Transitioning Into Work When You’re Autistic Is Doable, But It’s Harder Than It Should Be

Hi all, 

Apologies for the lack of activity as of late – I’ve had a lot to deal with, but one of the most important things that have come from that is the following. I’ve got an internship starting next week! I’m happy and excited as a result for the most part but I’m gonna blog a bit about my thoughts from a disability perspective. Part of the reason why is that most of my backlogged posts are quite serious so a more lighthearted approach will be needed for this one. 

Earning money is important 

I will soon be earning my own money and that makes me very happy for a few reasons. The first is that I will be able to meet something that all disabled people should have the opportunity to do (if they can) is to earn an income. Another reason is that I need to start medically transitioning privately. In the UK, waiting lists for trans medical care on the NHS are years long and are not sustainable so the recommended advice is to go private during the wait.

A supportive environment is more likely to exist than people think 

As an autistic person, one of the biggest things that myself and others like me have to look for is whether a workplace is supportive of our needs. Fortunately, the push by companies to recruit more autistic employees is increasingly popular so it is more likely that we will get the support we need. Of course, some companies do indeed sign up to schemes that are flawed just to appear supportive like “Disability Confident” in the UK (here are several articles about it, CW ableism) so it is a minefield and there is still some way to go. However, things are still better than before. 

I am not as clued up on trans related employment issues however things are faring somewhat better there even though trans people are more likely to be unemployed than cis people. Hence I don’t address trans related issues in this article. The employer I will be working for I feel is a good fit for me and will help me meet my needs through reasonable adjustment which greatly helps my confidence. 

New pathways may open up 

Once somebody gets their foot in the door workwise, multiple pathways can open up depending on the situation. But a lot of it comes down to gathering experience. Doing a job is one way that employers will judge their employees. If somebody can do their job well, that is a great start. Of course, many opportunities would require some level of networking and skill, however, supportive environments may be more willing to overlook weaker social skills if somebody’s strengths exceed elsewhere. 

However, there are other pathways to work such as self-employment which is an increasingly popular option for disabled workers due to the added flexibility. Hence, in a way, many disabled workers can create a supportive environment themselves. Being disabled makes working harder, but it doesn’t always make it impossible. 

Of course, challenges persist 

I know that I am in the minority for my community, especially as so many people who are autistic cannot access work for many different reasons. This is why it’s so important that acceptance of our identities is pushed out there so we can be better accommodated in the world around us.

A lot of people, including many of my relatives, have a lot of negative opinions about whether people like me would be able to find and keep a job. I can only speak for myself when I say this but I am determined to prove those detractors wrong because I know their pessimism is unrealistic and based on outdated views of the workplace (and assumes all bosses are assholes).

Anyone who has additional supports or marginalisations is worth a fair shot at the world of work – end of. It is quite telling – and sad – that many people disagree and will actively take steps to harm the careers of disabled professionals. It’s important to discuss positive stories of disabled people succeeding in work without falling back on inspiration porn-based narratives or centring nondisabled perspectives and change the narrative. Hence there will be more disabled people in work achieving their goals. 

And finally, it is also important to ditch the idea that disabled people have to be in work to have a fulfilling life because in reality work is not an indicator of somebody’s worth. It is just that the current state of capitalism has convinced the average person otherwise, including many disabled people. Hence there would be better social and financial support for those disabled people that cannot work so they can live equally fulfilling lives. 

That’s all for today. 

Milla xx

Featured image source

Passing and Masking

(Featured image description: A white, adult woman with long, curly brown hair with her head on her hand. The background is brown)

(CN masking, transmisia, ableism, brief mention of mental illness, brief discussion of ABA) 

Hello all, 

As part of a recent update to my about page, I am planning to start discussing on my blog about what life is like as an autistic trans femme as I transition. This post is going to be a brief discussion about something that I heard today from one of the people I am out to in person about this. This is because I believe there is an important point that needs to be made.

This person told me that in order to fully transition I needed to prove myself to everyone that I meet that I am a woman. Hence, I need to learn how to act feminine. This includes body language, voices and mannerisms and that I would need a lot of help to learn what these mannerisms are.

In short, I disagree with this assertion because this felt this would be a task that not only goes against whom I am but would also be very difficult for me to carry out consistently. I will explain why in this post.

Firstly, with being autistic I am not always aware how I come across. So, if my body language doesn’t appear feminine, I likely have no idea that’s the case. Furthermore, even when I try to present feminine it will be very hard to maintain the image as I fundamentally can’t mask.

Additionally, executive dysfunction may also get in the way which may make daily feminine tasks difficult, such as doing makeup to cover up facial hair and shaving body hair. Plus, I have seen cis autistic women that find it difficult to meet these standards or choose not to. It would be very unfair on them to be judged by these same arbitrary standards. 

However, I then realised how much this is similar to masking – and how there is still the widespread ableist assumption that autistic people need to mask to be accepted in wider society. I have talked about this before. We see this pervasive attitude in wider culture and through how ABA is being forced on autistic children from a young age in an attempt to “normalise” them with no regard for their mental wellbeing. 

And the reason why both passing and masking are problematic is because they blame the autistic trans person for their own differences. Basically, the narrative says that both autistic people and trans people alike (regardless of whether they are both autistic and trans) aren’t good enough as they are. In other words, the narrative says they are not who they identify as, they are what other people decide they are. 

However, the actual narrative should be – the trans autistic person is fine as they are. They are NOT the problem. The problem is the attitudes of many people in the world around them which are compounded by the existance of so many myths and misunderstanding.

On a personal level, being autistic and trans is very confusing. I know that I am a trans woman, yet I myself have difficulty putting my own experiences into words because there is little good information out there. This is one thing that makes it harder for autistic trans women to find their place in the world. There is a little understanding of how you can be both autistic and trans and how to support these people. 

One thing I can say that will be useful is – don’t force trans autistic people to mask. Being made to pass to meet outdated binary gender standards is a double blow alongside being made to mask due to being autistic. Can you imagine the consequences on autistic trans people’s mental health? Is it not surprising that this is more likely to lead to mental health issues?

The only possible and only exception (depending on the context) would be in either a medical or legal context to overcome gatekeeping and even then it should be a last resort. This is because many professionals in these areas have a poor understanding of both trans issues and what autism actually is. In other words, trans autistic people should do what is required and necessary to get on hormones, surgery, legal recognition or whatever else is required. 

It’s worth noting that the issue becomes more complicated for those whom wish to present non-binary and this makes it even harder for them. I am fairly binary when it comes to how I want to present so I am not one to talk about this on a deep level.

So how am I going to “pass and mask?” The answer is that I will do it on my terms aka as little as possible. There is no right or wrong way to be autistic. There is no right or wrong way to approach gender either. It’s time the world realised that. 

Best wishes, 

Milla x 

(@subtlykawaii)

Featured image source

A Festive Ramble

(Featured image description: Image is of a stereotypical Christmas setting. There is a brown fireplace in the middle, a Christmas tree to the left and a green armchair to the right.)

(CN: abuse, trauma, gaslighting, mention of bullying)

Hi all,

In the run up to Christmas which for me brings a lot of mixed thoughts. Hence today I am going to blog a bit about my experiences at Christmas. This will be a bit of a personal ramble in places which I’m writing for me more than you today, however I hope you’ll understand why if you choose to read on.

I am somebody who enjoys Christmas and still has the Christmas spirit even though I am an adult. I wouldn’t call it my favourite time of year but it is definitely a time of year that I get excited for. I think this is one of the ways being autistic affects me. I still have this childish sense of wonder that comes back despite me arguably being “too old” by society.

As it was, I was a firm believer of Santa Claus up till I was told by my mum outright he wasn’t real. This was in my first year of secondary school and the hope was that my peers would have one less reason to bully me. Since I was told, I made it my mission that year to convince my younger sister that Santa Claus isn’t real. It didn’t work but it led to me getting told off a lot by my mum. Even when I found out about Santa Claus no longer being real, the magic never really faded away.

I enjoyed opening the gifts I got from family. This was how I got many of my childhood games and consoles. That said, I also had a lot of things that I never wanted or used so often just took up space such as toys and various books I was not interested in reading at all. Even when I became older and started to get money from many people, I still looked forward to buying items that related to my special interests. This was usually video games.

Of course, being a child, I was relatively unaware of what was going on around me. Even after I find out Santa is fake I was still oblivious to various things including the consumerist attitudes towards this time of year by companies especially Christmas.

Then as a teen I would begin to realise as an teen the potential sad feelings many people have towards Christmas. Whenever my abuser agreed to be with my mum, my sister and I for Christmas, they often spent Christmas Day down the pub having a drink with their friends. I was enthralled with my new toys, video games and more while my mum was in the kitchen cooking a full roast dinner by herself. Of course, both my mum and my abuser should have been spending time with me and my sister but that is not what happened. There were other things too but it’s not my place to divulge those.

Then of course when my mum and abuser split, it alternated between Christmas at my Mum’s and Christmas at my abuser’s. It was a weird dynamic as I essentially had two Christmases even though the root behaviour of my abuser was still the same. It sorta worked for years except that eventually it led to my abuser not having us on Christmas and New Year’s Day most of those years citing that they had to work. This progressed through my late teens through to my university years.

And then came last Christmas. It was a stressful one due to various external factors however the root cause was my abuser. Sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I had a domestic incident with them that led to me becoming traumatised and the end our relationship. I shall spare the details but it was unlike anything I had ever experienced and was something I should never have had done to me. In other words, it was physical and was the result of my abuser not understanding how being autistic affects me.

Furthermore, I had to deal with abusive messages from another relative defending my abuser when they were not even there. These messages included very unpleasant gaslighting. I could have gone further and tried to get my abuser convicted, but I did not. The odds were stacked against me and I simply did not have the energy or confidence in the police to support me properly so I let it go. This situation isn’t uncommon with survivors of abuse which is even more common when disabilities are involved.

It is now nearly the one year anniversary. I still have a sense of magic and something else but it’s also come with something else this year that’s not so nice. That thing is trauma. Certain things trigger me and cause anxiety attacks. I have had nightmares and various thoughts that I need to talk over with someone. I don’t think this trauma will be with me every year but for the near future at least will impact on my enjoyment of Christmas. I’ve already had problems as a result.

Looking back, I will miss getting gifts from my abuser because they usually got me exactly what I wanted. However, that is it. I won’t miss their company nor anything else from their time in my life. They are not a good person and didn’t fulfil the role they were supposed to. They haven’t contacted me since then. When they tried to go through someone else, I said they can write me a letter if they wish to contact me but heard nothing since. Hence our relationship is now over as far as I’m concerned.

However – every cloud has a silver living. In other words, with every bad thing there is always something good to come out of it. Namely that I’m alive. I know myself better than I ever have done and am able to plan my life better than before. I was able to survive and get through a lot alongside dealing with what happened. I’m stronger than I was before. I’ve also grown as a person and am looking forward to helping myself recover and progress. I still have the magic of Christmas but it just takes on a different form now.

With all this said, I think that sense of self-acceptance and optimism is the only magic I need this holiday season. Oh, and my chosen family. I love them all.

Happy Holidays everyone,

Subtle

(@subtlykawaii)

Featured image source

The Meaning of Family

(Featured image description: A family of four are jumping up off the grass while facing the sun. Bright sunlight shines down on them. The shadows of them, and a tree is towards the bottom of the image.)

Hi all,

Some of the most common bits of life advice that is given to people include “Family isn’t always blood,” “choose your family” and “Your friends can become family.” This is something that hasn’t began to fully make sense to me until recently and now so I’d to discuss the following question:

What is the meaning of family?

Some backstory – I have a large family on my dad’s side. I don’t know most of them in part due to the fact that I was never introduced to them in the first place. Of the relatives I did meet, they never really tried to understand me or my autism and in part is why we never maintained a relationship over the years. So essentially one major part of my family is not in my life and this likely won’t change any time soon.

I have many questions though. Who are these people? What lives are they living? Would they be interested in knowing me? Part of me feels lonely and upset at the possibility that these questions may never be answered. As an autistic person, one trait that shows here is my desire to know answers and clarity. Not knowing things means I can’t plan nor can I satisfy my curiosity. There could always be a huge gap missing in my family heritage that I will never find out the answers for.

On the other hand, part of me is relieved. Do I want to deal with the added social dynamics? Any potential drama? What preconceived ideas do they have about me (if any)? Any preconceived notions will be hard to budge. Is it worth disrupting that cycle for the risks of meeting people who may not understand me? This stress and risk/reward gamble isn’t always worth it which is in part why I’ve struggled with friendships and romance.

There is still such a strong emphasis on blood family within society thanks to historical significance – however as time goes by it’s become increasingly less important. It is nowadays more fluid. People now have a lot more choice on who to consider their family and it is not as stigmatised. You can change who you consider family at any time. It’s much easier to cut off toxic relatives compared to before. Plus, thanks to the internet it is easier than ever to find friends whom you have things in common with. This is especially important for autistic/ND people whom may be non-verbal or communicate better via technology.

So back to my original question – what is the meaning of family? In short, people whom I would call family do three things:

  • They accept you for who you are
  • They try to gain a deep understanding of you
  • They are there for you when you need them

Furthermore, I feel that if a deep emotional connection to them is present in addition to the above list then I would argue that they are family. This connection can be platonic and/or romantic.

To conclude, family is such a nuanced topic. How some people define “family” and whom is in it varies and that’s okay. I hope whomever reads this has a family circle that they are happy with. If they are happy by themselves that is okay too. As long as the person themselves is comfortable with whom is in their life that is all that matters. That is the most important thing to remember. For me, I have my current family circle consisting of relatives and friends that get me. It’s not massive but I am happy with this.

Best wishes,

Subtle

(@subtlykawaii)

Featured image source

Why We Need Autism Acceptance, Not Autism Awareness

(cn: bullying, abuse, ableism)

Note: This article is commentary inspired by this article.

Hi all,

At the very end of Autism Awareness Month 2018, there was an incident in London where 25 year old Tamsin Parker, an autistic woman, got thrown out of a British Film Incident screening of her favourite film for essentially NTs taking offense for her laughing too loud at the film. There was ableism involved including a man using sexist language, another person using the R-word towards her and others laughing and jeering to give some detail. Although there were some people in the screening who walked out in solidarity, the environment (from what I could tell through reading up on it) was toxic. With these events serving as a starting point for today’s post, I would like to discuss why we need autism acceptance and not autism awareness.

Firstly, I would like to say that I’m not going to speak for Tamsin or anyone else involved in the incident because I don’t know them so I can only speak for myself. However, like many autistic people I have had experiences of social rejection like this and some aspects of this incident has resonated with me. I am writing these thoughts based on the reported facts and my own experiences.

Firstly, the fact that she was laughing so loud is noteworthy it is was considered socially unacceptable to many NTs in the room around her. That could happen to any autistic person especially those whom are in other vulnerable groups too. However, when an autistic person is behaving like this it is possible that they have a happy state of mind, often because it involves something they enjoy. Expressions and mannerisms are exaggerated compared to NTs but it is their authentic autistic self that is showing in their behaviour.

There are people out there who don’t want to see that. Why don’t they want to see someone who wears their heart on their sleeve (as many autistics do) and expresses their emotions so vividly? Presumably this is because they feel uncomfortable with seeing something they don’t consider “normal?” These people are mostly non-disabled allistics.

If an autistic person shows their truest self, then they are indirectly trusting you. They are trusting you not to negate their feelings. They are trusting you not to take advantage of them. Many autistic people have had their willingness to show their true autistic self beaten out of them over the years due to NTs not accepting them or abusing them when they do. Thus, this leads to masking and repressing their true selves just to pass and be accepted by the NTs around them. This has consequences for the mental health of autistic people including developing comorbid physical and mental illnesses, losing their sense of self and developing autistic burnout.

However, there was one thing that the autistic woman reportedly did that stuck out to me. She said, as she was being taken out, “I’m autistic.” I have a few thoughts on this.

There are many assumptions that arise when you say “I’m autistic.” I used to think that saying “I’m autistic” to people would lead to them accepting me and have that “Aha! That’s why Subtle is different!” moment. Also, saying “I’m autistic” is a hope that people will be able to accommodate you in the best way possible. Finally, saying “I’m autistic” relies on the hope that the other person is knowledgeable about autism and they can help you as best as they can. It leads to inclusion, right?

Sadly, this is not often the case. In my experience people had no idea how best to help me and this still lead to bullying and social isolation. In their eyes, saying “I’m autistic” is an excuse and an attempt to deflect from what they see as bad behaviour. Hence, for now at least, these positive hopes when you say “I’m autistic” are idealistic at best (with some very rare exceptions).

Something else that also doesn’t help when someone says “I’m autistic” is that many autistic people aren’t able to elaborate what their individual needs are for various reasons. As autism is a spectrum, it affects everybody differently. Therefore the autistic person (or a credible advocate for them) needs to convey their specific needs across to the people around them. This can be done orally or written down by the autistic person themselves or the credible advocate. I believe this is one reason why organisations often make autism cards for autistic people to give to authority figures to help with self-advocacy when autistic people become temporarily non-verbal during meltdowns.

In my experience, people were aware that I am autistic but didn’t really understand how it affects autistic people broadly, yet alone specifically. This applies to many people in the lives of every autistic person there is. Broad knowledge is required to understand the deeper, more intimate knowledge of how being autistic affects each individual differently. Hence we reach the main point of this post.

Allistics (and even some autistic people) have their own preconceived ideas about autism, brought on by misinformation and stereotypes like “Autistic people are like Rain Man” and “Autistic people are more likely to be violent and become school shooters.” Not to mention negative connotations like puzzle pieces and “light it up blue.” Some people with these beliefs aren’t even bigoted rather genuinely nice people that are misinformed. This is what autism awareness does. Much of the campaigns that surround autism awareness are not managed by autistic people for the benefit of autistic people therefore the wrong messages are being sent out.

Autistic people know the most about autism. They live it every day. If autism acceptance became the main discourse there would be far less BFI-esque incidents. This is because more people will know and understand and will try their best to help as the basic general knowledge is there. Autism acceptance puts autistic people at the centre of everything and helps autistic people get their needs met through campaigns like Red Instead and Light it up Gold.

Hopefully Tamsin is doing well now. She didn’t deserve this. Nobody deserves this. Hopefully this is the start of change.

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Subtle

(@subtlykawaii)

Image sources:
Featured image

Learning Your Limitations As An Autistic Person

(cn: discussion of ableism)

Hi all,
Today’s post will talk a bit about learning limitations in relation to autism as this is something that I had come to realise quite recently and would like to share some thoughts. One of the things that I was hoping to achieve this year was to possibly travel solo as a tourist in a foreign country for a few days as traveling is something that I have been really wanting to do for years. I had thought this was possible for me to do however I later realised that it was not something I am ready to handle yet. It had disappointed me however it was something that I needed to come to terms with as traveling is quite common for young people today and there is the expectation that young people like me will do quite a lot of it.

Life experience is often the best way to find out things for yourself. For an autistic person, this can include attempting unfamiliar situations or experiences new or with other people. The more life experience you have, the wiser you are and more self-aware you are of your own strengths and weaknesses (as I have previously talked about here). Knowing your limitations helps you assess what situations that you’d be able to handle and what would be best avoided. This helps avoid unnecessary meltdowns, drama and other possible serious incidents.

For example, many autistic people have sensory sensitivity meaning certain places like pubs, clubs and crowded cityscapes are best avoided otherwise a sensory overload could happen. For others, certain forms of communication may not be possible for them to do due to anxiety. For example, many autistic people cannot use the phone or hold unstructured face to face conversations so may seek to avoid them as much as possible. For those that require additional support, this knowledge is essential.

It’s okay if you cannot do certain things on your own. It’s okay if you cannot do it at all without help. It is not easy to ask for help as there is a stigma surrounding asking for help as society (in the West at least) places emphasis on individuality and autonomy. Society can be very ableist and quite hostile towards disabled people due to misunderstandings and stigma hence it is even harder for them to speak out. However, asking for help is also a form of strength as it shows acknowledgement of your own limitations and may be able to help you improve your overall quality of life. In the case of an autistic person, pushing yourself too hard risks leading to burnout or meltdowns afterwards often due to having to mask in order to be accepted by the NTs around you.

The right people will understand if you aren’t always able to do everything on your own and will support you. You may have to change your life goals so that they better align with what you are able to do. There is no shame in admitting that either. In my case I’ve had to re-evaluate what I would like to do with regards to traveling. There is no time limit for travelling or experiencing anything new aside from when your life ends and keeping that in mind helps me look at it from a new perspective. That in itself may prove useful for helping people come to terms with limitations.

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,
Subtle

(@subtle_writes)

Self-Awareness – The Importance of Learning it for Autistic People

Hi everyone,

The first post of 2018 on this blog will briefly discuss the importance of self-awareness and why it’s important for autistic people to develop this skill. This is something that I have personally undergone a lot lately so it has given me food for thought, hence the inspiration for this post.

Self-awareness is a powerful thing to have and to be able to utilise it is powerful as it can shape your personal development, career path, social interactions, romantic life (if applicable) as well as understanding certain events from the past (which helps avoid ruminating). The meaning of self-awareness, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “an awareness of one’s own personality or individuality.” In other words, somebody realising whom they are and what makes them unique.

Autistic people are one social group that need to learn this skill more than others. There are a few reasons. Firstly, listening to perspectives from other social groups won’t apply fully (if at all) since each group has differing quantity and types of struggles they face (ie. Women, PoC, LGBTQ+) despite some overlap in places. Secondly, even within the autistic community itself, every autistic person is different because autism is a spectrum. Therefore, every autistic person needs to learn how their autism affects them uniquely. That said listening to other autistic peoples’ perspectives is important as some individual traits/quirks are relatable. Thirdly, this helps with personal development – namely, the autistic person finding out what life they want to live by finding out what works for them, what they like, dislike etc. and making themselves happy. This can take decades and that’s okay, there is no rush to do this.

The biggest reason though is self-acceptance. Once an autistic person understands and accept themselves the obstacles of life become easier to accept. This especially applies when it comes to masking as an allistic as this only can be done by autistic people for so long. Do you not want to go out and socialise like many extroverted allistics? That’s fine. Find something else that makes you happy such as engaging in a passionate hobby. Self-acceptance involves being happy with yourself and not worrying what other people think even if it deviates from “the norm.”

However achieving self-acceptance is much easier said than done especially with how society at large treats autistic people. This leads to additional obstacles such as anxiety, depression and internalised depression being placed in the way. However autistic people are awesome in their own way and they deserve to be self-aware just like allistics. In that way autistic people that are able to overcome/manage these obstacles are mentally stronger than many neurotypicals.

A final point worth noting regards advocating themselves to others. This is so they can be understood, validated and helped if need be. Because of this, it is important for those around them to accept what the autistic person says – friends, family, carers etc. One important message I have to say to those people is this – disabled/neurodiverse people know themselves best. They know their limits, their likes/dislikes, goals etc. They may not be able to put it into words but they have some idea even if they cannot form it. Sometimes you can help them do this but that should only be done if they are asked. Never invalidate their feelings or try to convince them or others that their feelings are what you believe they are. This contributes to some of the obstacles described above.

Either way, that is all for today. Hope 2018 treats you all well!

Best wishes,
Subtle

(@subtle_writes)

An Autistic Perspective on… Being Referred to as a “Best Friend” for the First Time

(Content note: two mentions of fake/toxic friendships)

Hi all,

Today’s post is going to be a little different. The situation I am describing in today’s post happened to me a couple of weeks ago. After originally writing out my thoughts I decided to modify them into a blog post in the hope that this might help somebody whom has been in the position being describe understand a possible cause of somebody’s behaviour. I elaborate on the social situation first with possible interpretations before adding my own.

This is the best way I can work out how to phrase it so please bare with me. You work/study at the same university as this other person that you have been talking to for a while. Somebody whom you’ve found you have lots in common with and that has helped you a few times and vise versa. Someone whom you make some kind of connection with and they feel the same towards you. You also find out that they are on the autistic spectrum and/or infer it from their behaviour. This person is someone who you feel you can depend on. Then you feel that you can tell them that you consider them your best friend, and that you are here for them and you want to help them if they need to – in other words, explicitly showing closeness and/or the desire to foster it with them. You may find that if you do, they may not be sure what to say or be hesitant with what they do say. This is what happened between me and my friend (“You” referring to my friend and the other autistic person refers to me).

There is the possibility that this is the first time that the autistic person has heard somebody say this to them having gone through life with little to no friends or no close friends. They may be happy or cry at the thought of finally feeling that their desires to make friends has been seemingly validated by someone else. They may worry that their response may make you lose interest in being her friend so is anxious about how to respond. This is on top of the usual processing time and other communication difficulties that is part of autism.

Of course, there will likely be subconscious doubts as well going through their mind. “What if they turn out to be a fake friend or worse?” and “Are they just saying this so I can let my guard down?” are just two of many possible thoughts in this situation. With autistic people being generally more vulnerable as well as more experienced with fake/toxic friendships many are naturally on guard, and rightfully so. The “fake/toxic friend” checklists that they have drawn up from their own experiences and/or manually learn from lists come into play here. “Am I really making the right decision investing so much into this person?” is a common though with both NTs and autistic people however it is even more important for the latter. Every friendship is essentially a risk and both NTs and autistic people know this. However, some autistic people have been so badly burned in the past they have given up on friendships altogether (or even hate neurotypicals).

For me personally, I wasn’t really sure how to react to this situation when it happened to me and I’m still not. I haven’t really had anybody I would consider a best friend through my whole life, just “good friends” or blood relatives so adjusting to the thought of adjusting to being called a “best friend” is very difficult. I consider the person that said this to me as a “good friend,” but as he knows about me being autistic I felt comfortable explaining that I didn’t really know how to take it. He worked out that it was because I’m not used to it. It saved me a lot of work and that aspect I’m grateful to him. I think I feel this way about other strong bonds too (like being somebody’s significant other or referring to someone else as a family relative “from another mother”) though I don’t fully understand it. From what I can infer there’s a lot of social signifiance to these references which are normally used for close friendships.

However, there is one major takeaway I’d like everyone reading this to take with them – Autistic people make some of the best friends around whether we are your best friends or not. We are faithful to you and the friendship and resist badmouthing you. We usually have a strong sense of right or wrong and we tell it to you like it is. You will know where you stand with us. Just like you want friendships, most of us want friendships too (contrary to a common believe about autistic people). We may not know what to do or show it in a neurotypical or autistic way, but we do care about you. We may not feel the urge to contact you frequently (a common feature of many NT friendships) possibly due to anxiety or other reasons. There may be certain environments we don’t want to go to with you (ie. pubs, bars, theatres) due to sensory issues or because they need to socially recover from the day ahead or adhere to any routine we have. We may feel the urge to return the favour to you and they likely will someday. After all, you are somebody whom is showing to them what often very few people do – genuine friendship. Of course, there are exceptions to what is stated in the above paragraph.

Autism alone does not indicate whether a friendship is good or not as that comes down to other factors. To give a few starting points – how well does this person treat me? Do we have something in common? How often do we contact each other? Am I comfortable with this person? There are some autistic people that do create fake/toxic friendships too but that is not because of autism rather other factors.

If you see someone you know be a bit uncomfortable with the thought of being referred to as your best friend, consider anything brought up in this post as a possible reason. Feelings cannot be predicted of course so these possible situations are just hypothetical examples that differs from person to person. In that sense the best thing to do may be simply to ask them or at least try to infer meanings from their body language/speech if you feel you are good enough at doing that. It is important to hear about perspectives like this however – these perspectives typically don’t appear in the usual NT information sphere and this has led to countless misunderstandings across the world.

Long live authentic friendships.

Best wishes,

Subtle

(@subtle_writes)

 

Breaking the Mould – Autism Representation in the Media

(Content note: One mention of each of the following to exemplify a point around halfway through this post – bullying, meltdowns and autistic burnout)

Hi all,

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the internet series Atypical from Netflix, which claims to be a “coming-of-age” story about an 18-year old autistic white male looking to get a girlfriend. I was hoping to watch the show but I haven’t been able to without resorting to piracy or giving Netflix any revenue, which I don’t want to do. So this post will not be a review of Atypical like I originally intended, but instead focus more on the untapped potential autism has when it comes to representation in the media.

Autism has huge potential to help aid character development in various media products, but it currently isn’t being utilised. There is the potential for deep exploration on these differences, such as school life, the workplace and relationships (as Atypical attempted to do). The mainstream media representation of autism is currently very shallow and tends to consist of the following:

  • A white male
  • Young
  • Straight/cis
  • Panders to stereotypes and pre-existing beliefs by NTs of those on the spectrum including that they have lack of empathy, are antisocial and alloromatic
  • The ASD character is often portrayed as somebody to be laughed at, not with
  • The show is designed so that the ASD character is something that should be pitied and how they are a burden on the other NT characters (especially parents!)

I’m sure there are more, but this is a good starting point. This narrow-minded viewpoint would by nature omit the chance to elaborate on the additional struggles faced by autistic people outside this representation (including to but not limited to POC, LGBTQ+ and actual alloromantic autistic people) on top of their ASD which by default makes these more difficult to negotiate (as well as other factors like lack of information etc.). Often they are compared to other stereotypical characters like Rain Man as well as Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.

In terms of potential plots that break the stereotypical mould outlined above, I have a few examples of plots that could work as a starting point below:

  • A story between an NT/ASD couple in a committed relationship that are having difficulties in communication due to the different neurotypes. This story would explore how they both come to a common understanding and find different ways and techniques of helping each other understand their neurotypes and how it affects them and their relationship.
  • A live action drama about an autistic child’s school days where they suffer from loneliness and bullying from both students and teachers, eventually having to be pulled out and homeschooled. This is despite them wanting to make friends and can strongly emphasise when somebody is hurt. The second half of the drama would focus on the child’s recovery from this before deciding once and for all whether to be placed back in a different mainstream school or continue homeschooling.
  • A visual novel about an ethnic minority family in America (whom have autistic family members) and how this affects their treatment from the police and wider society as they try to rise up the social ladder. This one is a bit vague as I don’t really know much about this, but you get the point.

You can have all these ideas on me. These stereotype-breaking ideas can set a foundation for media products that can be really interesting and memorable experiences if they are done right. That means avoiding the stereotypes while having authentic character development and of course telling a good story. It is so much better than “an antisocial white male tries to get friends but is treated as a laughing stock by the writers” that has been done several times already.

Of course, any media involving autism also need to be made by autistic people (or at least the vast majority of those that have creative control in the project). The best people whom are qualified to produce media about autism are autistic people themselves. This applies to any form of media product that focuses on a perspective from somebody that is outside of the stereotypical media representation. However this is especially the case with autism. This is because NTs whom try to do it on our behalf often do it poorly, usually adhering to the stereotype as was outlined above.

The reason for this is simple – they are not autistic. They cannot truly understand an autistic person’s experience as their brain is wired differently. The need or desire to stim to express feelings. Not understanding jokes/innuendos. The feeling that comes when you know you have a react in a particular way to a social situation, but said reaction doesn’t come easily if it even comes at all (for various reasons). There is also being sensually overwhelmed which can lead to autistic meltdowns and burnout. This is often caused by other people and/or the ways in which wider society disables us. So how does that make NTs qualified to write about us, yet alone describe our experiences in ways that reflect reality and painted in a positive/empowering light? It dosen’t. So NTs – don’t try to do it for us. Nothing about us without us.

(Note: I know there are overlapping conditions like ADHD, SPD and social anxiety where some of these experiences are shared. However, autism would affect these as well making an autistic person’s experience different from an NT’s with the same condition).

We all need characters/people in the media we can relate to. And right now, it is definitely lacking in the ASD department. The best advice I can give to media outlets is to go out there and make original content that involves autistic people (ie. original series). Have autistic people write the scenario. Have autistic actor/script writers. Consult with autism charities that actually support autistic people (which means no Autism $peaks or any other organisation that paints autistic people in a negative light).

For autistic people, if the institution/industry you want to work with/in is autism unfriendly you could try to go indie and do it yourself. It is easier than ever to do this. For books, you can self-publish yourself over services like Lulu including printing physical copies and digital distribution on other sites including Amazon. And with services like Steam you can upload video and gaming content on there for a very low price. Thanks to the internet, it is possible for individuals to get noticed when it would have been much harder before.

That said – while more diversity is a good thing, if the products themselves fall flat in another department (such as bad writing, voice acting etc.) then it lets the side down for the product as a whole. Those that aren’t too bothered about diversity representation will arguably take more note over the technical aspects of a product rather than how it handles its themes, and that may be what they ultimately take away from the product. Rather than “Oh hey, I didn’t realise this was what a [person representing a marginalised group] actually is like/lives/feels” it would be “This story has serious plotholes and the acting was flawed in places.” This is an important potential pitfall worth noting. It is worth working to each individual in your development team’s strengths as well in order to produce the best quality product.

To conclude, autistic people are unique. Wonderful. Talented. Passionate. Empathetic. We deserve to have our fair share of the spotlight and representation in the media, as well as in wider society. Because we are human too and have the potential to tell wonderful stories that can stand on par with those produced by NTs. That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Subtle (@subtle_writes)