Love letter to my autistic friends

1

There’s a golf ball lodged at the base of my throat and a straight jacket constricting my in breath. I can just about avoid freaking out as long as no new information infiltrates. As long as no one asks anything of me at all.

All day, I’m fed on a steady stream of nourishment via the Internet from my autistic friends. They remind me that I am not alone. At times like this, they take virtual hold of my hand and stay present with my fear and worry.

They read my long posts asking for advice in secret groups and I read theirs and we walk together down the twisty spiral staircase to the basement where it’s dark and murky and we don’t see so well.

They provide the counter weight to the constant stream of confusion that comes with being on social media.

To the pain of more news of autistic people being abused.

To the anxiousness when we worry that someone’s vague reference to something is really about us.

To the brain fog that makes it hard to make sense of everything that everyone is shouting about.

To the trauma when another picture of a refugee child invades our chest cavities and pounds our heart muscles until we sense them raw and over exposed.

It is not safe when the world assaults our boundaries. It is not safe when the virtual world that helps to remind us that we are not alone is the same one that throws stones at us.

My intestines have had enough twisting and I want a log cabin far away with a force field that repels bad news and comments that I don’t understand, and fights that I want no part of. A cabin with no seams to dig into me and no whispers in the walls. All smooth and dark and still.

We need a safer virtual space, autistic friends. One that is sectioned off from the neurotypical world so that we can go there together when the noise gets too loud.

So we can remove the bells and whistles of the world and catch our breath for a time and share out our spoons with love and hide out together until the tsunami has past.

Will you come with me to search for that place?

Burn the rulebook

1

One of the key identifiers of autistic people is that we have ‘social communication challenges’. Actually the medical language likes to call them ‘deficits’, but I maintain that my social communication style is natural to my neurology and therefore there’s nothing deficient about it.

But it does make moving through my day challenging. I need to plan out the phrases I will use in daily exchanges. Coffee orders. Trips to the post office. Stopping at the fruit shop.

There’s one place though that I have recently discovered I am mostly comfortable with communicating with others.

I am a boulderer. This means I go to a local rock climbing gym and attempt to clamber up 4.5 meter walls of fake rock unroped and on my own. And I do this beside other people who are attempting to do the same.

For the first 3 months, I spoke to no one. That’s how I roll. I watch. I listen. I turn away to avoid eye contact in case someone has that whiff of wanting to start a conversation with me.

Then something happened. It was a quiet morning with only one other person on the wall. After I made it all the way to the top on a harder climb than I’d ever done before, they said ‘well done’ when I came down.

I didn’t feel panic. I appreciated it. I wasn’t lost for words even though it was uninvited conversation. I said thanks and we got talking. I liked it. Since then, I’ve been experimenting and I’ve exchanged a few words with several people. I’ve even asked for help on a route that I couldn’t figure out. Yes, I INITIATED contact.

Why?

Because WE ONLY TALK ABOUT CLIMBING.

We don’t talk about the weather, or what work we do, or how our families are, or which friend is a bitch this week, or whatever else it is that people talk about in the name of ‘small talk’.

There are clear parameters to our conversation. There is little to no eye contact because we mostly talk while looking at the climbing wall. No one cares or comments on how people are dressed (and this happens ALL the time when neurotypical women meet up – ALL the time).

Where did my ‘social communication challenges’ go?

I didn’t go to therapy and get trained to overcome them.

I didn’t practice and practice to make eye contact so I could conceal my ‘weirdness’ and others could feel more comfortable with me.

I didn’t grow out of autism or get cleansed of heavy metals or pray to the lord or get ‘cured’.

I did none of the things we regularly do to children in the name of ‘autism treatment’.

Instead, I found somewhere full of people keen to support each other to climb better. It’s minimal contact based exclusively on shared interests in a setting that is now familiar and comfortable to me.

Here’s an idea. Instead of funnelling our autistic children into 20-40 hours of expensive intensive Early Intervention therapies designed to extinguish ‘the autism’, we should help them find their tribe, their place where they fit in as they are and can be who their brains are wired to be.

A place where their natural and preferred methods of communicating can be accepted and valued. Where they do not have to feel deficient because they are not trying to play the game with social communication rules that make no sense to them.

Burn the rulebook on communication. It doesn’t serve diversity well.

Vegan Resources

vegan_withclipartwords
Image of the word vegan with symbols of a heart, peace sign, hand print, planet and paw print. Text under symbols reads ‘compassion, nonviolence, for the people, for the planet, for the animals

If you’re committed to trying to live as ethically as possible, then you really need to Go Vegan! Below are some resources to help you.

Books

  • Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based Diet by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina
  • The China Study by T. Colin Campbell
  • Animal Ingredients A-Z by EG Smith Collective and Carol Adams
  • Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a non-vegan World by Bob and Jenna Torres
  • Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating by Erik Marcus
  • Why we Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism by Melanie Joy
  • Eating Animals by Jonathon Safran Foer
  • That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals by Ruby Roth (Children’s Book)
  • The Pig that Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
  • Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation by Gary Francione
  • Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? by Gary Francione
  • Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights by Bob Torres
  • Meat Market: Animals, Ethics and Money by Erik Marcus
  • Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food by Gene Baur
  • The Animal Activists Handbook by Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich
  • Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism by Mark Hawthorne

Cookbooks

  • Smith & Daughters: A cookbook that happens to be vegan by Shannon Martinez and Mo Wyse, 2016
  • Vegan Street Food by Jacky Kearney, 2015
  • Vegan Goodness by Jessica Prescott, 2016
  • The Super Fun Times Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, 2016
  • Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, 2007
  • Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, 2005
  • How it All Vegan by Sarah Kramer and Tanya Barnard, 2002
  • La Dolce Vegan! by Sarah Kramer, 2005
  • Vegan a Go-Go! by Sarah Kramer, 2008
  • Vegan Cookies Invade your Cookie Jar by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, 2009
  • Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, 2006
  • Vegan Pie in the Sky by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, 2011

Vegan Resource Kits

Vegan Outreach Free Starter Guide

Vegan Starter Kit

Video/Film

Forks over Knives

Live and Let Live

Earthlings

Behind the Mask