Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Institutional racism?

One of the difficult parts of being part of a minority group is having your group or aspects of your group defined by the majority group. As an autistic person, every time I leave home I am subjected to a world that pays little heed to the needs of neurodivergent folk. At best there is token allowances for which I’m expected to be grateful. For the most part, I’m expected to put on a mask of normalcy no matter what, and hide my true identity. But should I?

Ethnic minorities also face similar hurdles. Yesterday in Parliament an MP (Member of Parliament) was prevented from speaking by the Speaker, and was eventually ordered from the House when trying to raise a point of order over the matter. His crime was that, in the opinion of the Speaker, he was not dressed appropriately. Standing orders require that in Parliament MPs must be appropriately dressed, which is for men to wear a jacket and tie as part of “business attire”.

In an email sent from Speaker Trevor Mallard, to MP Rawiri Waititi, the Speaker said that a review of the Standing Orders supported members dressing in formal wear of the cultures they identify with. This lies at the heart of the matter and I will address this shortly.

Rawiri Waititi was wearing a business shirt and jacket, but instead of a tie he wore a hei-tiki. For many Māori, the wearing of a hei tiki is part of their cultural, spiritual and personal identity. The fact that he was prevented from speaking raises several issues in my mind. I’ll get the least controversial aspect out of the way first.

What is “business attire?

A quick search online revealed a range of “business attire”, including “casual“, “smart casual“, “business casual“, “business informal“, “business professional” and “business formal” just to name a few. And that’s only for Western dress. Whew!

In the New Zealand context, I would argue that typical business wear for men over recent decades is dress shirt, dress trousers, dress shoes, a jacket and for most occasions a tie is optional. Here, I use “typical” to refer to accepted Pākehā dress (around 70% of the population identify as Pākehā or NZ European).

The Speaker is of the view that ties should be optional and last year he sought the opinion of MPs about abandoning the rule on ties. Apparently there was little support for a change, so the standing order remains – a tie is mandatory. Fair enough, you might say. The majority have spoken, so that’s the end of the matter. To me that shouts out tyranny of the majority.

Racism

I’ve titled this article “institutional racism?” simply because it’s a term that will be most familiar to my readers. To my mind, the term race is a very blunt tool when it comes to understanding the oppression of and discrimination against minorities. I see race as being a set of physical characteristics that make one group distinctive from another. It says nothing about culture, cultural expectations or cultural values.

Regretfully, racism (judging a person or group by their physical appearance) does exist in this country. I have witnessed it although it has never been directed at me in Aotearoa New Zealand in a form that I am able to recognise. I have experienced “low level overt racism” while in Japan, especially in the ’70s and ’80s. In recent visits to Japan, it’s mostly limited to assumptions that I would prefer to use a knife and fork instead of chopsticks, or that I would be more comfortable shaking hands than bowing, neither of which are true. I have an intense dislike to shaking hands and avoid doing so as much as possible. My eating utensils of choice are chopsticks, even for some western style meals.

My children did experience overt racism as youngsters, principally from their peers, and if they are subjected to racism as adults it’s more likely to be covert in nature. If racism has been directed at the wife, she has been oblivious to it, although she has described incidents where I suspect racism has been a factor.

However the issue at the heart of the article is not about race but about custom and culture.

Cultural oppression

While in Japan, I knew it was inappropriate to blow my nose into a handkerchief or to eat an ice cream while walking along the street. Japan is very much a monocultural society, and while I attempted to adapt to the subtleties of Japanese culture, many I were oblivious to, and as a Gaijin visitor I was given much more leeway than I would be given if I had had a more permanent residence there.

Aotearoa New Zealand claims to be a “bicultural multi-ethnic” society. Our founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, guaranteed Māori as Tangata whenua (literally “people of the land”) equal partnership with the British Crown and specifically protects land, customary rights and traditions. For most of this nation’s subsequent history the treaty has been ignored. Only in the past fifty years have the descendents of those settlers and more recent arrivals begun to recognise the significance of that founding document, and then, often grudgingly.

I don’t believe racial discrimination is a significant issue in this country although it does exist and can deeply affect those subjected to it. On the other hand cultural oppression is vey significant. Any law, regulation, requirement or expectation that diminishes, devalues or denies aspects of cultural identity is effectively cultural oppression. This particularly applies to Māori, given their status as tangata whenua, their rights under the Treaty, and as they constitute a significant minority within this country.

A hundred years ago, the accepted view, including by some Māori leaders was that the best hope for Māori was assimilation – effectively making Māori into brown Pākehā. The practice and teaching of Māori knowledge and wisdom was suppressed as was the use of Te Reo Māori (the Māori language). No room or recognition was given to Māori custom or values. Some Pākehā still hold the same view today.

It didn’t succeed. It created a downtrodden, demoralised subculture that has and continues to have serious repercussion for Māori and to a lesser extent for the rest of society. Thankfully the last fifty has seen an almost miraculous revival of Māori culture, and some of it is rubbing off on sections of the Non-Māori population. This is, in my opinion, healthy for our society.

With that background out of the way, let’s return to MP Rawiri Waititi and his “missing” tie. I believe the Speaker made the wrong call on several grounds. I’ll go through these in the order they come to mind, not in order of importance.

Letter of the law versus spirit of the law.

I’m a firm believer that the spirit/intent/purpose of of a law/regulation/rule is just as important at the letter of the law. Why was the law drafted in the first place? I would argue that the tie rule was not simply an arbitrary rule enforcing a culturally biased dress code, but part of package to maintain the dignity and respect that Parliament deserves as the highest court in the land. The tie rule should be applied in a descriptive manner, not in a prescriptive manner.

Clearly, the wearing into the House of a dirty singlet, a wrinkled pair of stubbies and worn out jandals (thongs to Australians and flip flops to the rest of the English speaking world) would lower the dignity of Parliament. But so too would the wearing of a weather beaten food stained tie and jacket retrieved off an old scarecrow that had been in a cornfield for several years. Yet it would meet the letter of the law as the standing order is currently worded.

Instead, Waititi wore a dress shirt, a business suit and replaced the tie with a culturally significant alternative adornment. I fail to see how this could possibly have negative effect on the dignity of Parliament and in fact I believe it enhances that reputation by not imposing the preferences of one culture onto another culture.

Freedom of expression

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act (NZBORA) guarantees the right to freedom of expression in any form and this should not be restricted. An example of this that NZ law prohibits the desecration of the national flag of any nation. However the courts have have taken the view that the public desecration of a national flag is a legitimate way of expressing an opinion regarding the actions or stance of a country or its representatives and so is protected by the NZBORA. I think it would require that the only motive for the desecration was to cause offence before there was any likelihood of a prosecution being successful.

Waititi feels very strongly that Māori have been subjected to “colonial oppression”, and who can blame him. The evidence is there for anyone who cares to look. Outside Parliament, Waititi stated that his hei-tiki is his tie of choice. It ties him to his tīpuna (ancestors), whenua (the land where his ancestors have lived and where their placenta are buried), and his people. He went on to say that the political party he represents will not be subjugated nor assimilated to dated colonial rules. “I will not be forced to wear a tie.. this is about standing up against subjugation or assimilation”. Is not the wearing of a hei tiki an expression of his identity and also a stance against what he views as cultural oppression by Pākehā.

Who decides what is “culturally appropriate”?

Waititi has described his dress as “Māori business attire”. Is it the place of the (Pākehā) Speaker to determine what is Māori business attire, or is that the domain of Māori? From my observations, a great many Māori businessmen display a hei tiki or other traditional forms such as a hei matau (stylised fish hook) instead of, (or sometimes over) a tie.

Rawiri Waititi listens to the Speaker’s reprimand (photo: ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF)

Being culturally sensitive

Māori culture is going through a renaissance and there is growing sense of pride for their traditions and values and how those are expressed. What right have I as a Pākehā to say how Māori should express their culture? The Speaker suggested that Waititi take the tie issue to the Parliamentary business select committee for adjudication, but as Māori are a distinct minority on that committee, isn’t it still a case of Pākehā deciding whether or not a hei tiki is “appropriate”? I would consider it insulting if I were in Waititi’s position. Surely we’re all adult enough to listen to the aspirations of groups that are not our own.

Recognising the rights of others

We live in a pluralistic society with many cultures, religions, lifestyles, and outlooks. There’s more than enough room for them all. We all deserve to be able to live a life as we best see fit. There is no place however for one group to impose its values and practices on another, be it cultural, religious, political or economic.

Epilogue

I was going to rant on some more, but circumstances have changed. Today Rawiri Waititi returned to Parliament in the same attire as yesterday. When he rose to speak, there was an audible sigh from Speaker Mallard, but he did not prevent Waititi from speaking. I won’t speculate on why the Speaker had a change of heart, even if it appeared to be somewhat reluctantly. But I am pleased that he did. It was the correct decision. He should have made it yesterday.


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Winter is not coming

It’s the time of the year when my inbox gets swamped by emails promoting fall sales and advice to prepare and stock up for winter. There seems to be an assumption by almost every advertiser that either:

  1. the seasons are the same world over, or
  2. there is nothing south of the equator.

I appreciate that around 57% of the world’s population live north of the Tropic of Cancer where it is indeed autumn (or fall if you prefer). I don’t begrudge you receiving promotional material reflecting the season.

However, there’s a little over 40% of the world’s population that live between the tropic of Cancer than the Tropic of Capricorn for whom there are no seasons. For them, seasonal advertising is more or less irrelevant.

That leaves a little under 3% of the world’s population who live south of the Tropic of Capricorn and for whom the seasons are the polar opposite of what it is for a majority of this planet’s human population. Seasonal advertising is always either six months too early or six months too late.

Consider this: There are approximately twice as many people who belong to the LGBTQ+ community as there are who live south of the Tropic of Capricorn. We have our rights too. And this includes appropriate seasonal advertising.


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WHAT IS AUTISM?

In yesterday’s post I quoted from and linked to an article that argues that the pathology paradigm is a cultural value judgment and not a objective scientific conclusion. So if autism is not a disorder, what is it? Most online scientific and medical literature still use the pathology paradigm, as do most sources within the autism community(a) and so are of little help when looking at what autism really is.

To gather a more accurate description one needs to look at the literature from the autistic community(b). The “problem” with following this course of action is that most descriptions are based on personal experience and are therefore subjective in nature rather than being objective in a scientific vein.

(a)Autism community: allies of autistic people; caregivers of autistic people; extended family of autistic people; professionals who work with autistic people; anyone who thinks they know anything about autism.
(b)Autistic community: autistic people.

And here’s why it’s a problem: The experience of every autistic is different. The picture I paint to describe what autism is for me will be different from the picture painted by another autistic about their experience. Some of my experiences might event contradict those of another autistic. Many non-autistic people have an issue with this. They see inconsistencies, discrepancies that they interpret as “nonsense”, “bullshit”, “you’re making it all up”. And we’re the ones who are supposed to have rigid forms of thinking??

Comprehensive descriptions that include autism in all its variations and follow the neurodiversity paradigm are few and far between, but I find the following from the NEUROCOSMOPOLITANISM blog one of the better descriptions of what autism is.

WHAT IS AUTISM?

Autism is a genetically-based human neurological variant. The complex set of interrelated characteristics that distinguish autistic neurology from non-autistic neurology is not yet fully understood, but current evidence indicates that the central distinction is that autistic brains are characterized by particularly high levels of synaptic connectivity and responsiveness. This tends to make the autistic individual’s subjective experience more intense and chaotic than that of non-autistic individuals: on both the sensorimotor and cognitive levels, the autistic mind tends to register more information, and the impact of each bit of information tends to be both stronger and less predictable.

Autism is a developmental phenomenon, meaning that it begins in utero and has a pervasive influence on development, on multiple levels, throughout the lifespan. Autism produces distinctive, atypical ways of thinking, moving, interaction, and sensory and cognitive processing. One analogy that has often been made is that autistic individuals have a different neurological “operating system” than non-autistic individuals.

According to current estimates, somewhere between one percent and two percent of the world’s population is autistic. While the number of individuals diagnosed as autistic has increased continually over the past few decades, evidence suggests that this increase in diagnosis is the result of increased public and professional awareness, rather than an actual increase in the prevalence of autism.

Despite underlying neurological commonalities, autistic individuals are vastly different from one another. Some autistic individuals exhibit exceptional cognitive talents. However, in the context of a society designed around the sensory, cognitive, developmental, and social needs of non-autistic individuals, autistic individuals are almost always disabled to some degree – sometimes quite obviously, and sometimes more subtly.

The realm of social interaction is one context in which autistic individuals tend to consistently be disabled. An autistic child’s sensory experience of the world is more intense and chaotic than that of a non-autistic child, and the ongoing task of navigating and integrating that experience thus occupies more of the autistic child’s attention and energy. This means the autistic child has less attention and energy available to focus on the subtleties of social interaction. Difficulty meeting the social expectations of non-autistics often results in social rejection, which further compounds social difficulties and impedes social development. For this reason, autism has been frequently misconstrued as being essentially a set of “social and communication deficits,” by those who are unaware that the social challenges faced by autistic individuals are just by-products of the intense and chaotic nature of autistic sensory and cognitive experience.

Autism is still widely regarded as a “disorder,” but this view has been challenged in recent years by proponents of the neurodiversity model, which holds that autism and other neurocognitive variants are simply part of the natural spectrum of human biodiversity, like variations in ethnicity or sexual orientation (which have also been pathologized in the past). Ultimately, to describe autism as a disorder represents a value judgment rather than a scientific fact.

What Is Autism? – NEUROCOSMOPOLITANISM, March 1, 2014


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They Were Wrong — Speaking of Autism…

Too often, those who are neurodivergent are written off and denied the opportunity to shine. It takes an exceptional amount of determination and good fortune for most autists to break through the barriers that society, in its ignorance, places in front of them. Success stories are rare, not because it’s an innate characteristic of autism but because society has decided to write off autists as failures, rejects, and broken, even before formal education commences. So I rejoice when a kindred spirit is able to demonstrate how wrong the system is. Here is the success story of one autist who, with just the right amount of determination, support and happenstance, has proven that the system and society are indeed wrong.

Congratulations Quincy!!

Well, folks, it’s official. I am a high school graduate! Well, technically I’ve been “graduated” since May, but the school held the actual ceremony this week. Despite the delay, I walked across the stage and got my diploma last Thursday on the school’s football field. I think that for everyone a high school graduation is […]

They Were Wrong — Speaking of Autism…


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Ways society gaslights and stonewalls autistic people #4

Taken from 50 Ways Society Gaslights and Stonewalls Autistic People. Visit Neuroclastic if you prefer to see all 50 ways in one bite. Otherwise, expect to see one more way in which we are gaslighted each day over a period of seven weeks.

Autistic people, adults and children, are infantilized, gaslighted, and manipulated regularly by society– individuals and institutions.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.

Wikipedia

Note: Some of these may overlap, and some may not fit squarely within the definition of gaslighting; however, all contribute to the way in which society functions like a narcissistic parent with regards to how autistic people are perceived and treated.

4. ABA “therapy”

When ABA therapists claim that ABA therapy for 40 hours is not exhausting for small children because it’s “just play,” when social play can be beyond-exhausting over extended periods of time for autistic kids.

Neuroclastic

Just because Autistic kids often don’t play in a way non-autistic kids do doesn’t mean they’re not playing. And by being forced to “play’ in a way non-autistic kids do – especially social play – it is no longer play. It becomes hard work and eventually beyond endurance. Such treatment of a typical child would be considered abuse, but somehow it’s okay to subject autistic kids to this sort of treatment.


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Ways society gaslights and stonewalls autistic people #3

Taken from 50 Ways Society Gaslights and Stonewalls Autistic People. Visit Neuroclastic if you prefer to see all 50 ways in one bite. Otherwise, expect to see one more way in which we are gaslighted each day over a period of seven weeks.

Autistic people, adults and children, are infantilized, gaslighted, and manipulated regularly by society– individuals and institutions.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.

Wikipedia

Note: Some of these may overlap, and some may not fit squarely within the definition of gaslighting; however, all contribute to the way in which society functions like a narcissistic parent with regards to how autistic people are perceived and treated.

3. Empathy

When they claim to have empathy and that we don’t, but then only measure empathy in NT ways like eye contact or understanding NT behavior.

Neuroclastic


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Ways society gaslights and stonewalls autistic people #2

Taken from 50 Ways Society Gaslights and Stonewalls Autistic People. Visit Neuroclastic if you prefer to see all 50 ways in one bite. Otherwise, expect to see one more way in which we are gaslighted each day over a period of seven weeks.

Autistic people, adults and children, are infantilized, gaslighted, and manipulated regularly by society– individuals and institutions.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.

Wikipedia

Note: Some of these may overlap, and some may not fit squarely within the definition of gaslighting; however, all contribute to the way in which society functions like a narcissistic parent with regards to how autistic people are perceived and treated.

2. Late blooming

Not acknowledging that many of us grew up in environments that weren’t conducive to fostering our talents ended up as late bloomers, then assuming we’re Né’er-do-wells or we’re unmotivated or unambitious. We just haven’t bloomed yet, and it’s a profound difference… but when we do bloom, look out.


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Ways society gaslights and stonewalls autistic people #1

Taken from 50 Ways Society Gaslights and Stonewalls Autistic People. Visit Neuroclastic if you prefer to see all 50 ways in one bite. Otherwise, expect to see one more way in which we are gaslighted each day over a period of seven weeks.

Autistic people, adults and children, are infantilized, gaslighted, and manipulated regularly by society– individuals and institutions.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.

Wikipedia

Note: Some of these may overlap, and some may not fit squarely within the definition of gaslighting; however, all contribute to the way in which society functions like a narcissistic parent with regards to how autistic people are perceived and treated.

1. Sensory differences

Telling us that our sensory differences are “no big deal” and that we just need to “be resilient” and learn to deal with it. They assume their brains are the same as ours and assume we can habituate when we can’t, so instead force us to be in awful environments to try to “habituate us” to the stimulus. Which is just further traumatizing us. Thinking they get to decide what is loud, bright, painful, or tastes funny.

Neuroclastic


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Teaching religion

It’s been a while since I touched on topics of a religious nature, so here’s one that’s been on the back burner for a while.

I believe the teaching of religion is important. Not because it teaches what is right or wrong, good or bad, but because it teaches us a lot about the evolution of human thought and morality.

It can help us understand that good and evil, are concepts that change over time. It can help us understand why we value some ideas today that had little value in the past and why we have devalued some ideas that were regarded as sacred in earlier periods. Whether we like it or not, religion has played a significant role in how we have come to understand the world.

To a great many anti-theists and non-theists, bringing these two words, “teaching religion” is like a red rag to a bull. You can almost see their nostrils flare on hearing those words. But does it need to be that way?

For myself, religion is a means by which I can understand what I experience. It nourishes me in a way that other experiences of being human do not. I acknowledge that this is my experience, and what I experience is unique to me. If you wish to call it something else other than religion, that’s fine by me. 

The following video, and the transcript below describe what teaching religion means from a Quaker perspective. Whether or not you agree with the teaching of religion at all, it is not “indoctrinating people in the ‘correct’ way to think in terms of the cosmology or the meta-narratives of religious philosophy”.  Your feedback after watching the video or reading the transcription is very welcome.

Transcript

I am very clear in a public context that I never say, “I teach religion,” because I have learned in my life that that’s a conversation stopper. For most people that I encounter in the United States of America, they hear that as, “I participate in indoctrinating people in the correct way to think in terms of the cosmology or the metanarratives of religious philosophy.”

It couldn’t be further from the truth at a Friends school. That is not what we do. In fact, when I say to people, “I teach religions,” they say, “Oh wow, that sounds cool!” I’ve heard people say when I say I teach world religions, they say, “Oh that was my favorite subject in college, I loved that,” and it’s a conversation opener. And that’s what we’re doing at Friends schools, we’re opening the conversation, we’re not closing it.

For me as a teacher, my goal is to create an energized, safe space for students to get in touch with their own ideas but to encounter the ideas of other people in the room and other people from other times and other spaces, either through a text or through the internet or some other device that I share and I want them to be alive in the present with what’s real for them. 

Quaker Ethos

Quakerism is a wonderful container to have conversations around the edges. I often say that Quakerism is a great religion for people who are entering religion for the first time, or for people who are leaving religion. So we have a lot of people who are excited about Quakerism because they’ve thought of themselves as agnostics or atheists and then they encounter this tradition that permits that possibility but also invites exploration of the mysterious and doesn’t block out experiences of transformational or paranormal possibilities.

And then there are other people who have come from very doctrinal or creedal religions and they have felt oppressed or controlled by those traditions and Quakerism gives them freedom. Great, welcome!

So we have a tremendous mix within our community, and that’s a mix that we also have in our classrooms because at Friends schools, the majority of people in the room are not Quaker, and there is no expectation that they should be—and more often than not, the teacher is not Quaker either. So what we’re doing is we’re having a conversation that is possible because of the Quaker ethos of acceptance, tolerance, universality, and openness to the unknown.

Creating Safe Discursive Space

This is not a situation where there’s a catechism or a planned method of instruction so that you get the right answers or the right information. It’s quite opposite, actually. What we are doing at a Friends school is we are creating safe, discursive space for people to ask into the sublime, into the mystical, into the beautiful, into the mysterious. And it turns out that everyone has had that experience.

We’ve all had dreams. Are dreams real? Are dreams religious? Are some dreams religious? Are no dreams religious? In fact, what does it mean to be a person who is in touch with a dimension of reality that we can’t measure or see? It means to be fully alive, so let’s talk about that.

Exploring our Identities

And at the same time, I am very happy bringing in the language of scientific cosmology and what some people call atheism because that belongs in the room as well. So when I tell them that when I was young, I identified as both Quaker and atheist, I see their eyes get wide, like, “Oh that’s a thing? Like, I’m allowed to be that?” Sure! What are you, what’s your truth?

And then suddenly I hear a polyphony of different identities around the room and suddenly now we’re talking, because, “Well I’m Jewish and Christian?” Well, theologically speaking, how can you be both? Well it doesn’t matter, let’s not interrogate that question. Let’s honor that that’s your truth and let’s talk about what that means to you. Which stories speak to you? Which parts of those traditions have meaning for you personally, and why is it important that you honor both of those traditions when you were asked what religion are you? And let’s welcome all of that and stumble forward.

I want students to leave my class saying “That was fun!,” because it is fun actually. It’s fun to realize that you are having some dimension of reality that you know is true validated by somebody else and then you find out that there are rich traditions that offer different narratives, different names, different colors, different stories, different energies to exactly the stories that you personally have had. Wow, that’s cool!

Now turn to the person next to you and talk about your experience and listen to their experience and notice if there are similarities or differences. And now let’s come back to what we were talking about. Maybe we have a text from the Bhagavad Gita that says something really profound from a couple thousand years ago, and now let’s look at the Gospel of John, or the Gospel of Thomas even! Or maybe we’ll look at something from Deuteronomy and say, “How does this compare to your dream? What do you love?”

 


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“This is what the misuse of the [Autism Speaks] puzzle piece symbol feels like to me; shut up about the positives of autism, we want to medicalize your neurotype and strip away what makes your life enjoyable.” I agree with KALEIDOGRAPHIA 100%

I spent the new year at my cousin’s beach house, overlooking the warm waters of the Southern Brazilian coast. Inside the open plan kitchen/living room, cooled by the chilly ocean breeze, we gathered round for one of our old family pastimes: six pairs of hands, or seven, or eight, depending on who dropped in or […]

via [Reflection] The Final Piece of the Puzzle — KALEIDOGRAPHIA