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Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Saturday, October 20, 2018

My Trip To The Autistics Present Symposium

Yesterday my adorable traveling companion and I made the 3 1/2 hour drive up to Bellevue to go to the Autistics Present Symposium. My traveling companion is 9 years old. I just realized I could say that. She's not the child of my first marriage, though... I've always been a "single mama!"


Anyway... We drove up here yesterday to attend the Autistics Present Symposium. You may remember that I went to the Autism Society Conference in Wisconsin last summer. This year I couldn't afford to go to that, but then someone posted on Facebook about this one, and since it was right here in Washington it was more doable.

The main difference between the Autistics Present Symposium and the Autism Society Conference is that this one is created by, and mostly for, autistic adults. The Autism Society conferences are geared mostly towards parents of autistic children, and people who work with autistic children, and people who have or work with autistic teenagers who are reaching "transition age," and then they may have one or two things geared towards autistic adults. When I was there, most of the autistic adults I saw were actually there because they were doing presentations, which were meant to help the neurotypical parents and professionals to better understand autism. At the time, I was excited about being in a place where I didn't stand out, and could be myself. Yet I was still sort of an outsider, because everything there was designed for parents and professionals, plus some extra things geared towards the young children who were with them.

At this one, there were a few parents and professionals floating around, but for the most part every single person was an autistic adult.

It was very small and organized, and the time span was pretty short. I got there and was signed in at 9:45, and the whole thing ended by 4. In one way this was cool because it made it more manageable... but also, it was just more compact and there wasn't as much time to explore or make friends. I really wish it somehow could have been the whole weekend and included some activities or something, the way the Autism Conference does, but this time with everything geared towards autistic adults. As it was, it felt just like a blink, like a very quick glimpse of  a world that I belong in.

At the Autism Conference, the autistic adults who do tend to be there are brought by their parents, and they tend to be much closer to "transitional age"... 18 to 21... than to my age. At the Symposium, there were people of all ages there, but there were many who were my age or older, and who were living independently. Some might live with a parent or spouse, but they were independent as far as having their own activities and identities. They were just, all, autistic people. Just autistic adults all gathered at the same place. I really don't know how to explain it.

If I were to use a metaphor, which I always enjoy, I might say, imagine you are a purple-skinned alien who was adopted at birth and brought to a planet where everyone has green skin. You've had the chance to meet some other purple skinned people before... perhaps once at an event that was mostly for green families who had adopted purple-skinned children... but this is one of the few times that you've ever been in a building where almost everyone had purple skin. Imagine you've spent most of your life very aware of your purple skin. You grew up being yelled at and scolded and told to just be more greener. You've spent a lot of your adult life trying to blend in among the green people. You wore long sleeved shirts and floppy hats to try to hide your purple skin, but it always peeked through. As you grew older and became more comfortable and happy with your purple skin, you still felt self-conscious of it whenever you went out. When you went to that conference for families of purple-skinned people that one year, and you saw the others with the purple skin, you still sensed the green-skinned people looking around trying to figure out which green-skinned family member is escorting you, because really, this world is meant for the green-skinned. And then you go to this conference, and everywhere you look is purple skin. Ironically, for the first time in your life, among your own people, you feel more invisible than ever... because you could run naked through the halls with every inch of purple skin showing, and nobody would bat an eye, because they are all purple too. It is almost overwhelming. This is your tribe, your culture... but you will only be with them for six hours, and there is a tight schedule. During this tight schedule you attend classes and learn a lot, but then you have to leave and go back to your very green world. You are left with this feeling like you want to connect with ALL THE PURPLE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD! There were so many of them a minute ago! But now they've dispersed back to their own green families, and when you go back to the hotel where you're staying, the green employees smile suspiciously at you.

Whoa, I told you I liked metaphors!

Okay, for the purple people out there who weren't able to go, I'll give you some more details of what I learned.

First we had a keynote speaker, which was Autistic Hoya. She's a pretty famous blogger. Slightly more famous than me. Hahaha! She was talking mostly about the fact that there are a lot of autistic people in the transgender community, and vice versa... but that sometimes autistic transgender people have been unwelcome at groups and activities meant for transgender people, because the transgender people didn't want being transgender to be seen as a disability, and didn't really want it being associated with autism. And also, that sometimes people with disabilities who were also transgender or gay are treated unfairly by people who make decisions for them. For example, an adult with Down syndrome who was transgender and started identifying as female after they turned 21, and then family members filed guardianship papers over the person because they said that it was proof that the person needed to be protected. And some people with disabilities who live in group homes, being not allowed to go to LGBTQ events, because their guardians told the people who run the group homes not to allow them to go.

The first class I went to was on disclosing about being autistic. The ladies leading the class suggested that it is a good idea to disclose about being autistic, because when you do, you are also advocating for other autistic people, and you're showing that you don't have the need to hide yourself. Some people talked about the same problem I've had firsthand, where you tell your employer you're autistic, and they're like, "Oh that's nice," and act all accepting, but once they realize that being autistic actually means something, the employers get like, "Ooooh, actually can you be a little LESS autistic please?"

Then we had a break for lunch. I had to carry my pokey service dog all the way there, and by the time I got there the veggie sandwiches were gone, so I had to have a portobello salad. But it was very delicious. Lily ate the red peppers. I tried to give her a mushroom but she spat it out. We ate sitting on the floor in the hallway.

The next one I went to was by Neurotypical Wife, who was being interviewed by a giraffe from Giraffe Party. She has a Facebook page where she writes in a satirical way about the love and patience required to cope with her neurotypical husband. For the interview, the giraffe would say things such as, "How do you encourage your neurotypical husband to learn more neurodivergent behaviors? For instance, what do you do when he insists on making small talk?" And Neurotypical Wife would say something like, "Well, I reward him with pizzas whenever he behaves like a neurodivergent person. He's making progress." She'd say things like, "I'm an expert on neurotypical people, because I grew up with a neurotypical sister, and I also have been generous enough to marry a neurotypical person. I'm like a saint." In case you haven't figured it out, she's basically mocking "autism moms" who write about how they cope with having autistic kids. Then people in the audience would say things like, "Can you tell us a little bit more about your husband's toileting habits?" And she'd say, "I do post a lot on Facebook about his toileting, with pictures and everything."

Finally, the closing keynote speaker, who was Kassiane Asasumasu, talked about the history of the autism community... meaning the community of autistic people, more than the community of parents and family members of autistic children. She talked about how basically the autistic community was created online on message boards, how it has grown and changed over the years, and how some things have stayed the same or have repeated themselves. She also talked about the difference between "autistic" spaces and "autism" spaces. An autism space would be something like the Autism Conference, which is about autism, where the Symposium is an autistic space because it is for autistic people.

Fun fact: You've probably heard, for a long time, that it is important to use "person first" speech when talking about people with any disabilities. I heard that a lot when I was first a paraprofessional in schools. "Person first" speech means to always refer to the person as "having" the disability or being "with" the disability. For example, if I am using person first speech, I should introduce myself by saying, "I'm Angel, and I have autism." The idea behind this was to encourage people to see the person separately from their disability. However, many autistic people do not want to be separated from autism, because it is a huge part of them. They see themselves as autistic, not as "having autism." I have always felt this way too, because saying I "have autism" makes it sound like I might put it down at some point and not have it any more, or I might take an antibiotic and get over it. But I've always felt a little nervous about saying "autistic," even about my own self, because the whole entire world would collectively say, "YOU MEAN YOU HAVE AUTISM!" Deaf people are similar... most deaf people prefer to be called "Deaf," rather than "having deafness". ("Having deafness" doesn't even sound right, does it?)

Then it was over.

If I were to sum it up I would say, again, it was awesome to be around all of these autistic adults, and to hear from these particularly smart, accomplished, witty autistic people who were presenting. And I wish it could have been longer.

Afterwards I took Lily to a really cool park in downtown Bellevue, and we walked around so she could introduce herself to other dogs. She gets really happy when she meets other dogs, especially if they are about her size. She doesn't really play with them at all... she just wants to sniff them, and watch them, and be around them.

I wonder if Lily feels the same way, when she meets other small dogs, as I do when I meet other autistic people? She's usually around me and other humans, plus assorted cats and medium-sized dogs. When she meets a small dog, is she like, "Oh my gosh, it is just like me! It is one of my tribe!" Is she secretly hoping that someday she will find a colony of small dogs and live happily ever after without humans, big dogs, or cats? Also, should I be referring to her as a dog with smallism? Or a person with small dogism?

Great, now I'll be awake all night contemplating that!


3 comments :

  1. A dog with smallism! I think we can tie ourselves in knots with language sometimes and end up missing more important points.

    I got a comment on my blog about the term "visually impaired people" - for me I use it not because I think it's an important part of my identity, but "people with a visual impairment" is just very long and unwieldy.

    Thank you for sharing your day.

    I originally started researching about autism a few years ago because of an adult learner with whom I was working. It then developed into something else because I started relating to a lot of the things I was reading, especially when it came to personal accounts. I saw myself in them.

    I'm a new reader of your blog, but just wanted to say I really appreciate blogs where autistic adults share first-hand. There's a place for NT parent bloggers too, but they are writing from their observations, and can't always explain the reasons for things as an autistic adult could.

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  2. I love this. I'm so glad you went and love the way you talk about purple skin and green skin and autistic adults gathering together. You rock.

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  3. I am a metaphor girl myself and I have to say, that was an excellent one. It gives people who have not had your experiences a glimpse of exactly what your interactions with the world are like. I love that there are symposiums and conferences like this. When I was growing up, I don't believe anything like this existed. There are so many knowledgeable people willing to share their stories today, like you, that it makes it easier to find relatable information for those seeking it. I think that's great. Ps...cute pup!

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