Evil Autie celebrates 1000 Ausome Things #AutismPositivity2013

I don’t usually go along with the crowd and do things, but today people are blogging about the “ausome” parts of autism. But, the Autism Positivity Project seems pretty cool, and worth breaking my own rules for. See more information at the Flashblog’s page.

That’s probably the first ausome thing – sometimes you need the kid to say, “The emperor is naked!” We often see things differently than others do, and are willing to go against the crowd. Supposedly that’s a deficit, but it’s often a strength too. Too often, leaders end up surrounded by “yes men.” Too often bad decisions could be prevented if only someone would say “NO!!!!”

Another ausome thing is our eye for detail (like how, when I saw the “Ausome Things” Flashblog request, the first thing that stood out in a wall of text was the word “Ausome”). Coworkers used to joke at a previous job that they could pour over a computer screen for hours looking for a bug, but that I would see it instantly. That wasn’t quite true, although sometimes seeing the world differently and being focused on details gave me an advantage in finding the problems. In fact, one of the struggles I’ve had at some jobs is convincing people that if I see a problem, there really is a problem. In the networking world, often badly configured networks seem to sort of work, but “sort of” isn’t the same as “working as they are supposed to work.” I can’t always explain why I know something is wrong, but often with networking, I know something is wrong and know what the fix is. Yet, it can be difficult to try to convince a coworker who expects me to notice problems in the same way he does. Sometimes the problem is obvious to me, just clearly evident. But it’s not to others (I’m sure it works the other way plenty of the time too – hence why we need all types of people). But they don’t see me struggling or working to notice it, so they sometimes think my opinion is unfounded or not based on strong evidence, particularly when I spot something wrong after only a few moments with the networking element and they’ve spent days or years working with it. But, over time, coworkers have learned that, yes, when I notice a problem, it really is broken!

My wife’s ausomeness is her ability to visualize assemblies. Whereas I might make a mechanical device by trial and error (“Oh, that didn’t work. Let me try this…”), she has a comprehensive design in her head – and sees the strong points and weak points of the design and how forces will impact it, long before she lays her hands on the raw materials for the device. In fact, this is so natural to her that she’s sometimes confused when I explain that I can’t see what she’s trying to explain. I’ve lost count of the times she’s told me or a mechanically gifted neighbor, “I wouldn’t do it that way…” and we’ve went ahead and ignored her advice – only to discover later, when it’s much harder to fix, that, yes, she was right. We just couldn’t see what she saw instantly!

That’s the last ausomeness I want to write about today: our uniqueness. Not only are autistic people different from non-autistic people, but we’re also different from each other. While my wife has amazing mechanical visualization abilities, I don’t. We’re all different from each other, and that includes the ausome things.

Rights for the Worst of Us

Sometimes, when people are fighting for their rights, someone is able to make a case in court that their constitutional rights were violated and change must happen. Too often, the response – even from people who believe in the right at the middle of the challenge – is that the person making the challenge is not the right person to make the challenge. You see this in non-court proceedings too, with “non-respectable” people being shunned by the very movements they are fighting on behalf of.

Let me tell a story (this will be US-centric, since that’s what I know) about a man arrested for the rape of a teenage girl in Arizona. After he was arrested, a confession was sought. The police did have a lot of evidence that this man did the crime, but of course they wanted to build a stronger case. So, during their interrogation, they managed to get the suspect to confess to the crime. With this and other evidence, he was tried and found guilty – and received two sentences of 20 to 30 years each, one for kidnapping and one for rape.

This man – Ernesto Miranda – challenged the ruling, saying that while he did write the confession and did sign a statement that he was aware of his rights, he never was told that he had the right to an attorney during questioning. This case of course became famous – the Supreme Court of the US decided that the confession was wrongfully obtained and could not be used. This created the important “Miranda Warning” protections we have in the US today (well, for some people). It also wiped out the trial court’s verdict, so a new trial was held.

During this new trial of Ernesto for the rape and kidnapping of the teenager, he was again found guilty, this time without his confession being introduced as evidence. He was sentenced to 20 to 30 years, but ultimately released in 1972 on parole. Ironically, when he was murdered in 1976 during a bar fight, his suspected murderer, after being advised of his Miranda rights, chose to remain silent, the case against the suspect ended up dismissed due to a lack of evidence.

Miranda was guilty of his crime, with or without his police confession. Rape and kidnapping are pretty disgusting crimes. Yet, this very non-respectable person managed to get the rest of us some rights.

We saw the same thing in Lawrence v. Texas, where sodomy laws were challenged. Lawrence and Eugene were charged with sodomy (actually, “deviant sex”). There is a lot of debate about whether or not we was having sex (two of the four officers responding did not report seeing any sex, the third officer said he saw oral sex, and the final officer said he saw anal sex), but at the end of the day his legal team fought the charges on the basis of equal protection under the law, not lack of evidence that the crime was being committed, in a desire to change the law. What isn’t as commonly known is that Lawrence was with not one man, but two. The man he was accused of committing sodomy with was a roommate of the third man at Lawrence’s apartment. Both Garnet (the man Lawrence was accused of having sex with) and Eubanks (the roommate of Garnet) had criminal histories. After an drunken argument broke out (with loud shouting and threats, that were heard by neighbors), the third man, insulted that the other two were flirting with each other, called police and reported “a black male going crazy with a gun” in the apartment where all three were. Police responded, although what happened following this differs in the police version vs. Lawrence’s versions of events and isn’t really relevant, other than the fact that in the various reports, Lawrence was quite angry and upset about police busting into his apartment without a warrant – and made that clear to them.

So, one of the pivotal cases in gay rights revolves around a possible love triangle involving three drunk men arguing, two of which had prior criminal histories. Not quite the message HRC wants to put out about who gays are (nor is it an accurate reflection of who they are). Yet, at the same time, they did have rights – and those rights, as recognized by the courts, included the right to consensual sexual relations within a private home – an important right for all of us, gay or straight.

These are hardly the only cases where rights were recognized as a result of less-than-presentable people bringing challenges to the law. So the next time you see an autistic person who isn’t as presentable as you might like, remember they might win the battle that you’re also wanting.

Ally Impostors

There’s a lot of impostors, who claim allyship without actually delivering. An ally is someone who uses their position, power, and privilege for equality – in other words, they’re working themselves out of a job. An impostor is someone who uses the impression that they do that in order to support their position, power, and privilege.

I have a very simple test of allyship, that seems to work in the autism community. If I’m at an event and want to know about someone, I’ll listen to how they refer to autistics. If they use “person with autism”, I’ll refer to myself as an autistic and see if they catch the hint and use that term when referring to me. And vise-versa, if they say autistic, I’ll say “person with autism” and see if they catch the hint.

If they are a true and useful ally, they probably will catch the hint. They’ll use the language I’ve used of myself when referring to me. Now, if they don’t change, that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t a good person (they might not have been aware of what I did), but it also indicates, “Okay, here’s someone that might not be taking their cues from me. It’s worth some investigation.” The worst outcome is when that person explains how their preferred terminology for autistic people is more important than the term a person with autism uses.

An ally empowers people. They use their power and position to give a voice to people who don’t typically get it everywhere. But they don’t seek to be the voice. They seek to give someone else the chance to speak for themself. To an ally, the best possible outcome is that they get to sit back and watch, not doing anything, not taking any time in the spotlight, and not even getting acknowledgement that they are an ally – because that means the other person has power and influence, and doesn’t need the ally.

That means an ally knows he isn’t always right, and doesn’t always understand (the same can be said of an effective self-advocate). If I see a woman being sexually harassed, I will speak up (assuming I need to – if she’s handling it fine on her own, I’m not going to diminish her power by stepping in). If she rebukes me for doing this, I don’t take it personally or as an insult – she’s the one I want to see empowered, and that includes being able to tell this guy “back off, I don’t need or want your help.” If I think there is some need to defend myself (“Most women would have been glad they got help”) or whatever else, even if I may be right about other women (or whoever I’m an ally of), now my focus isn’t on empowering this person, but rather on the opposite! Once I start defending myself, I’m showing I care about preserving my position, my reputation, the view of me as a defender or such. An ally won’t care if they are needed or not, they’ll just do work when they can to advocate, but will accept direction and correction when appropriate. Sure, does it suck to be wrong? Of course. But it’s life, and if the real goal is to empower someone, you do that – you don’t worry about whether or not people will see you as an ally.

What is important is being an ally, not being known as being an ally. An effective ally might never get acknowledgement or notice. They might not get awards or be thanked. It might even be difficult at times! But once I become concerned that I’m not being gratefully received enough, then I’m showing I’m more concerned with ME than actually being an ally.

An ally doesn’t try to barge in. An ally doesn’t say, “Oh, I have autistic traits too” to show that they know exactly what it is like to be autistic, when they aren’t autistic. They do see similarities and how they have much in common – but they also see differences, both real and social.

An ally doesn’t typically need to say or prove they are an ally. I’ve seen people, when corrected about how they were trying to advocate for someone, turn around and get very defensive and upset – they feel that their self image was attacked, that people aren’t going to see them as a wonderful, open-minded ally anymore. If you’re an ally, you’re glad to learn and are glad you did (you also won’t feel the need to make tons of statements about how sorry you are, how wonderful someone is for correcting you, or whatever else – you won’t feel that your identity depends upon showing how open-minded you are; you’ll do, not just tell).

An ally does the hard stuff, not just the easy and popular stuff. Anyone can turn on a blue lightbulb. But not everyone can help an autistic person and check on them when they haven’t been seen leaving their home in a few days. An ally isn’t just willing to talk, they’re willing to put themselves out a bit and do (not that talking isn’t something an ally should do – sometimes it is very powerful – but it’s not everything either). They don’t wait for a cause to get support and be popular. They are willing to go against what is popular. If your advocacy is popular, it probably isn’t doing much – people already agree with whatever you are saying or doing.

An ally listens carefully and is socially aware. Sure, there is different levels of social awareness, but it’s important to be in touch with the people you supposedly are empowering. You need to be able to take the hint when your help isn’t help or when your help isn’t even wanted. You need to be aware that what you’re doing yourself could be better done by someone else, when that’s true. You need to be aware of when you’re overstepping your role as an ally and not taking your cue from the people you’re empowering.

Some of the best allies will never get recognized for what they do. They’ll never be seen by others as part of the social justice movement that was helped by their wise use of privilege and position. They’ll never get the credit. What they get is knowledge that they did their best to make the world better. For an ally, that’s plenty. Even if they are the only person on earth who knows they did it.

What does an impostor do? They seek prestige and position. They want to get noticed and get accolades. They want people to tell them what a good job they are doing. Most of all, they need someone to help. That means they don’t really want to empower – they need the power imbalance so that the need for their “help” remains.

Don’t be an impostor.

How to Respond to Tragedy – a Simple Guide

Apparently, online, many people have trouble figuring out how to respond to tragedy, such as the news of the bombings in Boston.

I’ll break it down and make it simple.

Here’s the right reaction: sadness, sorrow, and an expression of sympathy.

Here’s a few wrong reactions:

First, this is not the time for your gun control debate or jokes about “we should ban explosives.” It’s time to think that someone is dead, not think “Oh, I can score some points in my agenda.”

Second, it’s also not the time for your debate about how we need to lock more people who up won’t ever shoot, stab, or bomb anyone. That would be 99.99% or more of the “mentally ill” who are at far more risk of being a victim than committing the act.

Third, it’s not time to make points about how awful the USA or whoever else is, whether it’s due to our excess or due to our country’s involvement with killing others. It is not the time. It’s the time to say, “I’m sorry people are dead.”

Forth, it’s not the time to say “other people have it worse.” We all know that. If I say I’m sorry that there are people dead in Boston, that doesn’t mean I think Iraqis killed are okay. It means I’m sorry there are people dead in Boston. It should go without saying that death anywhere is bad. Unfortunately it doesn’t.

Sure, there’s a time and place for gun control debates. And for discussing how we treat the mentally ill. And even for pointing out the wrongs America has committed. Or that some people are at extreme risk of violence every day, way above those of most Americans, and too often they are ignored. These are all important things to talk about! But, damn it, this isn’t the time.

It’s really simple. Think of the person who lost a loved one, who might stumble on your point-winning argument. Let them bury their dead. We’ll still have plenty of time for you to score your points.

I Would Make an Awful Welder

In the early 90s, a guidance counselor in my school suggested welding as a possible career choice. I’m guessing he didn’t have a lot of respect for welders, unfortunately. I certainly wouldn’t have helped that field any – and if I was welding, there would be more Arkansas pipeline spills in the world. We don’t need that.

Here’s what I think happened: I think the guidance counselor probably was overworked, busy, and required to help 750 students or so find their true calling in life. That’s just not going to work, period. But with autistic people, it can be even more challenging than it is for many other students.

So this guy, who doesn’t know me personally (the school had about 3,500 students with only a handful of guidance counselors), pulls up my transcripts and other records. In the other records, he sees that I was at one time in special education for reading, had numerous absence problems, and was planning on making up some classes in summer school that year. He probably saw teacher notes – you know, things like, “your child has more potential than he uses” on his report card. Then he saw my transcripts – I was solidly at the top of the bottom 25% of my class! My grades in math were poor (D’s), I failed several humanities classes, but did great in introduction to auto mechanics.

So, seeing someone with behavioral problems, trouble reading, laziness (isn’t “your child has more potential than he uses” the long way of saying “lazy?”), failing or nearly failing things like math and English, and who seems to only be doing good in one class, what does he do? He picks something totally out of left field and suggests it (likely, in his eyes, welding and car repair are basically the same thing).

There’s just one problem. He didn’t have all the records, and the ones he had misled him (and plenty of others in my life).

It missed my passion. I had a passion for computers and programming. I still do. In fact, I used to brag that at age 25, I was doing my dream job – the one I wanted when I was 5 or 6 years old. How many people get to do that? (turns out that I found out that job wasn’t quite as great as I thought, so, although it wasn’t bad, I moved on to other related fields) I would never have found my path if I listened to this counselor or ignored my passion.

Passion is important for autistic people. Our skills look uneven to people who equate normal neurotypical strengths and weaknesses with “even skill development.” We’re not neurotypical, so our strengths and weaknesses differ. This isn’t bad, it’s just plain different. And one of my weaknesses was dealing with the structure of a school day and homework. It’s not that I couldn’t do it, it’s that it would burn me out.

But that’s not all of it. That special education for reading? I had a great vocabulary. I could read several grades above my grade level in elementary school. But I couldn’t express myself nearly as well. So, rather than realizing the difficulty was expression, it was believed to be reading. And later writing. Ironically, I didn’t discover until after I finished school that I love writing and am at least fair at it – I truly believed it was one of my biggest weaknesses. I hated reading and writing – today they are both huge joys in my life. Yet, I remember sitting there in elementary school repeating flash card words back to someone, thinking, even then, “Why do they keep asking me to tell them what this card says? This is dumb.” It was.

He could see that I did bad in math. Of course I was getting a “D” in advanced math, but nevermind that! I was getting a “D” because I lost books, pencils, paper, assignments, etc, and because of something else I’ll mention later. But I did great on the tests. Someone looking into this would have realized, “Wow, this kid knows the math but is nearly flunking. What is going on here? We should figure this out. How can he be nearly flunking, but get A’s on all his tests?” Perhaps grading my ability to learn math rather than my executive function without support would have been a good start.

Then, in English, I just hated that class. Same with social studies and history. Ironically, I love all of them today. But I really did hate them in school. I saw no connection to what I wanted to do in life. And that is important to an autistic student! Combine that with the same executive function problems I had in math…well, there’s no way I was going to pass those classes.

But there was an even bigger problem in school: I was suicidal, extremely depressed, and routinely afraid for my life at the hands of others. I was insulted, shoved, pissed on, hit, burned, taunted, molested, and generally bullied in pretty much every way possible. Go figure that I did bad in that environment. When I told a teacher, I was told to “man up” or whatever else would get me out of their hair. I don’t recall any of my complaints of bullying being taken seriously. Some even got me things like a group circle discussion between me and my bullies where the bullies explained what was wrong with my social skills and how I needed to change to not be bullied – uh, ya, that’s social skills training. Apparently the person who is taunting another is fine, but the victim should stop it. So I stopped making complaints to adults.

Combine the bullying with intense loneliness. I had nobody much of the time. Nobody.

So I did bad in school. Well, except for auto mechanics. You see, auto mechanics didn’t require any homework. So I did good if for no reason other than not needing to lug around books and remember to do assignments. But combine that with it being a relatively easy class, and of course I got an A. If you could change oil, you probably passed this introductory class. If you could also not destroy anything in the process, that got you a B. If you knew oil was black, not red, that got you an A I watched a couple of my fellow students drain the transmission and, then, when noticing it was the wrong color, tell each other, “Oh, that’s the RED oil. It’s really good stuff”; I watched another drive a car off of the auto lift. So I was going to do pretty good here. I didn’t destroy anything.

I’m still okay in auto maintenance. But just okay. You don’t want me fixing your car.

But that still doesn’t get us back to welding. I’m still not sure where that came from, but the idea of me welding is absurd. I’ve seen my wife (a master welder) do her stuff – it requires a fine motor control, eye for detail, and patience that I just don’t have. That’s fine. Welding is a great career. But so is my field.

Here’s my advice to people giving others advice. I’ll keep it simple, like people like to do with special education:

Listen!

When the kid says, “I love X”, it might be helpful to look at that field first. Duh.

Look!

If you’ve seen this kid get bullied, that kid has a problem. Even if it was mild. Even if it was only once. The bullies aren’t seen 99% of the time. So if you see it, it’s bad. Really, really bad. And that kid ain’t going to be able to accomplish shit until the problem is fixed. And he might end up dead if you don’t do something.

Think!

Oh, he’s doing great on tests, but poor on homework? Maybe something is going on. Maybe it’s worth investigating. Maybe it’s bullying. Maybe the kid is working to support his family when he’s not at school. Maybe he’s being abused at home. Maybe he’s autistic and has difficulty with executive function. Maybe it’s more than one of these.

But don’t just pick a random career and ignore this!

There’s More

I’d also add the following:

  • Focus on strengths – What is the kid good at? But not just, “Where does he get good grades” since grades measure a whole lot more than the subject at hand.
  • Be creative, school isn’t life – Just because a student doesn’t demonstrate an aptitude for something in school doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have an aptitude for it in a slight different environment. Think about solutions to the school problems and how the student can find solutions to actual career issues.
  • Career isn’t life either – While I’ve been talking about careers, a traditional career-that-gives-paycheck isn’t the only way to have meaning in life or to improve the world.
  • Get the whole picture – Find out if the kid has hobbies or interests that he pursues outside of school. Might these be important?
  • It’s okay if he’s different – Some of the greatest people in our world (not just financially successful or successful in a career) are different. Greatness requires difference.

So, what else is there? I’m sure I’m not the only one with thoughts or experiences.