basic principles that have gotten me to where I am. She respected my wishes and goals about school, and later on- around age 14- about medication. She encouraged me to be involved in advocacy, including asking me to be on my first panel at age 12. But beyond that, she taught me a bit about how it is our civic duty to work for what is just.
Now she has her own needs disability wise. She can’t do the driving she used to without being in extensive pain. She has to do a lot of self care to stay off of medications. While she supports when and where she can, she actually isn’t able to do as much as she used to. And that is fine- it has to be, if we are living the sort of life that matches what we believe about access and self care and love.
We are relearning what it means to support each other as our needs change and grow. I’ve had my skills and abilities vary greatly in the past 7 years. I can actually articulate the things that happened to me better, and as a result my mother is learning more and more about what happened when she wasn’t there, and what I’ve tried to communicate but couldn’t in the past.
At the same time, though, I’m not as easily verbal as I was. It takes more effort to say things verbally, even though I have more words and a better grasp for them now. While I don’t pretend I have nothing to say to avoid letting people know Words drop out on me, they do drop out more often. (We think this is because of the amount of stress I’ve been under with housing). I also have had my anxiety around phone use spike.
When I was little, I pantomimed what I wanted when the words couldn’t come, and she thought it was a game I played. Now she knows, and I’ve had a chance to explain that it was never a game on my side. As I got older, if I couldn’t verbalize what I wanted I pretended that I didn’t want or need. Now, I can send her a message on facebook at any time, and she will respond no matter where I am- across the country or across the room.
Over the past year, my relationship with my mother has shifted around, become more complex on some levels and yet simpler on others. Simpler, because we now both know that the standards for communication out in “normal” land aren’t suitable. Complicated, because her roles have changed along side her needs. And while her role shift went smoothly on me being my own advocate, being able to balance asking her for help with respecting her own needs as a PwDs isn’t smooth at all.
When I contact my mom over facebook, for a long time I had to initiate. And then one day, from across the room, she sent me a message asking me a question. It wasn’t a complicated one, it didn’t need an elaborate explaination or links to make sense. Indeed, it was something mundane. But the fact that she was willing to ask it in what is essentially “my” lanuage instead of hers and waiting for an answer? That was pretty amazing.
I love you mom. And not just for your kitten pictures.
I reached out to a number of bloggers to write about mothers, relationships with parents and parent figures of choice good *and* bad, and what it means to express familial (family) love as/with Autistic and Neurodiverse people. I will post links later in the week, but this is both for our community and as a huge mother’s day gift.
I’d also like to remind everyone that it’s International Autism Acceptance Year (IAAY) April 2012-April 2013, and that all this year, various community members will be doing projects around it, thanks to the organizational skills of Paula Durbin-Westby.
I didn’t think I’d have something to say today. I haven’t been able to organize my thoughts in the way I need to to write here, and I have a list of things I need to get done that. . . well, it just hasn’t thus far. I thought that I wouldn’t have something to say for Blogging Against Disableism Day, or at least not something that was worth posting here.
I was wrong.
I just finished reading Amanda B’s first post for this year’s BADD (she wrote two) and . . . Well, I found myself upset. And not just because her posts are on distressing issues around abuse by caregivers, but because I had just recently been trying to articulate some of the things she wrote about being conditioned to believe our support needs are unreasonable. Amanda was talking specifically about issues with staff and care givers being abusive, and about the cultures that support that within provider systems. But the conditioning is something I’ve been working on fighting out of my own head, and I’m someone who isn’t getting adequate supports or services. (I have less extensive support needs staff care wise and equipment wise as my health and skills are very different from Amanda’s, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need supports.)
I’ve been depressed lately because of how long it has been taking for me to get housing, and because the type of support that I need to navigate that type of system it is more complicated. As a result, my family has been truly over taxed in trying to make sure I’m not living under a bridge or someplace where predatory individuals would have access to me. My family members have disabilities of their own to provide self care for, as well as not really having the financial resources to support me in a way that respects their own needs. It’s not that I have super intensive care needs in general- once I have a place and can set up my charts and other adaptive methods, I might need a couple hours a week to help coordinate bills, cleaning schedules, and transportation. But they are still needs that are amplified by not having a permanent home that I can set up as an environment that is suited to developing or maintaining my Daily Living Skills.
However, I also know that I cannot cope at all when I don’t have some obligations or responsibilities to meet. Accessible, meaningful involvement. Unfortunately, none of the things that are immediate to my situation are things I have the skills to navigate. Instead, online things and meetings and disability justice work are the things that allow me to cope, to endure not knowing for sure where I’m going to be sleeping next week.
But my needs for this sort of meaningful activity, and the relatively easier and less expensive to provide supports I need to do them, are characterized over and over as unreasonable. Unreasonable in light of how I haven’t been able to get housing. Unreasonable in light of needing someone to work one-on-one uestion by question with me to fill out assistance forms, or even in writing an advanced directive when I know basically what I want.* Unreasonable because I need some help in managing my money, because when I try I end up just not buying the things that I need and doing without until it hits crisis even when there’s money for something.
*That set of needs in and of itself is called unreasonable in light of how “smart” I am, how I can be involved in national level policy review, how I scored so high at English in high school. That I can write and review policy somehow means I must be able to apply each step to my own life accurately, without assistance. That there’s a different set of neurological skills between writing big things or reviewing big things and applying those to a very specific case in a way that uses standards measured from the outside is not fathomable.
This past weekend, it didn’t work out that I could go to a family member’s. So I went to the cheapest hotel in my county with wifi, and checked in. (I even agreed to watch my niece on Friday night, as she and I get on well and my sister needed the support that having someone else handling her would accomplish. The sort of support that if the dad had been willing to provide when it is needed two nights or so a week, wouldn’t be a problem.) But when the hotel’s internet was not operating appropriately, all the things that I’ve been told- the things I’ve listed in a heavily limited way above- came into my head.
That daring to have obligations to fufill was an unreasonable thing for me to have done, even though they are obligations that aren’t terribly extensive. That needing reliable internet access because I had been asked to complete one thing was something that somehow made me an extra burden above and beyond. That contributing at all can’t happen somehow when you can’t hold a job that supports yourself. That while my disabilities do not make me something aweful, that my daring to participate in the ways that are accessible to me somehow does.
I know that it is all programming, that it is the sort of behavioral training in action that Amanda is talking about when she says that you don’t need locks or restraints to practice seclusion and restraint on someone. I am someone who has picked apart the details of how society trains us into compliance for the ease of others. How being a part of a marginalized group means that we have epic fights against the things inside our heads in order to survive. I’m someone who films myself daring to reject indistinguishability, who knows that we make tiny revolutions by demanding that our determinations of what we need are listened to. Someone who lives and metaphorically breathes disability rights.
And I’m still digging out the conditioning in my own brain that reduces me to a something, to a burden and an unreasonable. My mother is still unraveling the complexity of what access is vs “enabling” (which is a complex mess to dig around in itself). My sister is still without her GED because when she has to directly interact with her acquired learning disabilities, the things she’s internalized over the years both when she was a norm with a disabled sister and after she acquired disabilities collapse her incredible demonstrations of self confidence.
When we talk about the impact of disableism, we are talking about trauma, a trauma that can be obvious enough to shriek or subtle enough to make being explicitly told that others will help us access our world a shock, a pleasant surprise. We are talking about outposts in our heads, and the outposts in other people’s heads.
We are talking about how some nights I lay awake worried about the day when my niece no longer thinks I’m awesome, no longer misses her buddy Skylar, no longer meets a family friend’s kid at his level of interaction because it seems horribly inevitable that she’ll learn the memes of disableism in our culture. Because even with some of the amazing bits of joy and hope that people share- Dave talking about Ruby’s dance class, Brenda talking about her love for her son as a whole person- it’s hard to believe that the hope that it gives will turn out.
It is so hard to believe something that amazing can last when you live in a world where it’s socially acceptable to exercise disableism, to raise children with disabilities around language about brokenness and tragedy into adults whose hearts break daily because it’s hard to unlearn that stuff.
But somehow, it is still something worth writing, and fighting, for.
(A different, positive, musical Something to play you out.)
. . . is Media. And media is how people express and communicate. Your voice is a medium, writing is a medium, art and video and. . . Yes, even poking someone repeatedly or jumping up and down or twitching your eyes in a pattern can be using a medium- your body- to communicate.
Everyone can use some sort of media. Before I get protests, I’m including pushing away unwanted things, fecal smearing, and tiny behaviors as well as examples of use of media. Sometimes our methods and medium is ignored or not understood, but that doesn’t make it less our medium. Sometimes we can’t even define exactly what we are communicating with our media yet, but it’s a process. Sometimes, figuring out what we mean- communicating with ourselves- is even more a part of using media than communicating with others.
When we are given the chance to be exposed to new media, new methods of expression, we are being given access to more opportunities to find the way to get it out right. To find communication. Eventually some of us do gain access to media that other people understand our use of. We learn to speak, or sing, or make music or videos. We paint, or sew, or costume; we write, decoupage, rearrange, and stack. We learn to dance, to write, and to find a new way to get the message across to that it is heard. Some of us aren’t given that chance, and some people even find that other people’s media aren’t for them.
When you are someone whose communication methods or media are ignored when you want them observed, it can be an opening to find a new medium to call your own. I learned to type, I gained those skills, and I suddenly had access to a much larger community than I had when speaking or shrieking or running away or stacking dolls gave me.
Indeed, the way that typing opened up writing to me was a better medium in the end for me than those I already had- my fluency writing now is better than my speaking was at the height of my verbal ability. I can use this medium, the medium of digitized writing by the hitting of keys, in times when I can’t even verbally speak at all, in times where my message as a kid might have been lost in other people’s reactions to my screaming wordlessly because I didn’t have the right words to speak any more.
Other people find other media. Some people won’t rely on their media the way I do. Some people might rely on it more.
How beautiful would a poem in just PECs, just the way they are handed, be?
Some media is painful, or dangerous, or scary- or even, in the case of Thich Quang Duc, deadly. Sometimes that can be powerful, while other times- like fecal smearing- it can be too alarming to observers and yes, dangerous, to get across anything, even your own distress. Sometimes the media we know isn’t sufficient to express what we mean- is your reaction to fecal smearing to recoil, maybe even freak out, or is it to find a way to figure out if someone is constipated? (If it’s the second one, I’m guessing you have a little experience with this cross media translation.)
In some cases, the solution is to find more ways to experience and express experience. Gaining new skills, or discovering alternatives. Other times it might be to just let other people react to you burning soundlessly.
The first time someone walked a friend through other signals for “my butt hurts” or that that type of pain is constipation, she nearly squeezed my hand off in joy.
Sometimes, a new medium is just a great way to accomplish something that you might not otherwise be able to do. Creating a more accurate and useful AAC device- even for less- or finding an easier way to collaboratively caption videos on the web. Applying dance to practical mobility difficulties or exploring how movements can be adapted to suit all types of bodies. Crafting tools to navigate difficult sensory environments or using virtual video distribution to share a larger message.
All media, in practice, in use, building and creating access, building and creating our futures.
What does it mean to build access together? What world can we envision when we apply love and justice to our media to find a world where we honor all people, regardless of ability, and their needs?
This summer, I and others will be attending the Allied Media Conference. It’s not a disability conference, or a topical conference. AMC is just brought together by people that believe that we can use a wide range of media to change the world. Within that larger vision, people with disabilities saw a vision for our justice, for a way to create access collectively.
Creating Collective Access allows us to make accessible the potential of media skill sharing, network, and vision planning that AMC promises to people who might not otherwise be able to be a part of it. PwD and our Chronically Ill brethren face access barriers beyond a lack of ramps and braille. Working together and treating access as a matter of community rather than individual “burden” allows us to be a part of building a world that includes us and the potential we can realize through media.
And in turn, we can make accessible the wider community- the world.
What does it mean to explore and honor our potentials, our media, our vision? What sort of world can we build when access is a part of what it means to build communities? When it is a natural part of the creation of change?
I invite others to write about what it means to you- personally or pon the grand scale- to access media. I also hope that you will help me and others by donating to CCA’s Indiegogo. We all came up with cool things to contribute to the returns. I’m contributing custom writing- poems for cheap but if you put in a lot an article or even ghost writing- and my mom is contributing reiki sessions and herbalist consults. Others are contributing zines, books, films, tarot readings, MCS friendly bath products, and even customized baking. You can find out more, including more details about CCA, on the CCA Indiegogo page.
I know I shouldn’t be doing an “update” post, but I’ve had to delay a lot of the posts I’ve been planning. In the mean time links and things, as well as some plans on what to look for, are ready and I’m pretty excited about them! First I’ll talk about some of the plans I have for the next few weeks, then the things I’ve done recently around the net, and finally some of the things I’m excited about that aren’t mine. Ready? Fantastic! Allons-y and Geronimo!
Look for a post about the Allied Media Conference, as well as on how access to various types of media has helped improve my life here on monday or so. I’m co-coordinating the Disability practice space- creating collective access- this year, and I’m really excited about it. (If you want to blog/write/make videos/make art about how media has improved your access, let me know!)
I’m also working on a post about the issue of ableism and classism combining in the practice of telling low income families to call the police when their kid has a meltdown instead of services. I’ll talk about an IEP meeting I had, and I’l talk about how the added factor of racism resulted in the unnecessary death of Stephon Watts.
Elsewhere on the web. . .
If you haven’t yet, please go check out the Disability Right Now blog. I’m a staff writer as well as the PR head. We are wrapping up a blog event about George Hodgins, Euthanasia, and Eugenics this week. Next week, I have a post on Disability History 101: the origin of institutions going up for my post for round 1. Also, I worked with the EiC to do an interview about it for ASAN which will be in their April newsletter! Whoo!
Not Quite Web Stuff:
This week I’ll be going to Chicago to co-facilitate for the Illinois state team at an Allies in Self Advocacy Summit. It’s exciting, of course, though at this point I will basically be at the hotel and the airport.
I’m going to be going to a couple of Rallies in Harrisburg, PA this spring. The first one is on Women’s Rights, and Amy Caraballo is one of the organizers. It’s April 28th, and it’s complicated- but I think it will be important to be a PwD at this event.
The Other is May 2nd about the cuts to services for PwD that our current administration here in PA have been pushing. The PA Waiting List Campaign is heavily involved, as is Vision for Equality. I hope to see lots of people there! I’m going under the auspices of SAU1, but I’d love to see some ASAN representation or even NYLN representation!
It’s pretty scary stuff. So far: Disability Rights Network of PA and a whole slew of disability orgs here in PA have filed a suit against the Corbett Administration; Issues with Access to areas of the Capitol for PwD; and some fairly rude treatment of Protesters. (Rendell’s administration regularly sent someone to meet with Protesters with disabilities. Corbett’s ignores us or tries to create barriers to our exercising free speech.)
I personally feel sick over our current governor here in PA’s tenure. But then, I didn’t vote for him. I voted for the other guy. If you are in PA (or anywhere in the USA actually) please register to vote and read up on the issues. Help other people who might have barriers to getting in to vote- especially PwD- get registered and in to the voting booth or registered early enough for absentee ballot or alternative ballot. Last year I almost couldn’t vote because my absentee ballot came late- thankfully the plans that would have taken me out of town were cancelled.
Too often, PwD don’t vote because of a lack of support or people ignoring that we might want to. In the current political climate, it’s especially important that our voices are heard and votes count. You can find out more about getting out the disabled vote from the Disability Voting Coalition of PA.
Other People’s stuff:
Babble.com is doing a Top 30 Autism Blog ranking, and the voting is now! A number of my friends are on the list and are blogs I’d recommend reading. (Along side some I’d have you avoid, but that’s your business.) Good Luck to Lydia, Julia, E, Stimey, “Autismum“, and Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism!
[Content: Abuse, ableism]
I don’t want younger Autistics to learn some of the skills I have- or, at least, not the way I learned them.
Let me explain- it’s not that I’m against someone deciding to learn a new skill that they want or need to learn to achieve things that they want. I’m not against teaching a kid of any neurology new things as they explore their world. But there are some things that aren’t worth the trauma- the long term emotional damage- of how they are taught. Or, at least, of how they are taught to Autistics.
Recently, I was teaching a friend how to do dishes. Step by step, gently, with examples and tips. Feel as you wash- if you feel any grease or food bits, it’s not clean yet and you need to keep scrubbing. Later, I paused in the middle of pouring myself some water. You know, that’s not how I learned to do dishes. I learned it traumatically.
My mother was working when we first had “big” solo chores. We rotated chores between all three siblings. My mother’s second husband, whose death I talked about in my last post, was the adult on hand for chores. He herded me into the kitchen, and told me to do the dishes.
It wasn’t “casual” ableism that he used then. It was fierce and directed. He loomed over me when I said I didn’t know how, and used it as “proof” that I wasn’t really smart- the only alternative had to be that I was lazy. So I tried doing the dishes while he went off to do his thing. I pondered on the fact that there’s cross cultural archetypes of Cinderella while I tried. When I finished, I would declare it with relief.
He would loom again, and wave the dishes in my face. He would tell me I was obviously trying to get out of doing my fair share, because they weren’t done right. And so I did them again, over and over. I think I threw up a couple of times at first- I hate the oily texture at the bottom of the sink when people fail to scrape their plates, and the smell of used dish water. Letting the water run was not allowed if Rick was watching, so the smell and oilyness of the first rinse was there, while the soap bubbles waited in the second sink for a rinse. Not even gloves were an option- instead, I was to learn to deal with the sensory assault that was my “fair share” of keeping the household.
I believe he enjoyed his use of humiliation. His combination of verbal and physical intimidation was effective in eventually teaching me basic skills like this, the very technical skills that are the building blocks of independent living skills. The process was repeated with a lot of skills and “skills”. Vaccuming and laundry went hand in hand with passing, with not looking “crazy” and not echoing “nonsense”.
The Wise man doesn’t speak what he knows. And I wanted to be wise, because according to Rick, no one would believe I was competent.
It was better when my mother was home, but there would be little reminders that would just seem stern without the context that happened when she was at work. But the repetitive enforcement of my lack of skills, of how bad I was at covering, at passing, was just as destructive if not more than the times he loomed over me. The same things I observe being used to teach kids with similar behaviors today were the hardest part.
When the inevitable meltdown happened, it seemed, from the notes she took, unprompted or triggered by things that were relatively innocuous. That’s not to say I wasn’t easily triggered before, but they were always specific things, things she could figure out.
Rick had been gone for more than 5 years before I could articulate half of what happened to me. It was two more before I could do it well enough to get it across to my mother how much she had missed.
The damage done in the name of teaching me skills isn’t worth the skills. It isn’t worth the years of self hate, the years of denying myself the services and supports I needed in order to prove his tirades wrong. It isn’t worth the nightmares I still have of his eyes when enduring forced eye contact.
Look me in the eyes. If I let you grab my chin and point it somewhere- especially at a face- you know I trust you.
You want to talk about how hard it will be for your son? How you just want your daughter to get married some day? Stop. Stop thinking about your own wishes, your own images of how your kid’s life will go. Look at the skills they show interest in. Find what they are personally ready for, instead of what some book says is “developmentally appropriate.” Let them build their own image of what success is.
Because the trauma of forcing someone into a schedule they aren’t ready for? Of forcing unneeded skills? Of removing non-harmful but socially difficult coping skills? Of holding up your own wishes and ideals as the goal?
Isn’t worth the trauma.
[Content: Abuse, Ableism, murder, death, grief, relief, and feelings about these things.]
This time last week, I was getting ready for both the DC and virtual vigils for People with Disabilities who have been murdered by their family or care givers. This time last week, I was also learning that my primary abuser was dead.
ASAN and other groups around the nation (and a little bit beyond, too, on an individual basis) held vigils for People with Disabilities who have been murdered by their care givers. You can read about the details of why “now” from Zoe Gross writing for ASAN, as she addresses that better than I could in the call to action for the vigils.
The bottom line is that we live in a world where our basic blocks of culture devalue our existence to the point where our murders are called Mercy Killings. Our murders become about the burdens we place on our parents, on our cost to society, and on non-disabled people’s projections of our possible quality of life. Even our names are erased, made eternal children regardless of our age of death because of who it is who killed us. George Hodgins was 22, and still the headline read “Sunnyvale Mother Kills Autistic Child.”
When I was a child, Rick, my mother’s second husband, excused his abuse of me as treatment. The less excusable stuff he saved for when my mother wasn’t home. Sometimes, he even baited me, purposefully getting me wound up so that I would act out in a way that would justify what he wanted to say or do.
And people believed him. The cops believed him the one time I got the nerve to call. The parts my mom saw made her believe him, at least for a while, and her notes about the behaviors he triggered are scary. In them, I look irrational and dangerous, while in my memories I was provoked and terrified. Without knowing the cause, a kid like I was screaming, or charging to escape, or throwing myself into walls is scarier than I ever saw myself. He played my needs to suit his and to make the unacceptable acceptable. He provoked the worst to suit his own behaviors, to make sure I fit the idea of deserving what happens that we are fed daily.
When the vigils were announced, I decided that those of us who couldn’t make it to a live vigil should have to right to hold vigil as well. It’s an emotional topic for me, how people from rural areas and housebound folk are discounted in movements. Even in the (broader) disability movement, there’s a tendency to devalue those who can’t make it out to a vigil or a rally. It saddens me, it angers me, and it motivates me. So last week was spent preparing for the virtual vigil.
When the time came, I was able to do it from the Washington, DC vigil’s site. We used tiny chat, and it was kind of cool. I had everything prepped for the time, I only had to show up and do it.
Then, Friday midday, I called my mom and heard. I heard that I was free. That the constantly looking into the crowd in fear he would be there could no longer be fulfilled. That we knew where he was, and knew he’d never be able to inflict harm on me again. That all the damage is already done. That he had died, natural causes, in Pensacola, Florida.
I went into shock about an hour later, though I had thankfully managed to meet up with Melody Latimer by the time it hit full force. Thanks to her, I didn’t accidentally walk into traffic or misstep off the metro platform. She made sure I got myself food if I wanted it, and then plopped me down in a safe space so she could work and I could process and come out of it.
The same time that I was mentally preparing myself to run a chat vigil, to mourn fellow people with disabilities, I was writing a letter to friends to tell them about the end of my own nightmare. As I prepped on site that evening, I realized that I would no longer have to fear death from his hands. As I reviewed the list that managed to fit on the fliers, I realized that all it would have taken was a slip, a weight distribution in the wrong area during restraint, a swerve when I tried to escape the car, and my name could have been on that list. That that list is truly my peers.
When a gentleman came up before the vigil and commented that we had forgotten a certain little boy whose mother had poisoned him, all I could do was thank him. The number of names that could fit on the flier or the poster board is such a small percentage of the names and stories of those killed by their care givers. It’s a countless wordless horrors, the murders that society mitigates because of our disabilities, the deaths inadequately mourned because our would be mourners are told people like us would have been better off.
I feel sick, too, to think of how many of them might have been stopped if only our world didn’t dismiss our abuse as needed. If our lives weren’t devalued, how many of the PwD who were starved to death before the neglect was noticed would be part of that count? How many people would be growing older and living if the tiny abuses and dehumanizations that make people justify murder weren’t justified by disability? If we lived in a world where my abuser hadn’t been able to get away with it as long as he did would the people we mourn still be alive?
The virtual and in person DC vigils went well. We remembered. We tore down the excuses and justifications. We mourned.
In the hallowed out space of relief, I remembered what we were fighting for. Just because one of my nightmares was over didn’t mean my future was safe, or that other people’s nightmares couldn’t come true.
One week ago, we observed the deaths of the people for whom our fight for equality comes too late. We hoped to someday never see a new name on the endless list. We hoped to change it all, one day at a time. We mourned our dead, and renewed our commitment to fight like hell for the living.
The next day, Daniel Corby, aged four, was killed by his mother.
I recently put together a video of me Stimming in Public. Regardless of the reception (which has been great!), it has always been intended as an ongoing project for this year.
If you have been following me on facebook, you might have already seen the video I recently put out. In it, I document myself stimming in public spaces during my recent Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC trips, all set to “America” by Orphan Songs. (I really liked the song, and feel so glad that the artist had it up for Attribution and Share Alike use via Creative Commons.)
Some of it was organic- I was there, and happened to think of pulling out the camera on the train, at baggage claim at BWI, and at the Baltimore Waterfront. Others were planned in that I went there with the intent of shooting some video. I spent a long sunny day at capitol hill filming at the Supreme Court, the Capitol building, Library of Congress, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education. It was both exhausting and satisfying, not just as an art effort but also as someone who was made to feel scared of the potential actions that could be done in the name of these places.
(There are captions at youtube of the song, even if they don’t make it in the embed.)
This, as I’ve mentioned, was never intended to be a one-shot thing for me. I mean, I’m going to be doing the stimming when I’m in public anyways, so I might as well film it in case it does something positive for someone else, right?
Therefore throughout the year 2012, I’m going to be putting together a video of me stimming in public for every major trip. I’ll try to get some interesting/meaningful locations in when I can, but most of it will just be what I have access to since almost all of my traveling is for advocacy events.
Between now and July1st, I know I’ll be going to Harrisburg, PA; Chicago, IL; Seattle, WA; Woodburn, OR; and Detroit, MI. Later in the year I’m hoping to get back to Washington, DC and to visit family in the area of New York, NY; Wallingford and Hartford, CT; Providence, RI; and similar locations. (I’m really hoping on the CT-RI trip to get a chance to film with some people in front of the JRC!)
If I get more things scheduled later in the year, I’ll be filming at those as well. It’s basically an every-chance-I-get thing for filming these. I mainly will be doing them on my own, though I hope as the year goes on to be able to have multiple people in the shots with me. Indeed, I’d love towards the end of the year to have a chance to film a bunch of people stimming together at once. I think it would be really. . . evocative, to end a series with a community together, when it started with me all by myself. But that’s just a thought, not a plan.
That is the project summary.
I don’t want to act like this is an idea that is exclusively mine. First of all, I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of it or do something like it. Secondly, all I’m doing is filming myself living life as myself, something I hope to have be a reality for all Autistics. It’s scary, but someday it won’t be. Someday I hope to meet young Autistics who were never afraid to stim in front of Authority, who never had to deal with the ableism it can be met with. Autistics who won’t have to make the choice between safety inside of their heads vs safety from people’s bigotry outside of it.
That being said, if you decide to do something similar, let me know! I’d love to see members of our community going out there and doing this if they feel so inspired. I feel like that would be something amazing to see.
Often, but especially this month, there tends to be a false equivalency that gets promoted- that Neurodiversity advocates ignore the hard things, or that we don’t experience the hard things. From there, self-advocates are told that we can’t speak to the lives of other, usually younger, Autistics. Obviously this is false. The hard things are a part of our lives, are a core part of them.
On the 18th of March, I had to go to Baltimore. To manage airports, I have a pretty set script that I follow in order to make sure that I make it through the airport and flights. Usually it works fairly well, and if I get confused I let a security person know I”m Autistic and it typically works out. The first time I went through security by myself, I had a TSA agent walk me through the security point step by step. (I have a soft spot for Pittsburgh, PA’s TSA agents as they’ve treated me fairly well. I can’t speak for anyone else’s experiences though.) I’ve had people let me be or give me appropriate instructions when I’ve lost words. Mostly I have decent experiences. Not as peaceful as trains, but decent.
Except this time I flew southwest, and their gate check process is different. Instead of picking your bag up at the gate, they put it through to the carousel in bag claim, and instead count it as a late bag check. A bit nerve wracking as I rarely if ever do a regular bag check. But this wasn’t the hard part. Nor was sitting on the floor next to the assigned baggage carousel for an hour. (I took video of myself rocking there, and it is edited in with other video on my youtube channel.) But by the time I got through what my bag looked like, I couldn’t verbalize words any longer. The words went away. Thankfully the BWI Southwest baggage customer service acted like it wasn’t unusual at all for someone to get out a netbook and start typing instead of talking. I also had to get help getting on the van- which was directly across the room- to the hotel.
That evening, I had to leave dinner because I couldn’t sit upright any more. My brain was completely done, and I poured coffee on the table because I could no longer judge where my cup was in space. The next morning, I couldn’t get out of bed because I had no clean clothes. The very thought of putting on dirty clothes Shut me down for hours. Thankfully, the thing I was at was Developmental Disability centered, so the organizers were understanding, ordered me lunch, managed dealin with the airline and hotel, and the person I was supposed to facilitate with took over my duties. (Thank you Nachama!)
And this is only a mildly hard “day.”
Even the tiny Hard things add up. Loud noises making me need to hide, camera flashes leaving me utterly disoriented, the wrong smells, colors, and textures- the little hard things could make me have issues where I would normally have none or even where I’d normally excel. I curl up in a ball in a grocery store because I don’t know the practical steps rather than economic difference between using credit and debit. I sit on floors in airports for hours because I can’t figure out the steps to get to my hotel. I get C-Diff or MRSA because I can’t remember when to clean. I pee myself because I hear the wrong noise and become scared. I can’t tell until the last moment that I need the restroom, and then I better get running before I forget or lose control.
A thousand tiny hard things.
I had to live off campus because I didn’t understand paperwork for housing and couldn’t figure out that I needed help. I had to drop out of school and became house bound for 6 months because I didn’t understand or know how to ask for help with school tuition or paperwork. I watched my carefully laid goals collapse, and can’t do anything beyond repress and hide when people I know graduate or talk about completing midterms. I lose my ability to conceptualize my goals after having plans go awry.
A thousand hard things.
Becoming homeless for a thousand tiny reasons. Being unable to navigate the housing system, and having to rely almost entirely on my Intensive Case Manager to even fill out the forms let alone deal with the people. Having difficulty with a form because I want to answer truthfully but have no idea how much people have spent buying me toilet paper- and then crying, pacing, yelling the same phrase repeatedly and staring at blank walls. Hiding in my 3 year old niece’s closet because I can’t calm myself, can’t process my environment further to get away from what is bothering me. Being trapped in town because I can’t speak that day and I need to find a way out.
Knowing something is wrong, large or small, and not having the words for it for 5 years. Being told I’m articulate when I can’t get my basic needs across to be met. Trying to report abuse, and not having the words to articulate it yet- then having my call dismissed because of my disabilities and inability to articulate it. Pressing myself into walls or running into them full stop because the pressure is soothing and I can’t get my world to stop- and then being treated poorly for daring to do so. Being put through unneeded procedures because my self soothing behaviors look scary to others, and echoing (oh echolalia!) their words back when they ask why I do them- Is it because of self hate, self loathing? Do you want to die?- because I don’t have the words yet to tell them how it really feels in my head.
Life is full of hard things.
But the hard things don’t make that life less worthy. It doesn’t make it okay to deny accessibility. It doesn’t mean you can’t adjust a little- and often to mutual benefit- to make the world more navigable to us.
The Hard Things don’t take the joy out of it. It doesn’t make the self soothing activities less self soothing. It doesn’t take the joy of observing the infinite diversity of our world within even human neurology- a joy that we can share, if we are willing, despite having infinitely diverse faiths or even having none at all. It doesn’t make my niece’s bringing me my stuffed cat less an act of love. That my former cat, ‘baka, was my service animal that I needed to help me self regulate doesn’t make my affection- nor even my grief at her passing- less deep.
The Hard Things, though, mean that you will look at them and say:
I don’t want that for my kid.
That is not safe.
That is too strange to do in public.
If you’d only “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and get over it, the hard things wouldn’t be hard.
Your tears and meltdowns prove my point of your incompetence/that you will always be a child.
instead of finding a way to make the hard things livable. Instead of accepting that I need help today even if I didn’t yesterday. That I am an adult who is able to make my own choices- even when they are bad ones. That the reason it’s so strange is because of repression. That there are ways to make this all safe. That risk is a part of being human.
That there is joy in being one’s self.
Written for Autism Acceptance Day and Month. Many Thanks to Paula Durbin-Westby for originating Autism Acceptance Day and all the effort she has put into this event- please go check out some of the other posts she’s collected. Thanks also to Emily T for her sharp editorial eye.