xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' Yeah. Good Times.: December 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Autism Shines

A new Facebook page, called Autism Shines, has been created where people can upload photos of themselves or of the people they know who are autistic. It was created to combat the disturbing trend of autism blaming that has jumped into the spotlight since last Friday's horrible events.

This is the real truth of autism: caring, kind, loving children and adults. Come and see their pictures and read their descriptions; even upload some of your own.

Let's make sure the world knows that this is what autism really is.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Guest Post: A Letter to Elisabeth from an autistic adult

This post was written by my friend Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, who blogs at Disability and Representation. Rachel is a writer and photographer, a disabled woman, and an activist passionate about disability rights. The piece is addressed to Elisabeth, the same person to whom I directed my last post. Please feel free to share it widely.

I saw your post making the rounds of Facebook today. I’m sure you know the one I mean. It’s the one in which you refer to autistic people as “monsters” who “need to be locked up… ALL OF THEM.”

I realize that you’re scared. I realize that we live in a country in which 20 little children were just murdered while sitting in their classrooms. I realize that you want to somehow solve it, that you want to somehow feel safe, that you want to somehow cast this evil out of our midst.

I understand how you feel. I feel scared, too. I want to solve it, and I want to feel safe, and I want to cast this evil out of our midst so that no one ever has to bury a loved one again after such a horror.

But calling for all to be punished for the evil done by one person — that is its own violence.

It is prejudice. To decide that, because one member of a group did a despicable thing, all members of that group are suspect is the very definition of prejudice.

It is scapegoating. The person who did that despicable act didn’t do it because he was autistic. I don’t know why he did it, but autism wasn’t the cause.

It is verbal violence. It engenders hatred. It has the potential to put innocent people at risk. I have friends who are fearful for their safety right now. I know parents who are afraid for the safety of their children right now. Innocent people. Good people.

People like me.

I am on the autism spectrum. Let me show you who I am.

This is a picture of me with my husband Bob. It was taken at my kid’s high school graduation in 2011. I look distinctly like a full-fledged human being, don’t I?

That’s because I am. I’m a human being with a husband and a kid who love me, and who rely on me, and who can’t imagine their lives without me.

I’m a human being with friends both near and far.

I’m a human being who loves to write and to think and to create things of beauty.

I’m a human being who becomes upset at injustice, and who sometimes can’t sleep at night because she feels the suffering of other human beings so deeply.

I’m a human being who walks into any situation just wanting to help and to extend a kindness.

I’m a human being whom other human beings implicitly trust, because they know that I would never use anything they tell me against them, and that I would never break a confidence, and that I would never willingly hurt a living soul.

That is who I am.

Autism doesn’t make monsters. The monster is the fear that evil creates.

Don’t let the evil win. Don’t let it make you see monsters in the place that human beings are standing. Because if you do, evil wins. And after the events of last Friday, none of us wants to see that happen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A letter to Elisabeth J.A.

This screenshot has been making the Facebook rounds; I don't know where it originated from and I've done my best to remove the identifying information. Seeing this makes me want to start sobbing and run and hide from the world, but instead of lying on the floor in the fetal position, I thought I would try to calmly respond to this, in the hopes that Elisabeth might see it.

Elisabeth, my son is autistic; I call him Child 1. He's 10 years old, will be 11 in January. His autism affects him in a way that causes him to spend a good deal of time "lost" in his own thoughts. When you talk to him, he is very likely to respond to you in a way that involves whatever he is thinking about (elevators, subway trains, etc.) and oftentimes it doesn't make a lot of sense. He also flaps his hands and runs back and forth a lot. He doesn't like it when other people try to engage with him, particularly people his own age. He likes to be alone. If you were to meet him, it would be obvious to you almost immediately that there was something "different" about him. You wouldn't necessarily know what was going on, but you would know that there was something happening.

Sometimes he gets angry with me, usually because he doesn't get his way, much like any other kid, and when he does he will hit me. He doesn't hit hard, he doesn't cause injury, and he does it only to express his frustration. He feels frustrated because he's not getting what he wants but also because he has a very difficult time explaining to me how he is feeling. Have you ever been having a conversation and suddenly you can't find the word to describe what you want to say but you don't know why? You might say it's "on the tip of my tongue," or something similar. Imagine if all of your words were always "on the tip of your tongue." That's how my son feels almost all of the time, and as you hopefully are able to understand, that can be a very frustrating feeling. If you felt like that all the time, you might want to hit me, too: in the moment.

But then the moment is over, and my son's frustration will subside, and he will go about his business just as happily as before. This is typical autistic behavior, and it comes with differing levels of severity depending on the individual person. What is not typical autistic behavior is somebody who will irrationally direct violent rage onto a person who is not immediately connected to their situation. They will not spend any time plotting revenge, or planning what they will do next; they will not drive to a different location and shoot people they don't even know. When the frustration is gone, it is gone.

My son is who you're talking about when you refer to "these monsters," and I'm writing this now because it's so important to me that you know about him, and others likes him. Autistic people are not "sick fucks." My son is not a "sick fuck." He is a sweet, beautiful, smart child, who is funny and warm and caring, just like most autistic people are, regardless of their ability to communicate. Elisabeth, what happened in Connecticut didn't happen because the shooter was autistic.

Here's another point of information for you to know: 46% of autistic children have reported being bullied in middle school and high school. This happens for a number of reasons, most notably because 1. They are noticeably "different," as I mentioned about my son earlier, and 2. There is a good deal of misinformation out there about autism, a lot of which is being spread by an irresponsible media at the moment, and your words here cause harm. You are helping to spread incorrect information about my son and you are causing him harm. 

You need to know that my child has a much greater chance of being a victim of violent crime than of being a perpetrator. You need to know this, Elisabeth; you need to be aware of how your words cause harm. I understand your anger at the situation, I'm angry, too; and I understand your need to try to find meaning in why 20 babies and 6 adults had to die, but I promise you, Elisabeth, I promise: autism is not the reason for this. 

I'm happy to talk with you more about this privately if you'd like to contact me. jillsmo at gmail.com; I promise I'm a nice person and my goal here is to educate, not to cause a fight.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Connecticut tragedy and autism

I sent this letter to every single person I could think of at our district, including the Superintendant and the School Board.  Feel free to grab it and use it as your own, although I did borrow some of the language from the Autism Discussion Page on Facebook.

Dear (school) community:

There has been much discussion online and in the news about the connection between the Connecticut school shooting and the fact that the shooter may have been diagnosed with autism. As our families and our community discusses this issue and tries to find a reason for this heartbreaking tragedy, I feel that it is very important to remember the following: There is no connection between planned, violent behavior and an autism spectrum diagnosis of any kind.

Autism is not a mental illness; it is a developmental disability. Many autistic people may have emotional regulation problems, which are impulsive expressions of frustration and anger, that are immediate and disorganized. They may lash out with threatening statements or behaviors, but these behaviors are impulsive reactions, they are not deliberate or organized plans. Once the situation has been diffused, the behaviors will stop. What happened in Connecticut required methodical planning of a deliberate and tremendously violent act; this is not typical behavior of an autistic person.

Right now we are all struggling to find a reason why this kind of atrocity would happen, and we can speculate about the mental state of the shooter; about gun control laws; about the current state of our country’s mental health system, or about whatever else that might help us make some sense out of this. Please know, and please tell your children, that even if the shooter was autistic, autism is not the explanation for this tragedy.

If anybody has any questions about autism, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you very much for your time,

Mom to (Child 1) in 5th grade, with autism

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sunspots have faded and now I'm doing time

Somebody thanked me today for a post I wrote about 6 months ago, ironically it was a post I had written in response to people thanking me for posts I've written. She said it saved her from despair, and it got me thinking about how I have apparently gained myself this reputation for speaking the truth about things, but I haven't been doing very much of that lately. So, I thought I'd do it again and explain the real reason why I've pretty much stopped blogging: depression.

I'm struggling. Hard. The last 6 months or so have been really difficult. I've been depressed my entire life, at some point in the last 10 or so years I just came to terms with the fact that my brain chemistry is fucked and I would need to be on some kind of medication for the rest of my life, but apparently they stop working after you've been taking them for 20+ years and so I'm currently in the middle of trying to work out the chemistry in my fucked up head, and it's been an enormous struggle.

I know I'm not the first person who has stopped blogging because of depression, in fact I know that a few of my blogging idols have gone that same route.

Right now I'm in this place where I bounce back and forth from being semi okay to being very very not okay; it's completely unpredictable and I'm literally a slave to my emotions. Some days it's all I can do to just get the bare minimum done, and even then I don't do it all that well. Blogging, or being funny, or being eloquent, or being meaningful,,,, is simply impossible. Even typing this words right now is a huge effort for me. So I'm just waiting.... waiting for the brain chemicals to figure themselves out and for things to get better. Fuck, waiting is hard.

I'm not really sure why I'm writing this. Is it to "de-stigmatize mental illness?" I've always hated shit like that, it sounds so phony. Do I feel the need to "come clean" about where I've been? I don't know, I don't think I owe anybody an explanation. I'm not doing this for your pity (turning off comments, sorry), this is not a cry for help, and I'm definitely not asking for advice; it's just more informational than anything else. This is what's going on with me. I bet it's also what's going on with a lot of you. I guess we should talk about it? Will that help?

So, I'm just writing this to get it out there, I guess. I mean... what's the worst that can happen? That the world will know? Isn't that the point of this truth-telling reputation I've gained for myself? To be honest about the good and the bad and all that's in between? Although maybe this is too honest; too much information. I don't know. If I end up regretting this, I'll just delete it.....

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Things I find in my house 15

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Out of the mouths of babes 34

The scene: The Smo family is sitting down to a lovely meal that Mr. Smo has prepared.

fade in

Me: This is awesome! Thank you, Daddy, for making such an awesome meal! (whisper) Child 2, thank Daddy for the awesome meal (/whisper)

Child 2: Thank you, Daddy! This is the best meal I've had ever since the last meal I had that was a great meal!

Me: Nice. (whisper) Child 1, say something nice to Daddy about the food (/whisper)