All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there...Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul? I cannot stop asking. If I could taste one sip of an answer, I could break out of this prison...I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way. Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.

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19 December 2011

Pretending to be normal: A photo story of Asperger's Syndrome

Hey folks! I thought you might want to read a piece I wrote for Street Roots (see below), a publication that creates income opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and poverty by producing a newspaper and other media that are catalysts for individual and social change. 

Leah Nash, an award-winning documentary, editorial, and portrait photographer followed me around for a year taking photos and documenting certain events in my life. To go directly to the video and narrative, click here.


02 December 2011

Don't DIS my ABILITY Campaign: Meet Audrey!

Heard of International Day of People with a Disability in New South Wales? If not, click here to check out the Don’t DIS my ABILITY campaign. Up to 100 events are held throughout November and December each year to celebrate the diversity and ability of people with disabilities.

Let's applaud full inclusion of people with disabilities joining the worldwide conversation about us! Nothing About Us Without Us!

15 November 2011

World Autism Interviews: Anemone Cerridwen/Montreal, Canada

Anemone Cerridwen is a mixture of scientist and mystic who is most comfortable around people in the performing arts - unconventional people who DO things. She's from Ottawa, Canada, and has lived in Edmonton, Calgary, Pembroke Ont, Vancouver, and now in Montreal (but would like to move again soon - preferably to Europe). She's always changing and doing new things, torn between having a home and travelling, being in the centre of things in large cities and immersing herself in nature far away from everyone. She's been on her own for a long time - having outgrown the environment she grew up in a long time ago but not having found a new niche, yet. Her life is about probably mostly about exploration, inner and outer, rather than conventional social roles.

E: I enjoy supporting authors on the spectrum. Please tell us about your project, Why it Takes Ten Extra Years to Grow Up: The Evolution of Adulthood from Prehistory to the Age of Complexity.
Anemone: I wrote this book originally as an introduction to a book I was going to write on what religion would be like in a world where people are defined by authenticity rather than by imposed rules from outside, and I was using Clifford Anderson's The Stages of Life as a starting point. My introduction got away from me, but I'm glad it did, because writing it was such a huge accomplishment. It took me 3.5 years full time - it was like writing a PhD, but without the course work or recognition.

The book looks at how the logic we use to understand the world affects not only how we do science, but also how we perceive ourselves and other people. So it affects behaviour and social systems. And right now (for the past few decades) we have been going through a shift where people no longer stick with linear logic and simple nonlinear systems (machine logic) but have expanded into chaos, complexity and emergence - the logic of living systems (and most of the universe). Well, when you start treating people like living systems instead of machines, everything changes. And it takes a while to figure it out.

People went through a similar shift in the Renaissance with the spread of literacy - a fully literate culture uses linear logic rather than the haphazard logic of preliterate societies, and social norms change as a result. And people went from starting work at around 11-12 (or earlier) to continuing in school for another 5-10 years. Some places in the world are still going through this first transition as they modernize. If you're familiar with cognitive development at all, some cultures stop at earlier stages than others do. All human societies reach a mental age of about 6-7 (the end of Piaget's preoperational period, and Kohlberg's stage 2 of social and moral development) but only literate cultures go past that point. And now we're going past the end point of "modern" literate cultures into new territory.

E: What are the core messages you are in hopes readers will gain from your work?
Anemone: That they don't have to be all grown up as soon as they finish high school or university, and that there's an actual roadmap that can help them continue to mature. It should help with getting support from families, grad schools, etc., for those whose instincts tell them not to settle down yet.

E: How do you feel the concept of it taking more time to grow up relates to individuals with developmental disabilities, such as autism? For example, I am very different in adulthood in comparison to childhood. And I am still learning new things everyday. Some individuals with disabilities are unable to develop beyond a certain point due to factors such as profound support needs, significant Intellectual Disability, and/or services and supports that do not meet the individual's needs. How does your theory apply to people with developmental disabilities who are in a situation where they are supported, self-determined, and able to make strides in regards to common life milestones?
Anemone: I don't think autism has anything to do with whether people continue to mature past linear logic or not. That has more to do with feeling like you have permission to think for yourself or not - whether you're immersed in an authoritarian environment (which doesn't allow that kind of growth) or not. And you don't have to be economically privileged either. Some people travel to Africa or Southeast Asia to visit foreign cultures - I went to the Native Friendship Centre downtown to attend sacred circles and sweat lodges. And I did an enormous amount of reading - libraries are a godsend. (And now the internet.) All you need is to be exposed to contrasting points of view (inside and outside yourself) and to be open minded enough to study their logic.

On the other hand, development past linear logic has a great deal to do with how autism, and disabilities in general, are perceived. My impression is that the medical model and the drive for a "cure" is linear logic, and neurodiversity and the social models of disability are complexity theory. There's more room for people to be different with complexity theory.

Intellectual disabilities are another matter. There are people who do not develop all the way to a mental age of 16, for whatever reason, and this puts them at a disadvantage culturally. If you raise the threshold mental age of an adult to late 20s or early 30s, then even more people will probably not make it all the way to the end, which could increase the number of people considered to be disabled. I don't know if IQ makes any difference past a certain point or not. I suspect that emotional intelligence may be more important for development into the complexity period. Regardless, this is something that will become relevant at some point down the road.

E: Have you applied your theory to yourself? If so, what strikes you as most interesting in relation to your life experiences as a person on the spectrum?
Anemone: I went through all this before writing about it. I went through all of it before seeing it described in Anderson's The Stages of Life, even. So theory came after experience.

It's possible that going through all these new cognitive developmental stages myself has affected how I perceive myself as an autistic person. It's hard to say. I wasn't really allowed to be "disabled" growing up, and it was close to the end of my development (early 30s) that I went looking for a diagnosis. (I finished the whole growing up process at age 35.) I don't know how much of that was my development, and how much of that was society not being willing to see people like me earlier.

I can say that using complexity theory to understand myself and the world makes it easier to understand myself as a person with human rights.

E: What is adulthood? And how can we define it beyond age of maturity?
Anemone: Adulthood is being able to think for yourself, determine truth for yourself, and having a sense of inner completion - you aren't missing any parts of yourself anymore. At this point, you lose the drive for inner development and shift your focus to doing things out there in the world. It comes from inside, rather than being a role we put on from the outside in.

E: What currently prevents society (e.g. collective consciousness) from adopting the views you hold about evolution and the extra time required to reach what we interpret as adulthood?
Anemone: First, this is new, so it takes a while for it to seem normal to people. It's always hardest for the first generation or two, because you can't just do what your parents did and have it work. Second, it only seems to be happening when society shifts away from authoritarianism (which suppresses conflict in systems), and there's still lots of authoritarianism around. I think what started all this in the first place is the shift away from authoritarian parenting after WWII. Researchers wanting to prevent another Holocaust found a link between authoritarianism and bigotry, and that's what triggered the shift. And the first generation to grow up under the new parenting were the ones to get involved with the second wave of feminism, the civil rights movement, the disability rights movement, plus a shift towards authenticity and away from conformity. Take the lid off and all of this stuff comes out.

E: Do you feel your experiences as a person on the autism spectrum have given you greater insight into your research? If not, why?
Anemone: I don't know if being autistic has made any difference or not. I mean, we're all different in the end. I do know that I felt a strong need to go through all this development myself because the scripts my parents gave me weren't working, but that might have been the case regardless. Certainly, I was abused, and I needed to rewrite that script. And I knew I didn't want to conform (actually, I tried, but I couldn't get it to work). At the core it was a drive to be whole and authentic, to live life from the inside out. I think that's universal, when people have permission.

E: Do you have plans to submit your work for publication?
Anemone: I submitted to Jessica Kingsley last week at your suggestion. They say 6 weeks or less for a response (which is hugely fast) so I should know before the end of the year. If they don't take it, I will need help figuring out how to get published (and promoted). Hopefully your readers can help.

03 October 2011

World Autism Interviews: Katie Bridges/Vancouver, Washington

Katie Bridges is a full time writer who lives in Vancouver, Washington. By full time writer, she means she hardly ever stops writing. Whether she's working on a piece of fiction or writing a letter of encouragement to someone, she's always at her computer typing away. She also enjoys hiking and nature. Children’s science books are another favorite. In fact, she's quite addicted to them and has a huge assortment she's collected over the years. Between writing, she spends time with my family, giving a great deal of care to her grandchildren. Together, they love to star gaze late at night and talk about the latest scientific discoveries. Check out Katie's website at warriorsoftheedge.com

E: Congratulations on Warriors of the Edge! Give us a quick synopsis, plus tell us where we can go to find out more and/or place and order.

Katie: Tarek Ortzen wants what any twelve-year-old kid wants, a day to himself so he can play games in his gaming booth. He gets his chance when he signs up for the role of Stone in the latest war game, Warriors of the Edge. He figures the game will help him escape the real world and its troubles. But after one day of nonstop play, Tarek wishes he'd never heard of Warriors of the Edge. The game has brought nothing but trouble into his life.

When the game begins to blur the line between reality and fantasy, Tarek finds himself caught between those who believe in the game and those who oppose it. Is the game trying to warn him of danger or lead him into it? Tarek doesn't know who to believe.

As Tarek's home world faces the threat of destruction, he must determine whether the character he plays can make a difference in their real lives.

To find out more, visit warrriorsoftheedge.com or order a copy through Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.

E: What do you love most about the writing process?

Katie:  I love the way writing takes me to another place and time, far from my present reality. Reading does the same thing for me. I can be sitting in my house on a hot summer day and suddenly, I’m stuck in a snowstorm on a dangerous mountain top. The more descriptive the book, the more I’m swept in to that world. The difference between reading about a picturesque scene and writing it myself is that the imagery has a more powerful effect on me when I’m the one writing it. In order to produce a descriptive scene, I must enter fully into it. It has to be real to me. As I step into the scene, I’m looking around at the scenery. I’m seeing every detail. I’m observing whatever my characters might be experiencing in that moment. I’m literally feeling the impact of what is taking place there. If it’s a tender scene, I will have a big smile on my face. If it’s scary, I will likely be biting my lower lip. If it’s cruel, my forehead will be furrowed in wrinkles. If it’s humorous, I can be heard laughing out loud. I allow myself to go deep into that experience so that it feels real.

One of the scenes I’ve created for Warriors of the Edge involves a transfer station. It is much like an airport, except it takes you from one dimension to another. I have walked through that transfer station countless times. I can tell you what the entrance looks like, how wide the aisles are, and how crowded it is, depending upon the time of day. I have traveled from one point of that transfer station to the other. I’ve seen things going on in there that aren’t mentioned in my book. Because I always see more than I end up writing about, I’m able to experience my scenes more fully than my readers. This is the advantage of writing. Writing for me is an experience that makes life richer. I feel as though I know what it’s like to travel through space or descend into the depths of the ocean, all because I’ve written about it. 
E: Do you feel being on the autism spectrum gives you a unique viewpoint of life that comes through in your writing?

Katie: Absolutely! Growing up, I had a very limited way of thinking, mostly due to how repetitive my mind was. I would get one thought stuck in my head and I would repeat it for days on end, being unable to think of anything else during that time. It didn’t allow me to catch on to other things going on around me. My world existed of that one thought. In the beginning stages of my life, this was a problem for me. I wasn’t able to learn as quickly as others because I wasn't taking in as much input as they were. But that “problem” also held great potential for an advanced thought life. It was by thinking on one thing for long periods of time that I was able to expand on that thought and figure out all that it entailed. It was my way of studying something to the inth degree. Eventually, after a few years, I would become an expert on that thought and then I would move on to other thought. I’ve kept up this pattern throughout my life so that I now have quite a collection of ideas and concepts I’ve developed along the way. This brings much flavor to my writings and adds to the details I come up with.

Another advantage I have in my writing is that I see pictures in my mind all the time. Those pictures tell me stories. It will happen in a flash. In a split second, an image will flit through my mind and an entire scene will unfold before me. I can see it so clearly that it’s easy to write up what I’ve seen.

I view everything with a questioning, analytical mind, always probing deeply, but I’m also quite emotional, and so I put a lot of emotion into my findings. This enables me to describe a scientific scene with feeling. I may not be well suited to laboratory work, but this combination of traits is perfect for fiction writing.

E: What advice do you have for aspiring writers who have disabilities who might feel intimidated by writer's agents, the publishing world, and the press?

Katie: Facing a myriad of responses from all sorts of different people can be tough, especially if you’re easily intimidated. You need a way to compensate for this difficulty. The best way, I’ve found, is to surround yourself with supportive voices who can keep you encouraged during this process. What makes it even tougher is that there are people nowadays who don’t hesitate to speak forcefully or even hurtfully to others. I grew up in an era when adults would say, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Most people abided by that rule, more or less. It’s not so much that way anymore. When I’ve been unfairly criticized or handled in a rough way, I’ve gone to people who will speak out the opposite of that so they can undo the hurtful word I’ve heard. Then I cling to that and do my best to shrug off the negative remark. The more positives you can collect, the more you will be cushioned from these blows. You might want to write out the positives and keep them posted where you can see them. Anything that works for you, go for it.

My mother used to say, “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” It’s helpful to prepare yourself ahead of time so that nothing takes you by surprise. If you have a realistic expectation of what might happen, it girds your mind so that you’re better able to handle any negativity that might come your way. But the surprise could be that you run into people who handle you with care, making it easier for you. I’ve had some negative experiences along the way, but I’ve had far more positive ones. Thankfully, there are plenty of people out there who still believe that kindness is important. I hope they are the ones you run into!

Sometimes it is our dreams that help carry us through impossible situations. For an easily intimidated person, having to deal with rough treatment can be an impossible situation. But the tenacity that develops from having a dream can bring you through that. Think of yourself as the Energizer Bunny, who just keeps going, no matter what. Keep going. Live your dream and the reward will be yours in the end.

24 July 2011

World Autism Interviews: Jessica Sergeant/Kingston, Ontario

Jessica lives in Kingston, Ontario. She is profoundly deaf and uses American Sign Language (ASL) as her main mode of communication. Jessica was recently diagnosed on the autism spectrum. She has a Master's degree in Business Administration and a Bachelor's degree in Accounting. Jessica is studying for her Certified General Accountant certification, which she expects to complete in 2013. She is a globe trotter, and has traveled to over 30 countries! And she likes to scuba dive whenever she can. Her current interest involves learning as much as she can about Asperger's Syndrome as she is in hopes of becoming an advocate in the near future. Jessica will be presenting at the Canadian Deaf Women's Conference in Niagara Falls in July of 2011.

E: Were you born deaf?

Jessica: The cause of my deafness is unknown, but my mother suspects genetics. There are several distant relatives of mine who have hearing loss. I have never met them, so I am not sure what type of hearing loss they have.

E: Do you use either hearing aids or a cochlear implant/s?

Jessica: When I was growing up, I wore hearing aids everyday until I transferred to a residential school for the deaf, which then was limited to weekends. I stopped using hearing aids at 19 years old. Additionally, I quit speech therapy at age 12. Both of them did not quite benefit me as all I could hear were garbled sounds and I felt that I identified myself as a culturally Deaf person.

American Sign Language (ASL) is my first language, and it is the language I communicate and access information through. Spoken language never really was advantageous and was tremendously stressful to learn.

E: What was school like for you? Do you feel your needs were accommodated? If not, why?

 Jessica: I was mainstreamed until age 11. There were no sign language interpreters and I had to rely on looking at other students' work to get an understanding of what was expected. In addition, I had an educational assistant for an hour 2-3 times a week. Classroom access was nil as I could not understand any of the students or the teacher. Reaching my potential to the fullest was inadequate. The mainstream school was ill-equipped for deaf students.

When I was 11, I started attending to a school for the deaf. All students were Deaf and the classes were instructed in ASL. I could understand everything that was going on in the classroom. My peers looked at me as an equal rather than a “defective” person.

Between these 2 experiences, the school for the deaf was more beneficial as appropriate supports for me were in place as Deaf person. Students at my mainstream school weren’t very accepting of me because of my deafness and I was excluded. And that wasn’t the case at the school for the deaf.

On the other hand, I always did felt different amongst my Deaf peers. My socialization and communication skills weren’t on par with my peers. It seemed that I struggled substantially in these aspects, but was doing academically well and was involved in various sports/committees.

Since Asperger's Syndrome was not recognized until 1994, I fell through the cracks and was not diagnosed with it until last year at the age of 30. I self-diagnosed myself with it a year after first learning about it through the TV series, House, M.D. Then I obtained an official diagnosis of my self-diagnosis.

E: What could have been done to make your schooling experience better for you?

Jessica: Well, I think I would have benefited greatly if I had a mentor for socialization and communication skills. That individual could have been someone to turn to whenever I had difficulties in those areas. Additionally, awareness about Asperger’s Syndrome would have benefited myself and my peers. They might have been more understanding of why I was “stubborn" or "self-centered," or why I had to "have things my way."

E: Did your parents ever suspect something else in addition to hearing loss while you were growing up?  

Jessica: Since I was deaf, I would assume that my family never suspected something else. They most likely attributed my differentness to being deaf. My peers did mention to me that they did feel that there was “something” about me, but could not pinpoint what it was until I disclosed my Asperger’s Syndrome.

E: As for being on the spectrum, did you always feel there was something different about you, even when you were around other Deaf people and immersed in Deaf culture?

Jessica: Even though I was a part of the Deaf community, and everyone was "accepting" of me, I still felt like I was an outsider. Often I felt like I was the fish in a fishbowl - watching, but not really interacting. Everyone seemed to know "their place" while I was trying to figure out "my place".

There seemed to be this invisible expectation that everyone knew how to follow and I felt like I was on a social minefield. Social steps I took were often disastrous or out of extreme fear.

E: Do you presently feel accepted and understood by the Deaf community?

Jessica: Before my diagnosis, I did not feel truly accepted for who I was. It often felt like that I was constantly failing to meet social expectations and I felt false as an individual. There were masks that I was wearing and I wanted to yell out that I was *Jessica* and wanted to roam around being true to myself.

Since my diagnosis, I am slowly letting my authentic self come out. However, since my diagnosis is very recent, I’m still coming to terms with how it defines me as an individual. There has been a paradigm shift since my diagnosis. I have disclosed my diagnosis to several people. To date, they have been accepting and understanding.

E: What do you wish the Deaf community understood (as a whole) about people on the spectrum?

Jessica: ASL can be very demanding of me. There are facial expressions we are expected to identify and read since it indicates grammatical meanings. Body language meanings, which I often struggle to interpret, are also very important and signers are expected to know them. Too often I have missed things until someone points out that I have should know better. It was “obvious” that this or that happened.

The Deaf community is infamously known for hugging everyone we know upon greeting or before parting. This can be taxing sometimes because of my sensory issues. In the past, I have been accused of being cold or rude for not hugging “hard” enough. It is not my intention and it is just that my body sometimes is oversensitive to other people’s touch.

E: What unique challenges do you face as a person who is both Deaf and on the spectrum?

Jessica: Since my diagnosis, I have recognized that I face double barriers. First, I need accommodations related to being Deaf. That means I require an ASL interpreter for interviews, meetings, and appointments. Interpreters are difficult to obtain on a short notice, and I get very stressed if one is not arranged. That can be a barrier to finding employment. Second, it exhausts me to socialize since I have to pay attention to key social rules. For instance, I’m constantly reminding myself to sign within my body, smile when appropriate, take turns in conversations, and not talk too much about a topic.

E: What do you think parents, educators, and service providers should know about individuals who are both Autistic and Deaf (or individuals who are on the spectrum and who also have a significant hearing loss)?

Jessica: That is a tough question. Basically, both being on the spectrum and Deaf is a double challenge. There must be double strategies implemented in order to integrate in a world that is often confusing and full of invisible barriers.

Even though I may not show it, I often suffer in silence. When an ASL interpreter is not arranged for anything, I meltdown within myself. Thus, when I want to participate in my special interest and an
interpreter is not provided, this is a double whammy for me. Without the interpreter, I am not included fully in my special activity.

Back in April, I attended John Elder Robison’s lecture and requested an ASL interpreter and was THRILLED that one was provided. Imagine that if I was refused, I would be unable to attend as I would be unable to understand anything.

Also, it is important to note that I also struggle with accessibility issues related to captioning and subtitles. It often frustrates me that I want to watch a YouTube video that was viewed informative by others, but cannot watch it due to lack of subtitles. Anything related to knowledge building that lacks subtitles irritates me. I feel that I have missed out a lot on important information.

E: Is there anything you are--or want--to do to raise awareness about our unique population (Autistic and Deaf)?

Jessica: I will be presenting about Asperger’s Syndrome at the Canadian Deaf Women’s Conference in Niagara Falls on July 26th. This will be my first public advocacy about the spectrum. Recently, I was asked by a local autism chapter to give a presentation, so I am looking into this. Since I was only diagnosed last year, I think I have done great strides in such a short span of time. I will see where this
leads to and perhaps I will become an international advocate. Right now, I am taking it one step at a time.

E: In my own experience, I have expressive language issues, and it does not matter whether I use English or ASL, I still struggle to express myself unless I use written communication. Do you also struggle with expressive language? If so, how do you feel about English and/or ASL?

Jessica: When it comes to expressing myself, I am better able to articulate through written words rather than through ASL. Sometimes, at the moment of expressing--when using ASL--I am unable to find the words that would fully explain what I am thinking/feeling. Too often I have felt pressured to make quick responses when they aren't exactly what I had intended. The words did not come across as I had intended or it was an incomplete response.
Also, the Deaf community is known for waving "I Love You" to everyone. I personally don't practice that as I don't see the point in flaunting that sign to everyone. 

18 June 2011

Autistic Pride Day 2011

Strong communities know they need everyone, as there is unrecognized capacity and assets in every community. Who are we? The Autistic community. We are a collective consciousness of citizens at the center of the national conversation about us. We are advocates and leaders involving others as we ask, listen, motivate, and insist on Nothing About Us Without Us! Most importantly, we recognize that everyone on this planet deserves a chance to make a wonderful life. 

Happy Autistic Pride Day!

25 April 2011

My Interview with The Riot!

I was recently interviewed by Nancy Ward who is an Editor for The Riot! newsletter. Here's the full scoop:

Nancy: Please tell me a little bit about yourself. What is your role with Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and what else would you like Riot readers to know about you?

Elesia : I am the National Chapter & Outreach Coordinator for Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN). I also work with several other organizations including Academic Autistic Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education (AASPIRE) and Autism Women's Network (AWN). Classical ballet is a passion of mine. I love training and performing, in addition to reading and writing both fiction and non-fiction.

Nancy: How do you use technology in your daily life? And what works best for you?

Elesia: Technology is the mainstay of my job. I would be lost without my MacBook! ASAN Board members, employees, and Chapters are based all over the States. We use the Internet to communicate via email and Instant Message (IM) chats. Phone calls account for an extremely small percentage of communication.

What works best for me? Email or IM chat services such as Gchat or Skype--no phone or video, text only.

Nancy: Why is technology important to you?

Elesia: Not only am I Autistic, but I am also Deaf. The Internet breaks down--if not smashes--communication barriers often presented through traditional work styles. For Autistic people who struggle with communication issues, and/or sensory overload, connecting via Internet can provide a much better option for meaningful participation. Conducting meetings online when possible via an IM chat service is extremely important. Phone conversations and/or meetings can pose a problem for Autistics who have Auditory Processing Disorder and who might struggle with voice as opposed to text. IM chats also often provide a workable solution to address social anxiety issues.

Melanie Yegeau, an ASAN Board member, brought up a lot of points when we recently spoke about technology. In summary, at root, the digital divide issue has to do with accessibility (very broadly speaking). Adam Banks' book Race, Rhetoric, and Technology breaks down access into some very handy-dandy categories.

-- First: there is material access -- that is, having the means to own a computer, pay for the internet, etc. (An aside: This is certainly an issue that Autistic people, and disabled people more generally, face. Unemployment and underemployment rates for Autistic people are high.)

-- But access isn't just about having money to buy things. This is a fallacy. It also involves functional use: that is, understanding how to use technologies in fruitful and productive ways. Social media can be of immense benefit to Autistic people, especially in a self-advocacy sense. But we're not necessarily trained to be self-advocates, and we're certainly not trained (at least not very often) to use social media for advocacy and activism purposes.

-- According to Banks, another layer of access includes critical use: that is, understanding the advantages and disadvantages of technology, and having the option to resist use of certain technologies. Again, this can present a problem for Autistic people: In what ways are we afforded the right to refuse to use something -- be it a specific computer program, certain AAC device, picture board, etc.

A lot of positive things surrounding critical use have come up for Autistic people. We don't just use social media because it's there -- we critically analyze its positives and its drawbacks.

-- Banks says that the most encompassing form of access is that of transformative access. This is key to self-advocacy, and key to surmounting the digital divide. Transformative access involves direct participation in the very design of certain technologies. I feel transformative access is another name for universal design. A technology cannot be truly accessible unless its users are also its designers.

Nancy: Given all the different types of technology tools that are out there, how are you able to get information out to ASAN members quickly, especially for things like legislation and budgets that might need quick action?

Elesia: Here I am answering Internet to every question. And it's time to do so again. Internet. Internet. Internet. Smiles. Honestly, it's really simple: We send mass emails, post to listservs, post to social networking sites such as Facebook, and connect with committees, organizations, and other persons within the broader disability community.

Nancy: Members of a self-advocacy group might have a different understanding about how to use technology. How do you teach somebody who is just learning?

Elesia: Part of my job involves teaching Autistic self-advocates how to use technology. Sometimes, it boils down to me sending an email to a potential ASAN chapter leader with instructions on how to go about downloading and signing into Skype. From there, we might have an IM chat--including step-by-step instruction--on how to set up a Meetup site to advertise their chapter. In a nutshell, if someone can understand how to send and read a basic email, that is all I need to do my job efficiently.

As for accommodating people who are just learning how to use technology, this is a goal we're continually working toward. Not all Autistic self-advocates have access to computers, and some individuals may have a difficult time using computers, reading instructions, etc. There aren't always easy answers, which leads me to note what access and self-advocacy are about... constantly brainstorming on what we can do and how we can do it better and more inclusively.

Nancy: Do you think that technology is going to be something we use in the future as a tool?

Elesia: Yes! And I wouldn't want to be a part of a future that shunned technology. Speaking of technology, I just got a new Apple iPhone 4. Now I am connected wherever I go via plane, train, or automobile (as long as there's a service tower near). Within the span of 15 minutes, I can:

1. Have an American Sign Language conversation with my husband using FaceTime Video Call

2. Text message my lovely boss, Ari Ne'eman, and request an extension on an assignment because it got put off due to my excessive YouTube ballet video watching (kidding Ari!)

3. Download the latest e-book on Disability Rights

4. Send an email

5. Surf the web, or post a message to Facebook

6. Chat on Skype

All of this happens from a phone the size of an extremely thin camera. Will smartphones and technology be something we use in the future as a tool? You bet! They are the future!

08 April 2011

World Autism Interviews: Melody Latimer/Texas

Melody Latimer is an active Autistic adult. She lives with her husband and two beautiful Autistic boys. She volunteers at her sons' school, directs the Dallas-Ft. Worth chapter of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and is also a part-time employee for ASAN. She runs the website ASParenting for Autistic parents and manages the corresponding email list. Melody is working on a book about Autistic parenting, which is meant as a guide to neurodiverse parenting.

E: When did you receive a diagnosis on the autistic spectrum?

Melody: I received my initial diagnosis in the summer of 2008. This was a year after my oldest son was diagnosed and only a few months after my youngest was diagnosed.

E: Autistic people who are diagnosed later in life often share that an ASD diagnosis does not seem foreign, but more like an official definition that finally sums up how they have experienced the world throughout their lives. What are your thoughts?

Melody: Before I was diagnosed, I had been diagnosed with a plethora of anxiety disorders and depression. Most of the symptoms for all the diagnoses combined easily equaled up to Autism. To me, it wasn't necessarily something that finally summed my experiences, but what combined all my previous diagnoses. There was a slight deviation from where I thought all those diagnoses came from, especially OCD and Social Anxiety. I now don't even try to treat those as I feel they can be useful to me.

E: You're the mother of two boys on the spectrum. Being Autistic yourself, do you feel you have firsthand insight into what your boys are experiencing? If so, please share a few examples.

Melody: I definitely think that being Autistic has helped me understand my boys. I remember, before any of us was diagnosed, my oldest would push this bus that sang “Wheels on the Bus,” but only when the wheels went round. He got down on all fours, and rolled it back and forth looking under the bus. My in-laws thought this was strange. But I knew as soon as I turned it upside down why he was doing it. The speaker that sang was underneath the bus.

I use this skill all the time. If they are having a particular issue at the school, I will go in and observe and tell them things that they could change. Most of the time my changes are right on. It also helps to explain to their new teachers why they do certain things. Autism doesn't explain everything, but the things it does, I definitely feel I have an advantage over others.

E: What are some difficulties you face being a parent on the spectrum? All parents--regardless of whether disability is present--can become overwhelmed and stressed. Do you happen to face any unique challenges being an Autistic parent?

Melody: Some of the biggest difficulties I have aren't necessarily to do with parenting--most are related to being a parent. Going to social events has always been difficult for me, but as a parent, even to two Autistic boys, you are obligated to go to things. Birthday parties, PTA events, school concerts, and so forth are just not my strong suit. I continue to do them because I know that my kids exposure to these from a young age will help them along. I never did any of that as a kid and I think it left me at a disadvantage of learning how to properly regulate myself.

As for unique challenges, I think the sensory issues are the worse. I have auditory sensitivities, so crying, or whining, or sometimes even just constant talking can be really difficult to take. I'm also tactile defensive, so light touch has always been a problem. When the boys were babies, I would have to lay them on the floor, and lay beside them, because their little movements were too light. I wanted to give them plenty of love and nurturing, but I couldn't hold them for more than 5 minutes without becoming very uncomfortable. In the end, I improvised a solution that I think worked out quite well.

E: There's a notable percentage of non-autistic parents on the spectrum who make it their mission to find a cure for their autistic children. Other parents accept that their child is autistic and instead aim for securing services in the here and now to assist their children. What is your experience and opinion?

Melody: I'm definitely a here and now person. I will say that the science behind all their cause and cure search is interesting, but that's the scientist in me. The implications of that research is harmful to us all. Funding for cures only means taking away money from research and services to make their children's lives successful. We CAN lead successful lives! I want my kids to grow up, live on their own, work and be happy. If they get married, great. If they have kids, even better. But that's not what my job is as their parent. My job is to give them the tools to succeed and be happy. That is all. Services is one of the many ways I do that, and no research into a cure is going to help me in my job.

E: How do you feel when you navigate the waters of hanging out with other non-autistic parents of autistic children? Do you feel accepted? Or do you feel at odds? Or both?

Melody: It really depends on the parent. My oldest son has this great friend. They love playing together. He's accepted by this other boy. And this boy happens to have a little brother who is autistic. This means I must be around their mother if they do play dates (which I do not like to deny my children of). The boy's mother happens to be a curebie. She tries to convince me my other son isn't Autistic. She thinks I should try all these supplements and diets.

On the other hand, there are a lot of parents who know my diagnosis who treat me no different. Parents of other Autistic kids at school, at support groups, and so forth are all very kind to me. We know not to bring up the subjects we don't agree on. Most are all for Neurodiversity principles for “people like me” (whatever that means). They also think it's encouraging that I have gotten where I am with no intervention or services.

E: What do you want to teach your boys about what it means to be Autistic? Have you had a conversation with either of them about autism? If so, what did you make a point to discuss?

Melody: We haven't really discussed it with either of them. They're 6 and 7. While highly intelligent, they just don't understand that others have different thoughts and feelings, let alone different neurology. We try to teach them for now that it's okay to remove themselves if they are overwhelmed. We let them stim when possible and explain to them why they cannot in certain situations, ie. safety concerns (some spinning is just dangerous around a lot of people).

In the end, I want to teach them that they are different but still as equal as anyone else. I want to teach them to stand up for themselves while still being respectful of others. I want them to understand they can accomplish what they want and that all people need help from others. Being Autistic just means they think differently, they experience things differently. It does not make them lesser or greater. It doesn't make them exempt from the lessons in life. It may mean extra work or extra help, but it does not mean they cannot lead full and happy lives.

E: Some parents tell their autistic children that they love them but not autism. Do you think this is damaging to autistic children? If so, how?

Melody: I think it gives a child the wrong impression. Damaging, I don't know. I think it depends on the child. Autism is who they are, how they think, how they experience life. Without Autism, they would not be who they are, but someone completely different. The neurology makes their whole world. I think many of these parents put more focus on the deficits and not enough on the benefits of their child's Autism.

E: You are currently working on a non-fiction book addressing being an Autistic parent of children on the spectrum. What are 3 main points you wish to drive home? Please give examples.

Melody: In my book, I want to give normal parents some sort of way to raise their child while respecting their Autism. Autistic Parenting gives us all an insight into our Autistic child. In the book, there are three ways I'm approaching teaching typical parents about their Autistic child's world.

First, I want parents to feel the way their child feels. In one section on sensory difficulties, for instance, there is an exercise to put a piece of Velcro on their collar and where it there all day. Obviously, this will only give them understanding of their child if they are tactile sensitive. But my hope is that feeling it will help parents come up with clothing that feels good to their child. It's not about pitying the child, but experiencing to come up with better solutions. Each chapter has a section like this.

Second, I want the parents to deconstruct their preconceptions then redefining and reteaching them. With all Autistic children, the “norms” are just not going to be the same as they are for typical children. Parents often forget the development in developmental disability. Our development is just not on the same track. Parents really need to focus on their child's development, and not where the charts say they are supposed to be. Only then will they learn to teach their child is to know where they are truly at.

Last, I want parents to see how “we” did it. The Autistic parents among us have developed skills for a vast array of issues. So in each chapter of the book, there will be a personal story from an Autistic parent. They will talk about their issues that relate to that chapter, how they overcame them, then how they help their Autistic child learn those same skills. This is more than a feel good story. It's meant to show that most problems have solutions, which reinforces the lesson learned in deconstruction and rebuilding.

In the end, it's up to the parent to decide the course of action for their child. I just want to give them the skills to understand what their child is going through, how Autistic parents overcame any issue, then how to develop a plan to come up with similar solutions for your own child. It may require therapies, interventions or time, but there is a reason for everything, and hopefully a solution too.

E: You run a website called AS Parenting. Tell us about it.

Melody: ASParenting is often misunderstood by the title. Many people think it's for parents who have Autistic kids. It's actually the other way around, it's for Autistic parents. I blog about my experiences with my kids, send out advocacy information and manage an email list for other Autistic parents. Those who are members do not have to have Autistic kids, just be Autistic themselves. Other welcome people are Autistic adults who are thinking of parenting. Our issues are different from those of non-autistic parents. Some members are hermit-like, others hold down jobs, and others are fervent activists. However, we have a lot of the same gripes or problems. So it's often good to go there for support. Parenting groups don't often understand our Autism, and Autistic groups don't really know how to respond from lack of experience. ASParenting gives Autistic parents a happy medium.

[Ed. the capital A used in the word Autistic, denotes the Autistic community, which is much like the Deaf community. There is a difference between being Autistic and autistic.]

01 April 2011

Happy 2nd Birthday, Aspitude!!!

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Aspitude, happy birthday to you! And many mooore...!

Wow, has it been 2 years already? And ya'll are still hanging around? Aww, thank you! No party on a massive yacht this year. Maybe next year...

[This post was originally a 3rd birthday post. But then Silly Editor realized Aspitude is only 2 years old. Time for a math class--oy vey! Nothing I can do about the 3 candles on the cupcake in the photo above. Enjoy!]

10 March 2011

World Autism Interviews: Isabel Espinal/New England

Isabel was born in New York City. Her parents are from the Dominican Republic. As for college, she enrolled at MIT and nearly flunked out. She decided science and technology were not for her and transferred to Princeton where she wound up flunking her senior thesis. Eventually, she submitted a passing thesis, earned a Bachelor's degree, and then a Master's in Library and Information Studies. She has been a librarian since 1991. Isabel is a mother to 3 children. Her kids are now teenagers (and her son is in his first year of college). She loves literature and especially enjoys translating poetry from Spanish to English. Isabel is currently working on a PhD in American Studies with a focus on Literature.

E: How old were you when you received a diagnosis on the autistic spectrum, and how did your family respond to the news?

Isabel: I am 46 years old and just received a diagnosis two months ago. I started reading about Aspergers and autism through a friend of mine (Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, who writes about her own autism since her diagnosis at age 50 on her blog Journeys With Autism). All of this is so new to me, so unexpected, and yet so wonderful too. I don't think I have completely assimilated the diagnosis yet--let alone my family. 

I have a big family and I have not told a lot of people, but as soon as I started to think I might have it, I sent an email to my sister and to a few close friends. I emailed my therapist, and I also told my kids. My sister reacted by saying that she said it made her wonder how many other people in the family might have also been on the spectrum. Autism definitely resonated with her as something that may exist in our family, and I found that very affirming. 

I had a friend who said, "No way," because I am very empathetic and the classic symptom of Aspergers (in her view) is lack of empathy. But I had done a lot of research and I sent her a few links that refuted that theory. She said, "Wow, I had no idea." 

Another friend was very mean. He said I did not have Aspergers, that it was a fad diagnosis, and that what he thought I had was Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It was very upsetting that he would dismiss my thoughts, as well as dismiss my own observations. I explained that there was a lot about me he did not know, but he insisted that his view was correct. I was so upset I could not stop crying. But that experience did not stop me from pushing what I felt was the truth about myself, even though I was sad not to have his support.

My boyfriend has been very supportive. We talk about it all the time. I can see how my autism has affected our relationship, and how the diagnosis and knowing about autism will improve how we relate to each other--it already has.

As for my kids, my oldest said he knew students who had it and he did not think I had it because I was not like them. But it's different now that it's not just my own suspicions, as I have a professional diagnosis. For me, I know that it's my kids who I most want to explore what autism has meant in our lives, as well as what my autism has meant for them, and will mean for them. I think it may help them understand some things, but I also think that we need support services so they can understand this and better deal with it. In this sense I feel very different from a lot of women I have read about. It seems that women and men my age who get diagnosed often do so because they have a child who is diagnosed first. Discussion of autism is already in the family in many adult cases. In my case it wasn't, so I have the challenge of being the person who introduces this concept to my children. And it may seem like it's coming out of nowhere. It's daunting, but also promising - I feel like this can really help us in ways not found in the past because we were solving the wrong problems.

E: In many communities, autism and disability are stigmatized. As an American-Dominican, do you feel autism is a stigma or taboo in your culture? If so, why?

Isabel: I don't think there is much understanding of autism, and of what the spectrum is. I certainly did not have that understanding until recently. I don't know if it's a taboo. I don't feel it that way. I feel that it would be much easier to talk about autism in my Dominican family than it is to talk about sexuality or divorce or religious alternatives, for example. My family is huge - I have 73 first cousins, and there are many 3rd, 4th, etc. I think there is a lot of variety and in many ways a lot of acceptance of difference. I have a cousin who has a daughter with developmental delays. I'm not that close to him so I don't know all the details, but for all I know it's probably autism. He and his wife have structured their lives around meeting their child's needs. They moved to Boston to be near specialists. This was a very difficult move for them because they are now far from the extended family. I visited them a few years ago before I knew anything about autism. Everyone treats their daughter with so much love and affection. In my family children are precious no matter what.

There are aspects of my own autism that garnered praise in my family. When I was a child, I was often complimented for my ability to sit still, quietly. For me it was natural, as I was often in my own world. It was easy to sit still at church or at a medical clinic. I remember one time I was picked to be an angel in a church event. They dressed me up in a silvery costume with silver wings. Everyone kept saying I was the perfect angel because I was so still. Another thing that earned praise and attention was my ability to read, memorize, and figure out visual things like maps and charts. People exclaimed things like, "¡Esta niña es una Biblia!" ("This girl is a Bible!") So when I recently read about autism and Aspergers and the "little professor" syndrome, I totally related. I probably cried reading about that because it was so close to my experience.

E: Have you ever felt misunderstood by family members or friends who expect you to behave in certain ways?

Isabel: Yes, yes, yes! In particular, people did not understand why I liked to be alone. I'll never forget the day one of my aunts confronted me with the question: "A tí te gusta estar sola, ¿no es verdad?" ("You like to be alone, don't you?") I felt cornered, exposed, and ashamed because I liked something that was so seemingly horrible. Until recently, I attributed this difference to culture. I thought the fact I liked to be alone was a result of having grown up in the United States where people are almost obsessed with themselves and always seem to want their own space, as opposed to Dominicans.

Another thing that was criticized in my family when I was a girl and a teenager was the fact that I liked to read so much. I was always reading. I would bring books to the dinner table if I could get away with it. But this was a habit that worried some people in my family. Aunts would tell me it was not healthy to be reading so much. When I was a teenager in high school and college, a lot of family thought I was rude because I was not overly friendly. And in high school a lot of the girls thought I was a snob. I felt confused and hurt by this in both cases because it seemed so removed from my inner reality.  I had to learn so much – teach myself so many things about how to behave so I would not get that reaction. And yet, to some extent, I still get that reaction despite having worked on this so much.

Being bicultural gave an alternate explanation for a lot of my problems "fitting in." If I didn't fit in with my Dominican family, it was supposedly cultural. If I didn't fit in with my New England white co-workers, it was also supposedly cultural. But after I discovered autism, it made much more sense why I have never fit in anywhere.

Some of the aspects of Dominican culture that might have made my autism more hidden (when in the context of the dominant US culture) are things like interrupting conversations, blurting things out, being too honest, and talking too loudly or too softly. For example, I exhibit all these things at work, and they always made me stand out in that context, but not among Dominicans.

E: What has been most frustrating to you in regards to how you might be perceived by others who share the same cultural heritage (do you feel you have to cover up, hide, or overcompensate for being on the spectrum)?

Isabel: I don't live among a lot of Dominican people anymore, so it's hard to answer. I think in both my cultures it was frustrating to be misunderstood. It's frustrating to have people put expectations on me based on how they think and perceive the world and to assume that I perceive the world the same way. Because I have been successful in academics and work, people expect more of me. Parenting has been very challenging for me and it's been very hard to always have people say, "Why don't you just..." or "How could you let.." People expect me to be a certain way or assume that because I have a certain outward appearance that certain other things should be easy or be common sense. It's frustrating that what is common sense to some is very hard for me and really needs to be broken down in ways other people I know cannot seem to fathom. I guess my sense is just not common.

E: Do you know anyone else of color, on the spectrum, who has also expressed similar cultural struggles?

Isabel: No, only the people I have read about on your blog and maybe a few other blogs. But I have seen very little even in blogs about people of color. Most autistic blog writers seem to be white. I would love to read more from people of color on the spectrum, especially adults and people my age.

E: In general, do you feel a healthy percentage of Dominican parents are likely to look into further diagnostic testing if either they or others (e.g teachers) notice non-standard development in a child?

Isabel: The kind of behaviors I had I'm not sure would cause either Dominicans or non-Dominicans to seek diagnosis--even today. I wasn't a disturbance to anyone. I wasn't a problem. Adults loved me. Teachers loved me. I was often set up as a "model," which made me uncomfortable. I don't think the field of diagnosis and diagnostic follow up has caught up with kids who are similar to what I was like. Other autistic individuals are likely to be treated differently, especially if they are more easily identifiable. But even there, I think because of economics, Dominican parents would not have the resources to get the kinds of diagnoses that whites can get for their children. I think the differences from the "standard" would have to be more severe for Dominicans to get help. Based on what I'm reading on parental blogs, the kind of intense help and attention that autism spectrum kids are getting is probably not fully available to Dominicans.

E: Do you feel accepted and understood by the Autistic community regardless of your cultural heritage?

Isabel: It seems like in some ways being autistic itself is a kind of culture. I feel I have so much in common with people in this community, that I can't help but feel identified. When I received a diagnosis, I emailed Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg to let her know and to thank her. She asked if she could post my response on her blog and I got a lot of nice welcoming messages. On the other hand, I feel that a lot of people in this community have limited cultural perspective in general and sometimes I wonder if some of the things that are assumed to be true of all or most autistics might really be more indicative of European-heritage autistics.

10 January 2011

World Autism Interviews: Kassiane Sibley/Pacific Northwest

Wowee zowee, look at Kassiane rocking some radical gymnastics up there. I'd give her a 10, but I can't quite see the percentage of extension on the back foot with the blur and all. Can I get a replay...?

Kassiane Sibley is a vintage 1982 autistic woman who lives in the Pacific Northwest. She has spoken at conferences across the western hemisphere and is active in Autistic and neurodiversity advocacy. Kassiane "writes when she feels like it" at Radical Neurodivergence, has contributed to Ask And Tell, and has written numerous articles, as well as participated in several interviews. In addition to gymnastics and advocacy, she enjoys swing dancing, other dancing styles, tabletop role playing games, and neuropharmacology.

E: When did you first develop an interest in gymnastics, and how long have you been a gymnast?

Kassiane: My mom put me in a tumbling class when I was about 5, but I wasn't immediately successful so she yanked me out. I continued to teach myself cartwheels, walkovers, and handsprings in the yard and started classes again several years later. I consider myself to have been a gymnast for about 20 years now.

E: Did gymnastics come easily to you? If not, please explain how you accommodated or overcame any struggles.

Kassiane: Hahaha, NO. Oh my gosh, no. I needed very patient coaches who were willing to work around skills, present them in different ways, trick my brain into not over-thinking things so my body could do what it knew. I competed in several events (occasionally in earplugs), and learned skills in a kind of screwed up order. Also, I was at very different levels for different events. But hard work, that I could do, and I did.

E: What are your favorite and least favorite gymnastics events?

Kassiane: I have done both trampoline and tumbling--it is what it sounds like--and artistic gymnastics, which is what you see in the Olympics. My favorite in T&T (Tumbling & Trampoline) was tumbling, followed closely by double mini, which involves a smaller trampoline. I'm atrocious, simply AWFUL, at trampoline. I like to bounce but never could put all the skills together for an impressive routine. In artistic, I loved floor, and liked training beam, but had a tough time competing it. My bars were simply tragic and frustrating.

As a coach, I love teaching tumbling to my T&Ters, and I actually really like teaching bars. I've got a very technical brain that really groks nuance and the biomechanics, so teaching bars is nowhere near as hard as DOING bars!

E: Tell us about a gymnastics accomplishment that makes you proud to this day.

Kassiane: When I was 19 or so, I won the Amanda Howe Memorial Sunshine & Sportsmanship award. It's an award to recognize athletes who work hard, have a good attitude, and are good role models, even if they aren't at the very top of their sport. That means way more to me than being recognized for having the best physical abilities, because flips are temporary but being worth looking up to is forever.

E: What are your current goals as a gymnast? Do you feel there is an age limit to how long a gymnast can train and enjoy gymnastics, even if they are no longer competing?

Kassiane: As you know, I haven't competed in years and it's unlikely that I will again. I'm thinking about doing a T&T meet for fun at a level much lower than I used to do, but that's just an idle daydream right now. I mostly want to stay flexible and still be able to do a back tuck and an aerial cartwheel in a few years. I also hope to use the skills and body awareness to learn some of the throws in swing dancing.

I don't believe in too old. If you are enjoying it, you are exactly the right age. Elite is not the be all and end all of gymnastics, and the attitude that it is is what leads to people thinking they're too old. But if someone enjoys it, they can learn skills and get strong at all ages.

E: You're a gymnastics coach and instructor, and part of your job involves working with autistic children. How do you approach instructing kids on the spectrum? Are there any common accommodations?

Kassiane: I teach all my students as individuals. That helps more than one would think. We do a lot of reinforcing what a position means and that it always means that (like a tuck is in a ball with your knees to your belly button) no matter what you are doing-jumping, flipping, or just sitting. Then the position is automatic, even if the rest of the skill isn't. I do a lot of demonstration for the visual learners, and I break down things really far for the kids who need it. Like, we have had kids who do not know how to jump off 2 feet, and we spent about 45 minutes just practicing that once.

I also try to make sure they always know what's going to happen (like, "We are going to stretch, go to tumbletrak, then trampoline, and then get strong!) so that there isn't as much anxiety over the future. I'm willing to make a visual schedule but no one has needed that yet. And I try to make sure they know what I liked about skills, not just what needs work. Or if a kid just needs to be mad at me, whatever, I can deal with that. Getting in a power struggle over it is silly.

E: Some people think that autistic people are too clumsy or uncoordinated to ever master a sport like gymnastics. What is your response?

Kassiane: A no handed cartwheel *grin*. This comes back to elite not being the be all and end all. This whole idea of Don't Do Something If You Can't Be The Best is really detrimental. An autistic person may not ever get good enough to go to the Olympics, but you know what? Neither do most gymnasts. And that's ok. The physical and mental benefits come to everyone, not just the best of the best of the best. There's so much about gymnastics that is SO GOOD for us, whether we can do a somersault or a double back.

E: Is there anything I haven't asked that you would like to share?

Kassiane: I love talking about the benefits of gymnastics. There's the physical, like strength, flexibility (fun fact: most gymnasts need to WORK for splits), ease of movement, and posture. There's the character traits, like confidence, perseverance, setting and achieving goals, sportsmanship, being part of a team...confidence in particular is systemically destroyed in a lot of autistic people. And there's the whole "I can do something that less than 1% of the world can do" peer-recognized skill, and the proprioceptive and vestibular input are unmatched. If you can walk on your hands, you can get good pressure to your upper extremities wherever you go.

Oh, and being able to learn new sports and movement patterns faster than all other athletes, that's pretty rad too...

Further reading:

Clay Marzo's official website (surfer who happens to be on the spectrum)

Jason McElwain (high school basketball)

Autism Women's Network (AWN)

Check out AWN's new Editorial Coordinator: Elesia Ashkenazy (me!) I look forward to assisting AWN with providing quality information, in addition to researching, writing, and editing new material. I'm enthusiastic about engaging readers with community news and tidbits, interviews, musings, and much more. My first post will go up Friday, 14 January 2011. See you there! And just in case you're wondering, yes, I'll still be posting on Aspitude monthly.

01 January 2011