Playing Roles

I have always been a pretty big nerd. Looking back over my life, I’ve got Star Wars: check, Anime: check, Comic Books: check check check. This year, I decided to add another scoop of geek cred to my pile by doing something I’ve always wanted to try. Enter Dungeons and Dragons. It worked out that some friends of mine had been wanting to start a new game, and what better way to learn than with friends? I spent hours making my character. Seriously, his backstory is pages long. Since the best way I know how to do something new is to absorb all the information I can find on it, whir it up in my brain blender, and then make it my own by reassembling it, I took advantage of the almost 45 years worth of character building literature out there. I know his alignment (true neutral), I know his race (Tengu), I know about his family, I know how fast he is, I know his motivations. I also know that his name translates into ‘Garbage’ (his parents were clearly very cruel). I know so many things about him that I’m starting to feel really comfortable playing him. But I had a thought recently and I’m still mulling over it. If I’m playing Taaka, does that mean he’s autistic too?

 

One of the great things about Role Playing Games is that you get to be someone who is entirely unlike you. And I’ve found that to be really freeing. In real life, I’m definitely a rule follower. Granted the rules I follow are my own, and not always those accepted by society, but still, I usually follow rules regardless of what I want to do personally. This character is not like that. His short life has been hard, and he has no qualms about doing whatever is necessary to survive. So in that way, I can reconcile him being different from me; we have totally different backgrounds. I can imagine his past well enough to guess what he would do in a given situation. But what I’m not sure I can do is imagine what a neurotypical person would do. Life experience has proven that I’m not very good at predicting what a non-autistic person will think or do or say. So does that mean that my autism is coloring how my character experiences the world?

 

I think it comes down to the issue that often comes up when neurotypical writers try to write autistic characters: that even if they get past the stereotypes, they are still trying to understand the world in a way that is entirely foreign to them. It’s hard to teach someone to think in a different way. It’s why ABA doesn’t actually work. People can be taught to imitate the thoughts of others, but it’s sort of like learning a second language as an adult, you may get fluent, but you’ll never be a native speaker. So can I treat neurotypical as a second language of sorts? I spend most of my life scripting, and people learning languages rely heavily on that as well. I fake nonverbal communication, and language-learners fake accents.  In the beginning, they can probably only order coffee, find a train station, and count to twenty, and on bad days, that’s about all I can do too. So the major question is, are my neurotypical ‘skills’ enough to let my character be neurotypical? If I’m faking it, is he faking it? Is his big picture colored by my autistic lens?

 

I’m asking a lot of questions because this is the sort of philosophical thing that really gets stuck in my head. Mostly because I’ve spent such a large chunk of my life trying to observe and imitate other people. I’ve gotten good enough that sometimes, I can pass. Sometimes I can even understand the thought process behind what I’m doing (which let me tell you is so cool!). But neither of these things makes my brain any less autistic. It’s just like a native language, I think in autism, I dream in autism, and I communicate most organically in autism. Which has led me to the following conclusion: I can never truly play a neurotypical character because I’ve never lived a neurotypical life. I can research it, I can understand it, but in the end, my character will never be able to interact with his world in a truly neurotypical was because I can’t. It’s easy to play a character with a different alignment than you, with a different temperament than you, with a different religion than you. People play dragons and elves and gargoyles all the time. Hell, my character is a giant bird-man, and I manage that ok. I can pretend to have feathers and a beak, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to pretend that the way my brain interprets the world can be anything less than autistic. So Taaka will have a small trace of my autism, and I think he’ll be better for it. Maybe my next character will actually be autistic. Or whatever they call autistic in Golarian. There are things about me that I can stop from translating to my fictional role, but I think it’s ok that autism isn’t one of them. I’m playing him as an Autistic Tengu Magus, and all three of those parts of him are important. Maybe not as important as him getting his hands on a bag of holding, but we all have priorities.

6 Word Stories pt.9

So basically the biggest thing I learned about myself this week is that I am now officially Old™. We went to a concert (on a Wednesday night. What sort of concert is on a Wednesday?), and doors opened at 7, so I figure, opening act is done by 8 at the latest, it’s a small venue, so we’re probably out of there by 10:30, right? Not right. The main act didn’t come on until after 10. I am usually very sleepy by 10. Luckily, it was a punk show, so between the dancing and singing and screaming, I stayed awake. Also, the show was definitely worth it, but I still hold my ground that going to bed at a reasonable hour is totally Punk Rock!

  • They like my special interest project!!!
  • Relieved to find a useful doctor.
  • Seeing bands is worth the overload.
  • Getting enough sleep is totally punk
  • Rainbow sprinkles make all things better
  • I handled unexpected guests surprisingly well
  • Too bad solving puzzles isn’t employable

What Do We Want? Language!

I was in my 20’s the first time I heard the word autism. I thought-hm, that sounds awful. And I didn’t really think about it again. It wasn’t until much later, when I learned about autism symptoms that I thought-that sounds like college, when I hid under my bed all the time and had to drop a class because I couldn’t find it. When I lost it every time someone burned popcorn and the alarm went off at 2 am and I couldn’t get back to sleep. Group projects were hell because I couldn’t figure out what my classmates wanted from me. All of these situations happened to me. I failed out of college. I knew my experiences weren’t typical, but without the words to describe what was happening to me, I didn’t know how to ask for help. I didn’t even know that I needed help. I didn’t get diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder until I was 28. Lots of factors went into me being diagnosed so late in life. I am very book smart, which meant a lot of my social deficits were given a pass, especially since I have a strange knack for making people want to be friends with me. I also dropped out of school at the ripe old age of six, and was homeschooled until I went back to public school in the 6th grade. Homeschooling was great for my little autistic self, but not having teachers or guidance counselors around meant that no one realized that my quirks might be a part of something more. I knew I was weird. I knew I was different. So how did it take another twenty years for anything to be done?

The human race is obsessed with language. More precisely, they’re obsessed with communication. We teach gorillas and babies sign language so they can talk to us more easily. We’ve coded bots to learn language and communicate in ways that seems eerily close to Artificial Intelligence. So here’s the question. What happens when you give people language? And even more, what happens when you give people the language to talk about what’s happening to them? For me, the first step was not one of relief, or understanding, but one of confusion. How had I never encountered this before? How had not a single person in my life looked at me and saw these words? And lastly, and most importantly, how did these new words describe me so well?

From the professionals: sensory, sympathy/empathy, high functioning, theory of mind, ABA. From the brand new community I found online: stim, neurodiversity, ableism, samefood, hyper-empathy, Red Instead, identity first language.

My whole life,, I would all of a sudden seem to lose my words, especially when I was stressed. My wife and I tried to find the humor in what would otherwise be anxiety producing, so we turned it into charades. There’s a word for that you know: it’s nonverbal.

Another word I quickly learned was proprioceptive. Although it took me a bit longer to learn how to spell it. Proprioceptive is a sense, like sight or smell, and it measures where your body is in space. And since I’m heavily proprioceptive seeking, it’s really just a big word for I like roller coasters. And swings, and rolling down hills and spinning around in circles. So you see, all of these things already existed in my life. Everyone in my life knew about them. Meesh has quirks, and rules, and routines. That’s just who she is as a person. And I’m not saying that isn’t true. I’m a member of the ‘you can’t separate me from my autism’ camp, so yes, I believe all of my behaviors are because of who I am as a person. But I also believe that that makes it even more important for me to have the language to describe and discuss who I am and what I experience.

Of course I don’t mean just me. I don’t even mean just autistic people. Everyone deserves access to language that allows them to communicate effectively. Just like access to medical and clean water, it is a human right. Put simply, if the vocabulary exists for a person’s experience, than they should have access to it. And if one doesn’t exist, I’m all for making it up. I’m learning American Sign Language, and while I have the vocabulary of a preschooler, I’ve already encountered some words that are important to my life that don’t have signs. So, I made a few up. And honestly, in marginalized communities, this is how it works. An individual or a small group comes up with words that fill a space, and usually nothing happens. But sometimes. SOMETIMES. Something magic happens and the words spread and grow like a beanstalk and sometimes they change. But. The magic can’t happen if no one’s planting the seeds. So let’s all remember: We all need language to describe our experiences. Sometimes the words don’t exist yet, but it’s ok; making things up is how we grow. Vocabulary gives us power, and because of that, it is a human right. And lastly, I hope you use your preferred method of communication to empower yourself, and your community.

Autism is Me

“Can you tell me something about yourself?” If you got scared that this was a job interview, don’t worry. I just wanted to get you thinking about the things that make you, you. Go ahead, take your time. While you’re busy, I’ll tell you some things about me. I like to knit. My favorite animals are llamas. I hate bananas. I love playground swings. I’m very sarcastic. Ok, I’m done. Do you have a list sort of like mine? Now I want you to think of your list…and throw half of it away. That’s it. Half of who you are, all gone. How are you feeling? Hold that feeling in your heart while I tell you that that’s how I feel every time someone suggests that it would be better if I cured my Autism.

There are certain groups of people who are very vocal about how autism is some terrible ailment that needs to be cured. And oftentimes I’ve noticed, that these people are rarely autistic themselves. Family, friends, partners, I won’t deny that these people have a stake in what happens to autism. And autistic people like me are often told that they need to empathize with these people, recognize their struggles; even validate their experiences. Which sounds reasonable. Until you realize that their struggles and experiences have resulted in them wanting you dead.

Ok, maybe not DEAD dead. Not physically dead. But in ‘curing’ Autism, they’re removing every part of me that’s autistic. Take that away, and I’m not me anymore! My autism affects every part of who I am. It colors all my experiences. Look up at the things about me in the first paragraph. If you remove every trace of my autistic self, the only thing left is the llama bit. The llama bit is just hard wired into my brain. So the llama part survives. What then, am I losing? Knitting is gone, because I use the soft yarn and the rhythmic needle clicking as a stim. And bananas? The worst texture you could ever imagine. The smell is pretty offensive too. Swings engage my proprioceptive senses. And my sense of sarcasm? I rely heavily on scripting and mimicry to get by socially, and my dad is the most sarcastic guy you’ll ever meet.

I am proud to be autistic, so I try to embrace my strengths, and raise up my community. But I don’t want to give some idealistic impression of what goes on in my brain or my life. I can be proud of who I am. Autism or not. Embracing myself as a whole doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. Some things about autism suck. It sucks that to be accepted, I have to change the way I communicate, every time. It sucks that I have spend mental energy managing my sensory input. And it really sucks that sometimes I lose my words. I get stressed and all of a sudden the words in my head won’t come out of my mouth. These are all very legitimately terrible things. And while, when asked if I would take a magical Autism-B-Gone pill, my answer is an adamant NO, if given the choice to temporarily dull, or block some of these symptoms, I may, depending on the day, say yes. Just think, if I got to be the one to set the communication tone. If I could go see bright fireworks or loud concerts. If maybe my words could come out 100% of the time…

A lot of this is hypothetical. There is no magical autism erasing pill. Nor is there a symptom reduction/eradication pill. And as much as I hate speaking in hypotheticals, I’m doing it because this is an important topic, and it needs to be discussed. Not just by doctors or therapists or parents. Autistic people need to be a part of this conversation, because the future is coming. Magic pills are coming. And if we’re not actively discussing the morality of things like this, they’re going to become a reality before we know what to do with them. So please, neurodivergant types, make your voices heard; make people listen. And parents, partners, professionals. Just listen.

6 Word Stories pt. 6

If last week was a week of changes, this is a week of new things. New physical therapist, new volunteer opportunities, and new projects. I took a few days off from writing, partially because I didn’t have much ambition, and partially because I had some other stuff to do. Luckily, I had enough posts queued here so that taking a writing break wasn’t so bad. These stories are the only writing I do some days, and while I’m not in love with all of them, they’re still a record of my days, which is good enough.

  • Phone’s ringing. Ignore! Guilt. Sigh. Accept.
  • New physical therapist understands everything. Score!
  • Using person first language is uncomfortable.
  • Of course inanimate objects have feelings!
  • Doing self care requires self care.
  • Matching another person’s energy is exhausting.
  • Saturdays are for cartoons and crafts.

Signing off. Stay tuned next week for another episode of 6 Word Stories!

6 Word Stories pt. 5

Hello Internet, and welcome to the 5th edition of 6 word stories! I feel like this week has been full of changes. The weather’s getting colder (well, colder by St. Louis terms, which means mid 80’s), I’m getting a new class of Pre-K and Kindergartners in my Religious Education class at church, and I am getting more organized! This is a miracle in itself, but with a bullet journal, and a lot of help from Jess, I’m actually really starting to enjoy this being an organized adult thing. Maybe that’s why I’m on my 5th weeks straight of stories. And on that note, here they are!

  • Slimy lotion, slimy body, slimy feelings
  • Ideas stuck. Need a brain jump.
  • So excited I lost my words!
  • Giving me instructions? BE MORE SPECIFIC
  • I find peace in busy hands.
  • Need to learn to slow down.
  • On roller coasters, sensory issues drop.

(note: I’m unnecessarily proud of the pun it that last one. Because roller coasters drop, and so do issues! I swear I’m funny…)

Daily Prompt: Disobey

This is Disobeying 

To disobey is to go against an agreed upon rule and

Social rules make up most of our lives

So when I don’t make eye contact with you when we talk

This is disobeying.

Social rules are so deeply ingrained in society that

Most people aren’t even conscious of them

So when I have to ask what to do in a social situation

This is disobeying

It is a radical idea to suggest that

There is more than one way to communicate

So when my body language is made of up of stims

This is disobeying

To disobey is to challenge people’s perspectives

To disobey is to feel uncomfortable but keep going

To disobey is to celebrate your experiences

To disobey is to be okay with who you are