Friday, August 12, 2022

Autism Answer: Watch Your Words (Where They Come From and What They Do)

This piece was originally published on Disabled World



My two youngest sons walking and conversing

Language matters, full stop. 

However, it doesn't follow that we have to use the right words.

The power of language is more about knowing our words are tools we use to share something grander than the words themselves. Hence, they - our chosen words and phrases - are fantastic clues to what we think and believe as well as powerful influencers. Different cultures have different histories with words. Different families have different histories with words and phrases. And different people have different histories.

If we tell someone who is autistic that they, in fact, are not autistic but rather have autism, we may be shutting them down in ways we don't understand. However, if we are in a position to communicate with that person and share that thought, that we see a difference between being something and having something, we open up the potential for powerful insights. For all of us. (BTW: My brother is autistic. :D )

If you ask me, "What's wrong? You look sick," because I look sick to you but I feel completely fine and your question has me feeling like I look tired and ugly, it is because words are powerful. But you didn't use the wrong ones. You reached out and cared. I can react by suddenly feeling tired and ugly (a reaction I've had) or by telling you not to say "what's wrong" because those are wrong words (a reaction I've been tempted to have) or by taking time to laugh at how tempting those reactions are simply because you asked what's wrong and thought I looked sick (a conversation I've had). You might then giggle with me and continue to reach out to people by asking what's wrong. Or maybe you'll shift your language but still reach out. Or maybe you'll be afraid to reach out at all.

Again, it's just plain truth that words and phrases matter. From the small everyday framing (What a horrible day vs what a difficult day vs what an exhausting day, etc) which infect our moods and influence our behaviors, to the ones we love to argue for or against in certain circles. 

When we argue against a word or phrase it's usually because we understand the harm a history has done with that word or phrase at the helm. We start having epiphanies and intense realizations about the word and how insidious it is. We want to throw it away and grow an entirely new way of seeing and speaking. When we argue against freaking out about certain words and phrases it is often because we have loved ones with different histories, we have seen too many people hurt by being afraid to use the wrong phrases, and we care about including everyone. 

Also, sometimes we argue for or against because it sounds smart or righteous and we aren't thinking much about it at all. 

I love a lot of people who are a variety of disabilities, orientations, histories, and colors. Some speak and some do not. They all want to communicate and have various challenges doing so. We do our best work when we pay attention to where the communication is coming from. Where the words are coming from and how they are affecting our beliefs and the inclusion of people around us. Languages are different around the world and words are not right or wrong, but the meaning behind them, the influence they have on how we treat each other and ourselves, is indeed real.

It is a wonderful idea, sharing how we feel about the words people use around us. It is a wonderful idea, being willing to shift our language when we recognize it as growing out of a belief that is unkind. It is a wonderful idea. It is wonderful.

Language evolves anyway and getting involved in that evolution in order to be a thinking person who is aware of the influence it has on us, as well as the clues it offers to who we are, is meaningful.

Language is a wildly interesting and powerful thing. It would be sad, I think, to shut down conversations about it entirely. But to shut down people for the words they use is also sad. My brothers use the word retarded easily and comfortably (they are aware of the diagnosis from their childhoods) and it looks good on them. They are not name calling, they are talking about themselves and sharing insights. When someone tries to tell them retarded is a wrong or bad word, they confess to feeling shut down and shot down. [My mom wrote these two wonderful posts that highlight the brilliance of my brothers when using socially unacceptable words and behaviors: Reality Retarded and Before You React, Read On ]

However, when I've talked to them about why some people say that about the word, we have fabulous conversation. And they understand it, but don't agree. At least not at the moment, and not for them. And that's because they are thinking people taking the time to follow clues about where their words come from.

So let's pay attention to language. Let's share what we're discovering along the way. Let's watch our words. But more than the words themselves, let's watch where our words are coming from and what beliefs and behaviors they are fostering.

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Autism Answer: Pick up the Trash


Waves hitting rocks by the river

The morning is dark, overcast, rain falling heavy for a moment then sitting in wait the next. I'm walking - coffee in hand - along the river. The crashing of waves on the rocks is my music. I'm staying near the cover of trees, prepared for the moments of hard rain. I am not alone. Surrounding me are busy squirrels and seagulls. The wildlife is close, but not scary close. I love this.
I see something on the rocks and recognize it immediately as a discarded mask. They are everywhere lately. 
I'm deeply enjoying the sound of water, the feel of the morning air, the smell of rain, the animals that are giving me my space while I spend time in theirs. Even the sound of a few cars driving past on wet pavement enhances the feeling of quiet joy for me. The mask bothers me and, for a moment, I want to walk a little ways away rather than pick it up and take care of it. I want to ignore it and simply pick a different spot to stand by the water where the mask can be easily forgotten.
But, I don't. 
Me and my coffee carefully make our way down to the litter, on the potentially slippery rocks, and pick up the mask. It's soaking wet but new looking, and I consider keeping it. My "reuse" reflex responds in this way often, and sometimes I agree with it. Often when I pick up trash I discover it is not even trash. But, not today. I will throw it away. There are so many trash bins here it's a simple thing. 
Heading to a bin I notice my moment has been changed. I no longer feel the same sense of peace, calm, and joy I had been oh so deeply enjoying. It had been a delicious moment, until that mask. 
And I could have walked a small ways away to continue the feeling. I could have easily forgotten the mask. I mean, it's one mask. I didn't save the world by picking it up. Pollution is still a thing. Heck, there wasn't even anyone there I was being a good example for. It was just one girl choosing to pick up one piece of trash rather than ignore it because it interrupted her moment of joy. 
Not allowing joy to be harmed is often the right choice. A choice that is different than not allowing it to be interrupted or shifted. 
My walk to the trash bin brought me farther away from the sound of water, toward the playground where I had parked my car. I tossed the mask and stood still for a moment. Which direction should I move now? Back to the water and attempt to recapture the sensory delights I had been immersed in, or toward the car where my mobile office waited and work wanted to get done? I chose the different joy of getting work done. 
My walk through the playground toward the car brings visions of my grandchildren to mind. I imagine bringing them here while their fathers (my sons) get work done. I imagine the little ones running around filled with joy while I play alongside them, thrilled to be a part of their lives. Thrilled to be part of my son's lives and able to help them get work done. 
It is a joyful imagining! A separate kind of fun from the quiet peaceful moment interrupted by the mask. But still lovely. Also, imagining the grandbabies reminds me of why I like to pick up the trash. For the future.
When I see it, something that should be cleaned up in order to not hurt someone or something in the future, that's the time to act. If I ignore it, it might fester. If I just don't want to do it and tell myself I'll do it later, I may lose it or forget. 
Now, if the rocks had been dangerously slippery, I would have not picked up the mask. Sometimes you see it, the trash, but it is not the right time to clean it up. Timing matters. 
I usually know when I'm avoiding something because I just don't want to take care of it vs when I'm waiting for the right time. 
Waiting for the right time is part of taking care of it, though. It is proactive. It is aware. Heck, sometimes it is enough. The shifts in behavior that happen while being aware sometimes clean up the trash. 
The morning is still dark, the rain is heavy now. I'm sitting in the car near a library while water pours down around me. The busy squirrels appear to have hidden in the trees. An airplane is roaring overhead and my mind soars with it, wondering when the next time will be that I fly somewhere. Will it be to visit my grandkids again? Or will it be to travel for the first time with my love to his long ago home, in Australia? A place I've not yet visited. 
I picked up trash that threatened, in a small way, the future. It was not what I felt like doing at the time. It shifted my mood and interrupted my joy. 
I love this. 
Hugs, smiles, and love!!