Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Monday, December 19, 2016

Been There, Done That, Got A T-shirt

What would you think if you were walking through a public place and saw someone wearing a shirt like one of these?

 Or maybe one of these ones...

Just wondering. Because yesterday Lily and I took a plane to Chicago. For my day of travels, I wore one of my autism T-shirts. The one I wore looks like this
I wore it partly because I just like it, and also because I sometimes have some difficulty in airports, and an airport is not the place that you want to be seen as acting nervous or suspicious. Wearing a T-shirt and letting it be obvious that I have a disability is my way of telling the world, "I'm not freaking out because I have a bomb strapped to the bottom of my shoe! I'm freaking out because I'm not completely sure which line I'm supposed to be in right now!" Another reason is because, since I have Lily with me as a service dog, people sometimes give me those "Oh look someone faking like they have a service dog so they can bring their pet on the plane" faces.

People have different opinions about me wearing a shirt like this. Some have suggested that it is a way of trying to get sympathy from people. Others have suggested I wear it to get attention. My dad says, "Autism is not something you should be embarrassed about, but...." (But what? I have when people don't finish their sentences! He never told me but what. If I had to fill in the blanks myself, my guess would be, " don't have to tell EVERYONE! Its not everyone's business!")

I could say this blog post is about explaining that NOTHING is EVERYONE's business, but sometimes people like to display certain information about themselves on a T-shirt; for instance if you love horses, you might wear an "I love horses" T-shirt, and it could be asked, "Is it anyone else's business that you love horses?" and obviously it isn't, but that is a part of you that you decided, that day, to show the world. I would probably point out that, while the horse lover doesn't always preface every conversation with, "By the way... I love horses," they might find themselves bringing up horses in various conversations, or at least chiming in when conversations come up that are about horses. Or maybe loving horses would be a bad metaphor because a person could say, "But horses are something I enjoy, and autism is something you ARE/" So maybe, if you were from Greece. You might wear a shirt that says "I love Greece," and you might bring up, "Back when I was a kid growing up in Greece..." into random conversations, and that would be a part of you that you were sharing with others, despite it technically being nobody's business. 

But actually this blog post is about how, later on as I got on the plane, I thought, "What if this shirt makes people automatically not like me?" They might think, "Oh jeez, obviously there is something wrong with that person, so I hope she doesn't sit by me!"

Here is a scenario. Imagine you are at the airport waiting for your flight. You see a person with a service dog walking through the area. The person goes up to one of the airport staff and asks if she is supposed to stand in a separate line for people with disabilities so she can pre-board. She is told where to stand, but when it is her turn to get on, the employee taking the tickets questions her about her service dog. Apparently someone didn't enter something on some computer and the person's ticket doesn't say anything about a dog. The person appears to be getting flustered as she tries to explain, "No, she's not an emotional support animal, she's a service dog, for autism." You can tell there is something "wrong" with her... of course, she has the service dog, but some people have service dogs for diabetes or epilepsy, and this person seems more... mentally afflicted. 

The employees send the person over to another desk, where she begins to try to explain. They tell her that she was supposed to handle this when she checked in, in the airport lobby. She says she tried to, they told her she didn't need anything, usually they check her doctor letter and they write "SA" on her ticket, but today they didn't, they said she didn't need anything, and even security was different because they didn't swipe her hands, and the dog is a service dog, for autism and anxiety... She is beginning to stutter, her sentences choking off halfway out of her mouth, one hand holding her dog's leash and the other hand rubbing her head, her face starting to flush. The airport employee finally tells her she can go get onto the plane. She goes, and as she walks by you you can see her eyes were starting to get teary, she seems a little shaky. She might just blow. 

She gets on, just a little ahead of the rest of the people, and then they call your boarding group. You get on the plane, patiently inch your way down the narrow aisle to your cheap airline seat, 23E... and there, in the window seat right next to your seat, is the person and her service dog. 

What do you feel? Annoyed, the way some people might feel when they realize they're going to spend their plane ride next to an exhausted 2-year-old with an earache? Afraid, because you don't know what to expect? Are you determined to not stare at the person, and you avoid even glancing in their direction? Would it make a huge difference to you if the person is wearing a T-shirt proclaiming their autism?

I thought about this as I was sitting in my plane seat, having narrowly avoided the oncoming meltdown described above (no, that wasn't a hypothetical story) and now feeling short of breath because I just realized that my headphones weren't working and that instead of passing my plane ride watching videos and listening to music on my Kindle, I'd now be sitting in quiet contemplation for the next 4 hours. I was probably rocking a little. Ever since I moved to Washington, I've flown by myself (well, usually with Lily, actually) a whole bunch of times, and most of the time I've had friendly seatmates. I have told some of them about my autism, mostly because they'd ask about Lily. One time there was a girl who wanted to switch seats because she was afraid of dogs, but they wouldn't let her switch, and I tried to reassure her by explaining to her all about Lily and how she's not a dangerous dog at all, how she'd just be calm and sit with me for the whole plane ride, and we ended up talking for most of the ride. 

The guy who sat down next to me this time seemed to be a "trying hard not to stare at you" person. He didn't say hello or smile or even look at me when he sat down. (I didn't either, of course, now that I think back on it. I'm not very good at being the first to say hello or smile at someone I don't know.) He didn't look at me during the whole flight. He didn't ask about the elephant in the room small dog in my lap. 

It was a rough plane trip for me without my headphones... plus it was the smallest possible plane seat, and it was really, really hot on the plane. I had a horrid time and couldn't sit still. On one hand Lily was helping me because I could pet her and smell her and talk to her to help me feel calm and less like jumping out of my body, but on the other hand it was so hot on the plane and having a 102 degree ball of fur in your lap is not the most comfortable thing in that situation. Also did you know that most dogs are about 102 degrees at all times? Fun fact.

And... this is one of those times when I don't know how to neatly tie this whole blog post up and end it. So... uh... did you know have a kitten now? ::drops mic::


  1. I LOVE this post. So incredibly thoughtful. And funny! And heartbreaking. Yeah, pretty much daily life...
    Thanks and love,
    Full Spectrum Mama

  2. I read this the other day but didn't comment because I was on my phone.

    I think this shirt is a great idea. If it allows you to feel more comfortable and relieve the need to have to explain stuff, I think it's really useful. Of course, some people may make unfair assumptions ... but that's part of life, whether you're on the spectrum or not.

    I also love that the message is positive and powerful. Plus, there's the added benefit of people seeing you go through the airport by yourself and travel alone ... it may give people a new perspective on what people with autism can do.


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