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

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


 

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

Morénike and her two children.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donate via the Autism and Race IndieGoGo.

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

Quickly, Now, Present.

Yesterday, Linda Holmes wrote a review of Allie Brosh’s book (which you should all read– if you haven’t read her blog, she’s a painfully real yet comedic story teller, and if you have there’s some new pieces in it.) for NPR. Except it didn’t look like a lot of book reviews, it wasn’t static- it was more about what it means for Brosh (and others like Donald Glover) to write about their struggles not from the perspective of having overcome them or left them in the past, but of having them in the present. I feel like the following gets to the core of the essay:

But there’s something to be said for the currency of Brosh’s vivid, sometimes nervous-making chronicles, or of Glover’s scribbled notes. It’s very sterile and very misleading to hear about battles only from people who either have already won or at least have already experienced the stability of intermediate victories. It presents a false sense of how hard those battles are. It understates the perilous sense of being in the middle of them. It understates how scary they are.  -Linda Holmes, Present Tense: Allie Brosh, Donald Glover, And Hurting Right Now, NPR

Holmes was talking about this in the form of writing- be it a book, a blog, or pictures of what you’ve scribbled out in a hotel room.  I do try to engage in this sort of writing myself, but so much of what has driven things has been the past. And I’ve told about my past so often, some of it has lost the painful desperation. Other things haven’t, and I try to limit my posts here on this blog to events that even when they are from the past are connected, somehow, with what things are right now. Current events, new perspectives, placing them within a larger context than “I.”

It’s difficult, but not as difficult as opening up about what is emotionally current in my life, In September, I started a post. I hope to get it out soon, but I’ve been saying that since the day I opened the tab to start writing it. It’s been difficult, even though the most intimate parts are there in the draft folder already, waiting for those finishing touches and paragraphs of framing research to connect it to the larger contexts. But it’s waiting, and going into the file means sitting there, paralyzed as to what words could possibly come next. And with that is a circling terror- is it safe to say this “aloud?” 

Writing about our current emotional statuses is hard. Allie Brosh has written a little bit about it, if I recall, though within the larger context of her depression. I know that when I keep trying to go back to any of the posts in my draft folder, terror comes out. It’s not just confronting the now, getting it out into words, though that too is difficult. Part of the terror is that every word I write brings me closer to sending it out into the world. And that can, indeed, put my freedom and peace of mind at risk, not because of a lack of privacy or anything like that, but because being as open and raw and now as that invites the care mongers to flood in. I fear greatly that people will react as though I don’t have steps in place, as though I’m not surviving through this, that I need rescued. That if maybe I was forced to the “right” doctors I wouldn’t have this now. (Hint: as someone who has had various points of this now for most of my life and have been in treatments for the majority of that time, you forcing me or having someone else force me into another hospital or care setting isn’t the “right” approach.) And by making it go out into the world, I’m putting myself at risk for your loving emotional violence.

I do write anyways. Not always here, but somewhere. I write poetry; I use tumblr. And part of that isn’t just because of writing, but because of the impact that writing can have. I know that writing can change a person’s mind or life— I’ve both been changed and have heard from people whose minds/lives I’ve helped change. But that action goes beyond writing, beyond casting into the void for another void-dweller to pick up and carry next to their heart.

Because that power goes beyond it. I’ve been involved with advocacy for many years now, since I was a child. Large chunks of that has been in mental health advocacy. And when the topic of ferreting out some more, new advocates comes up, the family members present and the service system people present always tag on something I find both counter productive and slightly obscene: “… who are stable/well/successfully managing their Mental Issues now.”

Don’t get me wrong- it’s important to take care of one’s self and to take time for yourself in this work.  Immeasurably so. But that is something different entirely from what those words say. They say that the people who frame themselves as our allies don’t see us as worth working with. That our insights must necessarily be wrong, or useless, or both. It says that they care more about our pasts than our present, let alone our futures.

I hear these words from people who are supposed to be working on changing or reforming the system as it stands right now, and it’s clear they don’t actually want the words and experiences and, yes, wisdom of the people who are in it right now. These people seem, from here, to want to insulate themselves from the difficulties and fear that they would be confronted with in working with someone who they know is “still in it.” They can’t wrap their heads around following through with the needed support to actually work with “those” people— consciously or not, they cling to the idea of supporting a person with Serious Mental Illness (a technical classification) being both a burden and necessarily paternalistic in nature. I do hope that for most of the people I work with it isn’t a conscious thought, but it comes out here and there, and not just on this issue.

It’s a deeply misleading flaw, as much as relying on written narratives which makes those struggles into a past. Then we sit and wonder what went wrong in our efforts, even though the very reasons we bring to people to justify advisories like ours tell us why. We go to offices and we say, “Self advocate advisories are needed because you can’t see what the flaws are if you aren’t on the end that will experience them. You can’t watch flaws in a plan that about a life outside of your experience.”

There are other things wrong with the “but are well now” direction. It dis-empowers people further who are already dis-empowered on both societal and systemic levels. It enforces a framework that leaves those with disabilities that are life long, including those with DDs, being seen as less “valid” observers and contributors. It further continues the stigma about being actively mentally ill, even within circles that claim to push for de-stigmatization. It reinforces the messages that we’ve internalized telling us our voices are worthless. But as far as a fatal functional flaw? I believe that Holmes’s comments on writing are the crux of it.

 It’s very sterile and very misleading to hear about battles only from people who either have already won or at least have already experienced the stability of intermediate victories.

Short stories about inclusion

As a child, things that were different from expected orders or previous experience were a major issue for me. Truth be told, I still have difficulties with it. But the fear level that basic differences invoked as a child was pretty high. Adjusting to the diversity of the world around me was very scary when I was very little. I didn’t have ways to effectively categorize many unexpected experiences- from someone who always wore pants suddenly wearing skirts to rooms being arranged different from usual- and the level of overwhelm involved was dreadful.

One day a teacher- I believe it was in a pull out for speech and language arts, but I could be wrong- read me a story. It was illustrated, which was good as I hadn’t learned how to read on grade level at that point. It was very short. It asked a “what if?” question. What if everybody dressed the same at all times- everybody wearing brown suits, from old men to babies. On the facing page was a very dull street view of everyone looking the same in the same outfits. The teacher then talked about some of the possible “thens” or consequences: It would be harder to tell people apart; people might have trouble demonstrating their role without task specific gear; there would be fewer opportunities for beautiful things. Enhancing this experience was that I had a visual aversion at the time to the particular shade of brown. She also talked about some things that were a little more complex- for example, people showing their personality in their dress.

She had me look at the page, and it was scary to me in a way that new categories often are. The markers for what they were and what their context was became even more subtle, and that was difficult. Then we came to the next page, where the facing illustration was bright and diverse. A mother pushed a carriage; kids formed teams; old men wore cardigans and middle aged men suits. Seeing those markers made it a lot more obvious what were groups and what were not. The teacher talked about the different benefits of diversity: fresh perspectives; markers, some obvious and some more subtle than I could grasp without help;  beauty; and the ability to get more out of the world. This page was beautiful, more beautiful in light of the monotone of the page before it.

I don’t know for sure what she was intending to teach, but that story or exercise stuck with me. In retrospect, I’m sure it had many little problematic things to it. But what it did for me was important- it taught me that there is strength and, even more, beauty in diversity. Over time, that embracing of diversity developed into a love of all types of diversity- bio diversity in nature; socio-political diversities; diversity of our bodies; diversity of experiences; and yes, eventually neurodiversity. This one very short story opened my little mind up to much larger ideas down the road, ones that would help me to the better in dealing with the world around me. It demonstrated broadly a possibility, and flamed my curiosity about the world around me. It was still difficult, but that curiosity motivated me to see things through.

Lately, I’ve been reading a bit on children’s books. There are some big questions asked- how do we go beyond integration of diverse people in our children’s books to actual inclusion? How do we include without it becoming a “very special story/episode?” How do we get kids to apply these things to their classmates and neighbors? There’s a lot of wonderful discussion across disability advocacy, education, and parenting worlds.

I imagine that doing these things effectively will become more important as educators attempt to follow (to some extent) the recent Department of Education guidance about bullying and students with disabilities. This decision states, in short, that removing the victim is not an effective way to deal with bullying of students with disabilities, and that it could be considered a violation of the student’s right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education in the Least Restrictive Environment according to the department. (You may have encountered these ideas in their abbreviations, FAPE and LRE.) I’m cynical enough to question how well it be put into practice. But I do think that as educators attempt to apply this guidance there will be even more interest in effective inclusive story telling.

Now I know that my story above is a little specific in the details and mechanisms of working with a child like me with some delays in certain types of communication and social comprehension. (I gained quickly after I learned to read, but was delayed in when I began reading. I still have some social comprehension issues though they have improved.) But I believe that the core piece applies across the board- the development of curiosity that is not hindered by fear of the unknown.

So I’d add as a core issue in the discussion of inclusive storytelling “How do we ignite curiosity that the child can build on?” Because curiosity is a tool that can take us so much further-especially when if comes to embracing the possibilities.

_______________

If you have further links on the subjects presented, please consider leaving a comment with them below to enable more people to be informed on them. Thanks!

Why Privacy Matters

… even when you are willing to disclose.

Tomorrow, Friday, April 26th, 2013 there is going to be a hearing about HIPAA. Well, that’s not exactly accurate- it is about HIPAA for those with psychiatric disabilities or seeking psychiatric care. But no, this isn’t an entirely accurate description either. It is about how some people truly believe that those of us who receive psychiatric care and have our HIPAA rights respected are somehow a threat to public safety.

They believe this even though our providers are mandated reporters, people who have an exemption for threats of violence to others or one’s self. They believe this even though we are more likely to be victims of violent crime than to commit it. They believe this even though when we report on the violence of others, our voices and experiences are discounted.

They believe us as such a huge threat, despite evidence to the contrary, so much that they won’t even be having any of us at the table as they talk about taking away our rights. That we aren’t able to be truthful, competent, or able to speak for ourselves to such an extent that Representative Murphey has gone on air with his belief that we would be incapable of testifying and that the most important conversation is one about parents and families’ experiences.

Those of you who follow this blog just for the Autism angle might recognize that sort of language. It’s the same sort of language that made our fight last November to get Autistics on the panel of another hearing so important, and that makes our objections to how we are portrayed in the media so necessary.

I’ve heard from some corners of the autism communities that the issue at these hearings isn’t about us, or that some of the efforts that autistics (and ASAN) are doing around this hearing are somehow conflating “mental Illness” and autism. Setting aside the fact that in some places autistics without ID are only able to access supports through the mental health system, and setting aside the fact that some of us have additional disabilities that happen to be in mental health, I still have to disagree. These are the same issues that we face, the same ways our voices are invalidated and our societal consent voided.

Even where we aren’t also people with psychiatric disabilities (and a number of us are, either by birth or because having society tell you you aren’t worthy tends to be traumatizing) , we should be giving our solidarity to the people who are fighting the same fights. And we are fighting the same fights against ableism, albeit from slightly different angles. We have a stake in this too- because ableism isn’t just actions. It is systemic. It impacts all of us, though often in different ways, regardless of our exact disability. There’s a reason we need a cross-disability movement, and the strength we have in supporting each other is just one (important) part of it. There is a song that goes, “None of us are free if one of us is chained,” and you know what? There is a certain amount of truth there.

There is also, of course, the fact that co morbid mental health disabilities or not, many Autistics will be served through the mental health system. The sort of policies this hearing may engender often don’t care if you are receiving services for mental health. They only care about what the services you are receiving are classified as.

I personally am multiply disabled. I have multiple reasons to care about this issue, and that is just reasons that have only to do with myself. There are even more when I think about the people around me.

I am someone who is all about disclosing. I’ve talked, in the past, about topics that are very personal and are too much information for some people. It’s ok if you aren’t comfortable with that, but I have done it for a reason: for every time I’ve had a comment or email expressing concern that I’ll disclose details of my life, particularly as it relates to medical care, I’ve received one if not multiple telling me thank you.  Because they? They don’t feel safe disclosing and it has left them feeling isolated.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? That people don’t feel safe, or comfortable, and they feel that way for a reason. it is the same reason that disclosure is currently a political act: because the negative consequences can be so great. People regularly face discrimination when they disclose, particularly when their disclosure is about a highly stigmatized disabilities. There is a reason both psychiatric disabilities and autism are on the list of such disabilities that the Department of Labor’s ODEP put out- people unfortunately are still fired or even denied a hire on the basis of disability, even though it is against the law. Housing, too, can be riddled with discrimination, leaving affordable and safe housing harder and harder to come by.

Even disclosing in the medical community has negative consequences. This past month, we had a prominent, multiply disabled, autistic voice who had to fight medical discrimination to have a life saving procedure. So, too, do people with psychiatric disabilities find their medical needs and wishes challenged. I cannot begin to count the number of stories I’ve heard in which people I know, either personally or through my advocacy, whose medical conditions were ignored or even blamed on their having had a mental health diagnosis. Either way, they faced a denial of timely and appropriate medical treatment, not because of a lack of disclosure between professionals, but because the stigma is so great that when we disclose even medical professionals have their judgement clouded.

Just as other people with disabilities, people with psychiatric disabilities have our abuse and murders excused as treatment. Our families feel justified, or at least are told they are justified, in abusing or being complicit in the abuse of us. After all it isn’t just Autistics being shocked at the JRC– young people with psychiatric disabilities are also sent there. Indeed, there is a whole industry around sending young people with psychiatric disabilities away to isolating and sometimes dangerous camps.

I am someone who takes the risks that comes with disclosure, but no one should have the choice to take those risks taken away. It has far too dangerous a set of consequences to take consent to disclosure away from the people whose privacy it would expose. Far too dangerous to take away the right to privacy of a group that must rely on privacy in order to both get support and to avoid discrimination.

I would encourage all of you to sign the petition that ASAN has written calling out the chairman of the committee for excluding the voices of people with psychiatric disabilities in a hearing that could very well threaten their rights. If you are in DC and are reading this in time*, please try to attend the hearing, even if you just end up in overflow**.

Our privacy, even if we chose ourselves not to keep it, is a right that no one should be taking from us. Talking about doing so, let alone having that discussion without us, is reprehensible.

_____

* I’m sorry I didn’t get this out earlier. I tried, but kept getting stuck on the endless examples that can be found of both how we face discrimination when we disclose, and how the language that is being used to justify the lack of People with Psych disabilities is used to justify other miscarriages of justice.

 

**I personally cannot make it- not only because it’s out of my budget to go to DC last minute, but also because tomorrow I have to go face the housing system to prove I deserve to keep the voucher that makes being not homeless affordable. So please, if you can, go; there are many of us who would like our voices or at least persons represented, but cannot make it ourselves.

I Do Believe This Is…

Content: Mentions of violence against people on the basis of ability, race, and so on; Mention of abuse.

Friday, March 1, is the 2013 Day of mourning for those PwD whose lives were lost to the hands of their caregivers. Last year, it was at the end of March, not the beginning, which means it’s not quite the anniversary of knowing one of my abusers/caregivers is dead. Last year, those two things fell on the same day. I felt shock and relief mixed into my grief. The shock predominated throughout most of that afternoon.

It’s been a year and a month since Stephon Watts was killed, by police who his family was told to contact for “help,” for the combination of being an Autistic young black male. 11 months since Daniel Corby’s murder. This fall it will have been 20 years since Tracy Latimer’s murder. A month and a half since Robert Saylor’s murder. Almost 80 years since the Nazi’s T4 program. I can post lists and timescales forever, it seems, and it still won’t have all the names it should.

Our dead are mixed in with the dead of others in places where our identities cross, these cross sections boosting statistical probabilities. Stephon’s murder was just as much (if not more so) a factor of racism as disability. T4 blended in to a larger propagandistic and genocidal engine.

There are sadly always many for which to mourn.

This year, we’ve seen violent events, events which have gotten the attention of major news outlets and the dwellings on of news cycles. In these ways, it is unlike our dead- though our dead are hidden in theirs. Instead of joining in mourning, the public uses these deaths as a means to fuel the same bigotries which lay behind the excusing of our deaths and pardoning of our murderers.

Recently, some noticed something terrible, something demonstrating the way in which a certain segment of the disabled population is viewed, when they googled “Autistics should”  and “Autistics are.” Google uses everyone’s searches to guess what your next words will be. Based on the searches in their database, google suggested things like “Die” and “dangerous” to complete the search.

A flashblog (see both “should” and “are“) appears to be bearing some results* in amending the computer side of this, but Google only has the ability to amend what their searches suggest. They can’t amend a code and instantly remove the biases that lead to those searches in the first place. (Though it does help.) Erasing bias a is longer, and more complicated, process than that. A process which is on all of us to work on.

A process that we all need to keep in mind. Bigotry that cannot be forgotten, as it blooms fresh again.

My words here are not as direct as I’d like. I see that my sentences are convoluted, but every time I fixate on them enough to begin translating them out from the word pictures in my head into plain language I feel those things that indicate I’m about to cry. It’s hard not to, when you allow yourself to really have the reality sink in. Terror, relief, grief, anger, sadness, and the sense of ever reaching, all inter-playing and weaving.

Yes, I do believe I’m mourning.

______________

This year’s vigils are being jointly backed by ASAN, Not Dead Yet, and the National Council on Independent Living. You can find the nearest vigil to you on the ASAN website, and I’m (as an ASAN person) managing the virtual vigil 3:30pm EST-Midnight-ish, with a good friend, That Crazy Crippled Chick, as my second.** This is a cross disability effort; Autistics are not the only PwD to be murdered by those who were supposed to protect us.

* The article in the link is titled in a way that suggests that this change is already in effect. This is inaccurate; as of this writing, Google has agreed to modify their algorithms to eliminate this issue. It has not been implemented  in a way that impacts the user end experience as of yet.

** Or number one, if I’m Picard and she’s my Riker.

I Was One of the Scary Kids

Content note: ableism, stigmatization of Autistics and other PWDs, the Sandy Hook shooting

I didn’t want to write about the shootings at all. I knew a number of people (who I’ll link to throughout this post) and organizations would be posting and writing, working to counter the inevitable stigma fail that would happen. I even was keeping to commenting on the links of people I care about, people who I know and who I want to have these sorts of discussions with. Then, it happened. I’ll leave the critiques of the post gawker promoted to others, but I feel obligated to make a comment about some of the assumptions it is based on and promotes.

That comment starts with a declaration: I was one of those scary kids.

It’s not some great proud thing to say. It’s a truth, a truth that when I reveal it makes people behave differently. Admitting that you were a “scary kid” means that people heighten their bar of behavior for you even more than a simple disability disclosure does. It makes even normal responses to threatening situations take on a sinister light to others. Telling someone to back off goes from angry to a threat. Pushing away someone who feels entitled to your body becomes violence rather than defense from it.

It makes people suspicious. It makes people question your ability to accurately report crime, abuse, or health concerns. When you are a former scary kid and let people know, they don’t want to hire you in meaningful positions — or sometimes at all — they don’t want you living in their buildings, and they don’t want you learning at their schools. Your opportunities are curtailed. You are told all the things you will never do.

All of these are true of having certain disabilities to begin with, but when you add in a confession of having been one of those scary kids it is heightened.

I was a scary kid. It makes me sad, but only because I actually don’t like scaring people, though I often can’t tell.

Before the age of 14, I was the sort of child that service providers recommend parents to place in a residential setting — that is, juvenile mental health institutions. Parents were — and are sometimes still — encouraged to relinquish them to the state, who would willingly pay for this kind of care. My mother fought it, and demanded community based services and the training my providers needed to provide it. But she was pressured the entire time, and when I was reviewing her records last year I found boxes of pamphlets and packets that she was given to encourage my placement in those settings.

I also found her private journals about our lives at that time. These were journals she might only ever show excerpts from to a therapist, but were meant to be private accounts. It was scary for her. I cried when I read them, because it was horrible to realize that I had made my mother feel so horrible and hadn’t known. I had not realized that anyone would have interpreted my behavior in a truly scary way, that they wouldn’t see the same causes that I was reacting to.  But she was terrified in those pages — the ones she never meant for anyone but herself to read. Even in her advocacy work, she wouldn’t say that certain events were from my life, just that they had happened to “a young person” she knows. Even the things that she was terrified about.

In the pages of that private journal, she talks about the times I would charge at or by her. To me, I was desperately trying to escape a scary situation for me. To her, it was a charging at. I would throw things, and at the time didn’t have the impulse control to find soft things in a safe space. I never aimed at people, but to her I just had really bad aim. I screamed, and I said things that made little sense — I was scared and angry and frustrated that I couldn’t articulate it. These were seen as threats. When I was put in a scary situation, I would flail and push to try to get out of it — and these were seen as violence. When she left on trips, I was taken with her because she was worried what would happen if I was left with a babysitter.

Most of the episodes she chronicled for her private memory keeping were ones that she never saw the cause for. So many start with, “I came home from work, and Savannah…” It took me until into my twenties to be able to articulate what happened before — that her second husband had provoked responses and behaviors. How he would tell me I was fat, lazy, and that I would never be competent. How he would threaten me with sending me away.  How he did any one of a number of things that would set off my behaviors. There’s no coincidence that the behaviors dramatically decreased a year after he left- at 14, I even was off medication.

Not all the behaviors were triggered by him — some of them were reactions that I didn’t know how to handle internally. Some of them were because of how my internal state from incorrect prescriptions made things harder to deal with. Some of them were from being unable to handle fear, frustration, and change internally. Change was a big trigger for me, and set off the start of my fear responses. I just didn’t have the skills to handle those states. I would go on to develop them, but I didn’t have them yet.

For me, those times were scary because of the outside world, because of confusion at people’s responses, and because of people using my being a “scary kid” as a weapon. To her, I was scary and she didn’t know and couldn’t predict fully why. She understands it now — time, observation of me growing up and learning, my finally being able to properly articulate what was happening for me in those times.

My mother doesn’t regret keeping it private, between her and her private journal or her therapist. Today she was at  a consumer and family advisory for our behavioral health managed care organization (BHMCO). They read that gawker article, and my mother was appalled. She has scary stories about me, but the idea of sharing them in a way that associated them publicly with me was a horrifying violation of privacy and good sense to her. She was struck by the negativity of the piece, of the author. And she noticed how it relies on and perpetuates stigma, and jumps to conclusions.

Having been one of those scary kids is scary.

It’s not scary in and of itself. What made it scary to have been one is what people assume based on it — and what they assume when you don’t disclose.

I’ve had people try to justify things from the JRC’s electric shocks to denying someone an integrated learning environment, to defend seclusion/restraint to “therapy” induced injuries and even deaths using my fellow former scary kids as their reasons. The kids with “significant disabilities.” The ways that other people saw my behaviors — things I didn’t know at the time- are the same things I hear from people trying to justify violence and isolation towards kids and adults with disabilities.

They also project forward to futures that are inaccurate, contributing to the problems that us scary kids face when we grow up. They say we will become criminals, or will commit violent crime, that we will be a danger to society. That we are “sleeper agents” of mass murder. They say that of course people who have had such and such a diagnosis, especially when you are also a scary kid, will do certain things or will never do other things. That we couldn’t successfully ever live on our own, that we’ll never graduate, never hold a job for long, will never have successful, healthy relationships. That we are doomed. And while not all scary kids have mental health disabilities (and not all kids with MHDs are scary kids), those who have developmental disorders with the right behaviors are lumped in.

When I- and others who are autistic, have Mental Health Disabilities, or both — talk back with truth, we are denied. When we talk about how having xyz diagnosis doesn’t mean we will do stuff, when we point out that we aren’t mass murderers, we are shut down. When we talk about how yes, mental health reform is important but that it shouldn’t come out of stigma, coercion  and false equivalence, we are told that we are calling other scary kids lost causes. When we point out that we don’t have enough information, we are dismissed. When we disclose, we are called too close to the issue. Even when our mothers join us.

In reality, only 5% — or 1 in 20 — of those in jail for violent offenses entered jail with a diagnosable condition. The other 95% did not present as diagnosable on entry. Most of those with diagnosable conditions are there on non-violent and drug offenses, including a number of which are a symptom of a lack of supports rather than their conditions themselves. Some estimates place the rate of Mental Illness at 50% of the inmate population, and yet only a very small percentage are there for violent crimes.

In reality, these impressions of us make us targets of crimes. People with “Serious Mental Illnesses” are more than twice as likely to be a victim of a violent crime. We are targeted for sexual assault, particularly if we are or are seen as women. We are likely to feel stuck in abusive relationships, or to have people use our diagnostic status as justification for abuse. And that is just the violent crimes  — we are astronomically more likely to be victims of personal theft, and 4 times more likely to be victims of property theft.

In reality, the stigma and stereotypes that people are promoting mean discrimination in employment, in housing, even in healthcare and courts. It means having people turning their backs on friendships and relationships when they find out, even if you are relatively stable now, even if you have the supports that make it irrelevant. It means people leaving if you have a setback that they would stand by someone without your diagnostic history for.

It is facing stigma, or hiding from it, sometimes at great cost. I certainly made a lot of poor choices based on trying to hide having been a scary kid, even when I wasn’t hiding having Mental Health Disabilities.

Being a Scary Kid isn’t certain doom.

They told my mother and I that I would never graduate high school and I’d never get into college. Some speculated I’d need to live in a group home or a more intense, and that I’d never live on my own. Some thought I’d get sucked into crime based on my psych history alone. Some said I’d off myself before I turned 18, 21, or 25.

I graduated high school — my siblings, the non-scary kids, dropped out and either have or are working on their GEDs. I even aced a number of classes, and other than my last semester (which was sucked up in depression) was pretty much tops. I’ve had some unsuccessful attempts to live on my own in the past, but those had to do with daily living skills more than being scary. Right now I’m living relatively successfully on my own, even if it did follow a period of homelessness. I did get into college easily, even if I had to drop out for a mix of financial and ADL deficit reasons. I’ve never been in jail.

I celebrated my 25th birthday in August. I am alive, and though my health isn’t the best I am surviving and working towards my own personal wellness.

I have little in common with the things they assumed. My scary is now just the normal stigma that any of us, autistic, with mental health disabilities, or both, face. I do struggle, but not in the ways that were assumed when I was a scary kid.

Being a scary kid is just that — having behaviors that scare people when you are a kid. It doesn’t mean you have a particular diagnosis or neurotype. It isn’t predictive of being a mass murderer or anything else- heck, a lot of the people who are mass murderers, diagnosed with something or not, didn’t reach the heights of being “scary kids” when they were younger. Not scary the way I was, or others were.

When I point out to try not to link scary kids to criminal violence, particularly of the mass murder sort, I’m not saying that services and supports aren’t needed. I’m saying that they would be even if we never had a massive violent event. I’m saying none of us are doomed, if only we combat stigma and prejudice at every chance, be it ableism, racism, or classism that we are talking about.

When I tell you no, I mean that none of us are lost causes.

News and Links!

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? FantasticAllons-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. . .

My interview with The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism went up! Hurrah! I recorded a video of me reading it which is captioned and included on their post as well.

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:

Have you seen ASAN’s new website and logo? So pretty! Also, the new website has a lot more features, including membership and a way to sign up for volunteering. Exciting!

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!

Quiet No More- The Loud Hands Project

“Remember, you weren’t the one / who made you ashamed, / but you are the one / who can make you proud.”  – Laura Hershey, You Get Proud By Practicing

I think a lot of the people who read my blog are also people who have read Quiet Hands by Julia Bascom. (I actually already linked to it in my own Rocking (and Flapping) at a 1000 Revolutions a Minute.) If you haven’t yet, please go do so either now or after you’ve finished reading this post. Julia got a massive response, as Quiet Hands went viral. It became very obvious that it was describing an experience that a lot of us have either experienced or have observed, sometimes unaware of the emotional and communicative consequences.

One of the devastating effects of the phenomena that Quiet Hands describes is how it silences Autistic communication. For many of us- and particularly those of us with verbal communication difficulties- our hands are our primary communicative tool1. We stim with our hands, we supplement our language with gestures and pantomime, we use languages like ASL with our hands, we type with our hands, and even utilize AAC devices with them. Things we do with our hands is how we connect with one another- even if that community building isn’t recognized by others. So when our hands are stilled, we are silenced and isolated.

What, with this context, does having “Loud Hands” mean? Obviously it would have to embody the opposite of- and possibly counter to- the silencing described above.

The Loud Hands Project (which is being run as a project of ASAN) demonstrates a pretty good idea of what it could mean to have Loud Hands. The project description defines Loud Hands as “autism acceptance, neurodiversity, Autistic pride, community, and culture, disability rights and resistance, and resilience.” Essentially, efforts that work counter to the silencing and discrediting that comes with a culture that denies Autistics the ability to communicate in ways that are natural to us.

The Loud Hands Project (LHP) is planning on being a transmedia project, spearheaded by Julia Bascom. The current focus is on putting together a written anthology that will serve basically as a foundation document. Submission guidelines/call for submissions for the written anthology went live on January 8th. They include a number of prompts on what it means to be Autistic and aspects of Autistic culture, but they welcome submissions that aren’t answering the prompts while still reflecting “questions about neurodiversity, Autistic pride and culture, disability rights and resistance, and resilience (known collectively as having loud hands.)”

From there, the plan is to focus on multiple mediums as a way of documenting and curating Autistic culture and community, particularly as related to the afore mentioned concept of what Loud Hands means. And I do mean curating- one of the stated goals is to collect and store some of the founding documents of the Autistic community.

Another major direction is looking to be video projects, starting with the trailer (more on that in a moment). I’ve noticed a lot of brain storming for future videos for the LHP media collection, but the actual non-written media submissions aren’t open yet. (Opening of those submissions is still to be determined.) They are welcoming your ideas/brainstorming for future non-written submissions though! Eventually I believe that they will join the trailer on the Loud Hands Project Youtube channel.

Fundraising efforts- LHP is using indiegogo– were launched December 26th with the video below. (You can read a visual transcription/description on tumblr or at the youtube page itself.)

In the first 24 hours, the indiegogo campaign raised over $3000- and over $6000 at the end of the first week. As of 9:30pm January 10th (when I’m composing this entry) it hit $7463 USD. Fundraising ends March 15th with a goal of $10000 USD. UPDATE:  January 14th the $10000 goal was met. They are still collecting funds though- see the bottom of this post for more on this!

You can see the support levels, along with the number of people contributing at each level, at the LHP indiegogo page. Each support level has a different corresponding “reward” for your donation, ranging from a thank you email, to PDF pre-releases of the anthology, to signed hard copies donated to libraries in your name.

I personally feel that it is a much needed project, and am totally excited about it. As such, I’ve been trying to contribute in any way I can to this effort. I wrote the Visual Transcription mentioned above, as well as designing the Blog Badges (shown below) and writing most of the how to on using them.

Blog Badge- large. A large white person is holding a sign up that says "The Loud Hands Project". Below this image, text reads "The Loud Hands Project" and "Autistic People, Speaking". Below that it reads "Watch the Video. Read About the Project. Support the Work. Visit indiegogo for more about The Loud Hands Project."

The large blog badge, which I'm using in my own side bar; 170x300 pixels

Blog Badge- Small. A large white person is holding a sign up that says "The Loud Hands Project". Below this image, text reads "The Loud Hands Project" and "Autistic People, Speaking"

A smaller Blog Badge; 170x193 pixels

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I’m also (obviously) writing this blog post, and sharing it in my networks. Right now, LHP is on Twitter as @loud_hands and there’s a Loud Hands Project facebook page as well. (If you clicked through on my original link, you’ll notice that the Loud Hands Project is on tumblr as well.)

I think another interesting feature of the campaign is how various accessibility measures have been added.

The visual transcript for the trailer was requested before the campaign went live, which is kind of a big deal- while captions are becoming more popular, visual transcriptions are not as common. After all, they are time consuming to create- more so than image descriptions- and like image descriptions can be hard for people with visual processing issues to write. But they can be a big deal for visually based messages becoming accessible for the Blind, visually impaired individuals, and those with visual processing issues.

Additionally, there has been a recognition that language processing difficulties can be a barrier in sharing stuff like this. Two days after the campaign went live, scripts for sharing LHP‘s campaign went live.

This isn’t as uncommon to be accommodated, though outright recognition that it is an accommodation is, I think, less common. More often scripts get framed as “We recognize you are a Busy Professional Person™ who doesn’t always have time to handcraft sharing emails, so here’s an example you can use!” It has become something that, when present, isn’t seen as an accommodation, which would be great if it wasn’t for the resistance that those who do need this particular thing usually get when they have to ask for it. I think that in this context, the fact that the scripts are openly recognized as having an access function as well as being given in an overwhelmingly supportive manner in response to requests is significant.

And, of course, the blog badges have image descriptions and I’m going off to caption the lyrics to the song in the trailer via Universal Subtitles tonight. (Which means they’ll be up by the time this post goes live.)

I hope you’ll join me in supporting the Loud Hands Project. I hope you’ll link it, share it, tweet it, blog it, and post it. I hope, for those who have the money for even the lowest level of support ($10) , that you’ll donate. That you’ll encourage others to donate. And, once the fundraising campaign is over, that you’ll continue to support the projects of the Loud Hands Project.

I believe that we all should have Loud Hands, and that LHP is a great way to facilitate that. Not everyone is in a position where they can go and be safe stimming in public, or writing long blog posts, or have the supports to do speeches or attend protests or go to conferences like Autreat.  But it is possible for some of us to do some of the little things- making a video or a painting, answering a mini-prompt, constructing things in our own natural languages that say, “I am here. I exist. I can be proud.” These are the core of what it means to have Loud Hands.

The big things are great. But sometimes it’s the little ones together that end up being the loudest.

1 I recognize that some of us also have mobility difficulties that make using hands in particular not something that is doable. If you can think figuratively, hands is a stand in for all the other non-verbal techniques that people use to accomplish the things we are talking about. Our hands here are not just literally our hands, but our own means of communicating. The same goes for words like “voice” and “speaking”.

UPDATE (January 16th, 2012): On January 14th The Loud Hands Project met their $10000 USD goal. That’s right, in 19 days you- the supporters- met a goal that was planned to take 80 days. Great Job!

Seeing how much our community needs LHP, and with encouragement from indiegogo, LHP is going to continue fundraising through the original March 15th deadline with benchmark goals at $15,000, $20,000, and $25,000. You can read the details on the projects at the Loud Hands Project blog, but they include more videos, more documenting of our community, more supporting Autistics pursuing community, and the launch of the website and all of the resources that will bring.

It’s exciting- exciting because we need it, and exciting because it means that we won’t have to wait for the anthology to be a success before LHP will be able to start bringing more projects to us.

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.

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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.