We need to talk about stereotypes. Like, now. I

‘ve noticed a lot of stereotypes online amongst the Autistic community-mainly unhelpful comments from people who don’t necessarily have understanding of the condition. These are nine stereotypes I have counted, and sometimes experienced:

“You’re a liar because you can’t look me in the eye!”

Apparently not looking someone in the eye is a sign of guilt. It may well be. However, I think that this is slightly unfair; if a hallmark is that you find eye contact incredibly hard, I think it’s unfair to be automatically deemed a liar. (I’ve written more about this in “The eye contact problem.”) But please: don’t force eye contact with me. It’s unpleasant and invasive.

“Naive”

Yes, I can probably be naive at points. And it sucks, really; it’s not something that I enjoy, as this often comes from not understanding the world around me. But it’s not helpful in some of the contexts used: “She’s so naive it’s embarrassing!” I also think it brings in connotations of being an ‘Airhead’; it can be dismissive in a way.

“Rainman”

We’re all familiar with Rainman, aren’t we? Remember: Autism is a spectrum condition. We are not all the same, with the same hallmarks, same reactions. (But then again, that’s like being human.)

“Obsessional”

There is a difference between a special interest and an obsession. (The latter is something that you can’t step away from, and it consumes everything. ) But why be stereotypical about it? I feel very indignant when people have said to me, “You’re so obsessional!” And I’m pretty sure that if I was neurotypical, this would not be a criticism; it would be embraced. (And it has been an asset to me, over and over again.)

“No friends”

Talking from a personal experience here: a “friend” to me is very different from what someone neurotypical would count as friendship.

But: I think it’s damaging, in a way, to write individuals off as having “no friends.” Online friends surely count towards this; they may also show friendship in a different way. Then again, I also wrote The Friend Application. 

“Emotionally redundant”

Yep. I’ve been described as being like this. (But surely from my blog alone, you can see that I am very passionate? I am curious about the world around me; I care for ‘just causes’, to borrow an expression from My Paperchase. ) Music also is highly reactive for me. (I love the sound of “Help me find a way… c’mon everybody!” in the clip below.)

In spite of being on spectrum, we are more alike than you think. 

“No empathy”

Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

“Must have no life quality whatsoever”

And I mean this in a sort of pitying way; a few times when I have met people with a diagnosis, their parents react in (what I think is) a bad/non-constructive way. They forget that there is a person underneath a label, and set about reducing their activities, staging more intervention, managing their hours. (They also sometimes think “it’s my fault!” and “I wish we could cure it.”)

I have also seen this online; individuals, sometimes self-appointed experts, make horrible assumptions about ‘quality of life.’ And it makes me sick to my stomach.

“Loner”

I see this in the American press, particularly around the times of a school shooting. (And then, sometimes, there is an Autism diagnosis afterwards.) Now, I’m not disputing this, or the need to report on this; this is very important. (And why would I say otherwise? I’m a journalist, albeit in training.) But, I think the facts around diagnosis need to be clearer; I have seen a few reports using this label, but then using it almost like a stick to describe other people on spectrum.

I’m not sure how I came across Odd Girl Out; it has been a book on my reading  wishlist for a while now. It was probably the bright cover, or the tagline; anyone, as I was given book vouchers for my birthday, I decided to buy it. And I was not disappointed.

About the book:

Odd Girl Out is a biographical account of Laura’s life; it examines with flashes back and forth, having received her Autism diagnosis. It begins with looking at paperwork related to her diagnosis, with her husband, on holiday. We then see Laura as a child, struggling somewhat. (I find how she writes this account very effective!) She is also a young mother, a journalist, a wife; there are also moments after the diagnosis, such as wondering how her life could have been very different.

Thoughts as someone #ActuallyAutistic:

Finally, at last someone ‘gets it’!

I have read around the subject of Autism, especially since I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome in January 2015. Even by that point, I had had enough of medical jargon, the assumptions, and various individuals forming ideas of who I was as a person. (Not always someone who was valued a lot; they were the sort who freaked on finding out the diagnosis, then being horrible.)

But this book is a reflection, really, of what I felt. Since then, I have wondered what my life would have been like if diagnosed early; some teacher were not necessarily the best help with or without it. I also think that I’d have been told less of what I can’t do; I was told that I can’t cook well, that I cannot do PE well enough to be considered ‘good’.
As an Autistic individual, I was happy to find this book. I am bored with the instruction manuals about how to be more neuro-typical, the books by parents writing about how hard it is to have an autistic child is. Laura has an interesting writers voice-one we need-and I hope to hear more from her.

What could have been better: 

I found the first chapter revealing, really.

At times I think the book can be a little be ‘fact heavy’-which is ironic, as I kind of live my life by facts. (To illustrate further; I can recite all Presidents since Herbert Hoover, what their party was, and if they were a Vice President.) However, this is a way to illustrate a point-which comes across as being very much a hallmark. Though I couldn’t always quite get my head round it, I wouldn’t have changed it at all.


To buy the book on Amazon, click here. Follow Laura on Twitter here.  And read my interview with her here. 

Hello, I’m Rebekah, and I am an Autism Blogger. This is the second of three posts Lydia’s asked me to write. (Read part one here.) In this one, I wanted to talk a little bit about how sensory processing disorder affects me personally.

Like I’ve mentioned before, autistic people can be both hypersensitive and hyposensitive to sensory input. While I suffer with both to some degree, and it can fluctuate depending on the day, I’m definitely more oversensitive to sensory input than under sensitive.

As sensory sensitivities affect all senses, I could sit here for days writing about all the ways it affected me. However, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’m going to keep this short and only focus on the things that affect me the most.

I’d say my diet is the thing most affected by my sensory processing disorder. You could say that I’m just a fussy eater, but in my opinion, my restrictive diet goes beyond that. If something with overpowering flavours—or more than one flavour in a food—enters my mouth, I can become nauseated, and physically gag on the food.

There’s a stereotype you might’ve heard of, that autistic people will choose food based on colour. While I wouldn’t say my diet consists completely of one colour of foods, most it consists of beige foods. Bland and flavourless, I know I can tolerate these foods without an adverse reaction. It’s restrictive and sticking to such a diet can often make food more of a battle than something to enjoy, but I’ve been living with it my whole life so I’ve kind of gotten used to it now.

Another sensory sensitivity I suffer from a lot is touch. Certain textures can feel like knives on my skin, like velvet. Even mentioning it makes me cringe. On the other hand, my hypersensitivity means other textures feel amazing.
This can make it more difficult when it comes to clothes shopping because I can’t tolerate every kind of material. I usually stick to real denim jeans instead of the ‘jegging’ material, and search for cotton and polyester on my top half, as I know this is virtually all I can tolerate.

The final sensory sensitivity I’m going to mention in this blog post is my struggle dealing with certain sounds. I find it difficult to stand certain sounds—even things that others can tolerate just fine can feel like nails on a chalkboard to me! I also find it difficult to deal with super loud noises, like crowds, because I can’t filter out background noise. It makes listening to my lecturers difficult sometimes, that’s for sure!

Thanks again to Lydia for allowing me to share my sensory sensitivities related to autism with the readers of her blog and thank you to those who have taken the time to read this post. I’ll see you again soon with my third and final instalment of this series.


Note: this is a guest post, the work of Rebekah Gillian. This post is not intended to inform choices made about medical care; that is your responsibility. For more information, read more of the disclaimer. 

Whilst waiting for the train to get to my final Law Class, I was in a reflective mood. (It was cold, snowy, and my train was over half an hour late.) Anyway, I was in a whimsical mood: what is the ‘hard truth’ about having Aspergers? And what would I say to people newly aware that they are on spectrum?

A label does not mean a lot will change, because the issues are still there.

You will not suddenly wake up as neurotypical, the so called “normal”. (This is what I dreamt for a very long time; I’d wake up in a horrible black mood.) The issues/problems etc you have are still there; you just have a name for them now.

But it does mean that you can claim some academic support.

But that’s a completely different matter.

People will think you are deaf.

This may sound odd; let me explain. As soon as I said that I had Aspergers, a few people would raise their voice, and make their tone slow, making every letter crystal clear. “Helllooo , it is nice to meet you”. Funnily enough, I am not deaf; and I’m guessing you aren’t either. It’s patronising, so I tend to play them at their own game.

Once you have a diagnosis, it shows who your ‘real friends’ are.

Some people I knew really took issue with my diagnosis; apparently it was some big scary change that had utterly changed me! (When, no, I am still the same person.) Your real friends are the people who value you for everything you are. (Ugghh, how cringey!)

There are stereotypes along the way.

Blog post about this coming soon.

..And comments that are not worth the while.

There will be some people who make silly, occasionally bitchy, comments. But they aren’t worth your time.

From the bad things, the best things are made.

I had a bad time throughout education; this was largely due to my Aspergers manifesting itself, therefore not being understood. However, I think this was how some of the best things I have achieved happened; I got to set up a magazine, start a blog, attend an NCTJ course..

People like to ask questions.

There are a lot of questions along the way; being on spectrum is almost occasionally seen as a novelty. (My favourites were: “I’ve never met a female with Aspergers!” and “I didn’t know until you told me!”) There are a lot of questions along the way; answer with grace, and you’re pretty much alright.

By being yourself, you are smashing it. And you are doing so well.

It is hard to be someone on spectrum. But by just being, you are an doing so well.

You have to take care of yourself.

There are times when you have to say “enough is enough”-whether it’s a problem with misunderstandings, or you’re maybe being made fun of.

At the end of the day, the spectrum gives us so many useful skills-but that has yet to be fully realised.

Being on spectrum gives you some skills that make you stand out; utilise them to the best of your ability. They will allow you to achieve more than you may realise.

Lydia x

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“Why bother being a journalist?” is a question I get asked a lot; it seemingly doesn’t fit with what people think of me. Because it wasn’t always an ambition of mine; firstly, I wished to be a writer. And a journalist is not always looked upon well-enough for stereotypes to be flung at me regularly.
However, I find writing factual pieces easier than fiction; the latter puts to work an imagination, something I don’t have. The facts keep everything simple, logical, and in-line. The way a journalist gathers facts has also been a part of my routine for many years now (sort of), whether it’s gather facts about Jacqueline Kennedy, or researching the newest political trend.
But then the hacking scandal came. It was something I followed for months.
Each day seemed to bring quite unsavoury allegations, as well as revelations; the industry, in a way, seemed to be shaken up. And, for once, I understood why a lot of people seemingly cannot stand a journalist.
During this time, I was beginning to blog, but also learning the basics of running a site; after all, I posted pages, not posts! It was also during the time-possibly a little bit later-that my interest in the rock group Queen began to flourish.
I found a biography of Freddie Mercury via Amazon; after all, I need a new book to read. This introduced me to Lesley Ann Jones, who I hugely admire; this lady has interviewed rock royalty, written books, travelled. Her job and position were something that I wished for. I have been lucky enough to meet, as well as interview her. (See it here.)
I guess, all in all, I have a need to help people. And I like to write.
In conjunction with my law classes, we have been learning about Harry Evans, and his tenure at The Sunday Times. This man is my new ‘journo’ hero! There is a great documentary he features in: “Attacking the Devil: Harry Evans and the last Nazi war crime”. He helped the Thalidomide children, and was involved in many other campaigns; to be like this wonderful man would be my privilege.
Journalist’s aren’t all bad; the many that I have met have been wonderful to me. And I wish, more than anything, to join their ranks.

Lydia

XO