Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Autism “awareness”

Ngā kaipānui kia ora

When I tell people about Autistic Pride they say, “how can you be proud of something that you have no control over? That doesn’t make sense? How can you be proud of being Autistic?”

Lyric Holmans, Neurodivergent Rebel

April is Autism Awareness month, and today, Saturday 2nd April is World Autism Awareness Day. It’s a time when many autistic people “go into hiding”. Why? Because autism is still portrayed as a bogeyman – something that is undesirable, that destroys families, causes misery to “sufferers”, that needs to be eliminated. No it’s not. From my perspective, autism describes a way of perceiving and experiencing the world that is different from the way the majority of the population perceives and experiences the world. It’s not so much about deficits and disabilities, it’s about an alternate way of being. The bogeyman, if there is one, is that the non-autistic world writes of the autistic world as something undesirable.

So back to the question “How can you be proud of being Autistic?” I’d answer by saying “In the same way one can be proud of being gay or black or trans or Māori or Native American or…”. It’s a way of saying “Even though society devalues me for being who I am, and puts obstacles in my path that limits my ability to develop to my potential, I deserve to be recognised as a worthy and valuable member of society, and my rights and needs are no less important than the rights and needs of anyone else”.

I object to having an Autism Awareness month for the same reason I’d object to a Gay Awareness month of a Māori Awareness month. Look at it this way: there isn’t anyone who isn’t aware of there being gay people, trans people or people of colour, but that does not prevent the likes of racists, homophobes and transphobes from spreading hate and disinformation about them. It doesn’t prevent normal, intelligent people from failing to appreciate the social barriers that are placed in the way of individuals who are members of minority groups – in other words intentional and unintentional discrimination.

Likewise, I doubt that today there is a single person who isn’t aware of autism. For goodness sake, in some quarters, there’s panic about an “autism epidemic” being accelerated by vaccines or 5G or plastics or the New World Order or GMOs or… something. In fact it’s nothing more that a growing realisation within the health sector of what autism actually is. What is sad is if they had consulted with actually autistic people instead of making lab rats of us, they would have had that “Ah ha” moment long ago.

What we need is not awareness, but acceptance at a minimum. Better yet would be valuing the alternative perspectives that autistics and other other forms of neurodiversity bring to society. Because Autistic people perceive and experience society and the world differently, we express our experiences and understandings differently. Accept that our differences are not deficits, but are a valuable and important part of the diversity that makes the human species what it is.

Embrace diversity!


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Trigger warnings

Trigger warning: <sarcasm> this article may irritate some people who lack empathy. </sarcasm>

Today in the comments section of a post of one of my favourite bloggers was a comment by one reader that they were irritated by trigger warnings that occasionally precede online articles. The reader made the comment that “[E]verybody needs to put on their big boy/big girl panties and deal with it“. This to me seems to be very inconsiderate, lacking in empathy, and downright harmful. It triggered prompted me into composing this article. Let me elaborate.

Personally, I approve of trigger warnings. They are not there for the benefit of the typical reader/viewer. They are there for the benefit the reader/viewer whose circumstances are less than typical.

Many people struggle with life for a variety of reasons, beit temporary, medium term or for their entire life. Some people will, from time to time encounter that proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back causing anguish, despair, a breakdown, a relapse, or even contemplating whether or not life is worth the struggle. I cannot know the circumstances of my readers so I shouldn’t presume that none of them are facing difficulties that are stretching them to breaking point. I would not want to be knowingly responsible for loading them up with that proverbial straw, at least without giving them the opportunity to decline it. I’ll attempt an analogy.

Imagine you come across a cafe you haven’t seen before and decide to go in for a Flat White (or whatever your favourite hot beverage is). You’re about to take your first sip when there’s an extremely loud bang that startles you and you spill some coffee onto your lap. After you recover you notice no one else in the cafe has reacted as you did. It turns out this particular cafe fires a cannon on the hour throughout the business day, and regulars are aware of this. On the other hand you weren’t. If you had been warned before purchasing your coffee, you would have been forewarned and could have chosen whether to stay or go elsewhere.

Which would be more reasonable: (a) to provide a warning at the entrance, or on the drinks menu on the wall that a cannon is fired on the hour, or (b) to be told that you need to put on your big boy/big girl panties and deal with it when you complain that the cannon fire caused you to spill your coffee?

What triggers me about comments such as “deal with it” is that it’s a situation I find myself in regularly. I’m autistic and my ability to communicate in a way that non-autistics demand is not always successful. I can communicate perfectly well – with other autistics or with people who are prepared to meet me part way. Communication is a two way street, yet I, and other autistics, must bend over backwards to conform to the confusing, chaotic and illogical communication style of non-autistic people. All. The. Time.

It’s uncomfortable, unpleasant and exhausting, and frequently in social situations I find it necessary to escape, at least temporarily, to avoid shutting down. Such escapes are often considered rude, anti-social, inconsiderate or arrogant, and when I explain why it’s necessary I’m informed that no one else has a problem and I need to learn to “deal with it”. Why is it that they don’t ever need to learn to “deal with it” – the fact that I need to take frequent breaks during social activity?

Seldom, if ever, is there an attempt by neurotypicals to make any accommodation for the needs of autistics. Who’s lacking empathy? According to popular mythology, including much of the medical profession, autistic people lack empathy. I would argue no more so than non-autistic people do. In fact there is a growing body of evidence that suggests autistics may actually be highly empathetic, but expressed in a way non-autistic people can’t even recognise, let alone understand.

When needs are not met, people suffer. If you are irritated when empathetic people try to accommodate the needs of others by way of trigger warnings, you’ll not get any sympathy from me.


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Arresting Ableism; Insight and Experiences of a Nonspeaking Autistic — NeuroClastic

Inside my mind there are a myriad of thoughts about the way autism is perceived and how autistic folk are treated. I have more than a dozen drafts on this subject that I am unable to complete as every time I try I feel a churning in my stomach and my thoughts fly in all directions – so much so that I can not organise them into paragraphs, sentences and words. I don’t know what that churning represents – anger, frustration, impotence – perhaps all of these, perhaps something entirely different. What I can say is that it makes me very uncomfortable, even more so when I’m unable to articulate what I really want to say.

Is is because I lack the language skills necessary to express myself adequately, or is that words themselves are incapable or expressing what I feel? I don’t know. But I do know when someone can articulate what I feel. The following article by Sabrina Guerra, a non-speaking autistic, speaks volumes quietly. Her specific experiences are different from mine, and yet (to use a Quaker phrase) she speaks to my condition.

Wisdom doesn’t flourish impeded by people’s egocentrism. Supremacy reigns unless we fight diligently to educate. Question all that you’ve ingested on a human’s worth. When the rights of abled people take precedence over those of disabled people, our great shame is evident, and we must not consider ourselves a modern, progressive society. I am passionate…

Arresting Ableism; Insight and Experiences of a Nonspeaking Autistic — NeuroClastic


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We All Need to Work More Autistically — Autism and Expectations

I, and I suspect many others on the autism spectrum, have found alternative forms of communications forced on society by the current pandemic less threatening, more comfortable and less open to miscommunication (from my perspective) than the usual face-to-face forms of communication that most neurotypical people engage in. As the post I’ve linked to below discusses, the way autistic people typically communicate can be advantageous even to those not on the spectrum, especially in the “new normal” that’s likely to be around for some considerable time.

The other day I was at work and was hit by a revelation. It had been nagging at me for a while – I could feel that something had shifted. But I never would have predicted that I would be facing the world of work with a social advantage due to my autism. I’ve had […]

We All Need to Work More Autistically — Autism and Expectations


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Countdown towards a ban of all forms of conversion therapy — Autistic Collaboration

ABA is perhaps the best known “therapy” for autistic people – especially autistic children, but it’s still conversion therapy, and is just as harmful in the view of many autistic adults. What is less well known is that this form of “treatment” for autistics is the basis of all forms of conversion therapy, and now widely condemned in other fields. Unfortunately people who are autistic can still be subjected to electric shock “therapy” in order to make them appear less autistic (a recent SCOTUS decision means it still continues in America). All conversion therapy is cruel and inhumane, and I don’t care whether it’s in the “treatment” of those in the LGBTQI+ community or the neurodivergent community. It must stop!

Today we have presented our submission to the government’s Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill. From today we will will start counting the days until all forms of conversion therapies are banned in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our hope is that this page will only need to be appended a few times with further activities to remind…

Countdown towards a ban of all forms of conversion therapy — Autistic Collaboration


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Not knowing what you don’t know.

Lyric Holmans has released a Youtube clip explaining why she finds people overwhelming. You can view the clip and read a transcription on her blog. Like her, I find people can be overwhelming, and the reasons are similar – non-vocal communications.

While humans may be the only species to have developed a language, all vertebrates and many invertebrates communicate in various ways with their own species, and to a lesser extent other species. And while non-vocal communication may take second place to spoken (or written) communication in humans, it remains an important factor in our everyday communications.

For the first 60 years of my life, I was totally unaware that language (spoken or written) was complemented by other forms of communication, namely body language and facial expressions. I’m not alone. Many people don’t realise that body language exists, but nevertheless, they use it and read it every day. It’s instinctive to them. For many autistics, including myself, its not. Hence the title of this article.

During those first 60 years, I was able to read body language in domestic pets – better than most people in fact – in babies and to a lesser extent, toddlers. But apart from the way lips form with a smile or laughter I was unaware that the face, especially the eyes, can convey a whole raft of emotions and ideas. Even so, I was unable to distinguish between a grin and a grimace. I was completely unaware that humans also used posture, movement of body and hands, even vocal pitch and volume to supplement the words they use.

Now that I do know that a significant part of human communication is non-vocal, I’m able to look for it, and that in itself can be overwhelming. In the first place, making a conscious effort to look for non-vocal communication requires effort, so much so, that sometimes I forget to listen to the actual words being spoken. And then I’m always asking myself whether or not a particular facial or body movement is indeed intended (intentionally or not) to communicate something. And if it is intended to communicate something, what exactly?

I managed to survive the first sixty years of my life, more or less intact, not knowing that body language and facial expressions play a vital role in interpersonal communications. I’m yet to be persuaded that knowing it exits at all, let alone its importance, makes my communication with others, as individuals or groups, any less overwhelming. In my case it might actually make it more so. Group dynamics is another mystery to me (Lyric touches on it in the post linked to above), but that’s a topic for another day.


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The case for autistic pride — Yenn Purkis Autism Page

For a great many of us on the spectrum, Autism Awareness day/month in April is less than helpful especially in the form promoted by Autism Speaks – a “support” organisation that definitely does not speak for Autistic people. Instead, Autistic Pride Day (June 18) is the day to show the world we are not inferior but just equal and different. I might have something more to say on the day that is more relevant to my personal experience, but here is a post by Yenn Purkis that I believe most neurodivergent people (not just autistics) can relate to.

Friday June 18 is Autistic Pride Day so I thought I would write a blog post all about autistic pride. Sometimes people say ‘why would you be proud? You can’t help being autistic. It just is.’ I think for members of marginalised groups, like Autistics, pride is a political act and a way of asserting […]

The case for autistic pride — Yenn Purkis Autism Page


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ABA Therapy and PTSD

Think about it: almost half of all autistic people who undergo ABA “therapy” suffer from PTSD. As a follow up to yesterday’s post on the abusive nature of ABA, I recommend reading the following article:


ABA Therapy and PTSD

The “New ABA” is still all about compliance.

I was called “unethical” by a professional colleague today.

The reason may surprise you—I said “ABA is abuse”.  My peer was naturally taken aback because they are an SLP-BCBA and “would never dream of abusing a child.” I always find this rebuttal interesting because we usually don’t hear about people walking around admitting to abusing people; even overt predators somehow convince themselves that they are helping their victim. The sanctimonious SLP-BCBA told me that it was the “old ABA” and not “new ABA” that was harmful, and then only a small fraction of the time.  She accused me of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” (I still don’t really understand how this idiomatic expression applies here) and she further went on to insist that there is “no way ABA could cause PTSD in people with Autism.” (She really meant “Autistic people,” I am sure.)

Humans have an amazing innate response to survive when they are faced with a threat or danger, fight, flight, or freeze. This is an automatic nervous system response. The fight and flight responses are triggered by the sympathetic nervous system, and the freeze response is triggered by the parasympathetic nervous system. Both of these systems combined make up the autonomic nervous system (ANS). When one of the responses is dispatched the human body simultaneously releases adrenaline and cortisol. If the ANA is only triggered once, for example maybe you almost rear-end someone while driving, your body would typically return to a calm state in 20-30 minutes. But, when the ANS is repeatedly triggered without time to regulate and return cortisol levels to a manageable level, what results is trauma-induced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  (Cleveland Clinic, 2019)


Visit the Therapist Neurodiversity Collective website to view the rest of the article


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Autism: How to be normal (and why not to be)

This being autism awareness month, you’ll probably see me posting more articles about autism than normal. I make no apologies for doing so.

The following heartfelt Youtube video is from a TEDx presentation by a fellow autistic, Jolene Stockman. Her experiences very much parallel my own, apart from learning to drive (I found it easy and enjoyable) and the age at which being autistic was discovered (60 in my case).