My recent endeavors: Aspie Cat, National Autistic Society interview, and the Thoughty Auti podcast

Over the past few months, I have taken my autism themed work beyond my blog, and I thought I would share my experiences with my latest endeavors on here. Starting with:

Aspie Cat

I have often compared my autistic struggles with certain cat traits. Things like touch sensitivity, stereotypes about being unfeeling, etc. Then last summer, the idea suddenly came to me: why not portray this in a series of comic style drawings? I drafted a cover page during autumn, and started drawing in earnest in November. Before I knew it, these cartoon shorts became part of a story. Which I am hoping to turn into a graphic novel.

As a child, I loved making up animal stories and spending hours drawing them. You could say I’ve fallen back on an old hobby. The scenes I portray are based on real life issues that I want people to understand better. At the same time, I like to inject a bit of humour into them, because there are some situations you have to laugh at.

National Autistic Society interview

Over the years, my family and I have been following the National Autistic Society. A few months ago, my stepdad contacted them to promote my blog. Long story short, he put them in touch with me, and in February I was interviewed via email for Stories on the Spectrum!

Stories on the Spectrum is a section on the NAS website that features interviews with autistic people from all walks of life. I’m pretty sure that had it been a face-to-face interview, my brain would have frozen and I would have forgotten every relevant part of my life story. As it was, I spent over an hour rapidly handwriting notes until my hand ached. Four journal pages and a long email later, I was satisfied.

The publication date in April initially seemed like ages away. Given that the pandemic, lockdown, and my hasty move back into my parents’ house happened shortly afterwards, in hindsight it felt like another lifetime away. But hey, I’m proud to have made it on there! I talked about my childhood, my experiences at church, and the assumptions I have dealt with about my race and my autism. Go to the link below and have a read!

Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about real life autistic experiences, then browsing through other interviews is a must!

My interview: https://www.autism.org.uk/about/stories/grace-liu.aspx

Thoughty Auti podcast

And finally, I had the honour of featuring on the Thoughty Auti podcast. It is a podcast that covers topics relating to autism and mental health, and is run by Thomas Henley, YouTuber at Aspergers Growth. And my episode was released yesterday!

Back in May, we planned to talk about the impact of early life changes (e.g. moving countries) and my struggles with being biracial and autistic. At first I was so nervous I was digging my nails into my arms without noticing, but Thomas was super easy to talk to, and we actually had a fair few laughs! I did have a classic autistic moment at the end where he said goodbye to the audience and I had no idea he was expecting me to do the same, but that got removed.

So if you want to know about racist schoolboys, being outnumbered by white neurotypicals, and how Thomas and I went off on a tangent about cheese, here it is (you can also find it on YouTube and Apple):

NB: to anyone who’s listened to it, I didn’t think to ask Mum if I’ve ever counted as an immigrant until too late (I haven’t).

Unconscious bias

Unconscious bias is a hard topic to talk about. It’s harder to be at the receiving end. I spent months being turned down after job interviews before I got my current job. I was often last to be picked for group activities in school. I spent my teenage years and early 20s putting up with people explicitly or implicitly showing more interest in whichever socially skilled, non-autistic friends I clung to at the time. Even in casual conversation, I still have to gently correct assumptions people make about my race or my Asperger’s.

And it’s even harder to pinpoint in yourself. So you can imagine my shame a few years ago when, at a church lunch, I got chatting about heritage to another person of East Asian descent, and I asked what part of China they were from. I can’t remember the answer, but it was a completely separate, non-Chinese speaking country. Eek.

But that’s what unconscious bias is – not the morals and choices we make while in full control of our thoughts, but associations we have that we are unaware of that slip out unexpectedly. It’s natural. It’s how we make sense of the world, and develop our own opinions, however right, wrong, or in-between they are. And the point I was trying to make just now is that it happens to all of us.

It can also lead to full blown prejudices against certain groups. But the thing to remember is that unconscious bias and full blown prejudice are not the same thing. Prejudice stems from bias that takes a strong hold of conscious thought. Unconscious bias is instinctive reactions the brain makes based on how our experiences – and the people around us – have conditioned us to think.

I see it in social media articles, posts, and comments all the time. Men who have never experienced sexism or sexual harassment, and therefore don’t see why women get so worked up about it. White and/or non-LGBT people who protest that their lives matter too when they’ve never had a reason to believe otherwise, and wish people in minority categories would stop rubbing it in so much. And as an autistic person, I hate the thought that there are non-autistic people out there who claim people like me are making a big deal over nothing when we try to explain our struggles. If you have no first hand knowledge of someone’s experiences, are you really in the best place to be judging them?

So should we try to fight unconscious bias? Well I don’t think we can. I understand why people see it as shameful, and why we refuse to admit to it even to ourselves. But suppressing it won’t change anything. Perhaps the only way to keep it in check is to be aware of it. Look inside yourself at your instinctive thoughts and feelings – not your controlled words and actions – towards a person. Take a moment to wonder where those thoughts and feelings came from and how they could influence your outward behaviour. And try to drop assumptions in favour of an open mind and open questions. We may never be immune to making assumptions, but we don’t have to let them take hold.

 

10 assumptions I have had to deal with

Oh the joys of being a mixed race, autistic woman…

  1. I got into a conversation with someone at a church I went to a while back. Having briefly mentioned I have Asperger’s, they asked me if I had ever been to uni. Their response when I said yes? “And what did you study? I bet it was Maths, Science, or IT! All autistic people I know did something like that.”
  2. I was walking through town one day when an older woman – a complete stranger – tried to offer me Chinese literature.
  3. Someone once asked my mum if I could talk.
  4. At least one person my mum has spoken to has assumed I must be prone to rage and aggression. The irony is, many of my problems at school and uni were a result of me being a complete pushover.
  5. I mentioned on a job application that I’m half Taiwanese and was born in Taiwan. Despite me also stating that I live in the UK, they contacted me asking what time would work for an over-the-phone interview, given the 8 hour time difference between here and Taiwan.
  6. At primary school, a couple of kids in the year below me came up to me and asked – completely seriously – if I had brain damage.
  7. Someone at church who I’d never met (not all Christians are prone to things like this, I assure you), came up to me and asked if I spoke English. On realising I did, they then told me that they had met a French student, and were trying to find other foreigners for this student to make friends with.
  8. This was more about my mum than me: when I first started school, my teachers noticed something was different about me. Rather than considering autism, or any learning difference to be a possibility, they were sure it was a result of having a recently divorced mother. When they arranged for me to be seen by a doctor, or a psychologist, or someone along those lines, the person in question tried to get me to take my clothes off so they could check for bruises! To which I replied: “But it’s rude to show someone your knickers!” I made my mother proud that day.
  9. When I studied French at secondary school, I was put in the “mixed ability” class. I spent the next 5 years feeling frustrated by how basic the work was, and trying, with my parents, to get the teachers to move me up a class, only to be told I would not be able to cope with being in top set. Weeks before my GCSE French exams, I was moved up a set, and passed my exams with a high B.
  10. At uni, I joined the choir, only to find the communication impossible to keep up with and the events we did overwhelming. Choir was supposed to take priority over any other non-study related things in my life, yet I felt completely invisible there. I tried to get through to the leader, but as friendly and well-meaning as they were, they were sure I was doing fine because they hadn’t noticed any struggles I was having.

Is freedom of speech really free?

This was a popular topic of debate in my journalism lectures at uni. In fact, some people got so wound up in their freedom of speech that the rest of us would spend the best part of these lectures sitting back and watching, as at least two people passionately argued their stance on free speech, or politics, or whatever. I don’t know if the best part was when someone would still be sulking after the lecture about not getting the last word, or when comments beginning “Your mum” were thrown around. Either way, quality entertainment.

What does freedom of speech really mean anyway? I like to think there’s more to it than simply being able to say what you like, but honestly, that is how most people seem to take it. I was musing on this the other day when I read a Facebook post that was nostalgically remembering the good old days when one could make a joke without having to worry about insulting women, racial minorities, LGBT people, etc. Really, it’s so tough being in a generation where everyone has a voice, not just heterosexual white men…

When people make statements online – for whatever cause – conflict in the comments section will inevitably ensue. And you can bet at least one person will defend their viewpoint by using the “free speech, free country” card. But people who try to be “PC” in their use of speech are stigmatised and mocked. Apparently casual racism, or sexism, or whatever, is fine, but trying to show respect and compassion towards other people makes you subject to ridicule.

And none of this answers my question.

The way I see it is this. Freedom in any form isn’t as simple as being able to do whatever you want, with no regards to the consequences. Think about growing up. You spend your childhood being heavily dependent on your parents, then your teen years testing their boundaries and your own limits. You take matters into your own hands, and when you fail, you get angry when your parents still make sure you get your comeuppance just when you thought you were entitled to more privileges.

But your parents don’t give you more freedom because they stop caring what you do. Rather, they do so because they are trying to trust you to make your own decisions without having to be told. At any stage in our lives, we will inevitably abuse our privileges, and the consequences will be no less real.

Make sense? We are free to voice our opinions, but that doesn’t make it any more ok to attack others. No-one is always fully right or fully wrong. Conflict may be unavoidable, but if you manage it by defending your side without tearing down someone else’s, you’re making a step in the right direction.

Proud to be different?

For those of you who don’t know, I’m not only autistic, I’m also biracial. Specifically half Taiwanese, half British. And throughout my life, I’ve had more people than I can count react to this. Often unprompted. I get complete strangers saying ni hao to me. Men trying to be funny. Women selling Chinese literature. Boys at school who wanted to “have my Chinese babies.”

People have argued that there’s nothing wrong with saying “ni hao.” It’s only hello, right? Well it’s not funny. Or cool. It makes me feel the same as when men catcall me – they might not be using a direct insult, but it is still disturbing. Plus how do I know they’re not making fun? You don’t go around singing Lion King songs to black people. Or assuming that an autistic person is a living incarnation of Christopher from The Curious Incident. Oh, wait…

Yet being in a minority is seen as special. Which brings me onto a conversation I had with Mum, following a man-trying-to-be-funny incident the other day.

These days, it’s both healthy and trendy to do a Lady Gaga and proudly say “I was born this way, hey!” And many people believe it’s good to be different. Great that they think that, but it’s easy enough to say when you haven’t fallen behind at school, dealt with countless preconceptions about your race or how your brain works, feared judgement even from those closest to you, had people take you less seriously than they should…Sometimes I still hate being different. There, I said it.

But by all means be proud of your brain. Or heritage, or whatever. If you’re neurotypical and/or firmly rooted into your home country by 10 generations, your support means a lot to people like me. Either way, remember that no matter how well things are going, it can be tough. And if you’re not happy in who you are, don’t try to pretend otherwise – it’s ok to be frustrated.

If it does get you down and someone is trying too hard to be positive, say: “I’m glad you think it’s a good thing, and I realise that it’s important to be happy in who I am. But being/having x,y,z can be hard because (insert reason), and sometimes I need people to acknowledge that and sympathise.” This isn’t the same as being pitied just for being in a minority – it’s simply feeling sorry that someone else is struggling.

And if someone says something careless without trying to hurt you, just explain that you are a regular person. Say that displaying preconceptions about you makes you feel really uncomfortable, especially because sometimes people do mean it unkindly. Or because they have assumed something that just isn’t true. If they are apologetic, accept their apology and move on. If not, just…move on.

Meanwhile, I’d better get back to counting red cars. And giving out fortune cookies. Zai jian for now!

Proudly autistic and Asian

 

FeMENism

Years ago, I came to the conclusion that looking for answers on the internet can’t be good for anyone’s mental health. I mean, you’ve seen my opinions on cat vs dog arguments three times now. And race and religion themed debates. Don’t even get me started on people who genuinely think that people with Asperger’s are sociopaths…

Then there’s feminism. I’ve “liked” several feminist Facebook pages, and in doing so, have learned two things. One: that female specific struggles aren’t as widely understood as they seem. Two: that it is impossible to write an article on the topic and not receive a “not all men” comment. Making it all about them by insisting it isn’t all about them.

Believe me, I agree. It’s not all men. In fact, I don’t think any of the main men in my life are remotely condescending to women. But posts like this aren’t trying to attack every member of the male race; rather, they are highlighting issues caused by some men that affect women. It’s not that women should receive better treatment than men – of course women who harm men should be punished. It’s just that these judgements shouldn’t be made based on a person’s gender.

As for “so it’s ok to hit women?” Unless someone is holding a weapon to your throat, trying to steal your money, or hurting your kids, hitting anyone isn’t exactly good manners.

The most obvious issues are of a sexual nature. If a woman is raped, there are always people – even other women – who blame her. And if subjected to any mistreatment short of rape, well, isn’t she lucky to be getting off so lightly? No. Men, don’t play the “nice guy” to increase your chances of pulling girls. Be a “nice guy” because you cannot be anything else.

Also, sexism does affect men. Thanks to it, it’s basically shameful for men to like pink, care about animals or show their emotions, limiting the potential of guys who are like that. Regardless of who started them, these views have been reinforced by men and women alike, and it is so often real “nice guys” who suffer for it.

Plus there’s pop culture. True, the more recent Disney girls have interests outside of romance, but for each one who falls in love, name one who doesn’t. One of my guilty pleasures is the Warriors book series* by Erin Hunter. One subplot features a female character choosing one male over another, to which the other responds by trying to murder her family. Yet if you look on Facebook or the Warriors forum, many people, including girls, blame her for “leading him on.” Come on ladies, is murder ever justifiable?

And to guys who have insisted that “not all men” are like that, I’m glad to hear you’re not. But don’t just say it, show it. If white people can be anti racist, straight people be LGBT rights activists and humans be animal rights activists, why can’t more men stand for feminism?

 

Me with my ladies. Well, my mother and sister (middle and right): 

 

 

*Basically Watership Down but with wild cats instead of rabbits. If you read it, you’d disagree with the 9-11 age range too.