Autistic pride is my rebellion (or, why I can’t celebrate Father’s Day)

Yesterday was Father’s Day, which I cannot celebrate. Today is Autistic Pride Day and June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month, which I embrace. It was also the Baltimore Pride Festival yesterday. I put on a Noncompliance is a Social Skill shirt and made an “Autistic Disabled LGBTQ+ Pride” sign, and trekked off. For some, those celebrations aren’t mutually exclusive, but for me, Father’s Day is not one I can celebrate with the others.

“it was said they loved the stars”

It was said they loved the stars:

Enough to carry stardust ever so gently in
pockets lined with meteorite shards, wrapped
in wax paper for fire-starting, a return to origins.

I also wore a B’tzelem Elohim genderqueer Star of David patch. I am a genderqueer and nonbinary Jew-in-progress. B’tzelem Elohim. [Created] in the image of G-d. Not a mistake. Never was, never will be. Some in my life have said otherwise, including my father. I am tired of keeping it a secret online, of indicating the existence of a trauma history but being afraid of saying why.

Enough to try and forgive the father who left burn
marks in the wake of their scarring scorching (re)actions
Who sharply laid blame at their feet and swore
on the flames consuming all the mistakes made

Some in my life have said I’m a mistake and worthless, including the reason I cannot celebrate Father’s Day. I did try to work it out and possibly forgive him, but he never was sorry. I was never the child he wanted. I was never “normal.”

I had a hard time making friends. I said things that didn’t match my tone. I took things literally. I went on long, excited infodumps about extremely passionate interests of mine. I had meltdowns. I had shutdowns. I was fidgety and hyperactive. I had attention issues and problems at school. I had a hard time with conventional communication and reading body language/tone. And over time, I became insolent, aggressive, and volatile, following years of his verbal and emotional abuse.

My disability traits don’t actually matter here, because I never deserved it. Sometimes, that’s hard to remember, because all of that told me I don’t have inherent value as a person. And other things exacerbated his treatment of me, like the occasions he had too much to drink. Through the years, I blocked it out. It floated back in late teenage years, when it was safer to do so. So I tried talking about it: “When you do X, I feel Y.” Then: “If you don’t stop yelling at me, I will end my visit and go home.” I concluded that nothing I did would make that happen. After college, I finally gathered up my nerve.

And also enough to face their father and walk away from the
words and epithets of (dis)grace and turn their face to
G-d instead, found among the shul’s engraved Stars of David
And in the Etz Chayim prayer’s high note of A-do-nai,
And in notes before and after, calling upwards

Enough to embrace what is cold and distant to our eyes,
points in space where no one could ever reach, the fiery fusion
of atoms we can’t get get close to.

During college and since then, I’ve relied on a multitude of things to get me through. I found pride in being disabled and autistic. I found words for my gender identity. I made and still have friends. I stopped talking to my father. I adopted a cat. I found a psychiatrist who treats me like a person, and believes me about things. I began converting to Judaism, where I am finding coping methods in the ritual and prayer.

And I will never be able to celebrate Father’s Day. I hope everyone knows that it’s okay if they can’t, either. Or if they have to pretend so nothing bad happens. Or if they just have complicated feelings. I hope you can celebrate whatever you need to, commit whatever acts of rebellion you need to.

Autistic pride is my rebellion; the personal and the political. Not just against cure culture and ableism, but everything he disparaged. Autistic pride says my life is mine, that there are so many things he never took from me. That if I have pride in being autistic, disabled, and LGBTQ+, maybe I can have pride in the rest of myself. I try to celebrate myself, in the hopes that I will eventually feel like enough. I try to celebrate myself, because there are so many things I am and so many things I love.

It was said they loved the stars
It was said they loved the stars, and it was enough.

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A documentary about “scary” kids scares me on behalf of the kids.

There’s a new documentary out that I don’t think I’m going to watch. It’s titled “A Dangerous Son.” It’s an HBO documentary that tells “a story about families with children who have psychiatric disorders that lead to violent behavior.” Mostly because I have already read all of those stories. Again. And again. And again.  

And I have found them incredibly disturbing each time – but on behalf of the children who are being written off and exploited. Especially because, as Mel Baggs pointed out in a comment: Across violent and abusive sets of environments, we – the kids – are the only ones seen as having a violence problem.

And those environments are so very often the context for “violent outbursts.” Like mine.

People considered sending me to a school for kids with behavioral problems, after therapy and medication didn’t work to quell my outbursts. Because they were going after the wrong thing: It must, the psychiatrist said, be Oppositional Defiant Disorder and anxiety. Not trauma. Not communication barriers. Not what was modeled as social behavior. Just that I was a rebellious, insolent, violent kid.

A throw-away diagnosis. A throw-away kid.

And I already know the kinds of things they’re going to talk about in the documentary: Desperate, at our wit’s end, we’re scared of our so, so very violent and mentally ill kid. But we’re out of treatment options. The psychiatric hospital is out of beds.

.  .  .

It’s possible to advocate for and with children who are struggling and vulnerable with, as I pointed out in 2016, some level of dignity. According to NPR, the director of the film “wanted to show how challenging this situation is both for the child and the family. Often, people assume a child’s behavior is a type of parental failure.” Further, director Liz Garbus told NPR, “Destigmatizing families like Stacy’s who are going through this and seeing how hard they’re trying is really important.”

Well, yes, in part it often is a parental failure, along with the psychiatric industry and other adults in the children’s lives. Whether it is directly perpetuating abuse and violence, enabling it, or failing to recognize the abuse and trauma, it is a failure of adults in their lives. You know what else is a parental and societal failure? Filming kids at their most vulnerable as a way to showcase how “challenging” it is.

You know what’s really important?

Not, as the NAMI spokesperson in the NPR article implies, framing it as a choice between psychiatric beds and intractable violence at home. Because it does not surprise me and my friends that one of the kids’ behavior “didn’t improve” when he got home from inpatient. Because we have witnessed the violence and hostility of inpatient institutions.

Maybe a focus on trauma-informed care and removing sources of abuse and violence in the kid’s life. Maybe that’s also important. Maybe it’s important to fight for community-based services and training providers need instead of more psych beds.

It’s possible to advocate for struggling children with dignity.

.  .  .

Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone wrote an article on their blog following Newtown and a particularly bad Gawker article written by a parent about her 13-year-old son called “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” In it, Savannah describes being one of the “scary kids,” the right to privacy, and the dangerous assumptions and dismissals people make. Every word of the piece is important, but here is a snippet:

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… What made it scary to have been one is what people assume based on it — and what they assume when you don’t disclose.

The author of the “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” piece is in the documentary.

.  .  .

And what if filmmakers had turned a camera on me capture my worst moments? Then what? Would anyone have seen the context? Would anyone have seen a vulnerable child? Would anyone have stopped to think about the young person whose future they’re so willing to damage? What this might do to them on every level of being?

No. They wouldn’t have, because it’s already happened, over and over again, to others. They chose to exploit. But they could have provided sensitivity and trauma-informed care to a young, struggling person instead.

However lost in life you may think we are: “None of us are lost causes.”

 

The NYT antidepressant article: what it does – and doesn’t – say

There’s a New York Times article on mental health – and reactions to it – making the rounds on my social media feeds. The article under debate is “Many People Taking Antidepressants Discover They Cannot Quit.” And the NYT has a less than stellar track record on mental health. They’ve run articles on whether we should construct a new wave of “modern asylums.” Based on people’s reactions, and the NYT track record, I mostly expected the antidepressants article to be shaming medication use. It wasn’t. It discussed antidepressant usage and prescribing habits. And as the title promises, the people who can’t go off them, due to extensive and protracted withdrawal symptoms.

It’s not necessarily well-written as a public health article. And it is not an article that is telling people to stop using their medications long-term. Yet the discussions I’m seeing are talking about med shaming and taking meds long-term. Which, if you feel like long-term medication is most beneficial to you, you have every right to it. At least some of that discussion, I think, is rooted in fear that the article will contribute to medication shaming. I do get that. I’m on meds, including an antidepressant. I like a couple of them. I don’t like it when people think I shouldn’t have access to them because they think all meds are the same or evil.

But the article is about effects of withdrawal when people try to go off of them. It is about people not knowing these risks beforehand to make an informed choice. It is about doctors not providing informed consent. My perspective is shaped by the fact that I had been medicated for a long time before I was able to assert more control. Not “taken medication,” but “medicated,” with little information on the drugs I was being told to take. I am now on two that I cannot taper off of right now, because I’ve been on meds for so long. I know; I’ve tried. So: informed consent is a thing that should exist.

The article discusses people being unable to get off medications, and the response I’m seeing is to talk about it being okay to take them long-term. But not everyone on antidepressants finds an adequately stabilizing one. Not everyone on antidepressants wants to be on them forever. People get to make choices about if what the medication is doing is worth it. If a person wants to go off of a medication, reassurance that it’s fine to be on it long-term is a response I do not see as helping.

So I find it disconcerting that people would turn the subject to the stigma of taking long-term medications here. We need to be talking about side effects. We need to be talking about withdrawal. We need research on effects – positive and negative – that can help guide informed consent and people’s medication choices. I do understand stigma and medication shaming exists. If people do that in response to this article, or anytime, it’s inappropriate. And I have been on the receiving end of medication shaming, too, and it’s demoralizing.

But I don’t think criticizing the article for what it doesn’t say – as a preemptive defense against med shaming – is useful. We should critique and criticize based on some of its actual flaws: it is written with, perhaps, some sensationalism. It lacked clarity at some points. It may deter some people from finding something that works for them. But it does not argue against people’s personal choices to stay on antidepressants long term.

Stephen Hawking also used AAC: notes on the disability discussion

Acknowledge Hawking’s AAC use – and also know and remember that everyone deserves access to communication supports.

Stephen Hawking, the disabled theoretical physicist and cosmologist with ALS, recently died at the age of 76. I love the stars and space: enough to embrace what is cold and distant to our eyes, the fiery fusion of star atoms we may never get close to. Sadly, this love has not allowed me understand theoretical physics, even in layman’s terms. 

But I’m disabled, too, so I understand parts of that bit. I can talk out loud, but not always. What I say may not always be what I mean. I try to write more than I talk. I can walk, but it’s often painful, and limited to half a mile at once. I don’t use AAC or a wheelchair full-time. My main advocacy has been with the autistic and I/DD community. My values are rooted in access for everyone: people who don’t have adequate communication supports, and people who use AAC, even if they didn’t turn out to be geniuses. 

So that’s where I’m coming from for the rest of the post. Okay? Okay. I have something to say about the disability community’s conversation on him. We’ve been fighting the erasure or denigration of his disability by non-disabled people, including the media.

(For those who missed it: there is a lot of “in spite of disability” and “free from his wheelchair” language when his disability status is discussed in the media. Hawking’s disability was an important part of who he was. He achieved all his work informed by his disability, not in spite of it. And death is not better for disabled people: support us in life, not laud our deaths.)

Which, yes, be angry about that! But many of discussions only note his power chair use. Which the erasure of his power chair is a problem. But I often do not see a similar emphasis on his AAC use and how that’s an equally valuable part of his disability experience. I want you to start valuing his AAC as much as I hear you talking about his power chair. I am not asking for you to prioritize him being an AAC user over that. I just want you to grant his use of AAC the same level of importance (Some of you are, and I see you! Thank you).

Hawking himself stated access to communication supports are critical to make available:

I want to use my high profile to raise awareness of issues around disability and communication. Recently, my communication system broke down for three days, and I was shocked by how powerless I felt. I want to speak up for people who live their whole lives in that state. My hope is that the kinds of technologies I have trialed and helped develop will become easily and cheaply available to all who need them. We need to make sure this technology becomes available to those who need it.

Hawking also freely acknowledged the significant privilege he had: “But I realize that I am very lucky, in many ways. My success in theoretical physics has ensured that I am supported to live a worthwhile life. It is very clear that the majority of people with disabilities in the world have an extremely difficult time with everyday survival.” 

Beyond Stephen Hawking, access to communication supports is a right, for everyone. 

So are things like presuming competence, which doesn’t mean “treat people like they’re not disabled,” but “treat them like a person with strengths and support needs.” As Julia Bascom wrote in 2014 about a thing that happens sometimes involving autistic children with high communication support needs:

Autistic child is presumed to be very significantly intellectually disabled. Years later, a method of communication is found that works for the child, and it turns out that they are in fact very smart…. The parents are overjoyed. They begin talking about presuming competence, the least dangerous assumption, that not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say…

…These revelations, about presuming competence, human dignity, and the least dangerous assumption—they don’t apply only to kids who are secret geniuses. They apply to everyone. They are the most important for the kids who really do have intellectual disabilities, who really can’t read or use full sentences and who really do need extensive support.

Make sure you are acknowledging that Stephen Hawking used AAC as part of his disability experience. That disabled people who aren’t theoretical physicists use AAC, too. That disabled people who aren’t secret geniuses and don’t have adequate communication supports have things to say. The potential for, or existence of, “genius” and “gifts” is not why people have the right to communication supports. We all have decisions to make, along with needs and desires to express.

We all have something to say, no matter: our level of education and employment status, how much support we need to make decisions, if we rely on social safety nets or not, what disability we have and how it impacts us. We all have something to say, no matter what.

Prejudice after mass shootings is a well-defined pattern

Alternate Title: This autistic with mental health disabilities would like others to develop better pattern recognition skills.

East Coker

Image text:
You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? 
-From T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” Part II: East Coker

I have an inordinate fondness of T.S. Eliot’s poetry. I have significantly less fondness of repeatedly having to tell people to stop blaming mental health for mass shootings. But yes, I shall say it again. Because a 2017 Georgetown Public Policy Review article by Delaney Luna notes that “a 2015 study found that 63% of Americans blame untreated mental health problems for mass shootings.” Because “contentious studies associating mental disorders with violence are often cited as fact, overstating the propensity for mentally ill individuals to commit violent acts, and promoting these ideas to the American public.”

(Unfortunately, often gun control legislation introduced in the wake of shootings targets disabled people. There is clearly a mass shooting problem, but any solutions need to be non-biased and not ableist. The public policy article does set up the dichotomy of blaming mental health vs. gun control, so keep the above in mind).

So yes, I shall say it again. Stop scapegoating social minorities – people with mental health disabilities – and evading the real problems. There are patterns to how people respond to these incidents, and patterns behind the motivations of perpetrators.

Fact: There is usually a history of things like domestic violence or white nationalist supremacy discovered in the backgrounds of those who commit mass shootings. Response: Many people, including government policymakers, decline to do anything but blame terrorism (predominantly if the perpetrator is or thought to be brown and Muslim), or mental health (predominantly if the perpetrator is white). It is still apparently easier for many people reporting news coverage, or policymakers, and others to deny these patterns. They believe it is better to scapegoat than get at the real problems… better to try and stop us from having rights.

The discussion for the most recent incident in Parkland, Florida revolves around mental health. There’s also talk of white nationalist ties. Which, great, please talk about white nationalism being one of the factors involved. White nationalism – as recorded by the Southern Poverty Law Center – has a body count even as its proponents play respectability politics in some arenas. But some coverage is talking about white nationalism – and mental health – in the same conversation, and it needs to stop. One Tumblr user puts it well in their post “Extremism is not a function of mental illness.”

Most extremists are average people in a socially vulnerable position that extremist ideologues can exploit. People who feel disenfranchised (legitimately or not.) People who are socially isolated. People who are scared, or angry, or feel cheated.

This isn’t mental illness: this is a social problem.

This is exactly what happens every time social change comes to a head.

It becomes violent when someone feeling threatened by the changes decides it’s time to put the social change back the way it “should be.” It becomes violent because these people are told by their extremist social group that the world is getting out of line because they haven’t stopped it.

Stop saying, directly or indirectly, that only people with mental health disabilities can be responsible for atrocities and violence. We are not, in fact, more likely to be the perpetrators of such violence. Luna notes in the Public Policy Review article that “only about 3 to 5% of all US crimes are committed by individuals diagnosed with a mental illness, and fewer than 5% of all gun-related killings between 2001 and 2010 were committed by individuals with diagnosed mental illnesses.”

Stop saying it when most of us are engaged in such a struggle to survive already. Fun fact: I just got out of a psych ward again within the last few weeks. Surviving is hard.

Diagnoses from hospital stay.

[Partial screencap of diagnoses from my most recent hospital stay, including autism spectrum, suicidal ideation, and bipolar disorder – unspecified. Name of hospital and dates removed.]

Stop saying extremism and its resulting violence is the result of mental health disability. Stop tying mental health disability to white nationalism, the way that’s being done now after mass shootings and whenever the Trump administration does something terrible and/or linked to white nationalism.

So yes, I shall say it again: Stop trying to tie mental health disability to all the occurrences you pretend are unexplainable by anything else.

We’re already dealing with enough without scapegoating being pushed as “mental health reform” and being blamed for social problems that are explained by multiple other factors. We already know you don’t actually want to help us – just protect people from us, but it sure would be nice if you could at least stop making life harder for us.


Note

Conversations on mass shootings do shift with context, and it’s important to note mental health isn’t the only topic of conversation. If the perpetrator was brown and Muslim, Islamophobia comes into play as a prejudice:

 

Via WA No Modern Asylum:

From my friends in Washington state:

…On November 28th of this year, the Guardianship Forms Subcommittee sent out an email asking for advice on creating specific forms for the Washington Supreme Court to approve or deny a guardian’s request to sterilize the person under their guardianship. Linked here is what the subcommittee believes the forms may look like [7].

…These forms try to make the process of asking the Washington Supreme Court to allow a legal, forced sterilization clearer to parents/guardians as well as speeding up that legal process so that people under guardianship will be forcibly sterilized more quickly than before. Creating these forms will result in more forced sterilizations in Washington state…

So what is to be done?

…The person in charge of receiving comments about the forms is Commissioner Rebekah Zinn (Washington State Pattern Forms Committee Chair). Her email, as listed on the call for advice, is zinnr@co.thurston.wa.us.

Please email her opposing this proposal and mention any personal connection you have on this issue. A sample format is linked here at our campaign page… Together, we can make them listen and stop this practice!”

via Don’t Make Eugenics “Great” Again: Oppose Forced Sterilization! — Washington No Modern Asylum

The Judgment about “What Counts” as Sexual Assault

This post goes into detail of an instance of non-rape sexual assault in the first paragraph. 

———-

In high school, one semester, a girl in gym class kept stroking my legs – well above my shins. She sat in the bleachers below me. I told her to stop, several times: it was uncomfortable and I hated and still hate being touched. She cooed at me and mocked my discomfort. I told the gym teacher, and he talked to her, but it didn’t stop. I resorted to lashing out with my legs in the general direction of her face. Finally, I started skipping gym class often that semester.  

I didn’t realize it was sexual assault with the probable intent to do worse until this year. So I never told anyone else at the time, though I don’t know if that would have helped anyway. I thought sexual assault only happened how it did on Law and Order: SVU, which I had caught episodes of in passing. No one ever told me otherwise. Adults in my life told me to carry pepper spray and not walk alone in the dark. They never told me to think about people I was at least vaguely acquaintances with. They never told me what to do if it happened. 

It seems that people, particularly autistic people like myself, rarely get taught about boundaries or consent: indeed, disabled people are often not even taught sex-ed or how to recognize abuse. To complicate matters, many autistic people have been through Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). Its methods violate children’s boundaries and bodily control, and leaves them vulnerable to more abuse in the future.

There is also a general perception around sexual assaults that say they’re not “bad enough” or don’t “count,” from all kinds of people. As if it is easy to judge what it is and isn’t sexual assault when you are not the person who was assaulted. It happens to people who have been raped, groped, touched, and/or assaulted in any way. For people who have been groped/touched, it’s that it wasn’t rape, and for people who have been raped, it often is still not seen as a rape. Very few assaults “count.” For disabled people in particular, some reasons include: “you should be grateful someone wanted to do it to you,” and in the case of some disability types, “the person didn’t understand or care it was happening, so it’s not a big deal.”

When people decide they can say what counts as “enough…” That’s not helping anyone be taken seriously when they report/tell people about sex crimes and assaults. Numerous groups of people already have trouble reporting or being believed about assaults. For instance, many disabled people receive direct support from service providers or family members. When these people assault them, it is harder to leave or report assaults. And it helps perpetrators get away assault and makes it more socially acceptable because it’s not “bad enough.”

People who have been assaulted are told it’s not “bad enough” and they should not have too many feelings, or that they don’t have enough feelings so it’s not “bad enough.” And of course, the perpetrators’ feelings are taken more heavily into account. As Rabbi Ruti Regan notes in this piece, “Victims are pressured to disregard their own feelings in order to help perpetrators feel better about themselves.”

If you are: Stop saying we should suck up our feelings because it’s not “bad enough” and it doesn’t “count” and “they have to live with it too”  and …

Stop saying it’s not “bad enough.”

———–

It is important to note that Me Too appears to have been started some time before now by a Black woman, Tarana Burke, when credit is going elsewhere.

Carrie Buck’s letters, and badly written narratives about them

Carrie Buck was the institutionalized plaintiff of the 1927 Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell. In a case rigged against her, the Supreme Court upheld a 1924 sterilization law. The Virginia institution sterilized her, then later “paroled” her: they sent her to do poorly-paid housework for local families. For any arbitrary reason, the Colony could re-confine her. She repeatedly pressed for a full discharge, and eventually won it. These facts are not in dispute.

Dr. Paul A. Lombardo, an academic scholar on Buck v. Bell, writes about these facts in a recent Undark Magazine article. He presents some letters written by Buck during her “parole” and post-discharge period as an untold story. It is a disingenuous claim to say he is presenting a new angle on an untold story.

Buck’s story has been told many, many times, by journalists, historians, a film in 1994, and an upcoming film starring Dakota Johnson. And her letters are not undiscovered, her thoughts not wholly unknown: The letters have been around for years, in the state library of Virginia, and excerpted in journal articles and books. Yet he writes in the article: “We also now know that Buck left her own record.” Buck’s story is albeit being told in flawed ways:  the narrative of her being “mentally normal” as the reason it was wrong to sterilize her. It is a narrative that journalists and scholars have done little to correct, including Lombardo. In fact, he uses these letters to promote that narrative in his article.

And it is true that they have not been publicized in Internet articles such as Lombardo’s (that I could find). But to say that Buck’s thoughts have never been known before, to say that we just now know “Buck left her own record,” is to say that we did not know before that Buck had agency.  To use Buck’s letters to promote a narrative that fails to acknowledge that eugenicists used disability, real or not, as a reason to sterilize people – is also wrong. To use Buck’s letters as proof of “not disabled” meaning she shouldn’t have been sterilized is wrong. (Also, disabled people are often denied agency in a number of ways.)

It is not only insulting to disabled people, but it is also insulting to Carrie Buck and what she went through. Carrie Buck was sterilized under a government law by people who used public fear of disability and “defectiveness” to do it. It was not for people to claim “not disabled” was the one quality that made her sterilization wrong. It was not for people to deny her agency.

Trauma in Fiction and Real Life: In Defense of “The Catcher in the Rye”

holden caulfield ask

[Anonymous Tumblr ask reading: “Holden Caulfield was a whiny self-centered teenager and he didn’t deserve an entire book”]

The above ask was sent to a Tumblr user, who responded with thoughts similar to my own. Holden Caulfield of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is a traumatized teenager. Catcher is the story of what trauma can look like. It is the story of what it looks like when adults fail youth.

Holden was a vulnerable teenager experiencing so much trauma. He had so much grief of losing his brother, one of the only caring people in his life. He had to survive a toxic school environment where his peers killed themselves and he was implied to be enduring sexual abuse. He narrates his story from an institution in California following the breakdown.

Catcher is the story of what trauma can look like. The book wasn’t the story of “lol angst.” To dismiss that? Means letting adults and parents and educators off the hook to do good. To do right. To maybe support youth in working through trauma and edging closer to adulthood. Catcher is the story of a traumatized teenager. Some adults actively contributed to his trauma. And all of them let him fall through the cracks until the breaking point.

Stop letting traumatized teenagers just fall through the cracks. Stop assuming teenagers are just supposed to be miserable. Remember that just because trauma isn’t immediately visible doesn’t mean it is not serious. Treat pain, whether trauma-related or not, with respect – not as bothersome angst. Talking about counseling options can be helpful, but forcing them into it is not a solution. Training teachers to be better mentors and making sure guidance counselors remain in schools (and improving upon guidance counseling) are useful as well.

.  .  .

I read Catcher in high school, the same time I started dealing with fallout from trauma. I could see in Holden myself. I read and glimpsed what could have happened to me if things had been a little different. I read as the adults in his life failed him, as some in mine didn’t. I was a frightened and hurting teenager. Who didn’t know that it was trauma to even talk about. Who didn’t have any coping mechanisms. Who thus did not remotely know how to cope. Who did not know how to react, to process, to keep my pain at bay from myself and others. I had a support network of sorts. Holden Caulfield did not.

Is that how you want to view traumatized teenagers? Are you going to even recognize the possibility of trauma? Is that how you’re going to react to teenagers’ pain? Even if they aren’t strictly experiencing the effects of trauma? Is it? If you think he is just a whiny self-centered teenager and other iterations of that ilk, I know that this is what you would have thought of me in high school.

If this is how you view traumatized teenagers and teenagers in general – no, they’re probably not going to trust you. If your response to teenagers’ pain is “lol angst,” – especially if you work with teenagers – you are contributing to the problem. If you think Holden Caulfield’s pain is “lol angst,” you are contributing to the problem. The book is not just Holden’s story.

Catcher was once my story. Catcher is the story of so many people who are traumatized and trying to reach adulthood. Catcher is the story of what trauma can look like.

Expecting ways of communicating to define an Autistic person

Feedback is welcomed, but please see the bottom of the post first.*

Autistics have largely argued that no one should assume we are alike. Our differences include communication styles, external presentations, or supports needed. Being human like anyone else, we also differ in goals, interests, and hobbies. We’re all still Autistic, but we need others to stop basing all their assumptions on that. In particular, people make assumptions from communication styles. Some of us communicate with significant support, little support, or somewhere in between. Some of us use assistive technology and some of us don’t. Some of us don’t have access to language most people understand. And defining us based on communication style we use (or off any one or two traits) is unhelpful.

Yet it’s not just an issue of non-autistic people making snap judgments. Some Autistics who talk neurodiversity on the Internet also like to ascribe certain Autistic traits to select narratives. One such narrative is that those of us who identify ourselves as speaking Autistics tend to be non-visibly autistic and have few direct support needs. Often, the narrative includes the idea that we’ve learned how read non-autistic people’s behavior or at least mimic it. Many posts intended to be helpful for community members are written through this lens. There are Autistic people who fit this narrative, and there is nothing wrong with that. The issue occurs when the narrative doesn’t make room for other people’s stories.

I identify myself as a mostly-speaking Autistic, and I don’t fit well into that narrative. My communication style is assumed to be “expressive” because I talk out loud most of the time. I’ve written about it before in the blog post “You call me expressive and miss the struggle it takes.” There, I wrote about my personal relationship with speech, and the incorrect inference someone made about me. They decided that I couldn’t have many support needs or real struggles with communication out loud.

But I do have a number of direct support needs, somewhere between “needs little to no direct support” and “has high direct support needs.” My mother, who lives several states away, attempts to provide what support she can, but I honestly need more in-person help. I am able to take care of my cat, but taking care of my own needs is harder. I am forced to navigate a system and a world not designed for me with very little built-in to help me. I also am not good at reading people, and it’s a challenge to mimic non-autistic people’s social norms. The majority of the time I also display body language and speech patterns that are visibly Autistic and/or neurodivergent.

Not all autistic people who speak the majority of the time are like each other, and it is harmful to assume this falsehood. I received and still get little support, in the past (such as during college) and now, when I need it. Many posts I see that are intended to be helpful for the type of Autistic they assume I am are actually not, either. And it harms Autistic people with higher support needs than mine, as well. The narrative doesn’t leave much room to presume competence (which is different than valuing a person only if they have some secret gift, which many seem to base their respect around). Few posts in the community are geared to be helpful for high-support Autistics who are very visibly so (Yes, I have admittedly written these posts before, and will probably mess up again in the future).

People who espouse this narrative seem to assume that other Autistics have the same struggles and the same strengths – and therefore there is no room to even consider what high-support Autistic people, and other people who don’t fit the narrative, can contribute to our movement. Non-autistic people should stop judging us from one or two features. But some in the Autistic community would do well to stop, too.

*(For the record – no, I’m not saying most of the people in the community make these kinds of assumptions. Just some do, but it still really needs to stop).