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

 

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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/

Five signs you may be neurotypical

As you may know (and as I have previously mentioned) April is Asperger’s Awareness Month. But have you ever wondered whether you might be neurotypical? If so, here is an unpublished would-be Derby Telegraph article to get your teeth into:

Out of every 10,000 people, around 36 of us have Asperger’s Syndrome. As it happens, I am one of that 36. Having been diagnosed aged nine, I am well familiar with many concepts – true and false – associated with the condition. Poor social skills and physical co-ordination? Sadly, yes. Literal minded and obsessive? In some cases. Lack of empathy and emotion? Well wouldn’t life be easier if that were true. But do you know what it means to be neurotypical?

If the above statistic is anything to go by, it seems that 9,964 out of 10,000 people are neurotypical. This means that their brain is scientifically proven to work a little differently from the Asperger brain, and many neurotypicals have to live with labels such as “normal”, “non-autistic” or “non-Aspergers”. What else do neurotypicals struggle with? Let’s explore this more closely.

Taking things at face value. I have often had people who have watched Rain Man or read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time assume that I am like the main characters in said stories. Which can lead to them not knowing how to react when I reveal that I do have a sense of humour, due to…

Difficulty in reading body language. In the past when I have used sarcasm or humour, some people have simply looked at me blankly or assumed I am being deadly serious, presumably struggling to notice the tell-tale body language. This gets more interesting when I use humour in response to a joke they made.

Lack of empathy. In a world where internet communication is rife, it is too easy for people to publicly share their opinions on whoever they are talking to, whoever is in that Youtube video, whoever wrote that article or forum, without stopping to think how their words could affect others. Note that this symptom does NOT affect every neurotypical, so please don’t judge each one by all the bad apples.

Obsessions over specific areas of interest. Fashion? Love lives? Sport? Politics? These are just a few common obsessions, and in my experience those who are not experienced at communicating with Asperger people find it disconcerting when we cannot keep up with the ins and outs of their chosen interest.

Difficulty fitting in. Many young people want to be part of the “in” crowd but just don’t know how to go about it. Possibly due to insecurity, they seek solidarity among other neurotypicals in the same boat, thus overlooking those of us who think differently and do not share all of their interests.

One thing to remember is that, despite struggling with any of the above issues, every neurotypical has their own individual strengths. Common assets include a good short term memory or attention span and superior physical co-ordination, traits which many Aspies lack. But as the cliché goes, no two people are exactly the same, and so to wrap up, what are your thoughts on Asperger’s Syndrome versus neurotypical?

 

As part of my work experience with the Derby Telegraph, I’ve been encouraged to help increase their publicity, so if you like a good news story, here is their website: http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/

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.