Stone Of Power – Kimberly A. Riley

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There was a time the concept of Earth as a sentient spirit or entity was part of every culture on the planet. Now we leave it up to activists to amplify the voice of Earth we’ve forgotten as a society how to hear.

In the Prologue of her premier novel, Stone of Power, Kimberly A. Riley presents Earth as a character in its own right. Her bold, indomitable version of Earth contradicts the image in my mind of a long-suffering planet that’s lost the will to fight. Memories of Sunday school at church came to my mind. Earth’s voice on these early pages struck me as more closely aligned with my concept of God the Father than Earth the Mother; a parent willing to sacrifice children to a struggle they could not understand. It forced me to set aside my original belief the Prologue was unnecessary exposition. Reader expectations rooted in cultural beliefs would need to be adjusted from the outset in order to appreciate Riley’s portrayal of Earth as something other than a helpless victim of the whims of humanity.

The first chapter of Stone of Power presents a challenge lightly reminiscent of Tolkien. Tolkien created journeys rooted in folklore and legend. Riley builds her world upon string theory and a view of the laws of the universe informed by science. Riley’s tale replaces the one ring to rule them all with a Stone of Power that hates Keepers—the beings who need it to create stalemates when no other solution to interdimensional strife can be found—and requires non-Keepers to wield its power.

In addition to protecting the interests of Earth on a cosmic scale, Keepers are tasked with carrying out its will. Earth selected one Keeper to be its herald. After reading the Prologue, I anticipated the voice of Earth to boom from a thundercloud or burning bush. Earth’s subtle insinuation of will is underwhelming by comparison. It’s nice to have early reassurances the agency of characters will not be overpowered every time the plot needs to move forward.

The Stone of Power has dominion over Quester Stones. Before they were named and described, I believed they’d be connected to aspects of the natural world. The array turned out to be surprising: Past, Future, Fire, Ice, Malice, Daring, Life, Fear, Earth and Friendship.

As a person on the autism spectrum, I relate to Raptor’s description of the Stone of Friendship as the Stone of Manipulation. Questers who possess this Stone tend to sway people to follow them without regard to their safety. They ultimately betray the loyalty of these followers. While stereotypes of autistic people that include lack of empathy deserve whole-hearted rejection, I’ll admit to finding the responsibilities of friendship a struggle. They occasionally strike me as a form of manipulation, the way they appear to Raptor.

** Brief Side Note: I won’t apologize for referring to myself as autistic rather than person with autism **

The abilities and jurisdictions of the original four Keepers—Fire, Earth, Air, Plants—were connected to the natural world. The dominion of Keepers who followed expanded to include: Dimensions, Computers, Technology/Invention, Chemistry, Animals

If Young Adult novels have taught me anything, it’s that supernatural beings will inevitably end up paired with regular teenagers. The human need to belong tends to be the most urgent need of adolescence. Teenagers want to believe there’s more to our world than meets the eye. They also want to feel special enough to be let in on the secrets.

In the vein of The Mortal Instruments and the Twilight Saga, one of the two regular teens the Keepers encounter at a local carnival turns out to be less mundane than they appear. By virtue of the antagonism the Stone of Power holds towards Keepers, the second teen also turns out to be integral to the success of the mission at hand. It turns out even if she isn’t a Keeper, she could be what they call a Quester. These are people with some latent abilities, able to handle the stones without pain. Occasionally one of Earth’s many Questers rise in power and prominence—leading people in both good and bad—until one character decides take an active role in deciding and grooming who rises.

Conflation of mental illness with bigotry on social media has made the issue of language surrounding mental illness more important than ever. One of the key characters in Stone of Power has spent years isolated in a mental health facility. Words including insane asylum and loony bin are used to describe this situation. At least one character exhibits disapproval and corrects peers when this language is used, which is vital for authors to do. Problematic portrayals brought to the page must be addressed and deconstructed on the page. However, language around mental illness tends to be among the most bigoted to make it onto the page and screen. Deconstruction needs to be more aggressive than a nudge, frown, and apology. My fear is that leaving it there gives the impression it’s only a matter of political correctness; a word people invented to dismiss basic human empathy.

The cast of characters in Stone of Power can definitely be described as diverse. In the matter of cultural diversity, there is more ambiguity. If these characters are from such diverse cultures, shouldn’t that show up more? Keepers join young, live long lives, and have their own language and culture. One might argue their original cultures have blended with Keeper culture over time. The debate around culture in science fiction/fantasy has been heated on social media. Some people believe authors should be free to use creative licence to develop their fantasy worlds. Others argue any fantasy world inspired by real cultures have a responsibility to represent those cultures accurately. It’s something to at least consider while reading.

This Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy novel will appeal to any reader who enjoys Quest stories. If you’re an online gamer or role player, you’ll likely appreciate the dynamic and substantial cast of characters kept in constant interaction with each other during intricately choreographed action scenes. If you enjoy books intended to be part of a series, you will appreciate digging into Riley’s world with this first novel.

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Our world is alive and often in trouble.

When Earth faces a serious threat from collapsing alternate dimensions, it handpicks individuals, called Keepers, to locate and obtain special Stones that have the power to restore balance to the universe.

Andrew is trying to impress his new girlfriend Christine at the carnival when he meets the Keepers. Drawn to them by an unidentifiable familiarity, Andrew follows them. Thrust into a world of harrowing adventure, he journeys through various dimensions and encounters Venom, a man who holds the one thing the Keepers desperately need to save Earth—the Stone of Power.

But Venom has other ideas about what Earth needs and threatens the Keepers’ plans at every phase of their mission. In these new realms of danger and even horror, Andrew must find his own power in order to make the sacrifices necessary to save Earth. As Andrew begins to fight back, he realizes he and Venom have a lot more in common than he thought.

Get it now for Kindle!

Stone Of Power – Kindle

Stone Of Power – Link To Giveaway, USA Only

Appropriation- The Problem with Damned If You Do, Damned if You Don’t

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Many writers claim they feel under attack; damned if they write characters outside of their culture, and damned if they don’t include a diverse and realistic cast reflective of our world. I haven’t had a book published as of this point in time. Once I’m published, there might be moments when I feel the same way. Thoughts like this might pop into our heads, but we don’t have to let them take root. We don’t have to fertilize them with negativity all around us.

Here’s my perspective: I would rather an author not write anything outside their own cultural experience, if the alternative is doing it poorly.

There are writers fighting to have the stories of their hearts published. Do you want to steal their opportunity to put something special into the world, publishing something you know doesn’t represent an experience authentically? If marketing is the main reason you want to write a book with a First Nations (Native American) or autistic character (for example), you need to adjust your priorities. You need to step aside and let First Nations and autistic writers tell these stories.

This sentiment gets turned back on marginalized writers in a really ugly way. They get further marginalized, through their writing, because they dared to insist on OWN voice opportunities and fair representation in books. Not everything a marginalized writer creates is going to be biographical. Not everything they write is going to be about their marginalization. This doesn’t stop bitter writers from telling them that’s all they are allowed to write, because of their stance on OWN voice literature.

Then there’s the publishing industry saying the reading public just don’t care enough to buy OWN voice literature. This reminds me of the local McDonald’s in my town. They brought Deli sandwiches to the store because they were required to by corporate regulations. However, they’d say their sandwich artist wasn’t in that day every time anyone I knew tried to order one. Then they got rid of the sandwiches after a few months, claiming the sales proved lack of interest. It also reminds me of the local theater in my town only scheduling Hidden Figures to play for two days, in the middle of the week. They don’t want to be accused of being racist by not playing the film. On the other hand, they don’t want actual seat sales to prove them wrong on their assumption people in our town don’t want to see it.

Why do we need OWN literature? Let me use the example of autism in writing, since it’s close to my heart and experiences.

There are people who say they can write a good character who is autistic simply by researching. Alright. Name the sources you are going to use.

Tick tock, tick tock.

You say you’re going to use material from Autism Speaks? Maybe you aren’t aware that most Actually Autistic people despise the organization. Maybe you aren’t aware they’ve made life much harder for actually autistic people through their fear mongering. Maybe you aren’t aware most of their funds come from anti-Vaxxers like Donald Trump. Do some research on THAT and reconsider any material produced by them.

You have a friend with a child who is autistic, and you’re going to use that as inspiration? Does this mean you’ll be primarily talking to/spending time with the CHILD? Even if that were the case, do you think you’ll be better able to express what their experience of life is than they’d be? You might be thinking I’m showing my ignorance, because there are many autistic people who can’t speak or write. This is true. However, there are many non-verbal and verbal people with autism who can write. I guarantee you they can write their experiences of life better than you can.

You are going to use professional psychiatric books and articles? First of all, are you sure you can tell the difference between the professional writing and hate mongering? This blogger has two separate hate speech pages done up to look very much like psychiatric self-help pages; one on mental illness in general and one devoted to autism. Heartless Aspergers (Trigger Warning: Avoid her website if you don’t want your head to explode from rage)

Are you so sure you have the experience and empathy to recognize the difference between a person with a vendetta for people with autism, because one person with autism abused her, and legitimate psychiatric material?

Now let’s talk about that word legitimate. Simon-Baron Cohen, who the blogger mentioned above loves to quote, is considered legitimate. He also likes to tell people you can’t trust the self-assessment of people with autism, and suggests you ask a third party. He’s just another person lining up to say people with autism are voiceless, even though we’re screaming to be heard.

Your answer might be that you intend to talk to actually autistic people. This is a step in the right direction. I hope you’ll be paying them for their time. You must be aware of the chronic under/unemployment of people with autism, and the poverty that results. I hope you aren’t the kind of person who demands emotional and intellectual labor from people for free. Even after doing all of this, are you sure you can present something that avoids the pitfalls of the tragedy narrative so pervasive in autism related fiction?

If you ignore everything I’ve warned about here (and more I haven’t even thought to mention), don’t come whining to me when your finished product gets challenged. Don’t whimper, “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” and expect me to have an abundance of sympathy.

Whitewashing – The Messy Goop on the Bottom of the Melting Pot

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Why is it so hard to figure out the cultural and ethnic background of so many characters in books? Authors will describe what a character is wearing, right down to their jewelry, but avoid describing their skin color. Worse still, there are authors who only describe skin color when the person is not white. This results in the reader seeing all characters as white, unless explicitly told otherwise.

Suzanne Collins is known for writing The Hunger Games series. Many people have pointed out the way she takes care to describe skin color of characters who are definitely not meant to be read as white, but otherwise avoids these descriptions. A lesser known series written by Collins, Gregor the Overlander, is an even better example. This became clear to me as I discussed the book with my sister, brother, and dad.

The conversation started out simply enough. We were talking about people of color as main characters. After a while, we got more specific by focusing on Young Adult novels. I mentioned how much I like Gregor, in the Overlander series. I was met with blank expressions. In that moment, it hit me that none of them thought of Gregor as a POC. My dad, who doesn’t always have a filter between his mouth and brain, made an offensive comment about Gregor’s dad being a professor, as if that was legitimate evidence to prove my perception incorrect. I love you Dad, but what they hell were you thinking when you let that slip out of your mouth?  Don’t get me wrong: Dad and I had an immediate discussion about why this was such a messed up line of logic.

I decided to go through the first book with a specific eye to why I thought Gregor was a person of color. It turned out to be like an Easter egg hunt. Gregor’s sister, Boots, is referred to at one point as brown. He is called tanned. There is a description of Gregor and his Dad’s hair being different than the people of the Underland, but the way it’s different isn’t specified. Since their hair is generally described as light colored and straight, the impression is that Gregor’s hair is completely opposite.

That’s it. There aren’t any other significant physical descriptions, as opposed to the mountains of descriptions of the way the Underlanders look.

After this discussion, I began a Google search and found a thread on Goodreads.

Gregor The Overlander Discussion – What ethnicity is Gregor and his family?

My dad, brother, and sister appear to not be in the minority when it comes to seeing Gregor and his family as white. Some people were adamant on this point, while others were offended it was even a question anyone would dare to discuss. They said things like:

He’s a great character no matter what ethnicity he is.

Ethnicity is irrelevant. Either he has a story, or he doesn’t. 

Suzanne Collins didn’t mean to offend anyone. 

Why were these people offended by the topic? Is there something wrong with a character’s ethnicity being clearly described?

Their offence made me examine the problem of why authors like Collins, or Rowling with Hermione, go out of their way to be vague with descriptions of certain central characters. Maybe it comes down to knowing that for a segment of our society, a character loses value when revealed to be anything other than white. Tragically, there are authors and publishers who care about keeping this market more than they’ll ever consciously admit.

Ethnicity isn’t irrelevant. People of color aren’t just white people with darker skin. I realize this sounds like a ridiculous statement. My point: People aren’t just a collection of differently shaped and colored features, with varying abilities and gifts. Culture exists.

In both Canada and America, the word melting pot is used too often as a positive term. What is a melting pot? It’s literally a big pot where you throw in metals of different types to put over a fire until they melt together and become indistinguishable from each other.

Why is this seen as a good thing when used as a metaphor for culture? Why is it considered positive to create a default setting for culture that essentially ruins the cultures of everyone involved?

There is no white culture. The thing white nationalists point to is a myth. It came out of a whole bunch of cultures coming together on a stolen piece of land, trying to figure out how to live together, but ultimately destroying their original cultures to do it. They are trying to hold up the messy goop on the bottom of the melting pot as superior, and we’re supposed to help them do it by creating white default in our writing?

I don’t think so.

Sentinel Intelligence, Autism, and OWN STORIES

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Have you ever walked into a room and immediately known something was wrong? What about before you walked into the room?

For years I have watched stereotypes and cliches comprise the majority of representation of autism in literature, television, and film. Some aspects of these portrayals were true to my life, and others were not. As the expression goes, if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.

One portrayal has always been problematic for me: The idea people with autism have low emotional quotient (EQ). The suggestion I’m incapable of empathy is ridiculous. From what I’ve seen of many other people on the autism spectrum, it’s an absurd assertion in general.

Simon Baron Cohen has built a career out of characterizing autism as zero-empathy disorder. One vicious blogger I had the unfortunate luck of stumbling across quotes Baron-Cohen’s credentials at length, then proceeds to use them to mock actually autistic people having the audacity to claim any degree of reliable self knowledge. In her blog, Psychopathy… Or Asperger’s Syndrome , she says the only reliable way to know if an autistic person has empathy is to ask a third party. She backs this up with things Simon Baron-Cohen wrote in The Science of Evil  that reflect her opinion. I wonder what a third party would say about either of their capacity for empathy? The names they’ve given to their work show a lack of empathy, without even glancing at the content. 

It doesn’t take long to find articles and research which show the view of autism is shifting towards what I’ve observed: People on the spectrum experience overloads of empathy, to the point where it’s hard to process and exhibit appropriate reactions.

The blogger I mentioned above tried to address this theory by saying unexpressed empathy amounts to no empathy at all. The ableism of this opinion is staggering. If a person only communicated through sign language, would she say they aren’t talking because they aren’t verbalizing? If they used a wheelchair for mobility, would she say they weren’t really moving?

If I am overwhelmed with empathy towards someone, my face might become deadpan. This can be my silent meltdown expression. By her logic, if my face doesn’t match my emotions, I don’t actually have feelings.

I suffer from anxiety. It can range from mild, all the way to clinical depression. Some triggers for anxiety are hard to avoid. It took me a long time to trust they weren’t figments of my imagination. These can come in the form of sensing the emotional state of people around me; sometimes before seeing them.

I’ve had times when I woke up with overwhelming dread. This feeling was accompanied by sweating, shaking, stomach aches, migraines, and panic attacks. On each of these occasions, it turned out someone in my life was suffering some kind of catastrophe. There was one occasion where the closer I got to school, the worse my stomach hurt. When I got to school, I found out a classmate had died. Maybe you’re thinking the symptoms earlier in the day were unrelated to finding out about the heightened stress levels and emotional upheaval; a mere coincidence. I never have believed it was coincidental, and recently I stumbled upon a possible name for the phenomena.

Sentinel Intelligence is the ability to sense threats that are undetectable by most people. People with high intelligence and heightened anxiety are more likely to exhibit Sentinel Intelligence. It’s connected to altruism and raised empathetic ability. This phenomena flies in the face of Simon Baron-Cohen and the blogger’s theories. It confirms what I already witnessed to be true of many autistic people. 

Peculiarly, the main character of my novel exhibited Sentinel Intelligence before I even had a word for it. Rory Lyon demonstrated Sentinel Intelligence before I even had a description for it. That’s the benefit of OWN STORIES. We need to learn to respect the lived experience of people.

It is aggravating that there are writers who think they can do some research, and produce characters in a book that reflect the real lives of people with autism. A large portion of the available research material is produced by Autism Speaks, who are mostly  interested in fear mongering for the purpose of raising funds. Other material comes from people like Simon Baron-Cohen, who’s theories are increasingly being disputed, and people like the blogger who have axes to grind.

What makes these writers think they can produce a character that understand things about the experience of autism that are only now starting to be studied and understood by researchers? That’s what I did with Rory Lyon; gave her characteristics of Sentinel Intelligence when people in this field of study were only starting to look into the phenomena. 



Why I’m Still Boycotting Autism Speaks

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Autism Speaks is widely distrusted and disliked by actually autistic people. To most of the rest of the world, they are the acknowledged source to go to for information about autism. When parents get an autism diagnosis, it is material produced by Autism Speaks that gets handed to them during this vulnerable time period. While they are trying to wrap their mind around a diagnosis report entirely focused on deficits, full of defeatist language, it is Autism Speaks that slides in with their fear mongering to scare the crap out of them.

On November 27, 2015 a Planned Parenthood clinic was attacked in Colorado. Strangely, many Americans weren’t upset. You might wonder why I am bringing up this topic, when I was just talking about Autism Speaks. There are correlations in my mind. I need your patience while I make them clear to you.

People vilify Planned Parenthood, to the point of defunding this vital community service, because of one aspect of the services they provide. 5% of their funding goes towards abortions. The rest of their budget is allocated to birth control, STD prevention, and public health. For a segment of American society, the 5% of Planned Parenthood budget that goes towards abortions makes them a fair target for attacks.

So here’s my question: Why doesn’t the same logic make Autism Speaks a fair target?

Autism Speaks is portrayed as an organization that represents people on the Autism Spectrum. This is a misrepresentation. Historically, there have not been any people on the Autism Spectrum in leadership roles. Autistic people have been used almost exclusively as the face of fundraising; the shadow of a looming threat.

Near the end of 2015, Autism Speaks made some changes in their leadership. Stephen Shore and Valerie Paradiz were added to the Board of  Directors. The Wrights, President Liz Feld and Chief Science Officer Rob Ring all stepped down.

Now it’s 2017. What changes in the culture of Autism Speaks have been produced by these changes in leadership? In October of 2016, the board of directors updated their mission statement to remove words such as struggle, hardship, and crisis.

Their old mission statement said:

“We are dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a possible cure for autism. We strive to raise public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families and society; and we work to bring hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder.”   Autism Speaks No Longer Seeking Cure – Disability Scoop

What methods and priorities fell under this umbrella? For starters, a HUGE percentage of their funding went into finding a method for diagnosing autism in the womb. This was once the priority of Down Syndrome researchers. Once the methods were mastered, a wave of abortions followed.

If a segment of American society think having even 5% of a budget devoted to abortion makes the organization a fair target for attack, why do they love Autism Speaks so much?

Don’t get too excited that the new mission statement demonstrates a complete change in culture within Autism Speaks. Here it is:

“Autism Speaks is dedicated to promoting solutions, across the spectrum and throughout the lifespan, for the needs of individuals with autism and their families through advocacy and support; increasing understanding and acceptance of autism spectrum disorder; and advancing research into causes and better interventions for autism spectrum disorder and related conditions…. Autism Speaks enhances lives today and is accelerating a spectrum of solutions for tomorrow.” Autism Speaks No Longer Seeking Cure – Disability Scoop

I wonder how much of this support shows up in the form of funding community living programs and employment initiatives. Color me skeptical of the organization that has done it’s best to give the impression adults with autism don’t exist. In the past, only 5% of their budget went into such programs.

I wonder how much of their budget goes towards research into causes and interventions, which are somehow supposed to be different than chasing a cure. In the past, 5% of their funding went towards community programs that helped actually autistic people. 95% of their budget was poured into a combination of salaries, media portrayals that demonized autism in order to raise funds, and science programs that targeted its elimination.

Planned Parenthood is targeted for defunding, as well as attacks by extremists, because 5% of their budget is spent on something a segment of the population morally disagree with. This same segment throw financial and personal support at Autism Speaks, including President Trump and Vice President Pence, when the result of finding a way to diagnose autism in the womb will lead to the same exact place. Children with autism will be aborted.

The hypocrisy is aggravating. The fact these men appear to despise autistic people more than they openly hate abortion is terrifying.

If we set aside the issue of abortion, there is the issue of American healthcare to consider. The new administration have targeted the Affordable Care Act for elimination. Many American lives depend on this act, and these people will die if it’s removed without something reasonable in its place. Many autistic people depend upon health care for interventions and support. When the ACA is scrapped, they will lose their protection for this preexisting condition.

Do you think Autism Speaks will shift their priorities to help these people when that happens? Doubtful.

What do you think will happen if the science programs of Autism Speaks come up with this mystical solution for autism they so fervently seek?

Let me lay it out for you: They will be told they have to take part in this solution. They will be told autism interventions and support will no longer be funded. If a person decided not to participate, they’d be on their own.

Do you honestly think the current administration would make such a thing optional, at least when it comes to continued access to financial assistance?

Many autistic people would still refuse.

“Why would they do such a thing?”  A whole bunch of readers simultaneously gasped as they got to this section.

Many autistic people don’t consider autism a condition or disease. They consider it part of their identity. They don’t want a cure, and they aren’t just saying that because there currently isn’t one.

These people will be stuck with the choice of warping a fundamental part of who they are by accepting a treatment thrust upon them, or living without supports that make their day to day lives easier.

 

 

Autism Is My Super Power…Or Not

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As a child, I dreaded calls to my mom from my Auntie. Even though I could only hear my mother’s side of the conversation, it was torture.

Cousin A won the Royal Academy top performance in piano award for the province of Ontario for the fifth time in a row, when it had never been done twice in a row before him. He’s learning Latin as his fourth oral and written language. He’s taking university classes alongside his middle school courses.

Cousin B is at the top of her grade. She’s received xyz awards.

Anything my mother could brag about when it came to me felt silly in comparison to the things my Auntie talked about.

Sometimes I put aside my pity party to think about what it must be like to be Cousin C. They were sure she was their neurotypical child. In a family like mine, being neurotypical can make you the odd man out. What must she have felt when her mother bragged about the other two? What must it have felt like to only hear her mother discuss her anxiety and depression with my mother?

Readers who have experience with autism probably have already figured out what it took years for Cousin C to discover about herself. She’s also autistic.

Why did it take so long for her to discover this? She went to psychologist after psychologist and was diagnosed with: Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Depression, Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and ADHD.

So the question becomes, why diagnose her with all of this when all of them knew how prevalent autism is in our family?

If psychologists are reluctant now to recognize the genetic component of autism, they were really bad about it when she was looking for diagnosis. If psychologists tend to diagnose people based on tired and cliched stereotypes today, they used these almost exclusively to diagnose when they were considering Cousin C.

One psychiatrist asked her, “Do you care what people think about you? Do you care what happens to other people?”

When Cousin C answered, “Of course I do,” she was told that is the reason she could not have autism.

What are these tired and cliched stereotypes? Think of the words that were once used instead of autism: Little Professor’s Syndrome and Engineer’s Disease. If you had a creative mind that could accept things outside of rigid patterns, you must not be autistic. You couldn’t be autistic if you weren’t a mathematical genius, musical savant, or walking Rosetta Stone. If you cared about other people and had empathy, you must not be autistic.

We aren’t a collection of quirks, stims, and sensitivities. We are real people with problems, like everyone else. We deal with our problems in vastly different ways, just like everyone else. We can be creative, compassionate, socially aware, extroverted, gregarious, introverted, detail oriented, and unaware of the emotional needs of others. We can be every sexual orientation and gender identity, and can belong to any culture or race. For your information, none of what I just said is meant to be read in that scary voice used in the crappy Autism Speaks commercial made several years ago, called I Am Autism. It isn’t meant to scare anyone or sound like a threat.

Now that I’m older, I understand why my Auntie made Cousin A and B seem like they have super powers. She was focusing on the positive. I do it all the time. You’ll rarely catch me talking about my real life struggles being autistic. Some people would call this whitewashing my life. As far as I’m concerned, there’s enough negative and defeatist material in the world about autism.

Over the years I’ve come to realize books, television, and movies tend to do the same thing. They swing between focus on negative autism is a tragedy narratives, and portrayals of autism as a super power. It isn’t very often you see a representation of average people with autism like myself and Cousin C; people with nothing that could resemble super powers and who don’t fit into the previously relied upon stereotypes.

Punching Nazis Is Better Than Promoting Their Treatments For Autism

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Since I don’t want to misgender A. Stout, I will use the pronoun they in reference to this author.

A. Stout wants us to know that electroconvulsive therapy isn’t done the way it was in the 1950’s. These days people subjected to electroconvulsive therapy are anesthetized and given muscle relaxers.

After reassuring readers of this, A. Stout asks, “Okay, are we good now? Have you caught your breath? Has your heart rate returned to normal?”  Electroconvulsive Therapy Is Being Used to Treat Some People with Severe Autism

Silly me for not finding this proviso comforting, when the rest of the article lauds an approach that started as torture. It’s so bizarre that I’m not convinced a treatment that began in Nazi Germany with the torture of mentally ill and autistic people before their eventual murders is a good direction to take. Excuse me for thinking this treatment is torture when it was the foundation of Applied Behavior Analysis and Conversion Therapy used on LGBT people to try forcing them into being straight.

A. Stout refers to electroconvulsive therapy as a last resort measure, pointing out the dangers of short and long term damage to the memory. They say, “….recent evidence has risen that it may also benefit people with severe autism. Severe to the point where self-injury is so extreme that it’s constant and there’s little, if anything you can do to stop it….” Electroconvulsive Therapy Is Being Used to Treat Some People with Severe Autism

This is where writing/advocating on the topic of autism gets tricky. It’s discussions like these that get autistic people like me accused of hijacking the dialogue surrounding autism.

The language of the spectrum is the first tool used to divide. We are called high functioning while those with different challenges are called low functioning or severely autistic. What is the coded message? Simple: Tell those who are high functioning that they are stealing focus from people who need it more. Tell them to shut up.

Do I have a right to call electroconvulsive therapy torture when I don’t possess self-harming tendencies? Let me put it this way: I have as much right to call it torture as a Neurotypical person has to call it therapy. Their genetic history isn’t tied up with being tortured and murdered to develop this treatment.

Do I have the right to tell someone who is autistic and chooses (without pressure) to take this treatment that they are wrong? No, obviously not.

Do I have the right to tell a Neurotypical parent they are wrong for trying this treatment on their child who is in danger of killing themselves with self-harm?

…. Probably not. On the other hand, many of those same parents are the ones who tell me to shut up on social media. It’s hard to know how to respond to them. I want to be compassionate. It seems unlikely any parent would use these methods as anything but a last resort. Then again, there are parents giving their children bleach enemas and bleach pills in hopes it will cure their child of autism. You see the problem?

I think I’ll just stick to punching Nazis.

 

PSA: Inappropriate Facial Expressions Don’t Make Someone a Killer

kinda-guy-who-laughs-at-a-funeral

People on the autism spectrum are often misunderstood because of inappropriate facial expressions or a flat aspect. We are accused of lacking emotion when we fail to show it in our expressions. If we show inappropriate emotion, we are accused of being cruel or sociopathic. It makes me think of the Barenaked Ladies song, One Week.

…Tryin’ hard not to smile though I feel bad

I’m the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral…

The Barenaked Ladies probably didn’t have to worry about this behavior being pathologized.

People readily notice what they consider an inappropriate reaction when it suits their needs. After a recent program that reexamined the Jon Benet Ramsey murder, I saw a lot of Twitter comments about how Burke’s reactions were inappropriate. These same people speculated Burke’s falling on the spectrum. Using this armchair diagnosis, they acted as if that’s all that needed to be said to conclude Burke had killed his sister.

Public Service Announcement: Autistic DOES NOT equal murderer.

People on the autism spectrum are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators. If you broke down cases of children murdered by their parents, for example, you will find a huge percentage of these children were autistic.

Public Service Announcement: Children can accidentally kill other children without being autistic. It happens often enough.

The program pointed to some of Burke’s behaviors as inappropriate—specifically his smiling during interviews with a psychologist.

My sister better hope she never gets questioned in a murder. Her commanding officer tried to write her up once. He felt she was mocking him with her smiles. Other officers defended her by pointing out she always smiles. In actual fact, she smiles even more when uncomfortable.

PSA: People react to stress and grief in different ways.

The program never suggested Burke meant to kill his sister. Their conclusion was that he lost his temper when she ate something he wanted, and hit her over the head with a flashlight. The program did everything short of proclaiming Burke autistic, and everything short of saying he was in the midst of a meltdown when he accidentally killed his sister. They lead people right to the edge of this conclusion and let their own biases and bigotry do the rest.

There was a brief window after I watched the program where I felt like they made a convincing case. That was before I considered the ideas underlying their theory: Burke’s reactions are signs of guilt. His reactions are a sign of autism. Autism would make him more likely to kill.

If I had that window, what will people who have firmly entrenched misconceptions of autism believe?

 

PerSEVERance

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Perseverance is steadfastly doing something, even when it’s difficult, and the payoff is delayed.

PerSEVERance is a little different. It’s when you sever that task from everything else and pursue it with single-minded focus. When pursing things close to the heart, most people consider themselves capable of tremendous focus. That still doesn’t fall into the category of perSEVERance.

I will use my father as an illustration of what real perSEVERance can look like. My dad had a coworker who left, and came back ten years later. When this coworker returned, my dad picked up their last conversation in the exact spot it had ended.

This trait can cause confusion and miscommunication. My dad sometimes has a hard time with Twitter because the short form causes his point to be lost. His long, stream of consciousness style Tweet threads can be easy for people to misinterpret; especially when he stays on the same topic for days or weeks.

There are industries where employers are recognizing the trait of perSEVERance as a potential asset. Silicon Valley has recognized the benefits in many tedious aspects of coding. To avoid feeding stereotypes, I try not to  generalize traits that can be part of being autistic. There’s one reason I’m more than willing to promote the idea that SOME people on the autism spectrum possess the trait of perSEVERance:

It would be a good thing if someone reads this blog and thinks to themselves, “Maybe I should try hiring an autistic person for this task other employees have lacked the focus to accomplish.”

Autistic people need opportunities in the workforce. If this premise gets some autistic people employment, all the better.

Aphantasia: Memory, Visualization, and Autism

 

aphantasia

Quirks and Quarks on the Canadian Broadcasting Channel (radio) presented a segment about Aphantasia on June 25, 2016.   When The Mental Image Is Missing

Aphantasia is the word used to describe having reduction or absence of ability to visualize in your mind. In theory, a person could go their entire life without ever realizing their lack of visualization abilities was atypical.

Visualize, mind’s eye, picturing, imagining—our language is littered with words about mental imagery. Why do so many people with Aphantasia go through life thinking the general public don’t know how to accurately describe memory, and are prone to hyperbole? Relating to experiences you don’t share is challenging. It could be easy to miss the fact your experiences aren’t average.

I have watched movies based on books that were so well done, I’ve found myself thinking I’ve seen the movie before. An example of this is the last two movies in the Harry Potter series. I can pick up a book I have read and loved, and the words come to me before I read them. This must mean I have visualization, right?

Quirks and Quarks has me wondering if it’s more complicated than that, especially after mentioning the correlation between autism and Aphantasia. Temple Grandin has often described thinking in pictures. Other people have connected Synesthesia to autism. For people on the autism spectrum, Aphantasia appears to be another common experience of visualization.

Going back to my experiences, my initial reaction to the Quirks and Quarks segment was that I clearly am not Aphantasiac…then I began to consider my problems with mental math and spelling out loud.

I’ve always known I have issues with these things. I have often used the word dyscalculia to describe my issues with math, but I always understood the problem was in visualization. Teachers would hound me to see the numbers in my mind. I couldn’t. Spelling bees were hampered by similar issues, much to the annoyance of teachers who knew I got perfect marks on the tests. They assumed I was being willful. With my autism-sized stubborn streak well documented, it didn’t seem a large leap to make.

After listening to Quirks and Quarks, I decided to test a hypothesis. I tried to imagine a beach.

Nothing. My mind was a black screen.

The story was different when I added feelings. I tried to imagine the beach near my sister’s place. It’s a long beach that gets roasting hot. Every summer you see people start out towards the water with no shoes, then catch the look of panic on their faces when they realize their feet are burning and it’s as far back for their shoes as it is forward to get to the water. They make a mad dash to the water, and gasp with relief when the cool waves hit their feet. When I added all these emotions, images flooded into my mind.

Accusations of autistic people lacking emotions are misinformed. My memories seem to be intricately wrapped up in feelings, to the point I can’t access certain memories without first remembering the emotions. My sister says she remembers more about my marriage than I do. Most days she is right. In order to remember certain things that happened, I have to remember the ugly emotions. It’s easier to forget.

An author interviewed in the Quirks and Quarks piece said her writing is filled with florid descriptive passages because she experiences Aphantasia. Her way of accessing memory is through words. That makes complete sense to me. The other man interviewed describes a much more pattern related system, which I’ve also witnessed with autistic people.

A Twitter associate of mine (Emily @invisiblegirls99) described her thoughts on this topic as nebulous. It is a fantastic word to use. It brings to mind the intricate patterns within the structure of the brain.

There are many implications I haven’t come close to pinning down. The Quirks and Quarks segment opened a window of insight into myself that might have taken a long time to happen organically. It’s cool when that happens.