diversity is beautiful cartoon

Diversity is Beautiful

ableism, Autism, comics, Disability, Education, Infographics, Neurodiversity

One of the most frequent questions I hear from parents of autistic children is, “how do I tell them they are autistic?” They want to explain autism to their child in a positive way; to frame the information as something that empowers.

My favorite way to approach conversations about autism and other forms of disability, especially (but not only!) with children, is rather than singling out the autistic or otherwise disabled child, begin with the larger context of diversity.

Diversity is, after all, an essential ingredient in a thriving natural environment; it is valuable for its own sake.

What I love about this approach is that it de-centers any one “typical” way of being, unlike the old way of explaining autism as a brain with a set of deficits that makes it something other than normal. There is no one correct or even best kind of brain, any more than there is one correct or best kind of dog or bird.

I have this “Diversity is Beautiful” cartoon for sale in my shop, on posters and mugs and a bunch of other cool products. If you choose to purchase something from there, your support is greatly appreciated! But I am also offering free printable PDFs (see below) so that anyone may use this information. As with all of my infographics, you have permission use these for personal, educational, and any other not-for-profit purpose, retaining credit to me (and any other sources listed in my graphics).

diversity is beautiful cartoon

The Simple version of Diversity is Beautiful gives you more space to create your own accessible explanations for the concepts in the image. I recommend this one for audiences with less complex receptive language and/or reading skills.

Image description: title is “diversity is beautiful.” First row of drawings shows a variety of animals, with the caption “diversity in the animal world.” Second row shows an assortment of kids: from left to right is a person with a limb (arm) difference, person using a wheelchair, person with no visible disability, person signing “hello,” person using forearm crutches, person wearing glasses, person using a white/probing cane. Caption is “diversity of people.” Third row shows four heads with smiling faces and on foreheads are drawings of multicolored brains, caption is “diversity of human brains.” ©Erin Human 2017

Printable PDF:
Diversity is Beautiful (Simple)

"diversity is beautiful" cartoon w explanations

The version called Diversity is Beautiful (Explained) has a more lengthy explanation for each form of diversity shown. This is a nice choice for anyone who does not wish to create their own script, or would like people to be able to access the image’s concepts independently (for example, as a poster in a school classroom).

Image description: title is “diversity is beautiful.” First row of drawings shows a variety of animals, with the caption “diversity in the animal world / there are millions of different kinds of animals – more than we can count!” Second row shows an assortment of kids: from left to right is a person with a limb (arm) difference, person using a wheelchair, person with no visible disability, person signing “hello,” person using forearm crutches, person wearing glasses, person using a white/probing cane. Caption is “diversity of people / people come in a great variety of shapes, sizes, genders, abilities, and appearances – we are all unique!” Third row shows four heads with smiling faces and on foreheads are drawings of multicolored brains, caption is “diversity of human brains / no two brains are alike, but we have names for different types – like ADHD, autistic, dyslexic, typical, & more!” ©Erin Human 2017

Printable PDF:
Diversity is Beautiful (Explained)

 

 

 

Neurodiversity 101

Autism, Disability, Infographics, Neurodiversity

neurodiversity 101

Neurodiversity 101

It’s a big word for a simple idea!

neuro/brain [image of head with brain]
+
diversity/range of different kinds [image of landscape with trees, water, animal]
= a range of different kinds of human brain

neurodiversity is not
– a belief system
– a personal opinion
– a political position
– a theory

by itself, it is just a neutral fact of human life:
neurodiversity exists!

[image of text/speech boxes]
more and more, people are saying they
are pro-neurodiversity
support neurodiversity
celebrate neurodiversity
those are personal opinions; people may agree or disagree that neurodiversity is a good thing, but that it is REAL is undeniable.

bonus neurodiversity vocab words:
neurotypical: having the most common, typical kind of brain
neurodivergent: having any kind of brain that is not neurotypical
neurodiverse: having a variety of people with neurotypical and neurodivergent brains; refers to a group or group environment, such as a family or workplace

© Erin Human 2017
for more information:
erinhuman.com
autisticfamilies.org

This infographic also comes in a printable PDF:

neurodiversity 101

Autism Acceptance 101

Autism, Disability, Neurodiversity, Parenting

Autism Acceptance 101

Image is an infographic with the following text:
guide for parents
Autism Acceptance 101
Autism Acceptance sounds simple enough, but what does it really mean for parents of autistic children?
[photo of a red tricycle on a sidewalk]
Autism Acceptance is NOT:
– ignoring challenges for parents or children
– giving up on your child or having low expectations
– pretending that life is all unicorn farts and rainbows!
[photo of a smiling child on a swing]
Autism Acceptance IS:
– accepting that autism is an inextricable part of your child
– acknowledging your child’s unique challenges & needs
– providing supports & helping your child thrive….
as an autistic person!
Erin Human
facebook.com/theeisforerin
erinhuman.com
This infographic also comes in a printable PDF:
Autism Acceptance 101

How many people are affected by ableism?

ableism, Autism, Disability, Neurodiversity

[The following text is also a transcript for the featured image description]

How many people are affected by ableism?

Everyone is affected by ableism.

* At any given time, about 1 in 5 people worldwide has a disability.

* People who were not born disabled, or aren’t currently disabled, may become disabled later in life.

* Some people who do not identify as disabled or recognize themselves as disabled are in fact disabled and directly affected by ableism; for example, people with psychiatric disabilities such as depression and anxiety.

* Disability Rights are highly intersectional; civil rights issues for women, people of color and LGBTQ+ people are intertwined with disability issues. Disability rights also overlap with issues such as healthcare, education, poverty, and more.

[sidebar has an image of a caution sign and the following text]

CAUTION

Descriptions of ableism as a disorder is this series are satirical and not to be taken literally.

Ableism is not a form of mental illness or psychiatric disability; in fact, blaming bigotry or prejudice on mental illness or any other disability… IS ABLEIST!

Intro: Ableism Awareness Month

Part 1: What is ableism?

Part 3: What causes ableism?

Part 4: Is there a cure for ableism?

Part 5: Ableism Therapies

Ableism Awareness Wrapup Post

What is Ableism?

ableism, Autism, Disability, Education

[The following text is also a transcript for the featured image description]

What is ableism?

Ableism is a cultural disorder that can affect people’s language and communication skills, social relationships, and other interpersonal behaviors.

Symptoms may include:

* Deficits in respectful, disability-inclusive communicate skills; may include the repetitive use of language that discriminated against or excludes disabled people, and a failure to provide communication access to disabled people.

* Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity with disabled people, ranging (for example) from lack of empathy toward disabled people to failure to include disabled people in social activities; in severe forms, may include abuse, homicide/filicide, and/or total apathy toward the abuse of disabled people.

* Restricted patterns of discriminatory behavior, for example: insistence on segregating, mocking, and/or abusing disabled people; unusual interest in “inspiration pornography” that objectifies and demeans disabled people, etc.

Ableism is any form of discrimination or negative bias toward disabled people or disability in general.

Intro: Ableism Awareness Month

Part 2: How many people are affected by ableism?

Part 3: What causes ableism?

Part 4: Is there a cure for ableism?

Part 5: Ableism Therapies

Ableism Awareness Wrapup Post

 

April is Ableism Awareness Month

ableism, Autism, Disability, Education, Neurodiversity

For several years, autism organizations led by non-autistic parents and professionals have focused on Autism Awareness in the month of April.

Autistic people have pushed back on the Awareness campaigns (and their usual pathologizing, othering frameworks) by asking for less talk of awareness and more acceptance for autistic people of all ages.

This year I was inspired to flip the old script with a new kind of Awareness campaign:

This April is Ableism Awareness Month

Join me in the coming weeks as I roll out some basic information and awareness of this epidemic of ableism, including examples and symptoms, treatments and alternatives, and more.

Part 1: What is ableism?

Part 2: How many people are affected by ableism?

Part 3: What causes ableism?

Part 4: Is there a cure for ableism?

Part 5: Ableism Therapies

Ableism Awareness Wrapup Post

#SayTheWord, Not “Special Needs”

Autism, Disability, Education, Neurodiversity

There’s a social media campaign going on right now to #SayTheWord – it was started by Lawrence Carter-Long, the Public Affairs Manager for the National Council on Disability, and is an active Twitter hashtag. The word, of course, is disabled.

The importance of this campaign is driven home to me over and over again as I see people performing ludicrous and painful contortions to avoid saying it. Reminder that when I make a criticism the way well-meaning people interact with disability, I am not attacking the people (parenthetical reminder that I was immersed in ableism myself not long ago), but inviting people to think about things in a different way.

Instead of saying disabled, nice people say things like:

  • differently abled
  • handicapable (yes, really)
  • physically/mentally challenged
  • special needs

It’s that last one, special needs, that I really want to take aim at, because I believe that seemingly innocuous phrase does serious damage to disability rights.

Every time someone says “special needs,” they reinforce the false notion that disabled people are asking for “extras” when they require accommodations, modifications, and/or support to access the same things that non-disabled people are able to access, such as education, public spaces, community involvement, and so on.

That’s the first problem, because access is not “special” for disabled people. It’s their right. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, modeled on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protects disabled Americans from discrimination, requires all to be accommodated in the workplace, and grants disabled people equal access to public spaces and institutions. Other countries have laws in place to protect disability rights in similar ways.

The second problem is, the phrase “special needs” flies in the face of the social model of disability. The social model says, the disabled person’s inability to access things is due not to the disabled person’s failings, flaws, or deficits, but on the environment’s failure to provide access to the things. For example, a Blind person is not disabled because they can’t see, they are disabled because the world was set up by seeing people for seeing people and is made of many things that are inaccessible to non-seeing people.

To make a metaphor of it, imagine taking a brand new car and submerging it in a lake. The car is disabled; there’s nothing wrong with the car itself, it still does everything it’s designed to do, but it cannot operate in its current environment. If were in an environment well suited to its needs and purposes, like say a road, it would be able to do all the things a car does.

Or, take a look at this short (1 minute 26 second) animation explaining the social model – it has captions for those who have auditory processing or hearing disabilities.

So, when you say “special needs” instead of disabled, you are saying, this person needs all sorts of special things to help them do what we can do. We, the people who designed the buildings, the curriculum, the programs, the services, so that they are tailored to our needs – we don’t need anything special to access those things. Well of course!

Some people shy away from the word disabled because they feel that it’s stigmatizing. (Some people feel the same way about the word autistic.) But you don’t remove stigma by dancing around it and being coy and hush-hush about it. That actually increases stigma. Disabled is not a slur and never was; it’s a neutral description. I believe that the truth is people are not just uncomfortable with the word, they are uncomfortable with disability itself.

Disability is a normal part of human diversity; somewhere around 15-20% of the human population is disabled. Like other forms of diversity, the presence of disability in the world enriches humanity in ways that we probably can’t even imagine. Being disabled is not something to be ashamed of, and it’s not something to be scared of; it’s just a fact of life.

I #SayTheWord because I believe that only by saying it over and over again, with pride, with confidence, can we accept disability itself. Say it with me.

(Another great post on this topic is Disabled? I Am Legend! by unstrangemind. And if you are on Twitter, be sure to check out the #SayTheWord hashtag, which is full of excellent.)

buy me pizzaImage says “#saytheword / eisforerin.com / disabled not ‘special needs'” on a blue background.

NeuroTribes Book Review

Autism, Books, Neurodiversity

I usually write book reviews in batches in my What Are You Reading? series, but I am dedicating a single blog post to NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman.

In the lead up to the book release, Silberman’s book was getting a lot of buzz in the press. It was featured or reviewed in The Atlantic, on NPR, the New York Times, The Guardian, Wired of course, he was interviewed for Forbes, did this great interview for Vox, I could go on but you get the picture. I read many of the articles and was so excited to read the book that I pre-ordered it, even though I am usually the kind of person who just waits for the public library to get it. The promise that he seemed to be making, that he had set out to dispel the common mythology of autism and present a more true and accurate picture of what autism is and who autistic people are, had me on pins and needles.

The background to the writing of this book is that Silberman himself is not autistic, but has been a writer for Wired magazine for years. In the 1990s he wrote a piece called The Geek Syndrome, which proved to be quite popular, about the apparent “epidemic” of autism in places like Silicon Valley. Warning if you want to go back and read that, it’s full of ableist language that made me cringe so hard I couldn’t get through it – it’s clear that Silberman’s come a long way in his view of autism since then. When he was researching that piece, he became curious about why there were so many autistic people in the tech community, and his research into that larger question eventually became Neurotribes.

The strength of this book is in clarifying the true history of autism research and “treatment” protocols (I put treatment in scare quotes because autism is not a disease therefore cannot actually be treated; nevertheless, plenty of people have tried). By far the strongest chapters were the ones on Asperger, Kanner, and Lovaas.

But let me explain, for those not familiar with those names. The popular mythology among non-autistics in the autism community (parents, professionals, doctors) is that in the 1930s there were two Viennese doctors, one in America (Kanner) and one in Austria (Asperger) who “discovered autism” at the same time. It’s been believed that Kanner found a group of children who were profoundly disabled, non verbal or nearly so, and so these children and others like them from then on were said to have “Kanner’s syndrome” which soon was called “classic autism.” Meanwhile, Asperger found a group of highly verbal, professorial and quirky children who didn’t relate well to peers but were quite clever. This type was supposedly lost for a few decades and eventually surfaced as “Asperger’s Syndrome,” sometimes called “high functioning autism.”

One of the reasons this narrative has been so compelling is that it has allowed many people to argue that children with “classic autism” should be cured or treated to help them become more “normal,” while children with “Asperger’s syndrome” are mostly just quirky and smart. Many people who push back against the neurodiversity movement have asserted that in fact we should probably just split these up into two completely diagnoses and not call them both autism.

Such arguments are the reason why Silberman’s new historical record of the history of autism research is so important to how we view autism today.

In NeuroTribes, Silberman reveals that Asperger in fact describes a whole range of abilities and disabilities in the children and teenagers that he saw in his clinic. He correctly perceived that these abilities and disabilities were intertwined, essential to the person, and lasted throughout their lives to varying degrees. He believed autism was “not rare,” once you knew what to look for. He also identified autistic traits in the parents of his patients, though curiously he believed he never met any autistic girls and surmised that perhaps female autism was something that set in during adolescence, since he believed he had met some autistic mothers.

(It is posited that this could be because his clinic/school was a place that children were sent after having behavioral problems in typical schools, a problem that autistic girls have somewhat less often than boys; I’d guess it’s because autism in girls is poorly understood in general.)

One of the most fascinating details of this history is that in 1938 when Asperger gave his first and last public talk at University on his research into autistic children, the environment in Vienna at the time was one in which there was tremendous pressure to fall into step with the Nazi regime. For psychologists like Asperger and his staff, that meant participating in the genocide of disabled children, a program that this book went into in heartbreaking detail. By the end of this chapter I was weeping as I read.

Because of that dangerous atmosphere in 1930s Austria, Silberman asserts that Asperger put a spin on his research in order to emphasize the gifts and societal contributions that certain of his patients had to offer, outlining the case studies of four highly intelligent and scientifically gifted boys who had some minor social difficulties. Because Asperger had elsewhere written of the vast “continuum” of autistic traits, it is reasonable to assume that he was quite deliberate in “pitching” the strengths of a few in his clinic to save all of the children in his care.

After that talk, Asperger’s research was subsumed by World War 2 and tainted by a perceived association with Nazi eugenics, buried for decades. When it finally resurfaced in the early 1990s, his portrait of autism had become skewed to resemble what we now call “Asperger’s syndrome.”

What was happening in the US at the time was that Kanner, another Viennese psychologist who had come to America earlier, was also doing research on autistic children. Kanner had trained to be a general practice doctor and found a convenient back door entry into psychology (basically a clinic said “we need a psychologist, you’re hired”) that gave him a case of Imposter Syndrome. Silberman argues that Kanner was thus driven to establish himself as a person of importance in the field, and that is why he established criteria for autism that was narrow and specific enough to ensure that it would be considered a condition both rare and severe.

The crucial missing link that Silberman discovered was that Kanner hired as part of his clinical staff two former staffers from Asperger’s clinic – most notably, Georg Frankl, Asperger’s chief diagnostician. Despite this connection, Kanner never mentioned Asperger’s work in his papers, claiming the credit for discovering autism himself, and Frankl and Weiss apparently never spoke up either (Silberman implies that they may have kept silent because they owed Kanner their lives after he helped them escape Austria and obtain work visas in the US).

Kanner went on to establish autism as a specific diagnosis for children he believed should be institutionalized throughout their lives, in part because he blamed their parents, particularly “refrigerator mothers,” for what he saw as a severe mental illness in young children. Oddly enough, though he characterized this disease as “infantile autism,” he did not theorize, research, or even seem to wonder what happened as the children grew up – I suppose because they were institutionalized and forgotten by society. In my view, this left a conceptual vacuum in which later generations of parents could insert all manner of theories about toxins, causes, and quackery about cures and treatments that would “recover” their children from this “disease.”

Other key chapters of the book detail the history of how parent groups came to dominate the field of autism research and public awareness, much to the detriment of autistic children in most cases. Bernie Rimland was a big figure in that particular history as an early proponent of toxicity theories, biomed treatments, and what is known in the autistic community as “curebie” talk. Though his son grew up to be a happy, healthy autistic man with a full life, Bernie Rimland to his dying day expressed that he wished above all for his son to just “be normal.”

The chapter on the history of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis, still the most popular therapy for autistic children) was also heart wrenching as Silberman laid out the work of its founder, Ivar Lovaas. Lovaas believed that autistic children literally were not people – that they were essentially human bodies without humanity. His work focused on shaping their behaviors in order to make them appear more like typical children, which he argued was the only way they could learn anything at all, often using harsh punishments such as electric shocks. His work is associated with the equally horrifying work of George Rekers, who used Lovaas’s techniques to try to cure young boys of “sissy boy syndrome.”

And of course, there are the crucial points in time when the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) expand their definitions of autism in the 80s, and then add Asperger syndrome and PDD-NOS in the 90s (only to remove them in 2014), which, coupled with better educational standards and services, gives rise to the supposed, mythological, totally nonexistent “autism epidemic” of modern times.

These are the dark annals of autism history that autistic people usually know, while many parents and professionals do not or choose not to think about. So I was appreciative of Silberman bringing them to the light of day, and to a wide audience.

The rest of the book was rather weak.

That may be overly harsh, but when it came to actually showing his readership who autistic people are, how we experience the world, and what we need from society, the work just wasn’t there, which felt joltingly anticlimactic after the incredible detail of his research on Asperger, Kanner, and Lovaas.

I was baffled by the fact that there were entire chapters on ham radio operators and the making of Rain Man (NOT even based on an autistic person, gah!!), and almost nothing on autistic girls or women. Just as Silberman went through the history books to find famous male autistics like Henry Cavendish and Paul Dirac, couldn’t he have dug through and found even one autistic woman? I know that there were female ham radio operators and science fiction geeks in the 1960s, but none are mentioned. The only female autistic to get any play is of course Temple Grandin, whom frankly most autistic women are pretty tired of, because she is always the token Lady Autistic when in fact most of us don’t relate to her that much at all. I could name a number of more interesting and relatable and important autistic people who are NOT men off the top of my head, from Donna Williams (mentioned, but only briefly), to Cynthia Kim, to Lydia Brown (mentioned but that’s it), to Amy Sequenzia (how is she not in this book?), Ibby Grace, and more.

Also frustrating for me was that Silberman focused so much on tech, science, and math geeks in his autistic profiles. Newsflash, not all autistic people are into STEM. I do find those people interesting, sure, but autistic people are also writers, artists, social activists, teachers, therapists, parents, and many other things. I know Silberman is a tech writer and that’s his thing, but it’s misleading to focus on that one wedge of autistic interests to the exclusion of all others.

Furthermore, I was greatly disappointed in how he emphasized the autistic people who are geniuses, inventors, and people who change the world. Even when he profiled people who were pronounced “low functioning” as children, he chose to highlight the individuals who went on to demonstrate genius IQs or special abilities. The fact is, many other autistic people live ordinary lives, and many need a lot of lifelong support.

I was so disillusioned to realize that Silberman was never going to get around to pointing out that it is NOT the material achievements a person is capable of that make them worthwhile as people. This trope that autistic children are worthy of love because they have the potential to be brilliant engineers is so harmful. It leaves the door open for non-autistic adults to try to “recover” them and make them “more normal” while they are young, and it leaves disabled teens and adults who AREN’T brilliant scientists (and let’s face it, most people don’t turn out to be brilliant scientists) out in the cold without a place in society.

That is not autistic acceptance. In this way NeuroTribes fell far, far short of what I was hoping for.

I was left with the strange suspicion that Silberman was in fact reenacting a version of Asperger’s 1938 University of Vienna talk in which he emphasized the gifted autistics to an audience of genocidal eugenicists. Did he consciously, or maybe unconsciously, pitch us a package of autistic geniuses because his main audience is so antagonistic toward autism that he felt this was the only way to reach them? This might be the case, but in the end, for me, it’s not good enough.

Even so, and this may sound inconsistent, I would still highly recommend the book to everyone, absolutely everyone. The history here needs to be common knowledge. And when you are done with NeuroTribes, I suggest you visit Autonomous Press, where autistic people are publishing the work of autistic authors, to round out your reading.

Tendril Theory

Autism, Neurodiversity

I came up with “Tendril Theory” when someone in a support group asked for a good way to explain executive function, specifically the challenge of being interrupted or having to switch tasks suddenly, to a neurotypical person. The image and words came to me all at once. It took me a few weeks to sit down and draw it.

I think the reason this resonates with so many people is that a lot of different kinds of brains work in a similar way – not only for autistic people, but also people with ADHD, and neurotypical introverts. So if this doesn’t describe you, it probably describes someone you know.

TendrilTheory

*Image is a comic titled “Why it’s hard to switch tasks (Let’s call it Tendril Theory).” Simple line drawings illustrate the following text:

When I’m focused on something / My mind sends out a million tendrils of thought / Expands into all of the thoughts & feelings / When I need to switch tasks / I must retract all of the tendrils of my mind / This takes some time / Eventually I can shift to the new task / But when I am interrupted or must switch abruptly / It feels like all of the tendrils are being ripped out / That’s why I don’t react well / Please just give me time / To switch tasks when I’m ready.

Three Strokes to One: Social Situations

Autism, Identity

One of the metaphors that my diagnosing psychologist used to illustrate the exhaustion of being autistic in an allistic (that is, non-autistic) world is about paddling down a river. All of the neurotypical people are sitting in their kayaks paddling along with the current, but the autistic person is paddling through a current that runs in the other direction. For every one stroke the other kayakers paddle, the autistic kayaker has to paddle three strokes just to keep up.

It’s not a perfect metaphor, but I think it does speak to the extra effort that goes into much of daily life for me, especially social interactions and aspects of executive functioning (I’ve promised to explain executive functioning in more detail in a later post and I will – it’s a big topic).

When I was younger, I relied on scripting a lot. There are different kinds of autistic scripting, one involving repeating long strings of dialogue/narration from TV or books, but the kind of scripting I mean is that I would craft a script in my head before speaking, sometimes hours or days before interacting with someone, sometimes on the fly if needed – but it still took me extra time to work out what to say.

Throughout school, right into college, I consistently received feedback from teachers that I should participate in class more, because when I did, I had insightful things to say. What I couldn’t have explained was that the problem wasn’t lack of interest, or even shyness, but the difficulty of scripting on the fly in a class setting. Usually I would take so long to perfectly craft my script, that the conversation would have moved on by the time I was ready to say it. Sometimes it just didn’t seem worth it to try.

Now, I’ve had half my life to figure out getting by in the neurotypical world, so I am pretty good at it, good enough that most people won’t notice anything remarkably different about me, but it’s still tiring. Essentially, I have to do a lot of things consciously and deliberately that neurotypical people do naturally without thinking about it. Imagine if you had to tell yourself, “Breathe in. Now breathe out. Now in. Now out,” all the livelong day! Well, that’s a bit what it’s like for me to just operate in the world and talk to people. I am very, very used to it, but it still takes more effort than it takes most people.

I’ve known for a while that introverts find social interaction draining, and need alone time to recharge. That makes sense to me and for a long time I thought it was a sufficient explanation for my social needs. But within the past year or so, the degree to which I am drained by social interaction, and the time and the extent of withdrawal needed for me to recover, have become more and more obviously out of the typical range of introversion.

These days, after I spend some time socializing, say two to three hours, I probably need the rest of the day to keep mostly to myself. That might even last into the next day. If I overdo it entirely, it could literally take days for me to feel back to normal.To give you some idea of what an ordinary social interaction is like for me, this is what might be running through my head if I’m talking with casual acquaintances, or new friends, all the while I am trying to actually participate in the conversation in a meaningful, engaging, and appropriate fashion:

I’ll sit down in this chair. Is this the right chair?
Am I sitting awkwardly? What do I do with my hands?
I should be smiling. Make eye contact. Do I look too serious?
Relax your eyes. You’re squinting. You look too serious.
Should I have offered them something to drink?
Does my shirt look weird?
They’ve asked me a question, ummm, did they mean x y or z by that?
I tried to answer, did that make any sense or sound like pure gibberish?
I can’t tell if that was stupid.
There is a pause, is it an awkward pause or a normal pause?
I’ll fill this silence with a mumbled something-or-other, did that make it even worse?
Is it my turn to speak? Is it theirs?
What do I say next?
I’ll take a drink to stall for time.
They’re looking at their phone, does that mean I’m boring them?
Argh remember to smile!

It probably is not at all obvious that I am doing this running calculation; in fact, though I often appeared very uncomfortable or shy in my teen years, in adulthood I’ve often been told I seem pretty confident. Nevertheless, that is happening in my head most of the time! I do that sort of thing even when I am among just close friends, though with less anxiety, and with family, except for Mike and my kids because with them I can just let it all hang out. So, yeah. It’s exhausting! But it’s second nature now for my brain to do that constant analysis of the situation in order for me to participate.

(By the way, this is why online communication is so much easier. I don’t have to worry about what my face, body, and tone of voice are doing, and the extra processing time is built right in!)

Part of what is freeing about “coming out” as autistic is just not having to hide all of my extra paddling anymore. I’ll still have to do some of it, but I think and hope that at least I will be able to shed some of the anxiety about acting the way I think I am supposed to. I will know that my friends and family will know I am just different, and hopefully along the way I can explain things like – hey, I really have no idea when I am supposed to hug you. If I look like I’m having a bad time I might just be elsewhere in my mind, or a bit tapped out. I care about you a lot but usually don’t know how to show it.

Admitting that this is what socializing is like for me is a little scary. It makes me feel vulnerable. In a way it would be tempting to continue to pretend I am just like everyone else, except that the price of doing that has become too high. It takes too much out of me. Another thing that has been difficult about socializing in my 30s as an autistic person is simply realizing and admitting to myself that my desire to socialize exceeds my abilities at this time in my life. I socially flame out quickly these days and that can be very frustrating, but part of taking care of myself and conserving my resources so that I can do everything I want and need to do is being realistic about what I can handle.