Why You Shouldn’t Ask Someone if They’re Autistic 

Yesterday I was asked by a friend if it was ever a good idea to ask someone if they were on the spectrum. I didn’t spend much time thinking out an answer, confirming it wasn’t, but I’ve spent a lot of time since thinking about why it’s not. In thinking about, I realized it sits in a unique place in our world. 

I want to start by noting the friend was actually one of the most aware, knowledgeable NTs I’ve ever met on the subject. She bends over backwards to get it right. Which is why I’m glad she asked this. 

Because as I thought about it I realized I hadn’t had this discussion in the community. I’ve never thought about should I or shouldn’t I ask this. I’ve never asked it of people I’ve suspected but I’ve never thought about why. So many things we do we don’t consider. 

So why not? That is the question. 

The very simple answer is autism defines personal. Some are like me and open. Some are more guarded. Some don’t discuss at all. And even the idea of autism is complicated. Some use functioning terms while others like me don’t. Each person’s approach is their own. 

Asking about it also carries a stigma. It’s hard to ignore the uncomfortable way we’re presented. To be publicly autistic is to live in violation of social norms. Asking implies that we match up with the negative images of the media. It’s a very tricky thing. 

I wish this wasn’t so. I really do. It’d be great for the disorder to be viewed like any other aspect of a person. But it’s not. 

So for now, my advice is simple. You shouldn’t ask about sexuality or race. Put autism in the same place. 

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Diary of an Autistic Father: Week 20

 Lola is moving past her instantly cute phase. 

What I mean by that is she doesn’t get the same gushing attention she used to. She’s not a tiny baby. She’s becoming a common infant. Already ageism is hitting her. 

That’s not to say she doesn’t still get it. We do get stopped occasionally. She’s such a cutie it has to happen. But it’s not the same. 

That’s a nice metaphor for how parenting feels this week. It’s nice but it’s becoming normal. The new is hard wearing off. It’s still great but after nearly 5 months, it’s routine. Even the days where it’s just us are ordinary now. 

This is a great thing. 

I like routine after all. I love that I’m in one with her. It gives me comfort. When everything feels chaotic, there’s a bottle to feed her or a diaper to change. This is my Lola. My pattern. 

Still we manage to have some exciting changes. We went to the grocery store with her in a sling last week. We visited the new Conway bookstore. We’ve gone on walks. I’m always trying the new with her.

And no matter what, she will always be my Favorite 

A Survival Guide To Politics For The Autistic

Today marks the first day of Early Voting in Arkansas. It’s an exciting time. We get to have our say on everything from the smallest office in town to President. I will cast my vote later this week and it’s none of your business how I’m voting. That’s not what this is about.

Instead I want to address something that hasn’t been discussed this season but needs to be brought up. There are few subjects more stressful for the autistic than politics. After all, politics is a subject laden with conflict, with extremes, with an entire minefield of norms that we’re lost on. We do not handle any of this well. So I’m writing this essay in the hopes that my peers on the spectrum will know that it’s ok to feel how I know we’re all feeling right now.

So here are a few tips.

First and foremost, it is completely fine to be disconnected from the election. That is a right you have under the law. We live high anxiety lives. If you want to avoid the election outright, go for it I say. I don’t often get to disengage due to working at a newspaper but I know the feeling of needing to. I take breaks from social media for this reason. So if you’re not able to handle it, feel free to focus on something else. Your health is more important, I say.

That said, if you’re like me and you are interested, use your autism as a skill. We are exceptionally good at logic and reason. Research is our gift. Become the best informed voter you can. Look up every issue. Know what every candidate stands for. Figure out what you believe. You have the capacity to contribute something vital to the public arena.

Once you figure out what you think, don’t let peer pressure change it. I’ve known voters whose choices I didn’t agree with. I didn’t try to alter their opinions. I know what I stand for. So should you. There isn’t a correct way to handle this. There’s only what you truly think. Voting is an act done in public but it’s a private decision. Stand firm in it.

If you want to best avoid peer pressure, here is a really great trick: Do not discuss politics publicly. This is the safest idea in the world and it is ignored constantly. Discussing such a contentious subject in mixed company is an idea up there with running drunk with the bulls. If people try to goad you, walk away from the discussion. You don’t need the stress. It doesn’t mean you’re less of a voter. It means you’re aware of how to survive in public.

Lastly, know that this season will soon end. This won’t go on forever, though it seems to in the US. Once it’s over, channel that energy into fighting for the specific causes you care about. I fight for disabled rights, especially on this blog. You can do the same. Because in the end, the presidency will ultimately be a bit of a stalemate I fear. Instead, focus on what you can change in your community.

In the end, this is a private matter. Contribute how best you see fit!

Diary of an Autistic Father: Week 19

It’s been a harder week than I expected. My anxiety levels have been decidedly higher than I would prefer them to be. I’m convinced this is a psychic burst from last year when I had a trying fall. All the same, I’ve managed my anxiety with all the skills I’ve developed. I’ll be ok.

Lola has been a key factor. She’s napped far less of late than she used to. As a result I have a pretty much nonstop buddy at my side as I read. She’s not a quiet buddy either. She babbles nonstop. She laughs a lot too. I’m constantly aware she’s there.

Thus she’s coming to occupy a strange role in my life. Right now her mindset isn’t that different from a puppy but with every day she becomes more and more a person. I’m fascinated by watching the clear intelligence behind her eyes. I see her looking at me. I know she knows me.

As a result I’m increasingly intimidated by her. She’s becoming a real force and my insecurities about being fit to be a father well up. What will she think of me? How will she react to a father who has anxiety issues? I have meltdowns. Will she judge me for them?

I worry about these things because I love this baby so much. She’s so adorable and sweet. When she cries, I feel a desperate need to make it stop. I love her so much I’m willing to change her diaper if only because I can see that smile and it’s worth it.

It helps my worries to know she’s growing great. Her weight is good. Her height is astonishing. She’s developing just perfectly. At the very least I’m keeping her alive well enough.

I know this. I will never feel secure in my ability to fulfill some grand ideal for her because I can’t. I’m just a normal man. All I can do is love her. I’ll do all I can to be there for her. It’s more than many do.

Diary of an Autistic Father: Week 18

It’s now been a full year since Amanda and I learned Lola was coming. She took two tests on one day followed by a doctor’s appointment the next. From then on we’ve lived heading towards Lola and then in her world. She has been everything I’ve thought about in the last year.

It’s a fascinating moment to be in, realizing that I’ve spent this long in that headspace. I’ve really been a father in my mind for that time. Every thought has to focus on that and that’s powerful.

It’s also a bit scary as I realize that I’m nearing a year after some of my darkest anxiety attacks. These were the attacks that sent me into therapy to deal with them. Some of the issues that triggered the attacks have abated. Some of the issues still loom. I feel better but reaching this time of the year has to make me anxious.

Fortunately Lola is here. She’s eaten much better this week. She shifted well to her new bed. Things are nicely status quo for her this week. Tomorrow she’ll go to the doctor for a checkup. She’ll likely do fine there.

This has been an intense year. Soon the holidays wait. I’m already nervous.

When I Was Under the Sway of a Racist

This is a story I’ve hesitated about discussing in the past. That makes sense. After all who wants to confess something so dark. But I have to talk about it to shed insight into how easy it is to find yourself in this position.

Because contrary to how the media depicts it, finding yourself in a darker place isn’t always the result of flaws within a person, at least not the flaws people think of. It’s definitely a result of weakness though. It’s also incredibly easy to do, I fear.

The facts are this. In 2005, I became close friends with a guy named Mickey.* He was an extremely close friend, the likes of which I didn’t really have on campus after a rather rough year before. Mickey gave me a connection I needed. We spent all of our time together between September and March in fact. He was important to me.

Mickey was also a racist. He was a rather virulent racist whose prejudice I didn’t initially see and to be honest I don’t think he saw. Mickey espoused an outright fear of black people. He criticized them nonstop. He was scared to be near them if they weren’t “safe” in his eyes. Most damningly, he used terms like “monkey” to describe his opponents, always claiming it was describing their behavior.

None of this phased me at the time. That was how desperate I was for companionship. Besides, it wasn’t like he started with this talk. There are people who have and they’re people I didn’t wind up talking to for long. Initially I took to Mickey because he was geeky like me. We seemed to have a lot in common.

And initially Mickey’s issues were seemingly specific. Mickey had a black roommate he disliked. I could relate. I had a roommate I despised the year before. So I got his frustration and related. Eventually Mickey got a transfer and that should’ve been it.

But it wasn’t and that was when his dark side came out. Mickey continued to fixate on his ex-roommate and his friends. This was when the simian language came out including the racist term “chimpanic” which I ignored and even allowed him to enter on at least one site under my ID. Mickey even flipped out at the slightest reference to rap music,  including when I turned on my car stereo and Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” was playing.

In time, a relatively short time in fact, I ended my connection with him. The severance wasn’t over his behavior on that front but rather his behavior towards my autism. He said some unforgivable things about it and I chose to walk away from my friendship.

Mickey was a despicable racist. This is something I know now. But I know this too: I am guilty for not having confronted him over this. I am guilty for allowing his behavior to continue. I am guilty for just accepting his views as different from mine but not seeing them for the hate they were. I am guilty at my soul for trading my principles for companionship.

The thing is, I continued to view myself as a good, non-prejudiced person at the time. After all I was also good friends with my white RA and his black gf who became his wife. If I was cool with an interracial couple, I couldn’t be racist. And I wouldn’t say I was racist, at least intentionally. But I stress, my silence was a sin.

I’ve been haunted by my time with Mickey over the last few years. I’ve gotten more aware as I’ve aged and I’ve come to understand prejudice more. It’s not just the explicit signs. It’s the hidden things. The unspoken biases. Turning a blind eye to these things isn’t ok.

Mickey is the reason I can’t ever feel too proud of myself for my views. Because I know how easy it is to be comfortable with the opposite while still feeling proud of myself for being forward thinking. Mickey is why I fight to be better. Mickey reminds me that I can still slip.

Pride is a sin for a reason.

*Identifying details about the individual in question have been changed to protect their identity.

Diary of an Autistic Father: Week 17

And so I find myself here.

I’ve been in therapy for around 10 months, attended about as many sessions. They’ve been intensive monthly sessions during which I laid out my situation and received training to deal with it. During this period, I’ve had very logical discussions of how anxiety works. I haven’t scoured my childhood or anything cliched. I went in to learn how to handle things better not fix everything about me.

The last session was instructive for me. Everything has been going really well for me. But in these moments I’m aware that it won’t. Instead of the defeatism I’m prone to, I’m feeling strong enough to stare down these things. During the discussion, I realized I’d learned all I could learn from my therapist. I left it feeling strong.

Those feelings haven’t abated in the last few weeks and as the next appointment neared, I had an epiphany: I had no business going to therapy any time soon. I was ready to test the waters on my own. Thus I made the call and decided to move on from monthly sessions.

When you leave therapy, it’s often treated as either that it failed or you’re healed. Neither is true. The work Dr. Alan Pogue did was fantastic and I’ll recommend him without hesitation. On the other hand, I’m still battling anxiety and I know I’m going to face meltdowns even with all the training. I’m autistic. It happens.

But I feel like I want to get better and in no small part that is due to Lola. Lola cuts through so much of the silliness that is anxiety. I look at her and I know that my entire life must have the single minded purpose of keeping her happy and alive. If I can do that, I’m ok.

This week I spent a lot of time just playing with her. She’s getting strong and kicking her little baby legs. She’s rolling over too. It’s amazing to see sentience appear on her face. She’s so very happy and healthy.

Lola centers me. I’m grateful for that.