Anti-Resolution 2018

Happy New Years! It’s 2018, the Year of the Dog and the year of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang South Korea! We all know that the New Year comes with the ball dropping, lots of sensory unfriendly fireworks, and the worst thing- New Years Resolutions.

I hate resolutions. Every year that I’ve tried to make resolutions, I’ve felt terrible pressure to always be working towards them, and terrible guilt when I fail. That’s a terrible way to start a new year, right?

In treatment, there’s a big focus on making goals, and as I’m sure you can guess, that’s didn’t go so well for me. I got lucky though, I work with an Occupational Therapist, and she suggested rather than put the focus on making goals, I should think about things I want in my life, but don’t have. Ways that I want life to be different. Then I could find ways to make those things a reality (which I know is just a different way of saying goals, but hey, it works for me.)

So instead of posting about my New Years Resolutions with you, I’m going to share what I want to be different in 2018

  1. I want to be more independent. I didn’t realize until recently that I don’t really do things by myself. I rarely leave the house alone, mostly because I’m worried about autism problems, like getting lost, becoming nonverbal, and having meltdowns. Going new places, and going places that trigger sensory overload (like grocery stores- why must your florescent lights be so bright and everything be so loud?) I feel like a need a buddy just in case something goes wrong, and it can be very limiting. So here’s hoping that 2018 is the year of independence!
  2. I want to be more involved in my community. I wasn’t diagnosed with Autism until 2016, when I was 28, and it wasn’t until almost a year later that I, with great joy, discovered the vibrant and brilliant autistic online community. I immediately knew that this was something that I wanted to be a part of, even though I rarely used social media in my “real” life. I’ve taken small steps, this blog being one of them, but I want more. I want to educate, I want to be an advocate, I want to lead.  I’m planning on continuing to do what I’m doing, and to look for opportunities and contribute and connect.
  3. I want my health to be better. I’ve mentioned before that not only do I have a neurological condition called Dysautonomia (POTS is the specific syndrome), I’m also dealing with some hip/nerve issues that we haven’t really found an answer for yet. They’re both highly limiting. There’s not a lot that I can proactively do about my hip, but once it’s doing better, there’s a lot I can do for the POTS, it can’t be cured, but I can reduce the symptoms. Right now, I can stand for about 2 minutes, and walk for about 5, before I become at risk for fainting. There’s a physical therapy protocol that I’m going to try, so I can get back to doing things that I love, like hiking, longboarding, and rock climbing.
  4. I want to be more comfortable with my gender. Right now, I identify as Nonbinary, which is a word I love, because it gives me so many options. I spent so much time being frustrated because I knew that I wasn’t a girl, but I didn’t think that I was male enough to be transgender. I’m happily settled with the Nonbinary identifier, but one things I haven’t figured out yet is pronouns. She/her/hers makes me uncomfortable, but they/them/theirs bothers the grammar nerd that still lives within me. Xe and Ey and everything else doesn’t seem to fit either, and I’m not sure that I’m boy enough to use he/his. So this year, I want to figure out my pronouns. This year I want to figure out what will be necessary to help me deal with dysphoria. This year, I want to be more comfortable with who I am.

I know sharing resolutions can be sort of stressful, but if you’ve got any that you’ve like to talk about or share, I’d love to hear them!

4 Autism Stereotypes I fit and 4 I don’t 

So if you missed my Monday post, let me fill you in. In a one sentence summary, I talked about the harmful effects of stereotypes, and the importance of positive representation. I’m a little biased I suppose, but I think it was a pretty good essay. In writing it, it got me thinking about which autism stereotypes I fit, and which ones are definitely not me. It was actually really interesting. If you’re up for a session of introspective self awareness, I highly suggest it!

Do Fit:

1. Autistic people can’t live independently: The last time I lived alone was my first semester of college, all the way back in 2005. To say that it went badly was an understatement. I spend most of my time hiding under my bed, I forgot to eat, and I had to drop a class because I just plain couldn’t find it. Thank goodness I met my wife that first semester. Even when we were just dating, she had an innate talent for recognizing how she could assist me. She’s been called my interpreter to the world, and I think that’s one hundred percent accurate. But still, my caseworker has advised her not to leave me alone for more than 24 hours. If everything went exactly to plan, I’d be fine, but if something went wrong, if my routine was messed with, we can could end up in a position where I forget to eat or go to the bathroom. I’m working on independence in Occupational Therapy, but right now, it’s not my strong suit.

2. Autistic people sit in corners and rock: Ok, so it’s not always in a corner, but I am totally a rocker. Interestingly, I have different rocks for different things. If I’m rocking side to side, there’s no need to worry, because it usually means I’m just bored. If I’m rocking front to back though, that’s problematic. It means I’m overstimulated or that I’m about to melt down. Luckily, there’s are several people who can interpret my rocks and intervene if necessary.

3. Autistic people connect more to animals/object than people: Ask my wife to tell you the story of the time she threw away my shoe-box. It was early in our relationship, and she hadn’t yet experienced all of the autistic quirks that I come with. She threw away the box from my new shoes, and I sobbed. For two hours. I felt so guilty that they might think that I didn’t believe they could live up to their potential. So clearly, I experience hyper empathy with inanimate objects. And it’s not just your standard ‘my stuffed animals have feelings ‘ (they do!), even statues and cardboard boxes have feelings. My favorite street sign’s name is Oliver and I say hi every time I pass him!

4. Autistic people don’t make eye contact: So there are a lot of people who would say that this answer isn’t accurate. That I do make eye contact. In fact, they saw me do it last week, and am I sure I’m really autistic? I know I’d break their tiny little neurotypical hearts if I told them that every time they think I’m making eye contact with them, I’m just staring at the bridge of their nose. This knowledge might destroy their fragile little minds. All this being said, I can make eye contact. But it’s not intuitive, and reminding myself to do it every 10 seconds takes up a lot of energy. It’s also a bit uncomfortable for me, so I only really do it with people I know really well. Since they know me as well as I know them, they don’t find the sporadic eye contact weird. They’re just happy that it’s genuine.

Don’t fit:

1. Autistic people don’t have friends: I considered myself very lucky because I’ve never experienced bullying. Or if I have, I didn’t realize that’s what it was. This is a viable option, I’m not the most observant when it comes to social stuff. But as unaware as I am about socializing, I have always had friends. Granted, I’ve never been the one to start the friendship. The pattern in my life has been, an outgoing and extroverted person decides they want to be friends with me, and initiated contact frequently enough that eventually it becomes part of my routine, and a friendship forms. On top of being extroverted, many of these people have a talent that I wish more people had- the ability to accept that my social skills are atypical and my connections hard won, but they are still good. It may be difficult to be my friend sometimes, but there are upsides too.

2. Autistic people are savants/intellectually disabled: For whatever reason, people have a tendency to think that autistic people have either very high IQs, or very low IQs. The idea of an average autistic is almost as much of a white whale as the idea of an autistic adult. This sort of makes sense to me. Autistic people are only of interest if there’s something different about them. Which is totally unfair to those of who haven’t been given the Hollywood treatment. Autistic savants are rare, and are not even a little bit like the one’s shown in movies like Rain Man. And intellectual disabilities have been separated from developmental ones for decades now. Essentially, some people do have both, but a majority only have one or the other. I test well (the tests are mostly puzzles, and I love puzzles!), but my IQ doesn’t measure my social abilities, my ability to live independently, or my mental health. This is a problem that diagnostic professional are still working on, but since we won’t get any new changes until the DSM-6 comes out, we’ll just have to advocate for ourselves.

3. Autistic people have no sense of humor: In my opinion, very few autistic people fit this stereotype. Even if someone’s humor isn’t exactly your standard fair, it’s still considered humor! That people said, some types of humor are more accessible than others. Sarcasm can be hard for some people, not just autistic people either! It require tracking and recognizing a lot of different communication queues, which takes time. There’s definitely been times where I realized something was sarcasm 15 minutes after the fact; it took me that long to put it all together. I definitely use humor in my day to day communication. It often makes more sense to me than small talk and other types of interaction. Not to mention, making someone laugh is a really good feeling! Especially with people I know really well, being able to target their sense of humor makes me feel connected.

4. Autistic people are suffering- I am not suffering. No matter what certain organizations would lead you to believe. Are that parts of autism that are painful? Yes. Frustrating? Double Yes. Confusing? Triple Yes. But those aren’t autism things, those are life things. And when I say these things, there are always people who will pop and and say “Well you don’t count. You’re not one of THOSE people with autism (note the use of person first language. Ugh.) You’re not one of those poor souls who can’t speak or communicate of wipe their ass or love their poor suffering parents. They think this because they’re not looking at this from a neurodiverse viewpoint. Speaking is not the only way of communicating, and I can only speak from my own experience, but when I need assistance with things, it doesn’t feel like suffering. It’s just the way things are. Some autistic people may feel like they’re suffering. And that is their experience, and it’s a thousand percent valid. But I’ve been the way I am for 29 years, and my life is my life. It has its ups and downs. And downs don’t necessarily mean suffering. At least not for me.