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Autism and Sexism

Many times, I’ve been told that autism presents differently in girls.
Many times, I’ve been told that girls are less likely to be autistic.
Many times, I’ve been told that male autistics are different.

I’m here to tell you that’s sexist.

Autistic girls are NOT different from autistic boys.

Autistic girls do NOT “present differently” from autistic boys.

This is sexist.

At one point, I thought it was eye-opening to read articles about how autistic females presented differently. And then I realized that was my own internalized ableism and sexism talking. Now I am ashamed of myself.

By saying it presents differently, we are erasing non trans and non-binary experiences. What does it say to someone non-binary, if we constantly talk about the diagnosis within the gender binary? We say that autistic males are xyz. We say that autistic females are abc. But what about those who are not? If you fit in those boxes, well, good on you. But we weren’t made to fit in neat little boxes. In fact, by clinging to these things, we are enforcing gender stereotypes. Which is bullcrap.

I know people who have come to their autism diagnosis by reading about how it presents in girls. Which is fine and dandy. But realize that those lists come rooted in sexism. You now know better, so DO better. A female doesn’t need a different form of support than a male because she’s female, she needs different forms of support because she’s HUMAN.

I don’t fit the neat checkboxes of autism in girls – I don’t have a high IQ because my learning disorders make IQ tests impossible. Despite being a straight A, honor roll student my IQ is actually quite low. This is called being twice-exceptional,  where I am so-called “gifted” but struggle with multiple learning disabilties (and the concept of gifted is problematic but that’s another blog post).

Many of my so-called “special interests” (oh mylanta, I hate this term. This is another blog post. That’s two, two blog posts promised in this one. -count von count voice-) line up more with what is considered boyish. If you google “autism in girls checklist”, you get dozens of super gross checklists.

Because I present as female, it doesn’t mean my autism is different than someone who does not. It means it is different because I am human. Just like anything else on my massive checklist of “how many things Nora has been dx’d with”, it is different from person to person. There is nothing unique about my autism solely because I have a vagina. It’s different because I am Nora. Yes, autistic girls sometimes present differently from autistic boys. But autistic girls present differently from each other, just like autistic boys do.

That isn’t to say there aren’t atypical autism traits. There are. That isn’t to say autistic women aren’t disabled. They are. That isn’t to say it isn’t sexist to say that girls are less likely to be dx’d than boys are. They are.

I’ve talked about this with my friends. Some of us male, some of us female, some of us non binary. My friend Leila said in one of our discussions that “all the articles etc. that I’ve seen about “Autism presents DIFFERENTLY in girls!” is all about how autistic boys are mathematical and logical and emotionally withdrawn, and autistic girls are creative, intuitive, emotional artist-types, and, like… that’s just regular old sexism with “autism” in front of it.”.

This is true. Think about it. If we remove the word “autism”, people would be PISSED. “But my son is a creative artist!” “My daughter is a brilliant mathematician!” Yep. But yet, somehow it’s magically okay when we try to make an autism dx fit gender stereotypes. We must question ourselves. WHY? We get pissed off when we try to assign stereotypes, but when it comes to neurodivergence, it’s somehow magically okay?

Why? Do we feel that autistic girls need coddled more? Do we need to make sure we know that they aren’t like THOSE autistics? It’s a form of supremacy, to be honest. And that’s ableist, sexism, bullcrap. Do we feel that they’re superior, because they pass better? (Newsflash: autistic females don’t. Some autistic females pass, some autistic females don’t. Some autistic males pass, some don’t. Some non binary pass…oh, I could go on all day. You get my point).

That’s not to say it isn’t okay to talk about autism and gender. It is. That isn’t to say that it isn’t important to boost female autistic voices. It very much is. Everyone’s voice needs heard – no matter what their gender is.

But when we say we want to smash gender stereotypes, when we say we’re feminists, when we say we’re for equality…we’ve got to include disability in that. And disability includes autism.    It includes realizing that even when we don’t realize it, our thoughts are often rooted in sexism. I’m guilty of it. I’m not immune to call outs. I even used to like and share those posts that talked about how different autistic females are, thinking I was helping my friends. Thinking I was helping making voices heard. Until I realized and questioned why I was sharing it. Until I realized that I was contributing to sexism. Until I realized that no one fits into that neat little box – myself included. Until I accepted that I don’t have to keep lying to myself, to who I am, to make myself fit into the “autistic female presenting” box. I’m still autistic. I still present as female. It’s okay that I don’t meet everything on that checklist – it doesn’t make my DX any less or different.

It’s sexist, plain and simple, to say that autistic females present differently. I think it’s important for us to discuss this. I think it’s important for us to boost female voices, yes. But that doesn’t mean that that, in and of itself, has problematic roots. It means that we realize that we don’t present differently because of what our bits and pieces are or because of what our gender is, but it’s simply because we’re HUMAN and we each have our own jam

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I didn’t graduate college, and that’s okay.

I didn’t graduate college.

I have a massive pile of debt. Debt I will never be able to repay. I have loan companies calling me daily telling me I have to pay when it’s literally impossible. I have a cap and gown that I’ll never wear. At times, I still daydream of the degree I wanted so desperately and came so close to getting.

I didn’t graduate college.

College classes aren’t designed for disabled students. While schools have disability services, they aren’t always to make classes Nora-compatible. My immune system is too week, I get stressed out too easy, I get  too severe of sensory overload, I simply can’t people, oh, you get the picture. They can’t custom craft a class to be perfectly okay for me, because then it would make it inaccessible for someone else.

Part of learning, part of growing, part of acceptance has been coming to terms with the fact I won’t get my degree. I was merely a semester and a half away. But my classes cannot be completed in the state I am now. I didn’t graduate college.

But I am not worthless. The fact I don’t have a degree doesn’t mean that I failed as a person. It doesn’t mean my classes were worthless – I learned a lot. It doesn’t mean that I am worthless – not everyone gets a college degree. I still write a blog. I still advocate. I’m still an activist. I still do so many fun things with my life!

I don’t have a degree. Sometimes I do get stir crazy without classes or a job, hence why I’m trying to find a volunteer thing. I’m not happy just sitting around doing nothing on the days when I feel well enough to do things. I try to do what I can, but it’s really hard when society is designed to go against disabled people.

But I am worth it. I am worth trying. I am worth doing things. And that worth isn’t defined by fancy letters after my name or a really expensive piece of paper.

 

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Beyond awareness

It’s time to go beyond autism awareness. People are plenty aware that autism exists. Every year, the number of autistics murdered by their caregivers grow. This isn’t from a lack of awareness or services. This isn’t from people not knowing awareness exists. Awareness does little for us anymore and in reality, awareness is ableism in a prettier package.

It’s time to go beyond autism awareness. Awareness is Autism Speaks. Awareness is furthering the cycle of our abuse. Of eugenics. I don’t want your awareness. I don’t want you to light it up blue. I don’t want you to talk about what a tragedy it is to be autistic. I don’t want you to talk to me about how some autistics are superior.

Awareness is bullshit. Awareness is being told that I’m not like “those autistics”, because I attended college. Despite the fact I dropped out, due to a combination of my needs not being adequately met. One of those being my autistic needs. Awareness is telling me that I’m not like THOSE autistics who will never leave home, despite the PCA mess I had and wound up unable to live completely alone anymore.

It’s time to move beyond awareness.

It’s time to move toward acceptance.

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Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been

I am learning.

I was once racist. Ableist. Homophobic. Transphobic. Against myself, against my friends, against people I didn’t even know. I was raised evangelical conservative Christian. Anything outside of my bubble, anything outside of what I knew was really HARD to accept. Because, you see, I had the BIBLE on my side. I was RIGHT and they were WRONG. Their feelings? Didn’t matter. I am really glad social media wasn’t a thing when I was in middle school because I’m pretty sure I would have had an epic case of being a major butthead. I was pretty active online starting around age thirteen, and I outright cringe at stuff I wrote. And this was just on message boards and such! Twitter didn’t exist until shortly after I graduated and Facebook wasn’t open to high schools until during my senior year. My brunt of social media was on Myspace. Yeah. Myspace. 😉 And Xanga and Teen Open Diary and Neopets and, well, you get the picture. Social media was just a baby. And so was I.

I’m sorry for the person I became.
I’m sorry that it took so long for me to change.
I’m ready to be sure I never become that way again
’cause who I am hates who I’ve been.
Who I am hates who I’ve been.

I was young. The internet was young (at least, compared to the form it is in today). I am really glad that one of the Christian message boards I was active on (hi there, Zeeps!) kinda imploded because I’m sure I said some things that would make me want to hide forever now. But the message board literally doesn’t exist so you can’t find it. WHEW. Even reading back journal entries I wrote back when I started Forgotten Regret (my previous blog) in 2010, I cringe at stuff I said.

You see, I thought I knew so much. I thought I was so wise. I did say some good things. But I also said some horrible things. Because you know what? We’ve all done it at some points in our lives. Even if our -isms are internalized, even if we’ve never spoken our thoughts, it’s not something any of us are innocent of. But what matters is what you do once you know better. What matters is what you do once you are told that you need to sit down, shut up, and listen.

It’s hard for me, because I don’t want to admit that I’ve said some really awful things in my lifetime. It’s hard for me to admit that I was once one of the people who cracked “Adam and Steve” jokes. It’s hard for me to admit that I said things that are hurtful to some of the people I care about most. But I was wrong. And I’m sorry. And I’m doing my best to make it better. I’m doing my best to show I’ve changed. It isn’t easy. Change is hard. Heck, I’m autistic. I like things the way they are and I don’t like having to change. 😉 But I can change. Even though it’s hard. Even though it’s difficult. It’s a lesson we were taught in The Lion King, kids!  He said that change is good! He also said this:

““The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.””

Yeah, the past hurts. Yeah, it sucks knowing we’ve screwed up in the past. But do we learn from our screw ups, or do we run from them? Do we accept we screwed up when confronted and challenged by things we said, or do we double down and gaslight people? Making mistakes is okay. What matters is what we do when we’re called out.

So I am pledging this.

I am pledging to do better. Know better, do better, they say. I am pledging to accept that I’ve made mistakes in my past. I am pledging to make amends to the people I’ve hurt. I am pledging to do my best to make things right again. It isn’t easy, but it’s good.

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It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes, and leap

I’m through accepting limits, because someone said they’re so
Some things I cannot change, though till I try, I’ll never know
-Defying Gravity, Wicked

I am fiercely stubborn. If you tell me I cannot, I will. If you tell me not to do the thing, guess who is going to do the freaking thing? I have a love/hate relationship with this trait. It makes me an awesome Hufflepuff because it means I will kick the butt of anyone who hurts my friends. At the same time, it makes it hard and painful to walk away from friendships that are not healthy for me.

I have trouble trusting my instincts. My entire life I’ve been told they’re wrong. That I need to do what the world tells me to do. Sit down, shut up, be quiet, be still. Even though all these things are literally physically difficult for me. I fidget. I stim. I’m vocal at times. But sometimes I trust that instinct. Sometimes I close my eyes, and leap.

As a disabled adult, I’ve been told so many things I can never do. I’m tired of accepting those limits. There are some limits I have accepted, and others I have not. I have accepted that I will never go back to college and never have a job. I refuse to accept that my life is not worth living. That I still can’t be an advocate and an activist. I refuse to accept that my life has no value, just because I cannot live up to what society says a “good person” should do, what society says someone who contributes to it is like.

I’m funny, I’m loyal, and yes, I’m disabled. I have the limits my own body and my health puts on me, and I have the bullshit limits the world puts on me. But you know what? Striking the balance is fine. Shouting out “NO” to the limits that everyone else tries to put on me, tries to pin me down with, is perfectly okay and perfectly acceptable. Because I, and only I, get to choose my limits. I get to choose what I can and cannot do. I get to decide. And that alone is a huge step. That alone is a big deal.

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when your ableism is about yourself

I’ve talked and talked about ableism. I’ve talked and talked about what bullcrap it is. I’ve written so many things about how much ableism has an affect on my life. I’ve said so many things about how much of an impact your ableism has on my own life….

And yet, the person I’m the most ableist is someone I see in the mirror every day. The person that I know the most intimately. The person who is intertwined with me…because that person is me. The person I’m hardest on? The person who I use ableist slurs at? That person is me.

It’s pretty common knowledge I withdrew from college. Largely because of my physical health at the time, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say my neurodivergent brain wasn’t also a factor.

Which is where my own ableism comes in.

I tell myself that if I had just pushed myself harder, I could have gotten that degree.

Which is bull, because if a friend had done the exact same thing, I wouldn’t dream of saying that to them.

Somehow, the words I would never utter to someone else, are magically OKAY when it’s about me.

[image description: drawing of an orca saying “Just because you had to drop out of school doesn’t mean you’re a failure.” in a gray speech bubble. Thank you to EMM not EMMA. on Facebook)

[image description: drawing of an orca saying “Just because you had to drop out of school doesn’t mean you’re a failure.” in a gray speech bubble. Thank you to EMM not EMMA. on Facebook)

In high school, I was told that I could do whatever I wanted. That my disabilities wouldn’t hold me back. In fact, I was told I minimized my “struggles” and didn’t fully grasp how much my disability impacted my life. This casual ableism, this micro- aggregation… became so twisted inside me, so much a part of who I was… that I likely stayed in college for far longer than I should have.

My own, personal ableism could have killed me. I tell myself my disabilities are no big deal, even though I’m totally and permanently disabled. I cannot work. Not only is my health too unstable, I’m likely to push myself on the days where I am well enough too much and land myself in the hospital. I was threatened at least once while in college that if I didn’t skip class, my doctor would put me in the hospital. My own, personal ableism is lethal.

I talk about the ableism I deal with from others on a regular day. But to admit that I am ableist about myself is hard, one of the hardest things I’ve ever said. I feel that people judge me, and think I’m just selfish or lazy because I can’t get a job. It isn’t for lack of wanting. I desperately want nothing more than to hold down my dream job. I want nothing more than to finish my college degree, but college is a world that is completely inaccessible for me. And THAT is terrifying to say, terrifying to admit. It’s like I’m saying I’m a failure, it’s like saying I’m worthless (see, there’s my own casual ableism at play once again).

My name is Nora, and I am ableist sometimes. And the person I pull down, the person I bash the most, is myself. The person who I judge the most for their disabilities, is me. If another friend were autistic, had my physical health list, had my same brain cooties, I would support them. I would tell them  they were good enough, they were enough. That it was okay they didn’t finish college. But the person who I cannot give that same advice to is myself.

Part of becoming a better person, a better advocate, a better activist, is learning to remove the ableism from my life. Even when it’s about me. This isn’t easy, but it’s something I’m trying to do. And admitting is the first step, right?

 

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Day of Acceptance 2017

I feel like there’s something telling to be said about the fact it’s the disability day of acceptance And the fact I’m having one of my GI flares. I’m sure I could write some profound analogy…but that would involve my stomach not staging a mutiny. But that’s neither here nor there and I really don’t want to write about the president today – my already unstable health cannot take it.

But today is the disability day of acceptance. For those new to my blog or my life (hi new friend!), I am multiply disabled. I am autistic. I am physically disabled. I have an alphabet soup of brain cooties. I don’t even want to start counting my physical ailments but there are a crapton.

I was born disabled, vs having acquired disability. I don’t know what it’s like to be able-bodied and I never will. I have been both accused of minimizing the impact my disability has and of using my disability as an excuse or exaggerating it. I’ve been told that I cannot do things because I’m disabled and that I should suck it up, buttercup.

I’ve been told I am literally incapable of holding a job and this is true. I do volunteer stuff and my advocacy stuff but I cannot hold a job. My disability does not allow that. I’m a college drop out. I will never be capable of going back to get my degree. I will never be capable of having a job. These are things that society says I have to do, to be a good person. To be a valuable person. To be worthwhile in society. So many people place my worth on what I cannot do, vs the things I can do.

Part of growing has been accepting my disability. I dropped out of college three years ago. I should have graduated from college in December of 2014. I was literally a semester and a half away from graduating. But I couldn’t, because I’m disabled.

Disabled children become disabled adults. And accepting this as a reality is hard. I wasn’t ever expected to live on my own, but I did. Even though I ultimately wound up moving in with friends because living alone did not work for me. For years, I tried to deny the fact I was disabled. You’re talking to the person that literally had to be threatened with putting in the hospital in order to convince her to stay home from college classes. I was very much of the “push through, it isn’t that bad, it’s all in your head” mindset. This actually made my disability worse – this made my health worse. Because I couldn’t do the thing even though I tried to insist I could.

Today is the disability day of acceptance. And I’m here to say my life is worth living. Despite people thinking budget cuts should be made to avoid that. Despite people saying that I’d be better off dead than disabled. Despite people saying that I don’t deserve health insurance. I’ve accepted my disability and it’s time for you to accept it as well.

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Respect the Stim

I’m a lifelong fidgeter. I don’t sit still well. I bounce in my seat at times. I rock. I fiddle with a Tangle Jr or my fidget bracelet or my Hufflepuff necklace. I flap my hands. Sitting still is stressful.  Playing with the nearest gadget or toy helps ground and stabilize me.

For me, stimming (which is what we call fidgeting to help calm and ground ourselves or to make us happy) is a way of life. It’s often like the first sunshine after a bitterly cold winter – warmth and comfort and happiness. It’s like the first sip of a perfectly brewed mug of my favorite tea. It’s the feeling of my soft, fluffy cat curled up in my life. It’s like a big bear hug from my favorite person in the universe.

It isn’t meant to annoy you. I can’t just stop because you don’t like it. It’s as natural as breathing, as natural as the in and out, in and out rhythm of air. It doesn’t hurt you, does it? Maybe when you need to calm down, you take deep breathes. You hum or whistle. Maybe you tap your foot. Maybe you visualize things. This is my method. This is my way.

Stimming is my very way of life. It’s the warmth of a fireplace. It’s the comfort of a book I’ve read a thousand times. It’s what makes me feel at peace in a world I often don’t understand. Respect the stim.

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Life as an autistic adult

If you haven’t figured it out yet, hi, I’m Nora and I’m autistic. Breaking news has just reached the Caribou Coffee I’m currently plopped down at and I’m here to announce that autistic children become autistic adults! I KNOW. Novel concept, right? It’s AMAZING! Ahem. Sorry. I’ll lay off the sarcasm. Maybe. 😉

I was once an autistic child. I am now an autistic adult. My needs aren’t the same as they were as a child. But that’s okay. I can do things as an adult I couldn’t safely do when I was younger. I still do some of my stims and fidgeting habits. But I’ve grown. I’ve become an adult. And while I don’t know what it’s like to be a parent of an autistic child, I know what it’s like to be an autistic child.

When I make suggestions to parents, I don’t do it to judge them. I don’t do it to be a butthead. It’s because I was an autistic child once, too. I do it because I hope to help. I speak out because I care and think people will listen. I don’t waste my energy and time on people I don’t think will listen or whom I don’t think I can help.

I speak out because I care. I speak out because I was a child once. We’ve all been children once. Please don’t silence us. Please don’t tell us our stories don’t matter. That you only want to hear from parents of autistic children. We want to help. We want to make things better than what we went through. Give us a chance. And hear our voices.

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I’m more than the labels I don’t choose

I am more than the labels I don’t choose. There are some labels I’m fine with – Hufflepuff, asexual, autistic. I’m fine with this labels. They help me define who I am. They give me concrete terms to tell others about how I am. Terms to help me find people who are safe for me. These labels are like a security blanket, almost. They help me find what I need. Who I need. Get what I need. They help me explain things. For example, I can easily say “because I have anxiety, phone calls are difficult” and “because I’m autistic, eye contact is literally painful sometimes.” I like those labels.

There are also labels I, well, don’t like. I don’t like the labels society puts on me. High functioning. Low functioning (I guess there’s no medium functioning?). I’m not a steak,  y’all. I’m not either rare or well done. I’m also not hot sauce. Why do I have to be mild or  HOT HOT HOT? In many ways, I am on the lower end of so-called functioning. My IQ is crap because I can’t test well. I have dysgraphia and dyscalculia.

I don’t like being called handicapped or a person with a disability. I am disabled. I choose ID first language because while they don’t define me, they are so intertwined into who I am that without them, I would be a totally different person. I’m not a person apart from them. I’m a person who IS them.

When other people try to label me, it feels like they’re trying to define me. It feels like they are trying to make me fit into their cookie-cutter mold. It feels like they are trying to rip away my rights, my dignity, and my agency. It feels like they’re saying what I choose doesn’t matter, but their choice does. While this may not (always, but it sometimes is) their intent, it’s the way it feels to me. I don’t like being defined by other people that aren’t my friends.

Let me choose my own labels. When I tell you I don’t like them and to please don’t use them, please respect me enough as a human being to honor my wishes. Please respect me enough to use the labels I choose, not the ones you choose.