On Creativity I: Word Usage

I’m not entirely sure I understand what people mean when they say “creativity” any more. I have this idea of creativity as a broad concept in my head, encompassing a wide range of things. As a result, when people say they aren’t creative or that so-and-so isn’t creative, I’m usually pretty boggled.

Creativity- [mass noun] the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness: Firms are keen to encourage creativity.

Oxford Dictionary of English

Creativity- n. the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

The New Oxford American Dictionary

It’s taking me a minute, but notice the differences between these dictionaries’ definitions for creativity? The ODE definition is closer to what I think of than the NOAD version. (Note: These definitions are from the Kindle versions that are updated with changes automatically.) When I went to look at the about, NOAD didn’t have anything. It’s a standard American usage dictionary. ODE was a little better- in fact, there’s a long forward in this edition of ODE. They adopted a different style for this one, one that “aims in part to account for the dynamism, imaginativeness, and flexibility of ordinary usage.” (They also included usages in a wider range of English using countries instead of just American usage.)

Because of my language acquisition methods, the range of concepts/shape of the word in my head shifts every time I hear a word differently. Because of the range of the usages I see for the word “creative” is broad, my idea of how to use that word is broad. It puzzles and frustrates me that people have limited definitions sometimes.

In fact, for a very long time- until the past two years actually- I was frustrated greatly by dictionaries. They never seemed to encompass everything about the words that I was learning. That the resource everyone was pointing me to when I was confused by how people used words didn’t cover the areas that I was struggling with- usage, broad definitions, implications, etc. – was frustrating. Beyond frustrating- I’m trying to think of an analogy that is a little more obvious without being unfair or ridiculous to compare. Like entering a supposedly accessible bathroom stall, only to discover there’s not enough room for your power wheelchair. The people in charge say “but we have an accessible bathroom!” but what they don’t understand that the supposedly accessible stall – which is meant to help you – doesn’t. Everyone thought a dictionary would solve my word usage problems, but for me, it didn’t actually grant access. Just because it meets the minimum standards of accessibility does not mean it actually meets the need in question.

As I’ve come to accept how broadly my neurology impacts some of the aspects of my life- and that just because I’m “good” at something doesn’t mean my disabilities don’t impact them- this has become a little less of an issue. My disability justice work, in particular, has reached a depth where I can recognize what is going on. I can now identify the issue, and either find a way that actually helps me or accept that I need to approach the issue a different way. It was a very hard lesson for me.

Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t make the issue go away. For example, I still can’t define words very well on my own/in my own words, even when I’m relatively competent in using the words. More so for “abstract” words or usages of course. How I struggled in school when this is the sort of definition the teacher wanted instead of one that was lifted almost directly from a dictionary! In elementary and middle school, my LDs greatly impacted my grades and my relationships with teachers who thought that since I seemed to be “brilliant” or “intelligent” my issues must be laziness. By high school, I was a perfectionist about my grades, and when I had this sort of teacher I would get very frustrated. (Interestingly, the advanced placement or “honors” teachers were generally better with my approach to language usage than my other teachers.)

This brings me back to my point- to me, this approach of finding my own work around, one tailored to my own needs, is creativity in action. Building an accessible world is creative to me. Innovating, creating, re-purposing- to me, these are all creative acts. Sometimes they are hard acts, sometimes they are necessary acts, but they are all creative ones.

Sometimes they are vanishingly small acts- finding a way, even collaboratively, to deal with the trigger warning vs content warning issue for example. That debate is an act of creativity to me. The sense of awe I get when seeing innovative art even comes in to some extent. Any more, as I accept that other people don’t see it this way, I even get a sense of wonder about the sheer diversity of creativity- that my sense of it includes things that other people don’t, that it includes people who have felt alienated by other senses of what creativity is.

But that’s my personal definition, and if someone doesn’t identify themselves as creative I won’t label them as such. Performing acts of creativity isn’t the same as feeling an innate sense of creativity, and labeling a person something that functions as identity without their consent is kinda disturbing to me personally.

So, too, is ascribing attributes to an entire group of people. There is this- idea? Cultural meme?- that Autistics, because they are Autistics, aren’t able to be “creative.” I think this is pretty much the most easily debunked idea out there, but I could be wrong. It could be that their usage of creativity meets neither my own definition- which is admittedly broad- nor the ones in the dictionaries. But most people I’ve heard spout this realize they are wrong pretty quickly. There’s another one that people with mental health disabilities are inherently/innately creative in the traditional sense. This is harder to debunk, but it can be done. Especially if you know some of the people I know who explicitly identify as not creative. And I’m not just talking about medical model or even disease model people, either. Segments of the MHD community do actively ascribe creative to their experience of their MHD. That’s awesome. But it’s not awesome when they then try and ascribe creative as inherent to all people with MHDs.

I’m fine with creative, I’m even fine with linking my forms and concepts of creativity to aspects of my disabilities. But that’s my experience of my own disabilities, not someone else’s experiences. I don’t have a right to infringe on their autonomy- on identity or on anything else. I need to recognize- and yes, it is hard work to think this way for me because of how my brain works- that their experiences are not my experiences. And my experiences are not yours, your child’s aren’t yours, and your clients’ aren’t yours.

Which circles back around to realizing that not everyone has the same sense of words. Please understand, it wasn’t until I was 21 or 22 that I realized that not everyone experiences words and concepts as a mish-mash of texture, movement, and shape. I struggled a lot with figuring out why my words were wrong before I comprehended that I was processing the concepts behind the words differently. There were even times where I was shocked that someone would comment that they found a way of saying something or making something was creative. To me, the langauge that they found poetic or the art I made that they found creative were literals or very close approximations of how I experienced those concepts.

When I sit down to write poetry or make art, I don’t sit there and work on “creativity”. I sit there and I try out words that seem to be the right shape for what I’m “seeing” inside of my head. I sit there and think about the things that make me feel a certain way, that makes my internal experience match the concept my art is illustrating. I create a lot of analogies, and I go through a logical process of turning them into similes and then into metaphors. I create long lists of properties I see and feel about the two things I’m comparing. Sometimes I have to drop a concept because when I make the lists, I realize that the things I’m experiencing aren’t as similar to each other as I initially thought.

To me, while this might technically be an act of creativity, it doesn’t make me creative. It’s just how my brain runs. The sense of me as creative here is something that you or society is experiencing about me, and in this case I don’t mind it at all. Sometimes I do feel like I’m being “creative” in a smaller sense- the NOAD sense if you will. But much more often, I’m just being, experiencing the process of creating in the OED sense, or even my own personal sense of what creativity can mean.

Thank you, by the way, to elementary school teachers who got frustrated and desperate trying to teach me the differences between analogies, similes, and metaphors. I know it took me ages, but the tactics some of you tried did end up creating a functional system to process language stuff later on. Also, I read a lot of the books like “Heavens to Betsy” and other linguistic trivia books that would explain in plain language why people said certain things and used words in certain ways from an etymological perspective. I’m one of those people who loves dictionaries with huge etymologies. Sometimes I understand the word from the etymology better than from the printed definitions. In any case, language use and I have quite the complicated relationship.

I’m going to stop this entry now. The next entry in this series will be on poetry, and I’m setting a tentative date of Thursday, December 29th for it.  I’m not sure how many parts this series will have, as I think it will be an on going thing where next time I work out an entry that falls under the topic it will be a new entry in the series.

Rocking (and Flapping) at a 1000 Revolutions a Minute

[Content warning: Mentions of Ableism; Censored use of the r-word; Abusive Treatment]

I made it down to an occupy site!

I am in the DC area this week for a variety of things. So Tuesday afternoon I went down to the site at McPherson Square for a couple of hours. It was significant for me in part because although I’ve been really active with work groups at Occupy Pittsburgh, and been doing a lot of Occupy disability work, I’ve yet to make it down to any physical site. (Mainly it is an intersection of disablity and transport issues.) So it was exciting.

I stayed for a while, but I ended up leaving 10-15 minutes earlier than I had intended. Turns out the people in the tent behind the sidewalk where I had plopped down were Ron Paul supporters, and they got their supplies out and what not. I decided I’d rather not have my disabled self be used to create support for someone whose policy platforms tend to be counter to the needs of people with disabilities.

I made a youtube video of a portion of my time on site. (And yes, it is captioned, thanks to Universal Subtitles.)

The reason this is getting its’ own post and not getting lumped in comes from a comment on this I got from Urocyon on Google plus. She commented about how even thought stimming makes her feel like she’s releasing tension from trying not to, it is uncomfortable for her as an adult to stim in public.

I responded with-

 I think that those feelings is what makes rocking or flapping in public so… well, revolutionary and powerful. Because we’ve had those thoughts that it’s bad or wrong or something to hide ground into us to the point where we doubt ourselves and our right to exist as we are in public spaces…

Rocking and flapping and spinning and humming and pacing and racing and- well, and stimming some how becomes a challenge to those things we’ve internalized about our rights to live as we are. It is somehow this reclaiming of some part of us that we love but that we were told is wrong.

We have been told that these basic steps of self care- and that often is what it ends up being in a way- are wrong. Quiet Hands and You look like /are acting like a R[-word] and people will think you are crazy and countless other stories, these are the things we were told from a young age about how we are bad and wrong. We are trained fiercely to assimilate into a world that doesn’t want us, but other people in the warm bodies we inhabit and strangers they can love to move in behind our faces.

The week before I sat in the park and rocked, feeling my defiance, I spent several nights wishing I didn’t exist. I knew all the things I talk about here intellectually, but that base part of me is still filled with the remembered abuse of my past. The most prevalent are those that were excused at the time as treatment while speaking words describing me as a burden and my being as a barrier.

So, in the face of stress, the only answer that came to me is that I should not exist. I sat rocking and blubbering the late nights away while my sister was sleeping fighting those things from my past that still live in my head. This time I won, but today I saw a friend who was saying of herself the same things- I should not exist. This is a friend who is passionate about her rights as a person with disabilities (among other things), and still the thought- I should not exist.

When the things that make up a part of who we are is so suppressed, how can it not be revolutionary to rock in public? How could I not include this part of myself when protesting a system that treats people without economic means as worthless? Why shouldn’t I stim in the face of a world- one both outside and inside- that tells me that I, too, am worthless? (If you are new, I am indeed fond of rhetorical questions.)

I am stimming 1000 revolutions a minute when I go out and stim at a protest. I’m being Autistic, fat, disabled, queer, poor, covering, and many other things in public when I am in public, and being visible here is bringing all of those things out and into a space where revolution can happen. I am speeding our revolutions while joining their revolutions, even if it is only that tiny amount that visibility brings.

But revolution can happen in places that aren’t big protest sites too. Protest can happen even when you are alone, the only person to see it yourself and the only mind it will change is that part of you that believes what we’ve been taught. That is revolution at the most basic element- being able to change our own minds to make a more equitable world.

So yes, I rock (and flap, and…) 1000 revolutions a minute. We all do, when we dare to be who we are without apology, and dare to confront that which tells us we shouldn’t exist or aren’t worthy. We do when we dare to exist freely as people with disabilities, as Autistics, as all of the things we are.

We are a 1000 revolutions a minute.

Republished at Persephone Magazine November 28th 2011.

A bit of this and that

My posts here tend towards single issue posts. I rarely post small things, or things I haven’t thought through or so on. (I use tumblr for that…) As a result, I post fairly infrequently- I post on big ideas that take a long time to find words for.  But I feel like I ought to post something, so I am putting this post together out of pieces. Maybe it will lose me some of the things that people think of me but… well, I need to think something of all this as well, don’t I?

So, you are getting a post abut my latest DC trip.

I came down via plane on Sunday. I had NARP meetings all day Monday and half the day on Tuesday. I went down to the Occupy/decolonize DC  site Tuesday afternoon, which I’m writing another post on.

Wednesday night was the ASAN 5 year anniversary dinner. I do have an album for pictures people took of me at the dinner on Facebook, but I didn’t have a camera myself. I believe that Melody Latimer is looking for photos from this event for the ASAN anniversary edition newsletter? (If you have any, send them to mlatimer@autisticadvocacy.org- or you can link/tag them?)

Savannah, a large white looking person in a grey dress and black kerchief over reddish hair, and Claudia Alderman, a short Latina woman, in a fancy dining area standing

Since I arrived early, Claudia had me help with some set up stuff.

I personally was a little exhausted by all the social-making there, though Ari Ne’eman’s and Sharon Lewis’s speeches were fabulous. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and had stepped out of the room for Alexa Posny’s speech, though. The desserts included creme puffs shaped like swans and chocolate covered mousse shaped like mice. Corina did take pictures of our desserts, but Corina hasn’t uploaded her pictures yet.

I also got to talk to Lindsey Nebeker, Lori Berkowitz and her partner Karen Hillman, Corina Becker, Lydia Brown, Lauren Gilbert, Melody Latimer, Kathryn Bjørnstad and her fiance Sean, and lots of other people. Food-wise, I rather liked these spinach things? I also discovered that Scotch and ginger ale is better than just Whiskey and Gingerale. Who knew?

Nancy Thayler was given the Outstanding Ally award, and Corina and  Kathryn were awarded the Exceptional Services to the Autistic Community Award.

For anyone who was unaware, it was at the National Press Club in DC.  It was probably the ritziest place I’ve ever been, and I’ve been to a dinner at the Ritz in NYC before.

Thursday night, 8 Autistics and one Allistic (Kathryn’s Fiance) descended upon Lindsey and Dave’s house for a total of 10 Autistics for dinner. Emily Titon cooked a Mango Curry Chicken dish. It was interesting to have so many of us all in that house being community.

A view from over the back of a chair of a bunch of people of varying genders, sizes, and ethnicities on floors and chairs and both using and not using computers.

Scott and I on our computers, while Melody, Kathryn, and Lydia... Do other things while being all Autistic community-y.

At the beginning of the night, we had a bit of a show and tell about stim toys and stuff. Lindsey also graciously let us on her and Dave’s wifi. We spent time in a couple of different rooms on the ground floor. The food took a long time to make, but it was delicious.

a large white person in a colorful kerchief folded over themselves, barely recognizable from a pile of fabric, head on a pillow facing a computer, through the legs of a piano bench.

Between the Stim toy show and tell and later, I curled up like I do sometimes next to Lindsey's Piano. Lydia then took this photo.

The Next morning, I went to the Alliance for Full Participation conference with Emily and Scott. (Ari came later and helped facilitate a session.) The topic was inclusive employment, and it was rather interesting. I also got a chance to see my friend Bill Krebs while I was there, and introduced him to some ASAN people.

Speaking of “ritzy” places, it was held at the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel and Convention Center. Apparently it is the biggest Hotel and conference center on the eastern sea board?  I don’t know but there’s basically a whole village in the atrium. They do have nice couches? Though I sat on the floor  for the “Town Hall”. . .

Savannah, a large white person, sitting on the floor while wearing a brown cardigan and a colorful handkerchief, her netbook perched on her lap.

Sitting on the floor at the AFP Town Hall.

The Town Hall was HUGE- most of the seats were filled and I didn’t want to have to attempt navigating to find a seat since there were already people standing. The crowd was a mix of self advocates, employers/business people, and providers. It was… interesting.

I also had a few side conversations with both Scott Robertson and Betsy Valnes (at different times) via my netbook and word pad. In fact on my facebook the above photo is labled, “At the AFP Conference Using word pad to communicate in a load crowded room.” (Emily, who took the photo, labeled it “Savannah, looking lovely as always.” I think I look like I have liver failure and no sleep.)

Later on, in a break out session, I sat in a group that focused on starting your own business. It was interesting I Think. While in that group, because it was an anxiety producing situation, I used my netbook and word pad for communication.

I am not at the conference today- I need the day to decompress before I take the train home tomorrow afternoon. (And yes, I do love taking the train- it is less expensive than the plane, too!)

I hope this not-so-issue centered post was okay to read. I find that I don’t particularly find this post all that great, but I did want to get the little slice of Autistics having/building community out there, and wanted to share a DC trip with everyone.

Decolonizing Our Voices

Today is Autistics Speaking Day, a day when we are particularly asking our allies and allies-to-be to step back to allow the voices of Autistics ourselves to be heard and listened to.

When ASD started last year (2010) we were in essence protesting an “awareness” campaign that people who purported to be our allies had designed and promoted with heavy pity language. They had asked people not to post at all, to be silent and non-speaking online to draw attention to the communicative issues many Autistics face. I believe our response was pretty understandable not only was this basically online “crip drag,” but it also denied the fact that for many Autistics, online resources such as social media sites have given us a voice.

I myself had great strides in my personal development after getting online. I know a number of people who are Non-speaking Autistics whose ability to communicate was greatly augmented by online resources, and a number whose involvement in virtual advocacy have made the people around them rethink everything about their care. In short, Social Media and other virtual resources have done for us what having a ramp in a public building does for our chair using brethren. (I will freely admit that it doesn’t solve all our problems, and we still face hostility online and off that prevents access just as having a ramp alone doesn’t make your building wheelchair accessible.)

This year, Autistics Speaking Day is taking place at a time when we have people in the streets protesting economic disparity and corruption. For some of the protesters, there are harsh economic realities in their own lives motivating them-  Homelessness, lack of accessible health care, and unemployment. Others feel that their voices as citizens have been infringed upon by corporate interests, particularly when it comes to our elections in the United States. Still others are driven by a need to undo injustice.

This movement of protests is popularly called “Occupy Wall Street,” so named for the action of camping- or “occupying”- public places such as Zuccotti Park in NYC or Mellon Green in Pittsburgh, or a wide number of other Occupying sites. However, a number of indigenous groups quickly pointed out that Wall Street has been occupied for centuries- it was originally Lenape tribal land.

So when their site started, Boston issued a solidarity statement with Indigenous Peoples, and were followed by a number of other sites. In light of this, some people have been using the term “Decolonize” rather than “Occupy” so that the voices of marginalized Americans- such as our indigenous populations- can be better respected and more easily centered.

People of Color are especially hard hit by the economic environment, and in a number of places the living conditions on reservations are deplorable. People with Disabilities too are feeling the economic burden our services are being cut, our programs redefined to limit our involvement in our communities, and supports being withdrawn under the excuse of “budget issues.”

After some thought, I’ve decided that there’s too much of a cross over for me in the work of Decolonizing Wall Street and of our voices as Autistics to not write this post today. While people in general are seeing their demands of their political representatives co-opted or diverted by corporations, Autistics routinely have our voices co-opted by our allies and diverted by large “non”-profits such as Autism Speaks. Many of us are frustrated by the lack of Genuine Voice that the general public hears from us. Instead of looking at the things that help us live our lives and improve the quality of it, research funding is sent to projects that could potentially prevent us from being born in the first place.

Indeed, when we speak we are dismissed using logical fallacies so that the voices of those who proclaim themselves working for our “own good” can be prioritized. Obviously, not all of our allies are like this. But some are, be they parents, professionals with pet theories, or Organizations whose bottom line would be affected by what we are saying. Those are the ones we are talking about when we talk about how our supposed allies need to step back and stop centering themselves.

The Protesters in the Occupy/Decolonize use  consensus building as a process. This does have flaws by itself- those with pre-existing privilege can still flaunt it- but there are some principles that can and at some sites are added to mitigate those flaws. One of them is the concept of “Step back, Step up.” This means for people who have privilege- white people, straight people, cis people, men, and so on- to take a step back in the conversation, and to encourage those without your privileges to step forward so that they can be heard- something that won’t happen on its own. Without taking this into consideration, the same hierarchies that divide us out in the world will be reproduced in our movements.

This saying is the reason I’m bringing up the consensus process in this post- because the conversations we are having in the Autism and Autistic communities need to utilize the same principles. Otherwise no matter how good natured and well meaning people are, those who have less privilege will not be heard. And to me, this Principle is at the core of what Autistics Speaking Day is about.  It is about us being heard when we try to step up, and about our allies supporting us doing that.

I’ve been involved from afar with the Occupy/Decolonize activities at Pittsburgh, PA’s site, working especially with the Marginalized Communities and Allies workgroup.  The Safety workgroup took most of my comments about safety concerns for PWD and added them to the safety document. I’ve been encouraged to stay involved in the processes and networks being formed.

Most encouraging to me is that our site’s working groups have been prioritizing ways for people who can’t stay on site to be involved. Instead of the sentiments that if you aren’t at an action you aren’t really committed that have characterized some other movements I’ve tried to be involved with, I have gotten reassurance. Paul O’Hanlon, a protester with disabilities who has been very active both on site and off, told me to remember that they know that every person there is representing people who can’t.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t people who assign high value to people on site. There are still people who fail to recognize that even when we are eliminating our class barriers that our other oppressions and privileges are still intact. There are still people who don’t get the anti-ableism, anti-racism, and so on work is still very much needed. But I’ve seen what feels like great strides. Objectively, perhaps they aren’t that huge, but for someone who has had their voice sublimated repeatedly it feels huge.

Just as as a young teen blogging, instant messages, and other internet resources helped me to gain a sense of community and skills, the internet is enabling me to be involved.  I’m someone who has not been able to physically be on site because of a number of reasons. I’m rural, I have to have access to certain services on a regular basis that would not be present on site, and I also have fibro Myalgia, which would make winter camping a mobility and possible safety hazard.

So I’ve been doing support work, editing virtual documents, and organizing accessibility work. I started a cross disability group called “Occupy Disability/Decolonize Disability” for people with Disabilities to network resources on both being on site and working off site. A friend with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities started #Occupy at Home to help people like us find ways to be involved. There’s even an “Occupy Autism Speaks” page to highlight the issues with that organization.

All of these things keep seeming to parallel to me the ways that Autistics have built community online when our physical environments have been barred to us. We’ve worked to create venues to be us in, to see the value of our forms of communication. To be involved as we are, not as others think we “ought” to be.

Today is the day we take back our voices. Now is a time when “The Whole World Is Watching” what is happening. Tomorrow is when we will continue to speak out- so please, keep on listening.

____________

When I wrote this, I was working along side Native and Black activists who preferred the Decolonize language over the occupy language for things to do with the various wings of the “Occupy” movement. I’ve been informed more recently that there are problems with using that, particularly since that context has passed, and won’t be using decolonize in this way in the future – Nov 1, 2013

Inside and Outside Safety

[Content warning: Mentions of violence towards PwD, both external and internal. Passing mention of the R-word and of a cat dying.]

“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

 -Zora Neale Hurston

I think sometimes when we talk about “passing” versus visibility we forget what that really means, what it is really about. We forget that it means a choice between being safe in the out there instead of being safe in the in here.

It’s a process of making a difficult choice for some of us. Which will destroy us sooner- the violence that others do to us or the violence we do to ourselves? How long do we defend ourselves from the violence that other people send us before we end up destroying who we are inside? Can we live in a world where we can be safe in our own heads without endangering ourselves from the violence of others?

A number of people have written about what it is to internalize oppression- ableism in particular. There’s one phrase I’ve seen that always strikes me- “outposts in our heads.” The place I remember coming across it was at Amanda Bagg’s blog, when it was used- along with the Sally Kempton quote- as the title of a post. Outposts in Our Heads was a big deal for me when I first read it back in 2008. It helped me form into language the things I was noticing about my own experiences, my own terrors, my own damages.

When we internalize the messages that tell us we are unreliable narrators of our own stories, that we are “bad” and “wrong” when we exist as ourselves, it creates violence inside of us. It’s not the physical kind of course- though sometimes people do hurt themselves as a result of this “inside” violence. But that makes it no less violence, no less an attack on our beings.

The more I reflect on my own behavior and the writings of others the more I feel as though a lot of our passing comes from this violence that has been pressed inside of us. Our passing is  an expression, in part, of the thousand little insidious things we were taught.  To remind ourselves that we are wrong, that we are “slow.” To remind ourselves that we don’t count as humans unless we take these “lessons” to heart.

With those lessons is one that gets pointed to as the “reason” for them, why it is so “needful” for us to find indistinguishable. Why the parent I will sit next to in a meeting next week will tell me that they just want their kid to have a shot at pretending to be normal. The outside world is violent towards us when we don’t accept these things, sometimes in more obvious ways.

I don’t think we have to go far to “prove” them their theory on how unsafe it is for us. Neli Latson‘s arrest- Young, black, and Autistic Neli- is proof in an of itself, however much it is also tangled up in racism. The bullying of kids who rock and flap are constantly held up against the bullying of queer youth by some parents, the violence that both populations face sometimes used to outline how bad it is not to pass. Sometimes I even hear the statistics about how 70% of women with developmental disabilities experience rape and that is used as an example of why we shouldn’t be obviously disabled. (Sometimes I even hear this from people who would fiercely remind you that how a person dresses or what they drink doesn’t make them responsible for the violence done to them.)

These things are brought out time and again, these dangers of the world. And too often- particularly when it is our families rather than disabled people ourselves- the solution offered is to teach us to pass. To not behave or exist as we are. To make eye contact and don’t flap or rock in public or don’t jump at loud sounds.

The solutions offered to individuals too often aren’t to make it so police know what to expect from Autistics (as well as unknowing the stereotypes of race), to end bullying through truly inclusive practice, to teach people not to rape and sexually assault people.

We are told that in order to save ourselves from the violence out there we must do everything we can to look normal out there.

And when we do look normal out there, they pretend that no violence is being done to us. Too often, they forget the violence that they did or dismissed to make us this way. Too often, they will always dismiss that it left us with violence in our heads.

As time goes on I try to unlearn the violence that was taught to me. I try to uproot the strongholds that tell me how wrong and bad it is of me, how selfish, to want to be okay with myself. This process isn’t helped by living in a society that reaffirms that all the bad things are because I’m wrong, I’m deviant, I’m disabled and I dare to try not to hide from it.

In June, I attended the Allied Media Conference as a Co-track Coordinator of the Disability Justice Track with A’ishah of ResistDance. Admittedly there were huge chunks of things that were issues in the physical world- for example, some people not getting what “scent free” meant, or staff members forgetting that sharpies can be toxic for some folk, or how incredibly echoy and not sensory friendly having closing ceremony in McGregor was. But the biggest thing for me had nothing to do with my external environment.

It had everything to do with my internal one. I was working so hard at uprooting the ableism inside of me, and yet while I was there surrounded by movers and shakers and hopeful justice makers I found more. I spent a couple of hours one afternoon sitting in a corner, crying and rocking and holding my arms tight. My outside was safe enough- someone even gave me a tissue as they passed. But on my insides the violence I had worked so hard to uproot from my mind was taking over.

I was alone and unworthy and bad girl. Of course you are having a hard time, I thought, you are wrong at the most basic level.  Remembered directives of Stop Crying and This is for Attention isn’t it? and You are selfish for wanting to be safe and everyone knows that retards can’t lead.

I eventually got settled enough to move, to look for my mum in the Healing Justice Practice Space. When I got there, though, it was obvious in ways I couldn’t know that there was a violence happening inside of me to some of the healers. I had some tea, and Mariposa had me do medicine on my self by way of chalking protection at my wrists. It is protection from the elements of the outside that give power to the violence inside, she told me.

And I did come back to me, to knowing that I am worthy and human and deserving of existance. To knowing where those thoughts were pressed into me from. To knowing that it is a violence taught to me.

I won’t discount that the violence outside of me is painful. I can’t pretend that I wasn’t devastated when the neighbor shot my cat Tribble knowing that he was in training to be my therapy cat. I will never deny that there’s still a spot on my back that when pressed makes me panic, to think that my mother’s second (ex)husband is going to put me in prone restraint again. But I think that the most devestating is the ways that violence is pressed inside of me.

I’m tired of doing violence to myself inside of me to avoid the violence that could happen outside of me. I’m tired of having no safe place inside of me because someone might believe that the demonstrations of my disabled person-ness gives them license to grant violence to the external face of me. I don’t think it’s right to give in to demands that I pretend that passing doesn’t hurt me.

This afternoon, I’ll go shopping. At checkout, while I’ll smile at the register and answer questions from the check out person, chances are I won’t make eye contact. Chances are I’ll startle when someone shouts or drops something. Chances are I’ll flap in line, wander in a way someone else’s parent would characterize as aimless and pathological, cover my face or eyes or ears when things are “too much,” flinch when someone touches me in passing unexpectedly. I’ll stare and not be able to process a shelf display or two, and forget how much I need to get some bottled water because it looks like there’s so much stuff in the cart already.

And I will  be safe.

_________

This Post was inspired in part by “Dear ‘Autism Parents’” by Julia Bascom, as well as other writings of her’s at Just Stimming. I highly recommend going over there and reading more of her stuff. I also want to direct people to the writings of Amanda Forest Vivian at A Deeper Country whose writings have been helping to “percolate” these thoughts all summer.

This has been reprinted at Shift Journal.

Sometimes it feels like Nice is a Dirty Word.

Being polite is this really tricky thing for me.

On one hand, I know that I struggle with being polite, even when I mean to be. There’s lots of little things that even after ages of studying, I miss. And those little things end up having big consequences as to how I’m taken. I miss a signal to stop, I’m “over bearing;” I miss that I’m supposed to say something/contribute, and I’m “Unfriendly.”

As a kid, I would try (when brave enough) to mimic the “playful” teasing I observed between my peers, and miss that it had slipped over that vague line of playful. I was shocked and hurt to hear my mother mention my on occasion “bullying” kids who were trying to be my friends. But the rest of the time, I was too “shy,” too “drawn into my own world.” It seemed as though there was no way to reach a happy medium in between, the one where other kids would presumably like me.

I’ve gotten, I think, a little closer to a manageable compromise. I’ve decided against listening constantly and desperately to the coaching and pleading, and generally try to be nice, opting to withdraw rather than risk it.

There are exceptions, of course. I tend to have a highly developed sense of right and wrong, and sometimes there’s just a little too much *wrong* in the world. Then I seem to slip up.

Let me give you an example. Recently, I was visiting my Aunt in NYC. She married a guy who has done pretty well in contracting, and so yes, there’s a good bit of a class difference. In any case, we were having  conversation with my sister and step aunt, nd she started going on and on about how great “The Secret” was. She was recommending it to my sister.  After a while, I couldn’t handle it any more.

I stated that actually, a lot of people who are facing various oppression (Like classism, racism, or ableism around Mental Health Issues) find the culture around subscribing to The Secret to be very hurtful. Too often, people whose issues face against more than the white middle class abled “mainstream” are said to have not worked hard enough at it for the “Laws of Attraction” to have worked. The Secret in too many circles is used to both deny privilege and to blame oppressed peoples for their continued struggles.

That’s not to say that there aren’t people for whom it works and is mega helpful. But to hear it go un-critiqued when recommended to my sister- who like me comes from a different economic class and who has her own disabilities- was not something I could handle. I Had to say something.

I later found out that she thought I hated her, in part from this and in part because of not interacting otherwise as she expected. Which isn’t true- I love my aunt very much, I just get frustrated by what I see as obvious class differences and how they effect how we see the world.

In any case, I end up feeling as though I’m too mean.

Online, it’s a little bit different. Somehow, I feel as though I’m a little too nice compared to some of my friends and fellow advocates. Maybe it’s who I spend time with. I often feel like there’s so much of my conditioning from childhood of trying to fit in, to dodge some of the less than wonderful experiences of “treatment” that makes me try to be nice all the time. To educate instead of protecting my boundaries.

Most of the people I know in Social Justice circles know that it’s not an oppressed person’s duty or reason for being to educate those who hold privilege over them. It isn’t, for example, an Autistic’s (or other person with disabilities’) job to live as a “self narrating zoo exhibit” as Jim Sinclair would say. It is the oppressor’s duty to get educated, not the oppressed’s to educate.

But I cannot bring myself to not educate. Trying to establish boundaries like some of my friends have is something that leaves me feeling torn.  And I know that it is okay for me to educate people, but sometimes I worry it makes me seem too *nice* when compared to some of my friends. And I don’t mean nice in a kind person way. I mean nice in a too compliant way.

Nice in a way that would make people I love and respect look down on me as feeding into my own oppression. Or, perhaps, in a way that belies how deeply ableism has infiltrated my thinking. There’s a lot of things I keep stumbling across when I go to examine my thoughts that remind me how much of life as someone who- in my case- is an Autistic and has MH issues ends up being about compliance in order to survive.

How much of my desire to be kind is based on my beliefs, and how much is based on the feelings that I need to be “nice” in order to be worthy of surviving, of getting the supports I need?

I’m not going to stop being kind, or educating people.  I will admit I can get s little sharp- for me- on my tumblr, but that’s tumblr and a lot of it is reblogging other, sharper people’s comments. But I’m not going to deny that drawing the line between being kind and being compliant is difficult.

But then again, undoing the things we have internalized is never easy.

_____

Sorry if this isn’t at my usual standards. I just needed, for myself, to write this.

This has been republished at Shift Journal.

Why I’m not Blue.

I see a lot of “light it up blue” stuff being posted around the net today. It makes me sad, really. See, The light it up blue campaign is a project of Autism Speaks. Their name is Ironic, considering they do not have any Autistics on their board, and one Autistic on ONE advisory committee.

I am an Autistic Adult. I have an Asperger’s Dx. But any time I say this, people say things like “Oh, but you can’t be, you talk!” or “But you have so much to say!” This is particularly a prevalent response online, where I do communicate better. I sometimes hear it from people whose only experience around me is hearing me give a talk, not cognizant that there’s a huge difference between public speaking and reciprocal communication.

If they stay around long enough, though, and they know what Autism actually *is,* they get it.

Thing is it’s pretty rare for people to actually get what it is. They are given imagery and little information. Puzzle pieces, Statistics, and fuzzy photos of kids looking anywhere but the camera. They are told that being Autistic is somehow worse than life threatening diseases- which, to be honest, is bad on multiple levels- I wonder what my one friend who is both Autistic and HIV+ thinks when the advertising compares one part of her life to another?

Recently I posted a video on tumblr that Rethinking Autism did called “Autism Support Group.” It had all the usual things we hear said about us- How it seems like we aren’t there, that we don’t display affection in typical ways, That we just “don’t get” school. Throughout, an Autistic adult responds to these comments, only to be ignored and unheard by parents. Thing is, these are comments we hear about ourselves, and about children who were like we were as kids, all the time. The comments could have been lifted from so many parent support groups around the nation- possibly around the world.

Another thing is that it’s always children that are mentioned. The majority of the leaflets and flyers that do feature Autistics (or models) instead of a puzzle piece feature children. “These children,” “Help a child,” or “1 in 100 children” is mentioned. Thing is, it’s NOT just children. There’s no follow through on the notation that Autism is a life-long thing, just a margin in the notes.

The exception is the speculation. “She will never get married and have kids.” “He will never hold a steady job.” “My kid will never go to college.” While these things might be true for some Autistics, saying it’s true of all of us- or rather, all the 1 in 100 or 110 or 160, whatever number you recognize- is just an outright lie and speculation. The same speculation that had my IEP team pressure my mom, saying “She’ll never go to college. She’ll probably never graduate high school. Stop filling her head with the idea that she should pursue advanced classes.” My mom pulled me out to put me in first cyber school then Christian school, and never bought into what they told her about me.

I eventually went back to public school, and I graduated high school in 2006. In 11th and 12th grades, I even took Advanced Placement English classes, and got a perfect score on the AP English exam. (They thankfully didn’t have a spelling section.) In fact, had I not had a nervous break down- inconveniently after the school had pulled my support services- my senior year, I would have been ranked and recognized as such at graduation.

This didn’t come to pass because of an obsession with curing me. It happened because my mother supported me unconditionally. (Her second and now ex husband is a different story for another time.) She knew I was anxious and distracted in school, and that they refused to let me pursue my potential. So she arranged it that I could, and in an environment that suited my changing needs. She encouraged me to get up in front of people and start advocating. She didn’t ever show me doubts about my being able to accomplish things.

A year or two ago, my mother was approached by a parent. The parent was talking about how “of course, you know, you grieve your kid when you find out they have special needs.” This made my mother angry. She responded that no, actually, she didn’t grieve me. I was right there. The extra work was stressful, that is undeniable, but she never lost me so there’s nothing to grieve. She has me, just the way I am- Autistic, Queer, and living with Chronic Pain.

My mother was there when I would melt down and flail wildly- sometimes so much so that she was worried at times about her own safety. She had to deal with people telling her that maybe she should put me in residential placement. She experienced the fear when as a small child I would wander off, one notable time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. She heard the comments of “Why isn’t your daughter smiling?,” the “cheer up honey, it isn’t all that bad” and my response of “I’m happy, I don’t need to cheer up.”

Maybe she didn’t see what her second husband put me through, or notice the extra time I took in the bathroom, practicing facial expressions in the mirror so that the cheer ups would just stop. But she never stopped believing in me.

So, you know that Autism exists- but do you know what it means to be autistic?

Restraining Wanderers- A Little History

[Trigger Warning: history and images of restraint and restraint related abuse. If you would like to view this post with the images redacted, please see the image-less version.]

Wanderers- people with Mental Health or Developmental Disabilities who “wander” off. The most common image of a wanderer is an older adult with dementia. I know that- before her health failed- my great grandmother ended up in a locked ward at a nursing home- the “wanderer’s ward.”

A little more relevantly, a number of Autistics are or were wanderers, myself included.

One afternoon when I was in 1st grade, a teacher’s aide called my mother to let her know that she had some concerns. I wasn’t making it into the class room- I would get off the bus and wander around the school yard, looking at all the little things that exist in yards on a warm fall day. If I *did* make it into the class I would end up wandering the halls when the teacher would send me to the speech room. This was in addition to other in class things, too. At this point, my mother demanded that they have an aide escort me from the bus to the class, and my “services” began. This was a year before Asperger’s would be added to the DSM IV.

The reason I bring this up now is because the CDC put in their recommendations for the ICD-9-CM (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification; the US government’s official system of assigning codes to medical diagnoses and procedures). In this, they included a recommendation for a diagnostic code for “wandering” behaviors. (Here is the Complete PDF of the CDC’s recommendations.)

Here’s the problem- having it listed as a diagnosis/diagnostic code doesn’t add anything to the situation to make the constructive steps they outline happen. What it does is create an excuse or justification for things like restraints. Wandering behavior sure has in the past.

Image of a bed with slatted walls and a slatted lid, so that it is basically a wooden cage, on display in lobby of Peoria State Hospital. Sign above the crib reads, "Utica Crib, once hailed as a triumph of the human care of the mentally ill, a woman was confined to this crib for fourteen years in an Illinois institution. Twenty-six of these abominations were used in Illinois state hospitals. This kind of restraint was banned in 1905."n care of the mentally ill, a woman was confined to this crib for fourteen years in an Illinois institution. Twenty-six of these abominations were used in Illinois state hospitals. This kind of restraint was banned in 1905."

Cage on display in lobby of Peoria State Hospital. Sign above the cage reads, "Utica Crib, once hailed as a triumph of the human care of the mentally ill, a woman was confined to this crib for fourteen years in an Illinois institution. Twenty-six of these abominations were used in Illinois state hospitals. This kind of restraint was banned in 1905."

The Utica Crib was developed at the New York State Lunatic Asylum in the  19th century. It was based on a French design, but the Utica Crib incorporated the slats. It was used to keep people who might get up and wander around at night in bed. This would allow a smaller staff, or even enable another problem- having other patients do a percentage of the care work. This issue was more prominent at Developmental Centers, where those deemed as “higher-functioning” were enlisted as unpaid care-laborers.

An Image of two beds. In each bed is a male presenting person who has straps holding them down across the waist with further restraints binding the feet together and to the bed, as well as the hands.

Patients tied to bed with leather straps -- a medieval method still in general use. Photo by A. Stettner. 1947

Bed Straps were Used in a similar fashion. The patient would be tied to the bed, to limit movement and prevent wandering. In some cases, the individual might be strapped down in the daytime hours as well as at night.

A Young person with dark hair is tied to a wooden chair, a restraining jacket additionally used to restrain them.

from Christmas in Purgatory, 1974; original caption: "Perfected and modified according to circumstances, chains gave way (during the early nineteenth century) to a long series of other ingenuous contrivances, all designed to limit the patient's freedom of movement. According to Oegg, restraining devices were generally thought to be as necessary for the preservation of life as eating, drinking, etc." Emil Kraepelin

This is one of several images of individuals being tied to chairs or Benches from A Christmas In Purgatory, a famous Photo-essay/expose on the conditions of those with Developmental Disabilities in an institution from the early 70’s. (Here’s A child Bound to a bench with hands tied and a nude woman tied to a bench next to several other women.)

This was another method frequently used to restrict wandering behaviors. The patient was tied around the waist to a lead on a bench in a matter that would keep them from getting off the bench. in some cases, additional restraints were used. In the above photograph, the individual wears a restraining jacket, and propped up with a pillow- which would further restrict the amount of movement the lead would allow.

Restraints that further restrain movement can lead to a number of issues, including bed sores and staph (and in more recent times, MRSA) infections.

I researched the local Developmental center’s history when I was in high school, and it required firsthand sources. In interviewing several people who grew up in the surrounding community and spent time on the grounds (usually because a parent worked there), I heard a lot.

The more mild stories were of people with leads tied to outdoor benches, giving them a 5 foot range in which they could wander. Some of the more frightening ones involved peering in a door window as a small child, to see an individual tied to a chair, urine stains on their pants and pooling underneath. When my interviewee had asked what had happened, one of the staff members had replied that he kept “elopeing” and that he still had a couple of hours left in the chair. She remembered hearing him crying to be allowed to use the restroom. This would have been in the 1960s.

Reforms have happened in the recent past. But Abuses still happen, people are still restrained, and bed restraints of various sorts are still used on night time wanderers. Presenting a code for this behavior just adds one more thing to legitimize some very damaging approaches to people who have a long history of abuse.

It isn’t some distant fringe that advocates restraints. In researching this post, I cam across repeated examples of this. Modern versions of the Utica Bed, but now made with mesh and external zippers, marketed to parents of children who wander. In 2005, the FDA had to issue an alert on Vail Beds because of safety hazards.

Older Adults with dementia are put in “Gerichairs”- geriatric wheelchairs that bind the user to the chair, too often in a way that prevents the user from unbinding themselves. While they can be useful tools for those who need the physical support, when used as a restraint tool it can be dangerous. Bedsores and other infections are common remarks on the use of these chairs. (An FDA statement on improper use of geriatric equipment.)

These abuses are not only in our past. Pretending otherwise just endangers people. I strongly believe that the implementation of a wandering diagnostic code would only add a justification to a group of people who already invoke their own personal difficulties as reasons for abusive behavior.

(Please Sign ASAN’s petition against the Implementation of this abuse enabling code. You can read more about it at the above link.)

AWN and Pepsi Refresh

I have been reluctant to post about this here because I like to maintain myself as an independent advocate on top of my work with various organizations. But after weighing my options, I’ve decided that this post does need to be made.

Autism Women’s Network (which I am the Director of Advocacy for) is currently in the running for a $50k grant through the Pepsi Refresh project. The Pepsi Refresh project gives out monthly grants based on community support to organizations and projects. (Official Page; Story on it.) You might have seen a version of this commercial on TV, featuring  Black Eyed Peas’ “One Tribe” Buy "One Tribe" on iTunesBuy "One Tribe" from Amazon :

AWN is pursuing this for a couple of reasons.

1) Project FAIM. FAIM stands for Female Autistic Insight Mentoring. The idea is to provide trainings and workshops in communities across America that focus on the issues- and possible supports- faced by women and girls with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

We plan on bringing in adult autistic women to share insight on these issues, as well as providing valuable role models for autistic women in attendance. But the core of the program isn’t bringing in names or faces- you can get that at your average conference, some at which the presenters are the only autistics in attendance. The idea is instead to use some of the stories to get an idea about some of the issues facing many autistic women, and to make these issues real to participants.

The real “meat” of the project is to bring the ideas, skills, and the framework for finding resources on a wide range of issues into our communities. We expect to reach a wide range of people, from autistics themselves to allies such as friends and system peers and service providers. By changing how our allies approach the issues, it is our hope that local communities can be more effectively supportive. Too often, a medical model is used when looking at supports, and rarely is a medical model effective for most of the issues people face. When we change the paradigm from a medical to an individualistic approach, we can see more success in all areas of life.

Some of the tentative topics we will be covering include peer supports, Entering adult life- and what that means for different people, Learning how to successfully communicate and negotiate some social expectations, and identifying vulnerabilities and some safe guards we can put in place to protect us. Other topics and issues are welcome to be included.

2) Establish AWN’s Non-Profit Status. Establishing federally recognized non-profit status is no easy matter. There are a LOT of steps involved, and lots of legal work involved in the establishment of any organization.

The basics are to: a) achieve incorporation in a state. Each state has their own standards of incorporation; since we will be establishing out of Nebraska, we will be following NE standards. b) Remain incorporated for a minimum of 3 years. This is a standard enforced by the IRS; any and all tax documents from this period are thoroughly reviewed by the IRS during the application process. c) The filing of extensive IRS forms. You can get an idea of these forms by checking out the IRS’s requirements, or their Step-by-Step guide.

This takes a lot of hard work, and can be difficult for someone without a legal background to accomplish. In addition to user fees, AWN would also need to enlist the help of someone with that sort of background in order to reach 501c3 status.

3) Continue Our Current Projects. Since we opened the AWN website in January, we’ve seen a very positive response. Right now, we have a forum that provides a place for peer support and information sharing, Articles on topics of interest to Autistic females and our allies, and an events calendar to let people know about meet-ups, workshops, and other events. We hope to implement further features including private blogs with user defined privacy features in order to keep our members safe and still able to communicate their situations and needs.

In addition to our website, we also have a radio show hosted on Blog Talk Radio, a facebook page, and youtube and twitter accounts. Some of our chapters have also hosted events, such as the Autism Night Out in the Philadelphia area earlier this year.

The Pepsi Refresh Project allows you to vote once per day for any one project, with a total of 10 votes a day to spread out throughout the various projects. There are 4 different sections on the site: $5k, $25k, $50k, and $250k. AWN is in the $50k section- so any votes in the other 3 sections won’t count against us. For the $250k section, only two projects will win each month, but the other three only require you reach the top 10 in the section to win.

Here are some projects in the other sections that might be of interest:

In closing, I ask that you please vote for AWN once a day if you feel so moved, and to check out some of the other promising projects in the running this month.

When Your Own Problems Take Over

I haven’t been updating this lately. Last time I did, it was to share charities in the wake of the Haiti Earthquake. There are some simple and not so simple reasons for this, so I shall summarize.

I had a back slide in my own issues. I’m a fairly proud individual, so admitting that is a big deal for me. Lots of personal issues emerged at once, and with little to no recovery time in between. The stress had me backsliding in a lot of areas. But that backsliding has allowed me to admit just how much help I do need.

Some of you will not be surprised to know that my executive functioning and daily living skills are not the best. This isn’t something I am entirely comfortable with- even though I know that they re linked to my disability, admitting that they are a problem  makes my pride twinge. I was, like many of us,  brought up in ableist environment. Asking for help was something that I have feared doing. And learning to do so- and to begin shedding my own ableism- takes a lot of work.

In April, I finally admitted to what people had been telling me for a long time. I wasn’t ready to live on my own. Since then, I have been preparing to move in with a family friend, who will be able to provide the type of supported housing that I need.

Many supported housing programs will house you with other individuals with certain types of disabilities, depending on your service system. I am familiar with my county’s system, and I was scared that I would be placed with someone with conflicting issues. In addition, they  tend more towards a group approach. It is hard to tell professionals that that is not what you need.

So I am moving in with Janet M. and her family. Janet used to take in hard to place foster kids- also known as those with special needs. She adopted her son Steven- my age, and non-verbal- when he was 10. He recently moved into a group home that supposedly is helping him. She has the background to know what she is dealing with. She also is renting a room to an elderly man with Schizophrenia, and he has shown improvement since moving in.

Here’s the positives involved with this new situation:

Janet is strict about keeping the house clean. There will be a chore chart. I will most likely be given the bath room cleaning and laundry (since that is what I asked for). The Chore chart is a weekly schedule, and one that she is strict about.

I will be required to wake up at a reasonable time, and to not spend the entire day in my room. She doesn’t mind if I am online, but I need to be somewhere where there is a chance for human interaction. I will also be expected to go into Franklin at least once a week. Eventually I hope to get up to more than once a week, but that is something I will have to work on- being scared of going out in public is an issue for me, particularly if I don’t have a distinct destination.

She will make sure I make it to all my appointments, learn to schedule things properly, and make sure she pushes me when I need it. Her tendency towards schedules and charts should help me- I function better on a schedule, even if I have a hard time establishing them on my own. We will also be working on independent living skills beyond that- learning how to drive, becoming more capable at using the phone, budgeting, etc.

I will still be paying for my own food and personal supplies. She is providing housing, utilities included, and guidance.  I will be asked to pay rent.

The whole thing is scary, but I have hit the point where on my own I am endangering my health and wellness. I have to admit to the need for change, even though it is terrifying. This isn’t the first time I’ve admitted I can’t live on my own- I had someone move in with me in Erie in part because of that- but it is harder this time.