After some glitches, I believe I have the core site running stable. To start, I intend to post a regular blog entry every Tuesday, with possible extra entries if something wild happens and I can’t wait to tell you about it.
On the 21st of this month – March – I’ll be running a class in journaling at Peace in the Forest in Wake Forest, NC. Specifically, this course will be about what’s known as “free journaling”. This is a semi-structured form of personal journaling that’s an excellent way to take what’s in your head and be able to look at it objectively. It has helped me a lot. Free journaling can be extremely therapeutic, often revealing aspects of our thoughts and feelings we wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.
On a personal note, this is an experiment not only as a possible income source toward getting the van, but also as a way to try and overcome some of the anxiety I feel about interacting with strangers, which is a common trait among autistics. Fear of putting myself in front of an audience almost caused me to fail many classes in grade school. I’d ace tests but when the teacher declared it was presentation time I’d fold like a napkin. This was back way before IDEA and IEPs.
Back in my day – how old do I sound? – it was thought by most teachers, and certainly by the bureaucrats who made the rules, that the healthiest thing to do was help (read as “force”) a child conform. The concept of neurodiversity wasn’t even a topic of conversation outside of obscure University research studies and graduate theses. Only the most specialized psychologists were even starting to take a serious look at ways to integrate autistics into regular class settings without crushing them down to fit the accepted version of normalcy.
So, this journaling class is a big step for me. I can feel my nerves starting to jangle as the date approaches, but, like this website, it’s a step on a path. That’s what life is, really, just one foot in front of the other.
In other news, my blog was discovered by a very cool list of other blogs by autistics. It’s called Actually Autistic Blog List and is a great resource if you want to take a deep dive into what being #ActuallyAutistic is really like. And, if you’re an autistic, it’s a great list for not feeling alone in the world.
It’s an interesting thing, that hashtag #ActuallyAutistic. It’s caused quite a bit of controversy. Being a spectrum, autism is a hard thing to pin down. It’s not as though there’s a blood test that can be run, the results of which are beyond question. Autistics themselves can range widely in how symptoms present themselves. It’s not like having the flu where you get a fever and have a fever regardless of if you are in a stadium filled with thousands or in a booth at a restaurant sitting across from just one person.
If someone is non-verbal, reacts to the slightest touch as though they’ve just been burned and requires constant supervision, no one is going to question it when their caregiver explains that he/she is autistic. But what happens when it’s not so obvious?
I spent the first thirty-plus years of my life bodging together patches and masks to cover my oddities, what I later discovered were my symptoms of autism. I’m smart and good with patterns, so I was successful – to an extent – at making casual acquaintances think that, while a bit weird, I was mostly normal. This was easier to do in my youth because young people are supposed to be a little weird before they find themselves and settle into life.
But when I became old enough – around twenty-ish – people started to expect that I’d get my poo together and stop being weird, that I’d “grow up”, get a job and settle down – that I would normalize. Of course, that didn’t happen.
If anything, I appeared even less normal since I was now being compared to adults instead of children. My quietness in crowds, my aversion to being touched except by people I have a certain vibe about, my odd ways of looking at things and the little glitches in my thought processes all became far more obvious as I aged and those early masks fell apart.
If you know something about autism, spend some time with me, really get to know me, you probably wouldn’t doubt that I’m autistic. But that’s an investment most people don’t make. Humans are, despite all the sayings to the contrary, a first impression people. Early humans were the weakest animals in the jungle and had to evolve the ability to quickly assess potential threats.
Humans have only been the dominant species on Earth for, if we’re being generous, a few thousand years. Even just a few hundred years ago humans were limited to little more than pointy objects as defense against animals and other humans. The tendency to make quick judgements based on minimal information is still very much a fundamental feature of the human brain. So, when I’m smiling and conversing with someone in what I feel is a safe, intimate environment about a range of complex topics, I don’t blame people for thinking I’m fairly normal.
But that’s the issue with making judgement calls about who is and isn’t “actually autistic”. I believe that autism has been wildly over-diagnosed. I believe it has become trendy because it is still so poorly understood that it can be put on and taken off like a silly scarf on a warm day and no one wants to be that guy who questions it. I believe there are people who use autism as an affectation, part of a “look”, like wearing glasses not because you need them but because you think they make you look interesting.
But that’s just my opinion. It’s doesn’t qualify me to be the autism police. It doesn’t mean I can be sure who is and is not actually autistic. It’s even possible that, in the fullness of time, autism as a diagnosis may be discarded entirely. As the spectrum is understood to a greater degree than it is now, science may discover that this thing we now call Autism Spectrum Disorder is actually a collection of specific neuropsychological conditions, each quantified and categorized individually. But, until that happens, autism is the word we use, and I don’t think it’s wise to start calling people out on it until we can do so from a much more secure position.
It’s okay to be weird, actually autistic or not. EMBRACE YOUR WEIRD!