“Things Not To Say To An Autistic Person”- my reaction

If I had a pound for every time I read or hear the statements below, I wouldn’t be job searching…

Today I thought I’d take a different approach to usual and have a look at a video: BBC3’s “Things Not To Say To An Autistic Person” available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d69tTXOvRq4. It’s part of a series in which people in a social minority share with each other – and the viewers – what sort of things they constantly hear from people. And after watching the one about autism, I thought why not share my thoughts? So here are the statements covered.

“But you don’t look autistic!”

Can you tell me what an autistic person looks like? I’ll have a go. Human sized. Hair, mostly on the head. Two eyes. One mouth and nose. Four limbs, but only two are used for walking. I can’t really give much more detail, though, because no two autistic people are alike…

Autism isn’t a physical condition. In fact it’s not even one condition, and I’m well aware that those on the severe end of the spectrum may present as being obviously different. But it’s only their behaviour that shows it.

“What’s your special ability?”

The assumption that people like me have a special ability is, to be fair, loosely based on truth. It also implies that people on the spectrum have superhero alter egos. Which isn’t the case, because frankly, life’s not fair.

It is common for autistic people to have an above-average IQ, and an intense, detailed fascination with their area of expertise. I mean, not every five year old would know a polymorphic snake when they saw one. And yes, assuming someone is gifted is better than assuming that they’re dumb. But blatantly assuming anything can sound annoying, and anyway, it’s not always as simple as autistic people having one super-talent and struggling with everything else. Autistic obsessions may be rigid while they last, but they can change and overlap.

“Everyone’s a little bit autistic”

Nothing wrong with this statement exactly, but does everyone who coughs have a little bit of asthma?

“Autistic people don’t feel empathy

Let me stop you there. Many autistic people aren’t as expressive as neurotypicals. We don’t always know how to respond to people during immediate, face-to-face interaction, and yet somehow, we over-empathise. If someone I’m with is unhappy, it’s like the air is thick with it.

“You could be normal if you tried”

I don’t try. I just am. For me. Don’t even get me started on healing

“How would you describe autism?”

A hard question, but not necessarily an inappropriate one. Having Asperger’s, i.e. at the mild end of the spectrum, I’d say poor co-ordination, difficulty reading people, a mix of detailed and innovative, and overall a bummer, but also perfectly normal. Well, “normal.” If you want a lengthier description, you’ve got one right here.

“What is the best thing about autism?”

To be honest, it’s a nuisance. But hey, I can joke about lacking empathy or humour in a way that would be insulting coming from anyone else. I have life experiences, and an understanding of the world, that are apparently different from neurotypicals’. Plus, if I didn’t have it, I might not be writing this blog.

There you have it. Personally, I wouldn’t put a ban on those last two points, but other than that, please try to remember the issues touched upon. And while you’re at it, watch the video, and tell me what you think. How can one deal with these statements? Could they be replaced with something more appropriate?

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The pet lovers’ dreaded debate part 3: double standards

What bothers you about people’s attitudes towards animals? There are a million answers to this. Farms. Unethical breeding. Negligence. The internet is full of protests about these issues, and because they are bigger and more serious than what I’m blogging about, I should probably cover them myself one day. But for now, I’m coming back to an old pet hate (pun fully intended): cat prejudice and double standards.

First, hear me when I say this. I love cats. I relate to them. I mean, I don’t automatically bond with people I don’t know. And I don’t think they are better than dogs, because who are we to call one species “better” when, in the human world, most of us stand for equal rights?

People claim that cats control us. Plenty of cats do try to persuade you to feed them when they’re hungry just by staring at you and following you into the kitchen. But so do dogs. The reason we have to train dogs is so that they know who’s in charge. Do you see? Any pet can wrap you around its paw, if you spoil it. If you stick to a strict feeding schedule and don’t give in to your pet’s every whim, then they are not controlling you.

Also, believe it or not, cats are capable of being trained; it’s just that teamwork isn’t in their nature. Why judge them for this? I hated group projects at uni myself! If you reward a dog for learning something new, it will react as if it has successfully pleased its pack leader. If you reward a cat, it will react as it would to a successful hunt – it used its brain and got a tasty treat as a result.

Then there is scent marking. Dogs and cats do this in similar ways; one of them being physical contact. A dog will jump up at you, a cat will rub against you, and in doing so, both are claiming you as their own. Why do humans hug? For the same primitive reason. It helps secure a connection. People find this thought endearing in dogs, and like the idea that the dog is excited to see them. Why does a cat do it? Ask any cat hater, and they will claim cats are trying to own you, want to trip you, or are impatient to be fed.

If a dog bites a human, people will (correctly) insist it isn’t the dog’s fault, it’s the owner’s fault for training it wrongly (or not at all) or the other person’s fault for ignoring its body language. The same happens with a cat? Apparently cats are just nasty. People are quick to defend a dog’s flaws that were caused by human influence (or lack of), or biological nature, or are an unfair generalisation. And rightly so. Because these are vulnerable animals we are talking about. And cats are no different here.

Cats are not living for world domination, and to think so would be anthropomorphising them unrealistically based on cat prejudice hyped up by fiction. If any creature lives for world domination, it’s the homo sapiens. Cats simply live to survive as comfortably as possible. Don’t we all?

Any more thoughts on this issue? I may have covered them here or here. Or possibly even here, for cat/Asperger comparisons. Otherwise, fire away!

Bouncer’s usually the one to initiate our after-work catch up!

 

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

 

Disabilities in the media

What ideas come to mind when you think of autism? Dyslexia? Cerebral Palsy? Disabilities as a whole? These days, we have increasingly wide access to information about the world around us, and so this means disability awareness has improved. But how does the media affect our understanding?

In many ways, it is all too easy for us to put certain concepts into boxes. For example, when someone talks about dyslexia most people would automatically think of someone who has trouble reading and spelling. We can’t help it, and believe it or not, it is not necessarily a bad thing. The human brain needs to retain information about a topic to draw on whenever that topic is mentioned, so they know roughly what they are dealing with.

The flip side of that thought pattern is that it is all too easy to latch onto stereotypes. We learn from the internet, the news, books and what other people know. It is the media that has the power to inform and misinform, and this is where stereotypes can arise. People have assumed I am slow, a mathematical genius, unemotional, prone to tantrums or even unable to talk! Sometimes you just have to laugh…

Ever heard of the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon? The protagonist, fifteen year old Christopher, has a photographic memory and knows all the prime numbers to 233, but has no understanding of people at all. A good read, but also an unfortunate misrepresentation of Asperger’s, thanks to whoever wrote the blurb. In other words, stereotypes are often a combination of exaggerated truths and popular myths. I’ve heard it said somewhere that a stereotype is a story but not the whole story. Very well put…whoever originally said that!

And yet, thanks to the ever-developing media, understanding is continuing to grow. You see disabled fictional characters who manage to prove their worth as valuable members of society. Or maybe characters who get to know someone with a certain condition and become a better educated person for it. Ever seen the kids TV show Arthur? Arthur’s friend George spends one episode trying to deal with dyslexia and another befriending a child with Asperger’s Syndrome. And now there is apparently an autistic character on Sesame Street. Fiction does play a part in educating the public.

This is another post based on one of my online Demon articles but what inspired me to put it on my blog now was two blog posts portraying how much prejudice and ignorance there still is. One was about how the author will never love his girlfriend’s autistic toddler (come on, how many non-disabled toddlers are completely angelic? My now-18 year old sister hated the world at that age).

Then this one http://everydayaspergers.com/in-our-defense-another-aspie-basher/ was a reaction to an ignorant article about Asperger’s Syndrome. I would appreciate the witty responses from the author of this blog, but according to the article mentioned in the above post, there is no chance of me ever having a sense of humour. You know, because I have Asperger’s. Obviously.

Got more to say on this topic? Affected by any kind of disability? Interested in the media? Any opinions are more than welcome!

Original article: http://www.demon-media.net/features/disabilities-in-the-media/

The pet lovers’ dreaded debate

A few years ago, I started planning an article to send to a pet related magazine. Which brings me to this post’s topic. I’m sure I’ve definitely touched upon it here before, but it is one that will set my teeth on edge until its opposing sides officially call a truce. What exactly is the topic? Oh yeah…cat v dog wars.

Now, as a cat lover, I could come across as being a bit biased. However, I like to think that two years of studying animal care and an autistic fascination with cat behaviour (and animals in general) have given my views a touch of rationality. I also have little patience for stereotypes, which, given that I am a non-homophobic Christian and an Asperger person with emotions, has occasionally proven…challenging.

But hey, being human means that you do have a say in the world about commonly accepted misconceptions. Write about them, blog about them, go wild and actually voice your opinions. Animals, on the other hand – love ’em or hate ’em – are at our mercy, from our impact on their habitats, to our systems for breeding them, to the way the media portrays them. And cats are no exception.

Dogs are widely accepted as being Man’s Best Friend. I like dogs; I’ve known some great ones. Dogs are very much “pack animals” and so are pre-programmed to look up to a “master,” to whom they will most likely be loyal and devoted. Being a “dominant” species, we like the idea of an animal that worships us. Cats simply don’t have the same concept of leading or being led. This is not selfishness, disloyalty or even stupidity – it is just a different survival strategy for life in the wild.

Does this mean you cannot develop a strong relationship with one? Not at all. Cats have been known to sense human emotions like dogs, to actively seek out someone close to them and even to pine for that someone when apart from them. To a cat, a much loved and loving human is a mother figure whose presence has been scientifically proven to bring out their more kittenish behaviour. All it takes is a little understanding on the owner’s part.

More sub-consciously, as a social, “dominant” species, we like to read faces and see facial expressions. Which is why many people prefer dogs to cats. I’ve said before, this is one of the many things cats have in common to Asperger people: reduced recognition and use of facial expressions. Interestingly, this is also why cat lovers often prefer tabbies and white cats to black cats – it is easier to see their facial features. ‘Tis another form of animal related prejudice, but maybe a topic for another day…

After that long rant, you may be thinking I think cats are better than dogs. If so, you are thinking wrong. Being better suited to cats does not make cats superior. No more than me preferring apples to grapefruits makes apples more nutritious. Animals are simply vulnerable to how we see them, and consequently treat them. Which, I hasten to add, does apply to some cat lovers’ beliefs that dogs are dumb and smelly. Again, they are simply a different creature, and no more deserving of human/media conceived prejudice than any other creature.

I still have more to say on this issue, but, as if on cue, my ever loyal companion Bouncer has come meowing for me, clearly wanting to help me finish this blog post. So as a closing thought, while I still have this desk chair to myself: what are your insights into animal misconceptions?
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His eyes aren’t usually that creepy…

Part 2: https://unwrittengrace.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/the-pet-lovers-dreaded-debate-part-2/

Part 3: https://unwrittengrace.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/the-pet-lovers-dreaded-debate-part-3-double-standards-98/

Stereotypes, cats and Asperger’s Syndrome

485302_10151707404378814_342990521_nAccording to Facebook, April is supposed to be autism/Asperger/special needs-in-general Awareness month. Over the years, I have had to become resigned to the fact that not many people understand what Asperger’s Syndrome is. Apparently, people have even asked my mum if I can talk! And if there is anything worse than people who know nothing about it, it is people who basically claim that they know everything about everyone with the condition when they find out I have it.

It has sadly not been unheard of for Mum to mention in a conversation that I have Asperger’s only for the other person to assume that I must have some degree of mental retardation. Or an obsession with physics, maths and computers. Or the emotional capacity of a robot. Actually, the word people have often used is “special”. The more astute you become, the easier it is to differentiate between special and “special”. Believe me.

I’ve also noticed that, on hearing words like Asperger’s Syndrome and autism, the first images that spring to many minds are the main characters from Rain Man and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime. I enjoy the Curious Incident book as a good read and an interesting story, and have never watched the film Rain Man, so I guess I can’t complain. Unfortunately for whoever comes to such conclusions, stereotypes happen to be one of my main pet peeves. What with me being an “Aspie” with emotions and some (limited) social understanding, and all.

One of the few books that gives a clear, non-stereotypical portrayal is All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome by Kathy Hoopmann. As the title suggests, the book gives a quick, concise comparison between people with Asperger’s and cats. Being a cat-lover, this is one of the things I like about the book. It has lead me to realise that actually, not only do cats show similar behaviour to people with AS, such as heightened senses and not wanting to mix with others.

Like AS people, cats are also given annoying stereotypes. The main one is that they apparently cannot show loyalty and love. Which explains why my furry friend Bouncer waits for me when I go out, gets excited upon my return and dashes into my room without calming down until I follow. And why some cats have, against all odds, refused to be parted from their owners and even other pets. At the same time, I do know that no two cats or Aspies are the same. Cliched, I know, but very true!

I realise I haven’t been as humourous with this post as with the previous ones, but I felt it was about time I came up with an interesting thought for the day, week, month, etc. I’m currently in the early stages of writing an article on a similar theme for a magazine, having been inspired by Kathy Hoopmann’s book. In the meantime, if anyone has any thoughts, opinions or experiences relevant to the topics mentioned I will be very interested to hear them. Bouncer clearly does, as he has just jumped onto my laptop and walked across the keyboard. Much as I appreciated the input, I ultimately decided that what I’d written would make for easier reading. I am sure he will understand this.