Letter to an autistic middle school student

This is something that should’ve been the very first post I wrote on this blog. So much of this site amounts to me trying to say to others the things I wish I’d heard growing up. However I’ve never really condensed that into one entry. I think it’s time. I can’t reach back in time and tell myself this advice but I can reach out to kids struggling in my situation today. So here goes. 

To a middle school student struggling with life with autism,

I want you to know that I’ve been there. To a degree I was one of the first. My generation was the one that started to understand what autism is and that it impacts a larger number than thought. As a result I got a lot of imperfect advice. My advice is also imperfect but it comes from a place of experience. 

First off, I know it’s hard to be you and anybody who tells you otherwise is wrong. It’s hard to be a “normal” middle schooler so we have it extra hard. Middle school is a painful time. Know that your feelings are completely valid. Yes, it is stressful. No it’s not just you wanting attention.

I’m sure your social life is hard. After all you’ve had it pounded into your head that being popular matters. You’re probably lonely with only a few friends. My advice: only worry about those few friends. Being popular is exhausting and ultimately meaningless. The few friends you have matter. Besides you’re so close to high school where you’ll find your world. Have hope. You’ll flourish there. 

I hope you’re not being bullied but I’m all too aware you likely are. I was. Being bullied hurt and it will leave scars. But it won’t continue. It rarely follows you to high school. You’re angry and irritable. So is everyone else. It’ll ease up. But for now, a counselor is useful to have. 

You’re probably really frustrated by all the rules of life that don’t make much sense. Well, I don’t blame you but I’ve got bad news. Just because we see how silly these rules are doesn’t mean that we get to ignore them. We’ve got to abide by them just like everyone else. Just play along and laugh about it in your head. 

You probably have something you’re into. Hold onto that because if you’re still interested in a few years, that’s your career. Seriously, whatever you’re really passionate about now you can find a job in. We’re even popular with employers due to that. I followed a love of newspapers to a job at one for example.

Cherish that you live in the technology age. You are so lucky. I had to fight legally to use a computer for my work while you’re handed tablets. So many of our struggles with fine motor are erased because you get to use these miracles. Be happy. 

You worry about being an adult. I know. I did. Here’s what nobody tells you: it doesn’t happen all at once. Take growing up in steps. You’ll get there. Go to college, even leaving home if you can. Find a job close by your home. Build your life in steps. But don’t fear that you can’t do it. You can. 

No advice I have is more important than this. It does get better. I know it’s hard to see now but it truly does. Whatever bothers you now, you will outgrow it. It’s possible to do well. I thought I was never going to get married or have a child. I’ve done both. I have my own life. I didn’t think I could do it. No matter how much you think you can’t, you’re going to be surprised. In time you’ll find yourself doing just fine. But it takes time. 

Life is hard. It never does make sense. But that’s not an autism problem. That’s a human problem. Keep fighting. Know that you matter. You’ll get where you’re going. I believe it. 

Austin Shinn

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Why You Need To Listen To Autistic People 

Last night I attempted to explain to someone why autistic people hate Autism Speaks. With another person (who did a better job than me), I laid out a case that they were a hate group that does no good for us. And what did I get? Ignored and told I shouldn’t judge a charity by bad people in it. 

Here’s the thing. I explained clearly that they were not a charity, and even cursory research shows they have an abysmal record, and that they as an organization were bad. And I was shut down because they were believed over me. 

This is a patten I need to discuss. Not all but far too many Neurotypical people trust “experts” over us. Experts can be teachers. They can be researchers. They’re often parents. What they never are, save for Dr. Grandin, are us. 

I get it. Autism is a mental condition. It’s a lens that distorts our world view. I understand distrust of a distorted perspective. At least in theory. 

Here’s the reality though. When we discuss what it feels like to be autistic, there’s no distortion. We’re clearly laying out how it feels to be us. We’re telling you exactly what’s going on in our heads. A parent can live with a child for years and never know what we know. 

We’re also rather skilled at research. It’s funny how being an expert on various subjects is a stereotype of the condition up to the point where we discuss that condition. Then we know nothing. But seriously we have researched ourselves more thoroughly than any other subject. We have to to survive. 

We are also quite good at expressing this. I’m far from the only blogger out there. There’s tons of us. Many are better at this than I am. So we’re quite loud to be clear. 

But this is the most important point: it’s basic decency to listen to us. We’re the ones living with this. We’re the ones affected despite the hype. Just do the right thing and assume we know what we’re saying. 

Because we do. 

Breaking the Break

It’s been a long time since I’ve written either a review or a blog entry for this site and I’m not high on that being the case. I’ve been silent because to be blunt I’ve not had much drive to write. I could address my life but it’s been a lot of dad work. I could write a review but beyond the horror of Batman and Harley Quinn, I haven’t felt like writing on film. I’ve needed a break.

And who can blame me? It’s been a long, tiring year for all of us. I don’t know very many people who’ve had much drive to do anything. I think society as a whole is trying to rebuild. I’m just one of them.

During my break I’ve had fun. I’ve seen a few solid films on video such as Kong: Skull Island and Shin Godzilla. I’ve rested when I can. I’ve taken Lola on early morning drives when I can’t. I’ve been in therapy. I’ve been on my meds. I’ve reread all of Big Nate and read all of Retail.

I’ve stepped back. But you can’t step back for too long. So it is that I got my Moviepass and I’m hoping to go once a week. There’s a ton of autism media on its way and I need to watch/review. There is a huge, massive project hopefully hitting very soon from me and a collaborator.

It was nice to catch my breath this summer. Time to get to work.

The Terror of Progress

This morning I had a very minor car accident. I bumped into a parked car and caused a dent in their bumper. It wasn’t anything special and I was quickly able to handle it, albeit after going to great effort to find the owner. I shrugged it off quickly and by noon barely thought about it.

This isn’t how moments like this have gone in the past. In the past my accidents, ones which are common and which everybody gets into, caused me to crumple. I’ve been unable to function, convinced I’d transgressed some great social norm. But today I was completely calm and not only handle it like an adult, but by going to great effort to fix thngs, probably handled it better than most adults. I didn’t even slightly freak out.

That’s a big deal for me and it gives me an opening to discuss the tricky subject of progress. There’s a great line in Tatsuya Ishida’s masterpiece Sinfest that nails the terrifying nature of this subject. A character falling in love notes “I met a boy who made me feel not so worthless… like maybe there’s hope for me… and it terrifies me.” This is the truest evocation pf this feeling I’ve ever heard. Hope is scary. Progress, which carries with it the hope of improvement, is thus terrifying.

See, progress carries with it the awareness that we’re advancing from where we were. We’re no longer trapped in the place we were. We see we can do better and grow. That’s scary because we know too that we not only can fail but will fail. Life isn’t a straight slope after all. It’ll hurt even worse when we fall.

As a result it’s become very easy for me to bemoan my dark patterns of behavior because I’m aware of them and comfortable with them in a sick way. But that’s not healthy. My therapist pointed this out and had further advice. He thinks I need to celebrate when things do work out for me. With my fatally low self esteem that isn’t my modus operandi but self-examination is.

So I’m fighting my fears and noting this. I had a moment of triumph today. I experienced a stressor and a moral dilemma that usually go very poorly for me and I faced them like an adult. I was able to do so because I’m in therapy which is giving me the tools to actively improve my life and I’m on medication that regulates my neurochemistry. Every day, I accomplish more and more in the quest to improve myself.

I am making progress, scary as that is.

The Virtues of Writing a Bad Script (And Other Failings)

This spring, I wrote a bad script.

This is not something I’m completely ok with admitting but it’s something I need to say aloud. I, Austin Shinn, wrote an utterly awful script. I wrote a piece that’s almost disturbingly self indulgent, dramatically inert, and even tone deaf about mental illness, the one subject I’m supposedly familiar with. I wrote a bad script.

It’s called The Wingwoman and it can be read by clicking that link. It deals with an agoraphobic who gets visits from a mysterious, beautiful creature who lives in the woods. The idea of it was a modern update of the Boggy Creek myths with a different angle, going with beauty instead of terror. It’s not a bad idea in its essence but it simply did not work in execution. It had no flow, my characters were thin, and it just felt like I was trying something that did not work. I wrote my draft and decided I was done trying to tell it.

Here’s the thing: I’ve developed it for years. Drafts of the script exist in various forms dating back to 2002. That’s a long time to cling to an idea and a short time to walk away. But I’m done with it. I’m burying the idea and moving on, much as I eventually did with Unworthy. I should be sad.

But I’m not. In fact, I’m genuinely happy with the project even though it didn’t work out. That’s the enigma of writing and in many ways life.

See, I had an experience. Writing the script felt great. I blazed through it almost without stopping, not an easy feat given that it was fairly lengthy and mostly visual, something new for me. There’s much less dialogue in the first half than the normal pieces I write and I found that invigorating. I got to have the fun of laying it all out.

That’s something I think we lose sight of when we work on projects. We focus so much on the reception we fail to consider if we had fun just doing them. I’ve worked on a number of large multimedia projects that died on release while a blog entry I impulsively spat out drew attention across the autistic community, even reaching a number of best selling writers. Truthfully, I’m happier I worked on the underseen projects because I had more fun doing them.

But that doesn’t seem to be the metric we go with. There’s this drive that we have to measure our satisfaction with our life experiences by the quantity of “things” we got out of it, be it awards or money earned or reviews. It’s not for nothing people fixate more on Rotten Tomatoes scores than on their own opinions. Quality of experience must be what we can point to at the end.

There have been experiences like that in my life, shopping trips where I’m let down because I didn’t get enough stuff. Yet when I stop to think of it, my most favorite trip I’ve ever taken I only walked away with a couple of issues of a comic and I’ve taken great trips on which I found even less. The quantity of things? Not much. The quantity of quality memories? Epic.

That’s what The Wingwoman is to me. It’s a great experience I got to have. It made me feel good to write it. I’m not blown away by it. But I’m glad it exists. I might’ve failed but hey, I tried something. That’s better than saying I didn’t. I did something and I’ll remember doing it.

My headspace: An Experimental Post

This is a test of something I wanted to play with. A more experimental post where I convey what it is to be autistic without going into the standard prose. What I wanted to do was put you in my shoes precisely and there’s no better way to do that than to use a mix of screenwriting and images. So I’m going to give it a shot on a vital subject: my relaxation exercise my therapist used. I’m going to guide you through what it feels like.


BLACK

The sound of breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

NARRATOR (V.O.)
This is not relaxing.

CUT TO:

INT NEWSROOM – NIGHT
A quiet but messy place. 28532_566208048102_4742476_n

NARRATOR (V.O.)
It’s where you work. It’s nice. It’s a fun job. It’s the opposite of relaxing.

CUT TO:

INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY
A beautiful baby crawls around.

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NARRATOR (V.O.)
Cute, playful, love of your life. But also stressful. Maybe not the first thing to think of.

CUT TO:
INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT
You lie in bed, completely at peace.

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NARRATOR (V.O.)
Ah, this is the end result. But we can’t jump the queue. So focus on that breathing and we’ll get there.

BLACK

NARRATOR (V.O.)
Picture a soothing sight.

CUT TO:
EXT. OVERLOOK – MORNING
A beautiful, spacious mountain view.

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NARRATOR (V.O.)
This is a good start. But really think about it. When you picture this scene, are you truly at peace? I don’t think so. You’re thinking about the stimuli. You don’t want that. It’s nice but it’s not you.

CUT TO:
INT. MOVIE THEATER – NIGHT
A typical movie theater.

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NARRATOR (V.O.)
This is more like it. But still… Movies aren’t where you really relax. They’re often where you fire up. You don’t want to fire up. You want to let go. Where do you let go?

CUT TO:
EXT. MOTEL – DAY
A standard motel.

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NARRATOR (V.O.)
Here we go. This is the place to set your image of calm. But wait, why here? Why not–

CUT TO:
INT. MAGNOLIA HOTEL – DAY
A nice hotel.

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NARRATOR (V.O.)
We have no budget limit. But still, that’s distracting. Also the lobby. Do you relax in a hotel lobby? Choose a standard room in a standard hotel.

CUT TO:
INT. STANDARD ROOM – NIGHT
A standard room in a standard hotel. The least noteworthy room possible.

the-magnolia-hotel-dallas

NARRATOR (V.O.)
Here we go. Bog standard. Nothing of note at all. It’s day in that shot but it’s likely day when you’re doing this so deal. Picture the room. Picture the basic details of it. The way the stiff carpet feels on your feet. The chemical scent of the cleaning products that smells just right. The perfect temperature control. The lack of detail. Just you and your thoughts. But not the bad ones. The peaceful ones. You’re away from your stressors. The outside world is outside. You aren’t in it today. You’re away. Sink into the bed. Relax.

BLACK

The sound of breathing.

State of Brain 6/9: Mental Overstimulation, Lola’s B-day & Book news

This is kind of a hodgepodge post where I’m slamming together a few unrelated topics that can’t make a full post but I still need to blog on.

First up: Therapy this week was fascinating as I realized the strategy of withdrawing from the world to refocus my energy in a more healthy way was exactly the right one to engage in. I’m increasingly less patient with people who constantly express negative thoughts. I feel like there’s a toxic defeatism that’s infecting me. I’m not putting up with it anymore.

In therapy I was able to see that withdrawing was indeed correct. I can’t shoulder the burdens of life. I lose sight of the micro trying to live in the macro. What I engage in when I engage in social media amounts to the mental version of sensory overstimulation. My brain short circuits no differently than my senses do.

I’m going to continue to step back as much as I can. What I really need to do is to try and address the underlying issues that feed my addiction. I’m lonely. I’m jealous of Amanda for having friends nearby. I’m mad I can’t find new outlets. These are real issues. I need a social life. I’ll get one in time.


There was a conspicuous lack of blog posts yesterday for Lola’s birthday and there’s a very good reason why. I didn’t feel like anything I could write would feel genuine. I tried to put something together but it felt arbitrary. Nothing I could say yesterday would’ve been any different than what I say on a daily basis.

So instead I cherish that fact. That I love my daughter so much that I exhaust the supply of words I have to say about her. I take her everywhere. I play with her. We’re extremely close. I would rather have a close tie I don’t feel like exploiting than a distant one that I do.


There is a lot happening on the book front. One of the things I can’t yet announce but is going to be amazing when I do. The other I can: I’m writing the sequel which will be released hopefully next February. It’s going to take a while as I need a bit of time to write and I will have to get clearance from a few people. But it’s coming along. I’m using a carrot/stick process to write, having purchased 16 graphic novels from Amazon during an epic sale. I write a chapter, I read a book. It’s good self care!