Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Autism Answer: Representation and Robots


Some pretty cool technology! A radio intercom thingy on our wall.

I am not much interested in technology or cool new gadgets. When robots can do amazing things, when virtual reality is wildly realistic or whatever, I kinda think, "Oh, neat." If I bother thinking anything at all.

I'm aware that it is fascinating and impressive, but mostly because of the reactions of others. 
Largely, my under-reaction is because I am personally not interested. My interests are just different, that's all. 
But I also think I'm unmoved in part because I've already seen technology that does unbelievable things, and robots that impress with their ability to seem human while having the strength and capabilities of doing superhuman things, in movies and on TV.
I'm less impressed because of the representation robots and other tech has in the movies. I've seen it a lot therefore I assume it's not that impressive or new. 
I am not in the tech world, hence I am easily confused by what is actually cool to see in the real world.
For folks who do not have many friends or family members with disabilities, this might be something to keep in mind. 
If they are easily impressed by a disabled person doing mundane things, perhaps it is because they are not exposed to disabled people doing many things.
Additionally, when they are under the impression that having a disability means life is a constant struggle, a hard fight against the world and the distress of a broken brain or body, a sad state that can hardly be helped, perhaps it is because they are not exposed to complete and complicated stories of people with disabilities.
When I move about in the world I don't expect to see robots or wicked cool technology all over the place, but I admit to being unimpressed and hardly surprised when I do. I get that it is cool, it just doesn't spark any "isn't that cool?" thoughts in me. 
(I am kind of boring. I like trees. Trees are cool.)
When we move about in the world we are in the company of people with disabilities, that's just a fact. Sometimes more people, sometimes less. Sometimes visibly disabled, sometimes not. There's nothing wrong with noticing if something is cool (people are often doing cool things, sometimes those things include robots!) but I think it's unfortunate that though we are exposed to diversity in reality, we are less exposed in our stories. It is our stories that help us get to know each other. They fill in blanks, expose us to possibilities, give us many more directions in which to imagine and care. 
Robots are cool. 
People doing things despite physical, emotional, societal, financial challenges is cool. 
With exposure in our stories, done well and with honest complexity, we are able to include all of these cool things in our expectations. 
We'll expect and invite more people to be themselves in our public spaces.
That, I think, is the ultimate in cool. 
(Though I confess, my opinion on what is cool isn't highly sought after. Giggle!)

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Autism Answer: How "You" are You?


Me at the bus stop

"She's so nice; such a sweet quiet girl," they would say about me. They were saying it because, well, I was being nice and, also, quiet.
I don't know when I started being nice, sweet, and quiet because they said I was, and I liked that they said I was, but I did. I remember seeking that input, wanting to know they were still thinking of me as nice, sweet, and quiet. Wanting them to validate that I was still the me they had said I was. 
I was a child. I was newer to the world than the adults. I was someone, born as someone, but I was also a small someone. I looked up at the grown-ups and was told what to do by them and grew in the direction of attention. I grew out of a seed that was me, but my growth was encouraged and influenced and fed by those I listened to and learned from. 
It was not their fault, the adults, when my attempts at being nice, sweet, and quiet became unhealthy for me. It was me, trying to have people think of me as nice, sweet, and quiet that was dangerous. Rather than explore what it really means for me to be nice, to be quiet, to be sweet, I chose - for several years - to try and elicit a response from people that proved they thought I was nice, sweet, and quiet. 
During those years I failed to learn that it is nice to say no to what I don't want or what I don't believe in, it is sweet to believe in someone so much that you push them to try harder (my brothers too often bore the brunt of my attempts at sweetness while I talked condescendingly to them and let them give up) and being quiet because I was afraid to say the wrong thing was not something to be proud of; being quiet because I want to learn what others have to say and give them space to say it, that was my best kind of quiet.
I pondered much of this often when I became a mother. How to encourage healthy growth in the direction of who my sons are. How to tell them who I see when I see them without taking away any potential for all the other thems they might be, and without pushing them to fit into any expectations. Man, it's not so simple!
It's such a common suggestion: Be yourself. Discover yourself. Don't be who you think others want you to be. etc. 
And it's good stuff. Yet, we are always ourselves, aren't we? I go back to the time I was trying to fit into a description of me and when I listen to my thoughts from that time, they were me. They were me trying to be a me that is complimented, or noticed, or impressive, or whatever it was I hoped for at the time. But, I was me. 
As a parent, I try to leave room for who my children choose to be. But I also tell them who I see. I can't help it. I love who I see.
When our loved ones have certain types of disabilities or disorders I think it can be even harder to get this right. The challenges of communication, the uncommon behaviors, can challenge us in ways we are unprepared for. We start seeing what we don't like, what we are dealing with, what we think we are supposed to be looking for, what is clashing with the environment, and even when we put a positive spin on what we're seeing we're still seeing from a place of behaviors, where things are often lost in translation. Behaviors are communication, but we are often unequipped to understand them in any useful or real way. 
As we help them discover who they are, help them grow in the direction of attention, we may make the mistake of giving the wrong attention in the wrong places. 
And as our children grow they will always be themselves, but with too much pollution in their environment they will be unable to grow into their best selves. (I hope you'll visit the All Brains Grow website to learn how to help our special needs children grow in healthy powerful wonderful ways.)
It think it's true, you should be true to who you are. I think being yourself, discovering who you are and what you really believe, is a valuable pursuit. 
This does not mean we should ignore who the world says they see when they see us. It is feedback. It is worth incorporating in our own estimation of who we are. 
I am nice, but not everyone would think so. Because being nice, I now know, is not the same in everyone's opinion. But in mine, I am nice. 
So, know who you are. Be you.
Be you, in this world with others. 
"The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, it will tell you." ~Carl Jung

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Autism Answer: A Piece Of Me Isn't Me


A silver hair I found on my jeans: a piece of me

I was sweeping and singing and thinking last night when I was overcome with the memory of a feeling. I remembered how I used to feel when I had written something and was waiting for reactions. I remembered how my feelings would react to those reactions. 
I remembered feeling as though the reactions to my writing were reactions to me. I remember thinking, how could I not feel this way? My writing is me. I word everything precisely; I compose a rhythm meant to match my meaning; I spend as long as hours on one sentence to be certain it is a true sentence, that it says what I mean as much as a sentence can. 
Most of my writing, once published, is literally the process of me stripping my ideas and beliefs naked, peeling each layer intimately and purposely, attempting to share a peek of everything with a reader. Any possible reader. It is vulnerable, and it is me. 
Yet now, it occurred to me as I looked around for my dustpan, I react to reactions slightly differently. Even though I still write in that same way, I still compose the words and rhythm in a way meant to expose myself, I no longer feel as though it is me readers are reacting to. It is the writing, the ideas in the writing, the piece itself they are reacting to. 
I still care, I still hope it is understood and appreciated, I admit to still hoping it is seen as beautiful or important or intriguing. I hope these things not for me, but for the piece of writing. 
Which, I admit, is a piece of me. 
But a piece of me isn't me. 
I filled the dustpan - it had been on the back of the couch - and threw away the debris (tiny pieces of our day) and the song I was sweeping along to changed. It was time to dance. 
As I closed my eyes and sang too loud and encouraged the movement of my body to take me away, to bring me to where dancing brings me, I recognized the similarities between the feelings of freedom and self-expression I have while writing that I also have while dancing. But though the feelings are similar, they are executed differently.
My writing is meant to be shared. I want it shared. It is not the same experience for me if it is not intended to be shared, if I don't imagine it being shared. Whether or not there ever is a reader on the other side, I always write with a reader in mind. When I write only for me I am lazy. I don't search for the precise phrasing because searching for the precise phrasing is intense and, well, hard work. If it's for only me I simply think, "I know what I mean," and move on lazily. I need to imagine you in order to do the work that, ultimately, is always worth doing. Even though, admittedly, it's me I know it to be worth it for.
My dancing, however, is solitary. It is for me and me alone. I don't mind that others are often there, but their reactions to my dancing, if they choose to have them, are meaningless to me. The music, the movement, it brings me to the universe and brings the universe to me and though others are in the universe my dancing feels alone as a universe. You do not need to understand. I'm not concerned about whether others find it beautiful or important or intriguing. It is all those things for me and that's what it's for. It is a piece of me meant for me. 
As the song ended and my voice cracked and my breathing was kicked up a notch, I was happy.
I'm glad I'm no longer made so vulnerable by my writing that reactions to it feel like reactions to a raw exposed me.
I love that I still write to discover and share these pieces of me, and that I still care about my writing enough to want it seen as beautiful or important or intriguing. 
I love that I can dance. Wild. Loud. With no boundaries.
I'm happy that I'm able to celebrate and explore these pieces in a home that makes room for all of me. 
I hope I am doing the same for everyone in my world. Regardless of what their pieces look like or how strange they may seem to me, I hope I encourage growth, speech, individuality, and uniqueness. 
My mom taught us how to do that with my brothers, find a balance between precisely working on ourselves in consideration of others and the freedom of dancing with wild abandon for the sake of ourselves, and I hope I forever remember to do that for anyone around me.
I love, so much, that it is done for me.