I am not that oblivious.

One troublesome side effect to my difficulty with reading subtext, non-verbal cues, and hints, is a reputation I’ve acquired for being naive, foolish, and gullible. It is easier to pull the wool over my eyes the first few times because I don’t pick up on the falsehood cues as well as others do.

Some seem to think this makes me incapable of picking up what’s going on. I’m not. I might not be as good at it as you, but I can pick up the obvious.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: If you are snapping at people and heaving heavy sighs and making ominous hints that I can’t read, I might not be able to read what’s going on with you, but I sure as hell can tell that something is going on. You don’t have to tell me. I’m not entitled to know.

But don’t lie and tell me there’s nothing. Don’t insult me like that. You’re being so obvious about it that even I can tell that something’s up. Given a choice between something’s up and an obvious lie, I won’t believe your lie.

I am not that oblivious.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to come out and say it, don’t keep trying to tell without telling, through your hints and your sighs and your allusions. You know I can’t read them. I know I can’t read them. All that you do with that is set my brain into catastrophizing mode, as I have just enough information to know that something’s going on, but not enough to know what. And then my mood and productivity are shot for the rest of the day because rather than concentrating on working, I’m concentrating on getting my brain to stop playing Worst Case Scenario.

Tell me or don’t. If you choose option two, stop it with the ominous hints and the allusions to something bad followed by don’t-worry-your-head-about-it-dears. I’m not going to magically pick it up, and you obviously aren’t willing to say what it is outright, so just stop. Please. My adrenal glands will thank you for it.

Announcing a blog project and a call for help

So, there are apparently a lot of people out there who think that cognitive and developmental disability ableism isn’t a thing. That it’s not “real” oppression. This is a meme with disturbing reach and pervasiveness. And it is a myth. 

I want to debunk this myth. 

So I’m going to be writing a blog series on the history of cognitive and developmental disability ableism. Sometime after April is my rough timeline for my first post.

If anybody has any useful resources they can direct me to, I would appreciate it greatly. I want to do this properly, so I’m looking for historical, journalistic, or peer-reviewed articles. I’ll count blog posts as journalistic if they cite their claims appropriately and/or otherwise support their claims with evidence. Particular emphasis on pre-20th century stuff (to establish that historical ableism has been a thing for a while), and stuff that’s still ongoing (the JRC will definitely be making an appearance, among others).

Language restrictions: Due to the fact that I don’t read well in any of my other languages, I need all resources to either be written in English or have an English translation available.

Thanks, all! More updates will be coming on timeline, etc, when I know more.

Sleep problems and executive function

I wonder how many people with executive function issues have sleep problems due to it. I probably will do a follow-up post after I’ve had time to do some reading and research. This post is purely anecdotal.

For me, there’s a difference between insomnia and forgetting to sleep.

Insomnia is knowing I need to sleep and wanting to sleep because I feel like crap but not being able to sleep because anxiety or hurt or meltdown or what have you. I do get it sometimes, and it sucks. 

Forgetting to sleep, on the other hand, is why I’ve operated on <4 hours of sleep every day for the past five days. “Hmm, I should go to bed soonish. One more episode of House of Cards first wouldn’t hurt, though.” *four hours later* “Shit, is it one thirty already?!”  It’s low body awareness (don’t notice I’m tired) coupled with preserveration (binge watching a show I just discovered and enjoy) and a lack of awareness that the clock, which is right by the TV, is showing a later and later time on a work night. 

Sound familiar to anyone?

The Case Against Stupid

TW: Discussion of ableist language & bullying





“You’re S-T-U-P-E-D. Know what that means?”

“Stuped? It’s not a word.”

“Yes, it is! Stupid, do you know what it means?”

“That’s not how you spell ‘stupid’. It’s with an i, not an e.”

“It means you’re r******d.”

Stupid first entered the English language as a word back in the early 1540s. According to current current usage and definitions, its most common usage has to do with describing a lack of ordinary “quickness or keenness of mind” and describing things characterized or proceeding from “mental dullness”.

In other words, it is a word that exists to belittle those based upon their perceived mental acuity. If you doubt this statement, look only to its accepted list of synonyms, which includes such words as “dull,” “dumb,” “unintelligent,” “dim,” “doltish,” “half-witted,” “idiotic,” and “moronic”, all of which are words with well-defined ableist history (several of which were once ableist medical terms). This belittlement of perceived mental acuity is harmful to those with cognitive and developmental disabilities – we who, due to those disabilities, are often perceived as having lower mental acuity than our peers.

So, we’ve established that it has an ableist definition. Now I’m going to talk about my case that it constitutes a euphemism for one of the most vile ableist slurs out there. The first part of my case is to look at the synonyms of that slur. It includes many of the same words as the list of synonyms for stupid, and even includes the word stupid itself. If you look at the definition, a common slang use is as a synonym for stupid or foolish – this is the ableist slur usage we’re so familiar with.

In other words, even dictionaries, which are notoriously slow to accept changes in language usage, recognize that stupid is synonymous with that slur. Dictionaries exist to document current language usage patterns, not to stay on top of slang fads. Hence, for something to be placed in a dictionary as an accepted definition, it must be both 1, common usage (technical definitions almost never make it into general English dictionaries) and 2, old enough for the dictionaries to recognize it’s not a one-year fad like the neologism “ruly” was in my childhood.

On the more personal side of this argument: That’s exactly how it was used against me. The exchange I wrote at the start of this post actually happened to me, and I learned very quickly that the other kids couldn’t get away with calling me a r*****d in public, but they could get away with calling me stupid. So they used stupid as a euphemism for r*******d, probably just like their parents told them to.

But, you see, kids possess less ability for self-deception than adults. So they didn’t try to rationalize that they were just going around the social condemnation of the use of the word retard by saying that wasn’t really what they were doing, they were actually just saying it was a bad idea or I was annoying or made no sense or what have you. They said it like it was: When they said stupid, they meant r*******d.

As people get older and they learn the why of why retard is so very offensive, many of them don’t want to give up other ableist insults while they’re at it. After all, how can they express ableist sentiments without ableist words? So they rationalize. Stupid doesn’t mean r*******d, it just means dull-witted and dumb, amirite? Some get angry: How dare you tell me that stupid is a euphemism for retard! That’s offensive! I don’t use it to mean r******d, I use it to mean [insert other ableist word here]!

But the kids are more honest. They say it like it is.

That means you’re r******d!”

Grow up with love, not fear

My brain hasn’t wanted to make a post happen the past few days (I was helping on Twitter with the #FreeAvery shitstorm and that kinda soaked all my not-school energy), but I do want to signal-boost the Love, Not Fear flashblog, so I’ll try to make something worthwhile, though I don’t think it’ll be as good as, say, Kassiane’s Litany Against Fear / Litany For Love. Or Cynthia’s Love, Not Fear post (both of which are good and are recommended reading.

I’m writing this post for the kids like me. People who are going through what I went through ten to fifteen years ago. The autistic kids.

If I could give you all one piece of advice, it would be this: Love yourself. Don’t fear yourself.

What the allistic people – parents, teachers, siblings, what have you – don’t get about meltdowns is that they’re far scarier to experience than they are to watch. I say this as a person who’s been on both sides of meltdowns. I know how meltdowns can make you feel like you’re out of control, and how others’ reactions make you feel like your some sort of evil monster.

You’re not.

Love yourself. Love yourself enough to advocate for what you need. If classroom noise makes your ears feel like someone’s jabbing ice picks in them, communicate that however you communicate. If the sun makes your eyes feel like exploding, likewise. If those around love you, they will listen and help teach you to self-accommodate and self-advocate effectively. If they don’t, that is not your fault. But sooner or later, you will meet someone who does listen, and they will help you change your life. When you get what you need, meltdowns will mostly disappear on their own. You are not a monster. You do not want to melt down. I know that. I’ve been there. You’re not a monster. You’re not a monster. You’re not a monster.

I repeat it so much in hopes that emphasis will help you remember. It’s hard to believe you’re not a monster when others are telling you that you are, when you feel out of control, when you hurt people and break things and don’t want to. So once more, with feeling: You are not a monster.

Don’t fear yourself. Love yourself. I won’t say that it’s all easy and simple after that. It’s not. But loving yourself makes everything else easier as you grow up.

Loving yourself is a radically defiant act when people around you are telling you that you’re bad and violent and rude and obnoxious and [insert other negative adjectives here]. It is a radical act when, if you’re bullied, adults assume it’s your fault. It is a radical act when you’re different. When you stick out. When you’re disabled.

That allistics think you shouldn’t love yourself as you are, that they can’t even comprehend the concept of an autistic person who is happy with who they are, is the most important reason to love yourself. Because those people would change who you are to suit them. People who would try to change the core of you don’t love you. They love who they think you should be. And there is a difference. You need to love you because you will never be who they think you should be.

Don’t get me wrong: You can become a better you. You can learn new skills and coping methods and ways of expressing yourself. But you can’t change who you are. You can’t become someone else. And you will destroy yourself trying to be them. I know. I tried. For years and years and years I tried, and I don’t want you to have to do that.

You don’t need to become someone else. You need to love yourself, where you are now, for who you are now, so that when they tell you something to the effect of, “If you’d just not be you, you’d fit in more,” you know that the problem does not lie with you. It lies with your bullies and the adults who decide it’s easier to cut off the corners of the square peg than to find a square hole.

You can improve your abilities – you can learn new coping skills and new communication methods and new strategies to manage sensory overload – but you cannot change who you are. Who you are is many things, but autistic is part of that. Love yourself. Love who you are. And, as you grow up, grow into the best you possible by loving yourself, rather than growing into a second-rate emulation of an allistic person, like they want you to, by fearing yourself.

Grow up with love, not fear.

Embrace the weird

I did not have a formal diagnosis growing up. This means that I avoided a lot of the more toxic ‘therapies’ that autistic kids are subjected to. I was not treated like a dog while being trained to perform normalcy tricks for rewards. I was never told to touch my nose or whatever else have you. In that way, I am lucky.

But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t expected to perform normalcy. I was. “Use your words” was common when I couldn’t talk. “Spit it out!” was common when I stuttered. “Don’t do that, you look r******” was common when I flapped or toe walked. “What are you doing?” was common, with the screwed-up disgust face (one of the only facial expressions I can recongize with any accuracy, because it was so necessary to my survival growing up), when I stimmed or twirled or did anything too obviously weird in polite company. When I was bullied, I was assured that it was my fault. If I would “just” dress better or fit in more or show more interest in normal things or stop talking about weather or Tamora Pierce novels or whatever have you – if I would just follow the million and one complicated and seemingly self-contradictory rules* of normalcy, I wouldn’t be bullied. Humane treatment wasn’t a right, it was a privilege, contingent on performing normalcy acceptably.

For a while – a long while – I did my best to put on a good performance. At one point, I studied body language and ettiquette voraciously, certain that if I just learned enough, book knowledge could make up for a lack of ability. I just needed to read more. Study more. Learn more. Then I would know enough and be able to fake it. I made up flow charts, and I practiced. I practiced alone, because I knew by then that having to practice normalcy was on its own breaking the performance. I hid the stress and anxiety and despair it caused me to perform normalcy and hide my true self in such a way, because normal kids don’t feel like that, and therefore I had to hide it. When I finally hit a point where my mental health issues were life-threatening and told someone because, as miserable as I was, I didn’t want to die, per se, I just wanted the world to quit sucking so damn much for me, they were shocked. “You always seem so cheery! Why didn’t you say something before?”

When I left for university, I made a decision. I’d spent much of my schooling trying and failing and failing and failing again to be normal. I knew, from experience, how miserable that performance made me. I decided to stop trying to be normal. At that point, I wasn’t quite ready to embrace my own self. I was just at the point where I recognized that the performance of normal was killing me, and I couldn’t do it anymore.

I’d always been told that if I didn’t act normal, I wouldn’t have friends. Weirdos get ostracized because they’re weird. But I found out that this was a lie. Sure, the sorority types wanted nothing to do with me, but that was nothing new. I made friends with my fellow weirdos over common interests, and found actual companionship in friendships that didn’t have the wall of my normal performance between us. Because I was honest in how I acted, we were able to build trust and become friends.

These friends – one of whom is now my partner – and others I’ve made online since taught me to accept me for who I am, weirdness and all. They taught me weird is what makes me, me, and those who would change that don’t actually like me, they like who they think I should be. They taught me to embrace the weird, and in so doing, they taught me to be happy.

Don’t try to perform normal. Embrace the weird. You will be happier for it.

*like how “honesty is the best policy” but “white lies make people feel better”, as just one example.

Tell your kids they’re autistic, dammit.

I don’t remember when I was first urged to be more social with other children. I know it was already a common occurrence by the time I was a pre-schooler.

I was about five when my parents first took me to a child psychologist. I had some “behavioral issues” that needed addressing. From what I remember, it had a lot to do with my lack of understanding of appropriate behavior/manners and my “moodiness” (meltdowns). The same year, I first saw a speech therapist. It was also the year my relatives started making fun of the way I moved – I shouldn’t flap my arms, it makes me look like a r*****. I shouldn’t run “like that,” I look like a s***. And so on. This was the year I started to feel like I didn’t fit in.

I was six or seven (I don’t remember for sure), when my parents brought it up to her that I was not like my sister. That I couldn’t seem to make friends, that I seemed to have no interest in other kids, that I never wanted to have other kids over, that I could spend hours and hours reading but got tired and retreated from a play date after about thirty minutes, leaving my sister to entertain my guest. This was the year the bullying started in earnest.

I first figured out that I was different from my peers. And since different = wrong in this society, I first thought there was something wrong with me that year. My parents denied it fiercely. “There’s nothing wrong with you.” “You’re the same as anyone else.” Etc.

But, I knew they were wrong. And that they were lying to me. I may be too oblivious to pick up on sarcasm or jokes a lot of the time (this morning, for example, when I found the laundry bag under a blanket, he quipped, “Darn, my attempt at hiding it from you is foiled!” and I stared blankly and said, “Huh? Why?”), but even I could pick up that most kids didn’t prefer books to people or get bullied like me. I was weirdo. Freak. Stupid. Other kids didn’t get called that.

All that not knowing whether or not I had a diagnosis did to me was make me doubt my own reality and feel worse about myself. Adults around me insisted fiercely that things weren’t harder for me than everyone else – so if it was this hard for everyone else, why did I fuck up so much? Maybe they were right that I was stupid/lazy/insert adjective here.

Refusing to tell your kid of their diagnosis does not make their difficulties go away. It does not magically make them “same” as their peers. It does not magically make peers willing to accept them or make their teachers not label them as a bad kid if their disability causes behavioral issues.

What refusing to tell your kid of their diagnosis does is deny them the gift of knowing why things that are hard for them are hard. It denies them the gift of knowing that their reality is valid, even if it’s not the way others experience the world. And denies them the ability to have greater self-knowledge, to understand their strengths and weaknesses better. If there is no apparent reason why things are hard for you, and adults in fact actively deny that there’s a reason things are hard for you, what that does is make you feel like it’s your fault things are hard. Something is wrong with you. After all, there’s “no reason” you should find X hard, so maybe you are just lazy or an asshole or what have you.

And, when they finally do figure it out (and they will, eventually), what it does is teach them shame. Their difficulties are so horrible and bad that they couldn’t even be told about them. The disability is something that has to be hidden away, as a shameful secret, like bribery or corruption. And it teaches them that their parents can’t be trusted – after all, you lied to them about who they are. What else will you lie about?

So tell your kids they’re autistic. It’s important.

Note: Chavisory has a similar post that is good and should also be required reading on this point.

Argument from tone and the calm catch-22

When I was a kid, adults often would exhort me to tell them if something was wrong. If someone was hitting me, or saying bad things to me, or otherwise abusing me, they claimed they wanted to know. If I was upset, they claimed they wanted to know. If there was a mistake, they claimed they wanted to know.

I say “claimed” because by the time I was 10, I had come to believe these exhortations were lies.

Why? Because of tone arguments.

You see, if I told them while still in the height of the emotions these situations generated – while I was in tears and stuttery because words were hard and cursy because I was upset – I would get dismissed. “Keep a civil tongue in your head!” they’d yell at me before I was punished. And after I’d calmed down, they’d refuse to hear me out. “If you couldn’t say it nicely, I don’t want to hear it.” and “You’d catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” and so on and so forth. It was a goal for me at school for quite a while. “[my name] will learn to explain why she is upset in a calm and respectful manner instead of shouting, crying, throwing things, or hitting.” One that I was never able to succeed at in the heat of the emotion – I can’t not shout if I’m angry, and I can’t not cry if I’m hurt. It’s just not how my body emotes.

Since I couldn’t talk in a “calm” manner when I was upset, so if I was upset and someone asked me why, I would ignore them. Because if I tried to explain, I’d get yelled at and punished. But then, if I didn’t answer, I got yelled at and punished for ignoring. So I learned to hide away when I was upset, since adults would demand that I do what I couldn’t do – namely express myself verbally in a “calm and respectful” manner (which, as far as I’ve ever been able to tell, means no shouting and no tears and no cursing) – while I was upset. Even now, as an adult, if I am upset and I need to explain it to a person who I know will dismiss me if I get too shouty, I switch to text-based communication. I cannot explain verbally and in the tone that others want me to in the heat of the moment. It is difficult to do in writing, but impossible to do orally. Why? I have a hard time even making words happen when I’m upset. How am I supposed to concentrate on making words happen and on volume control and on facial expression and on avoiding harsh tone and on body language and and and anything else the person in question finds objectionable? It’s unreasonable of me. Maybe allistic adults can do it, but I severely doubt it – none of the allistic adults I’ve ever met can be calm and nonshouty and nonsweary when they’re upset, either.

So then, I decided to try to tell about it when I was calmed down. And I would wring my hands and pinch my fingers and bite my cheek all the way through the discussion to show my best emotional detachment – because if I got upset at all, I would be yelled at and dismissed for being mean, rude, disrespectful, etc.

I did my best to be all honey and no vinegar.

And I was still dismissed. Because I was “obviously lying”. Because if that “really happened,” I would be more upset. And because I wasn’t showing how upset I was, I had to be just making it up for attention.

This sets up a catch-22: one where tone arguments demand that people be “calm” and “respectful” about things that are traumatic and upsetting and hurtful, while at the same time demanding that they show their upset because if they really had that happen, they’d be more upset. Where, unless you’ve mastered the art of performing socially acceptable victimhood (something I still can’t do at 26), you will be dismissed no matter how you discuss it, as you have two mutually exclusive demands being placed upon you. 

Additionally, this catch-22 is only ever expected of people when they are expressing socially-unacceptable upset: when a child is angry with an adult for lying, when a woman complains of sexism, when a person with a disability complains about an access fail, when a trans* person complains about misgendering, when a person of color complains of racism, and so on and so forth. It is not when we complain of socially-acceptable hurts and pissoffs that we’re given an argument from tone. If an airline bumps a person from a flight, people don’t police that person’s tone (though they might tell the person to not be abusive of the airline employee, but being abusive and being upset are two different things). We don’t police tone because it’s an acceptable time to get angry.  It’s only when someone’s upset challenges the rightness of the status quo that the person is subjected to that catch-22.

Because of the fact that nobody tone-polices socially-acceptable upset, while socially-unacceptable upset is subject to the catch-22 of “must be calm while showing upset,” I have learned to read tone arguments as, “I don’t actually care about what you have to say. It is uncomfortable for me to hear it, and there is no way in which you will convince me so you may as well not try.” What tone arguments do is silence the marginalized and the victimized for the convenience and comfort of those in power. And that’s why they’re wrong.