Relationships in Autism

This video features a couple on the autism spectrum. They both have Asperger’s Syndrome and are living together in a serious relationship. Although this isn’t a Neurotypical-Autistic relationship like we  discussed in class, I had never really thought about autistic people being in romantic relationships at all before taking English 416. One thing that really struck me from this video is when the girl in the relationship said how she likes feeling “safe with a partner who is not going to judge [her]”. I wouldn’t have understood that statement before taking this class, and now I realize exactly what she means.  I also love how each of them have their own quirks, challenges, and needs, yet are willing to sacrifice things and make compromises in order to make the relationship work. To the outside world, things like having separate bedrooms with one’s significant other might seem odd, but for them, it works perfectly. Another thought from the video that I thought was interesting was that HFA can be more difficult than LFA, as a person with High-Fuctioning autism is “so close to there and not yet quite.” Throughout our discussions and conversations with Bard, we always seemed to view HFA as “better,” but I can see how this different type of frustration could make things harder for the individual. Overall, this video reveals to viewers that having autism does NOT mean that one is incapable of social interaction, especially in terms of having “normal” romantic relationships.

Blog post #8 – Mother of an Autistic Son

Prescriptions. ABA. Occupational therapy. Speech therapy. Music therapy. Gluten-free diet. Nutritional supplements. Sensory integration. Chelation. All of these words surround my head as I watch my 5-year-old son stacking Legos on the waiting room floor of yet another specialist’s office. Connor was diagnosed with autism one month ago, and my husband and I are still trying to decide the best way of approaching a “treatment” plan for him. It seems like everyone we talk to says something different. The pediatrician disagrees with the psychologist, who disagrees with the audiologist, who disagrees with the parent that I talked to at my other son’s school, who also has a child with autism. “Autism is very different for each individual.” I have heard this so many times – so how do I know that any of these treatments will help MY autistic son? How do I know for sure that these treatments won’t make things more confusing or scarier for him? I want my son to be happy, and right now he is happy, even if happiness for him means stacking legos in his own little Connor world.

Drawing from the Murphy and Sicile-Kira readings, I used the idea of other people (especially professionals) trying to influence the ways in which a parent raises, treats, or disciplines their autistic child, even if the parent does not feel that it may be the best thing for their son or daughter. While writing this, I tried to think of how confusing it must be for parents when there are mixed messages coming from so many directions, whether it be Jenny McCarthy, professionals, or parents of other autistic children. I feel like there is a stereotype that all parents with autistic children just want their kids to be “normal.” While that may be true a lot of the time, I do think there are parents who just want their child to be happy, rather than obsessing about how to normalize and “treat” him or her.

First half of Songs of the Gorilla Nation

One question that I kept asking myself while reading Songs of the Gorilla Nation is how much of Dawn’s characteristics were actually because of her Asperger’s, and how much of them were just things that “normal” kids do that happen to be a little quirky. Maybe it’s just me, but I remember doing a lot of the things she talked about doing as a child. For example, I loved hiding in the coat racks while shopping with my mom, and I always worried about non-living objects having feelings or “missing me” while I was gone. I, too, remember vivid details from my early childhood, and I don’t know if that’s something that is just more typical in people with Asperger’s, or if she was just trying to capture her perspective from when she was a child, in some ways irrespective of her being autistic.

It is interesting to me how in these younger years, Dawn seemed so much like myself or perhaps other “normal” children, and yet was still different enough socially to be on the autism spectrum. I also found her claiming to remember being born pretty fascinating. I was skeptical at first, but then again it does make sense that because of her Asperger’s she might have been advanced enough, even as a newborn, to be able to comprehend what was going on around her. I was also a bit confused as to why Dawn’s parents did not step in when she decided to drop out of high school or when she was wandering the streets as a homeless person. In the same way, I was wondering why they were so quick to move out of state in the first place without considering the best interests of their disabled child.

Dawn’s positionality is unique because although she is autistic, she is obviously very intelligent. It really struck me how she explained that not seeming blatantly autistic to the outside world has been both a compliment and yet kind of upsetting at the same time. Since taking this class, I can definitely understand her point about people not realizing how hard her daily life is, only because she seems so capable compared to many other individuals with autism.

Blog Post #6 – Autistics Speaking Day

Autistics Speaking Day is so significant because it’s an encouraging way for people with autism to let their voices be heard. This one day is enough to increase autism awareness widely, especially through the use of popular social networks and internet media in today’s society (i.e. twitter, facebook, youtube, etc.). I think one of the most important messages to relay on this day is that an autistic person often does not fit autism stereotypes and that our preconceived assumptions are what create these stereotypes in the first place. I was shocked when I read in “Cat in a Dog’s World” about the way Simon Baron-Cohen developed the new diagnostic criteria for adult Asperger’s. The blogger is right in saying that Baron-Cohen bases much of these criteria on his own assumptions, such as a person with Asperger’s having a “lack of interest in fiction appropriate to [one’s] developmental level” and preferring to go to a museum instead of a movie. Not only is this extremely vague, but since when did a hobby become a diagnostic criterion? These criteria written by Baron-Cohen, a trusted psychologist known for his autism research, is solid proof that there is a flaw with the way in which people view those on the autism spectrum.

On the whole, neurotypical members of society (including those like Baron-Cohen who regularly work with autism) have no idea what it is like to be autistic. Further, the individuality of people with autism makes it nearly impossible to empathize with someone who has it, or to make assumptions and base your understanding of them off of past experiences with other autistic persons. That being said, it’s not necessarily a neurotypical person’s fault for assuming stereotypes when they meet an autistic individual, just because they likely do not know anything else about autism. That’s where Autistic Speaking Day comes in. I’d encourage any person with autism to speak up and let the rest of the world know what it really means to be autistic. Use this day to work towards changing the notions and stereotypes that come to mind when someone thinks of the word “autism”, and prevent the future existence of ridiculous diagnostic criteria like those created by Baron-Cohen.

Blog Post #5

“My name is Anna and I’m 9. My best friend is my sister, Natalie, even though we fight almost every single day. My other best friend is Sammy, my iguana. Sammy and me never fight, but mom says a sister is a forever friend, so I guess that means Natalie is more my best friend than Sammy. Natalie is almost a teenager. She always yells at me for leaving my bug collection in her room because she hates bugs. Natalie thinks it’s dumb that I want to be an entomologist, which is a scientist who studies bugs, which is what I want to be when I grow up. Mom says don’t feel bad because teenagers think everything is dumb. Mom also said don’t feel bad when we picked out Sammy at the pet shop. A tall guy there with a beard was yelling when I let some of the lizards out of their cages. I really just wanted to see what kind of bugs they were eating but I didn’t get a chance to tell him that because he already kicked me and mom out of the store. Natalie just rolled her eyes when we told her what happened. I think Natalie is secretly jealous of me and mom sometimes, but mom says teenagers always get jealous. I think Natalie is lucky to have me as a sister because even though she gets jealous and hates my bugs, I still let her be my best friend because we are sisters and sisters are forever friends.”

This assignment was honestly pretty challenging. The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to make a female character, just because they’re so underrepresented in the autism community. I tried to follow Bard’s suggestion of not making it so obvious right away that my character is autistic, or different from any “normal” 9-year-old. I also wanted to encompass what I think might happen in a family who has a sibling with autism, and how that autistic sibling might view the situation as opposed to thinking that he or she is the “problem”. A mother or father overcompensating to make their autistic child feel better, such as not yelling at them for letting lizards out of a cage at a pet shop, is something that I think parents of autistic children might often struggle with. I also liked the idea of having a pet as a loyal companion, similar to Christopher’s “Toby,” which is why I created Sammy for Anna. If I had more time or space to develop the character of Anna, I might elaborate more on her social situations outside of home – at school, on the playground, etc. Overall, I wanted to create a character who is fairly happy regardless of the situation (like Christopher), because even though autism certainly presents challenges at times, I don’t think that it prevents happiness entirely if one can learn to live with it.

Blog Carnival: The “R-Word”

This blog carnival features various opinions and perspectives about the increasing misuses of the word “retard”, especially in the autism community.

“The R-word. I get it now.” written by a mother of an autistic son: http://autismandoughtisms.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/the-r-word-i-get-it-now/

“Please lose the word ‘retard’ from your vocabulary” written by a father of three autistic sons: http://lostandtired.com/2011/04/28/please-lose-the-word-retard-from-your-vocabulary/

“Why ‘Retard’ is a Hate Crime” written by a physically disabled blogger: http://nostereotypeshere.blogspot.com/

“Mental Retardation” written by a mother of a son who is autistic and mentally retarded: http://www.joysautismblog.com/?p=82

“Is ‘Autistic’ the New ‘Retard’?” written by a blogger on the autism spectrum: http://www.autisable.com/719975060/is-autistic-the-new-retard/

“Take it from Glee’s Sue Sylvester: ‘Retard’ is Not Acceptable” written by a mother of a son with autism: http://www.squidalicious.com/2011/05/take-it-from-glees-sue-sylvester-retard.html

“Autism: Not the ‘R’ word again…” written by a mother of three sons, one of whom is autistic: http://blog.friendshipcircle.org/2010/08/23/autism-not-the-r-word-again/

“The R-Word is not acceptable” written by a father of two boys, one with autism and one without: http://www.stuartduncan.name/special-needs/the-r-word-is-not-acceptable/

“Retard” written by the mother of a daughter with a neuro-genetic disorder called Angelman Syndrome: http://ourhummingbird.blogspot.com/search/label/the%20r-word

“Retarded” written by a mother of a son with autism: http://www.autismwonderland.com/2011/09/retarded.html

“Retard” is a word that is becoming more prominent in everyday language, spoken and written by people of all ages, sexes, professions, and social statuses. Technically, the term is supposed to mean “a person with delayed development,” however, it has become so much more than that. A woman whose son had been diagnosed with both mental retardation and autism writes about how she did not want him to have the diagnosis of mental retardation because she “didn’t want that label on him,” even though it would give her son eligibility for extra financial benefits. However, she notes that mental retardation’s synonym “developmentally delayed” does not bother her at all. So what’s up with this “R-word”?

One blogger features a PSA video saying that the R-word is just like any other minority slur word, such as “nigger,” “fag,” and “spick,” which are heard much less in public because they are so frowned upon. But the R-word, on the otherhand, is often used very freely as an insult, sometimes as a joke and other times not. Another parent of a special needs child was worried that she might be being hypersensitive about the R-word, especially because people use it so light-heartedly. However, she decides that the problem is that when it’s used as an insult, it is being aimed at “all aimed at able-minded and able-bodied people, comparing their idiocy to those who are not.” Basically, it’d be like making fun of someone who can’t walk, while you can walk. It’s an unfair comparison.

Another issue with the R-word is when people use it to identify or characterize a person with autism, when technically, not all autistics are mentally retarded. Often, people with autism actually have very high I.Q.s, so to say they are retarded just doesn’t make any sense. A father of three autistic boys feels that calling an autistic child “special” or referred to as having autism isn’t a big deal, but that the word “retard” is degrading, ignorant, and dehumanizing. It’s also inaccurate. The R-word not only negatively affects people who are disabled  but also those indirectly affected by disability.  Another parent had to pick up her crying son early from elementary school one day after his friends were calling his autistic brother “a retard.” In another blog the upset sister of a boy with autism holds up note cards with all the awful ways in which people have actually defined “retarded” on the popular site, Urbandictionary.com.

Other than emotionally damaging children and families affected by autism (or other disabilities),  there are even greater effects of the R-word in society. A blogger on the autism spectrum says that the word “autistic” is becoming the new “retard.” She says that perhaps because autism awareness has increased so much, it has become mainstream enough that people are turning the word “autistic” as means of insulting one another, usually as a joke. Further, the R-word has caused a negative stigma about any person in society who has special needs, whether they are autistic, actually mentally retarded, or have some other disability. One blogger posts about how robbery, sexual assaults, physical assaults, and even murders are occurring because people have come to think so badly of the disabled and specifically target them. The R-word is also spreading dramatically, even into other cultures. Living in a bilingual city in which French is the most widely spoken language, a blogger explains how our slang and derogatory terms often become a regular part of the French’s vocabulary. He compares it to teens in high school who throw around the “latest trendy verbiage or insults.” Sadly, “retard” has become one of these trendy words.

Although I wish it were otherwise, I can’t say I’m not guilty of using the R-word as a slang term while talking with my friends. But like the solution that most of these blogs have suggested, I am actively trying to stop using it, and also correct others when they say it. I’ve found that every time I hear someone say something like “I’m so retarded” or “Stop being a retard,” it stands out to me like a sore thumb, whereas in the past it would have just blended with the other words around it. All in all, everyone needs to realize just how much the R-word can seriously affect others, whether they are disabled or not. Just because you declare something a joke doesn’t suddenly make a cruel word or remark magically acceptable. And as the mother of an autistic child puts it, it certainly “doesn’t give you the authority to decide whether the person your “joke” is making fun of should be offended or not.”

I created this image to represent how the words “autism” and “retard” have become so connected with one another. All of the colored words are different feelings, descriptions, and results of the misuse of the R-word. On the left, the only word going in the same direction and in the same color as “autism” and “retard” is the word “why?” The point I’m hoping to make is that there is absolutely no reason that someone has to use the R-word, and that all of these colored thoughts, feelings, and negative results can be avoided if we simply stop using it. If this will save the hurt and possibly even lives of other people, why not?