Not-tism: On Writing

Welcome to this ‘not-tistic’ post, a post on Angry Autie that is not related to autism. You’ll see these every now and again because I am certainly allowed to have interests outside autism, right? I’m interested in a lot of things, chief among them are music, philosophy, and psychology, and if I want to write about any of them among other things, I will. If, for some reason, this confuses or upsets you, do what any reasonable person would do and feel free to not read this post. Or you could read it and create an oblique interpretation of my words and thoughts in juxtaposition with my autism. Either way, I’m unconcerned.


As I got used to the fact that I am not working full-time anymore and started shedding my worker-drone personality, I started writing again.

As the months had passed since I started working full-time, I felt my mind begin to erode. My existence was validated more by my supervisor than by people that actually mattered to me and my sense of self was melting. It wasn’t until a few days after I got fired that I realized that writing is what helped keep my sense of self in tact. I forgot about my love for all things intellectually stimulating and I didn’t read as much as I used to.

In my case, writing about my experiences with autism and things I’ve seen on the job has helped me not only understand myself but also become a better mentor for my participants and has informed any future practice involving autistic people. It has forced me to sit down and reflect. When you work full-time, it’s difficult to find the time and energy to write and make sense of everything you experience. When you don’t put effort into making sense of your experiences, they become unintelligible blobs of mental nothingness that just whizzes right by you. You don’t process it, it washes over you. Either that or, in the case of unpleasant experiences, you don’t come to terms with it and it just silently rings in the back of your mind like an unrelenting fly.

Writing forces you to face those thoughts and be articulate. The rules of grammar and Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style are there for a good reason. Language is built on a logical framework. Thoughts are arguably nothing more than wild, amorphous, and unintelligible feelings and drives when they stay in your head but when they’re written down or even spoken, they take on a new form. They become tangible. They start to exist in the world. People start to understand you, hopefully. Have you ever told someone an idea you had, only to realize how stupid it is midway through your sentence? Have you ever had a time when you had difficulty describing a thought or a feeling to someone? Those things most likely mean you didn’t take the time to process it and understand it; either you just let it sit in your head without touching it or the thought just popped up and you felt the inexplicable need to express it. Granted, there are feelings and experiences that are very difficult to describe such as the transcendence you experience when you hear beautiful music or look at beautiful art but on the whole, writing is a way to make sense of what you think.

Writing forces you to be logical. Not only does writing make your thoughts clear, but also it gives you a chance to analyze your thoughts and see if they add up. People are capable of logic but they are not always logical. The mind is a beautiful and chaotic place where thoughts are disordered and arise erratically. They may also be affected by one or more cognitive biases. When you write, however, you have a chance to reign in your thoughts, put them in order, and then put them under scrutiny. Logic is a skill that can only be used consciously and writing is a great way to exercise your logical thinking.

Most importantly, writing could be a great source of sanity. It’s different from watching TV or playing games on your iThingy or your Naystation in that you’re actively using your mental capacities and confronting your inner demons. Everyone has inner demons and anyone who says or thinks they don’t is either lying or not in tune with themselves. TV and games, while fine every now and then, are just distractions. Ironically, since I stopped working and started writing, I started watching less TV. I worry about people who just watch TV or play games to cope with bad situations.

So dear autistics and not-tistics, write. Just write. Write about anything. Write about what’s bothering you. Write about something that interests you. Write a journal. Write something! Whatever you do, if you plan to publish it or show someone, don’t forget to edit! If you don’t edit, your writing was all for nothing. I usually go through my posts at least five times before publishing.

Another thing that I like to do to make sense of things is to go outside and talk to a tree but that’s because I can get away with that in NYC.

I’m Back!

I recently got relieved from my duties as a support worker. Around the time I stopped blogging, I went from doing my support worker job part-time to doing it full-time, which ended up being a mistake for me. I became so focused on my job that I barely made time for myself. A lot has happened in the year and a half from the last entry on this blog and now. I won’t bore you with every little detail but I’ll tell you the basics.

Other than leaving my job, I got accepted to graduate school at Hunter College to study early childhood education and special education. I learned the hard way that working with autistic adults to help them improve their lives it a difficult task, at least one that I’m probably not suited for anyhow. After some soul searching, I realized that my efforts and support style are better suited for children. Adults, autistic or not, get stuck in their ways whereas early intervention can make a huge difference.

I also fell in love. I’m very happy with her, she makes me a better person, and I don’t give a flying-pedophile-rat-fuck how cliché that sounds. She’s getting her MSW, is planning on entering the field of law to advocate for autistic people, and our four-month anniversary was a few days ago. Other than the fact that there’s probably nothing out there better for me than her, autism and dating is ripe, virtually uncharted territory and I’ll probably write something about it. The short version is that no matter your brain chemistry, as long as you work on being the best person you can be, there’s someone for everyone.

My (old) organization also appointed me their first in-house music teacher. For two hours a week, I provide music instruction to someone who receives services from the organization. I devised an approach that is part instruction, part therapy, which is proving to be successful. Even though I no longer work as a support worker, I still do this for them.

I also read through my own blog recently and realized that I took on a very important intellectual task and stopping it was totally stupid. I’m gonna get back on the horse now!

Privilege and You: What It Is and What You Can Do With (Not About) It

What It Is

If you know what privilege is as it pertains to social justice already, read this post anyway. If you are educated enough to know what ‘privilege’ is, you already have privilege and it’s likely that you are privileged in other ways as well. Privilege is a nuanced yet vital concept to understand because it affects everybody. Understanding how privilege works will help you understand your place in society.

To put it in the most general terms possible, privilege is a set of personal attributes, from birth or gained/lost over time, that determine how others perceive you, depending on the society that you live in. By personal attributes, I mean features of one’s identity, including but not limited to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, body type, economic class, etc. How others will perceive personal attributes will depend on the stereotypes that they are most familiar with.

Privilege and disadvantage are not absolute. Even the most privileged among us are disadvantaged in some ways and some of the most disadvantaged are privileged in some ways. As much as I speak out about the position of autistic people in society, I must acknowledge that I am privileged in virtually every other way. I’m male, straight, white (actually half-white but I pass for white so that counts), cissexual, not physically disabled, middle class, educated, young, and taller than average. Other than being autistic, I actually have it pretty easy. And the fact that I pass for normal helps (sometimes it doesn’t but that’s another story).

It’s not easy to learn about the ways in which you are privileged. After all, if you don’t experience the microaggressions (small acts that feel hostile to the recipient) that come with being part of a disadvantaged group, it’s hard to imagine how certain actions can make public spaces feel more hostile for the disadvantaged. If you rarely get questioned about your personal attributes or lifestyle choices, it’s hard to imagine how others could be questioned and that makes it hard to see how doing so could be considered rude and not necessarily seen as just a matter of curiosity. Call it an unintentional failure of empathy.

Other than being autistic, I’m fat and enjoy eating (and I eat fast). My bodily proportions are more ‘acceptable’ now than they used to be; in high school, I was really fat. One day, during that time, I went out to the pizza place near my school and got three pepperoni slices (I was really hungry) and I scarfed them down. An older gentleman was watching me eat and he started interrogating me about my weight. I was offended and didn’t want to answer his question so I pretended that I didn’t hear him.[1] He became confused about why I wouldn’t answer his question and got upset with me. Clearly, he did not understand why asking a total stranger about his or her weight is not cool. This was a manifestation of his privilege and an example of how one could be blinded by their privilege to how unacceptable their behavior can be. In addition, this gentleman was black so it further illustrates how even people who belong to disadvantaged groups could also be privileged in ways that they may not realize.

What You Can Do With (Not About) It

Privilege may blind one to grave injustice and even compel one to justify various instances of injustice but I want to stress that privilege is not the enemy. In fact, privilege can be very helpful in promoting understanding. Since your privilege makes your voice seem more important than those who lack privilege, you could use it to defend those who lack privilege. Privilege gives you the power to criticize someone for making a sexist joke. Privilege gives you the power to call out a restaurant for refusing to serve your gay friend. At my job as a support worker, privilege gives me the power to call out people for not accommodating the people I support (as far as I’m concerned, it’s a part of the job description).

Privilege is not and should not be an insult. Privilege is a fact. As I said, privilege is a collection of attributes that a person has, which influences the way that others perceive him or her. You cannot get any more factual than that.

In various branches of social justice (feminism, black studies, etc), there is a common misconception that there is an enemy. For feminism, it’s men. For black studies, it’s white people. And so on and so forth. There is no enemy. All instances of injustice throughout history are instances of people believing that they are the hero of their own story and doing what they think or were brought up to believe is right. These people for the most part come from a place of ignorance, not malice.

“But whenever I try to talk to someone about this sort of thing, they accuse me of being privileged!”

Occasionally, people of disadvantaged groups who are aware of the concept of privilege will use their ‘disadvantage cred’ (for a lack of a better term) as an excuse to bully and exclude. It doesn’t happen often and this accusation usually comes from someone who is new to the concept; it provides a very convenient scapegoat. People have done this to me and once I started self-advocating, I’ve done my fair share of excluding and there is a lot of intellectual cowardice inherent in excluding people, even privileged people, from any conversation.

However, keep in mind that while it doesn’t help to play the ‘you’re-too-privileged-to-understand’ card with the intention of silencing, it doesn’t hurt to reflect on whether or not there was a legitimate reason that you were silenced, even if the person could have been nicer about it.

“Okay! I think I’m ready to use my privilege for good! What kinds of privilege should I look out for?”

Well, there is a lot. This Wikipedia page on privilege, which lists the most common forms of privilege, should help get you started. After that, it’s a matter of educating yourself, seeing more of the world, building your empathy muscle, and generally being less of a jerk to other people. To give a few examples, there is discrimination against sex workers, social spaces can be hostile to male virgins and women with a lot of sexual experience (‘sluts’), and in other countries, there’s discrimination against ethnicities that you may not have even heard of. You may be surprised to learn that there is discrimination against cyclists in America (especially here in New York City); I didn’t realize this until I made friends with some cyclists and took up cycling myself.

A good rule of thumb – and this should ideally go without saying, anyway – is to refrain from asking highly personal questions unless you know the person really well (i.e. asking a trans person what their birth name is), or questions that prematurely presume values that the person doesn’t actually hold (i.e. asking a woman when she wants to get married). If you are curious about someone’s ethnicity, you could try asking the more general ‘where are you from’ and be satisfied with whatever answer they give you, rather than ‘what black/Asian/Hispanic/Arab person are you’.

Just remember that no one is perfect. There will be times when you say thoughtlessly jerkish things and not realize it. Examining your own privilege is critical to understanding the experiences of people who may not be as privileged as you and making social spaces more safe for them. Despite what some people may have you believe, ‘political correctness,’ as it may be pejoratively referred to, is not for meek. Merely saying what you want without regards to the experiences of others around you is for the meek.

[1] In retrospect, I would’ve told him that I weigh 100 pounds and would jokingly ask him if he ever tried lifting 100 pounds at the gym.

The Line Between ‘Too Autistic’ and ‘Not Autistic Enough’: Is There One? (No)

And this, ladies and men, is yet another mechanism of oppression to keep the autism agenda at bay! It’s a simple one, too. The idea behind this one is that when someone is ‘too autistic,’ they couldn’t possibly know what’s good for them and therefore they cannot speak for themselves. When someone is ‘not autistic enough,’ they either are not really disabled or cannot know what ‘real’ autism is and therefore they are not allowed to speak for themselves, at least as autistic people.

The line between ‘too autistic’ and ‘not autistic enough’ (henceforth, the line) is never defined and those who use these two terms cannot define them in a way that goes beyond ‘I can just tell.’ The truth is this: the line doesn’t just not exist, it’s actually a cop-out, a convenience for anyone who wants to make a distinction but doesn’t really want to go through all the intellectual rigor required to do it convincingly well. Those who really do take intellectual precaution will see that the existence of the line is not supported by any standard.

My main argument against the line is the fact that autism is recognized as a spectrum. The idea of autism as a spectrum and the idea of the line contradict each other because there are no lines in a spectrum; everything meshes into each other. Think of the color spectrum. We may have colors divided up for our convenience but this convenience is misleading. It’s not clear when exactly blue turns into purple or when red turns into orange; all the colors elide into each other. It’s the same thing with the autism spectrum. It’s not clear when autistic becomes not-autistic and it’s not clear when ‘severely autistic’ becomes ‘mildly autistic.’ I’ve personally worked with autistics who have a blend of characteristics from ‘mild autism’ and ‘severe autism.’ In addition, much like the many shades of blue, there are many shades of ‘mildly autistic.’

Of course, the main difference between color and autism is that while colors remain nothing more than abstract byproducts of human perception, autism concerns real people in a broken bureaucratic system. How someone gets diagnosed has an impact on what kind of services they can receive. If one is considered ‘mildly’ autistic, there is a chance that they will miss out on some services that would be beneficial to them. If one is ‘severely’ autistic, they could mistakenly get placed in a class with intellectually disabled students, resulting in a pace of intellectual growth that is so slow that the misplaced child could regress.

Until the line is firmly established and universally agreed upon – and that’ll never happen – it’s a fake concept that intellectually lazy people use to do nothing but pass judgment on autistic people and, unconsciously, to silence them.

I get the accusation that I’m ‘not autistic enough’ all the time. Though I often joke about it when I get that accusation, I secretly get a little irate at the accuser for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I can feel the person using their neurotypical privilege to pass judgment onto me like they were the authority on me. That is to say, it’s a way of keeping neurotypical privilege and control over alternative minds in check. Secondly, because autism is heavily stigmatized, it takes a lot of energy for me to inform new people about my being autistic so it’s painful to hear someone deny it or explicitly claim that they don’t believe it. If I really weren’t autistic in some sense, I wouldn’t be expending so much energy in telling people about it in casual settings while potentially committing social suicide.

To wit, the line is political. Despite autism’s roots in science and medicine, the line is not based on science, medicine, or any other kind of rigorous definition but rather a glitch in human perception. That glitch, in turn, fuels yet another neurotic attempt at controlling others.

Martin Luther King Day Post: A Reflection on the (Ongoing) Civil Rights Movement


Today’s Martin Luther King Day here in the States. I get the day off work (yay!) but more importantly, it’s a time to reflect on how far we’ve gotten in our civil rights stride.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights efforts were mainly aimed at desegregation and equal opportunity for African-Americans but the scope of civil rights extends beyond that. Civil rights is a relevant issue to anyone who fights inequality or is an advocate for any minority group, whether it’s African-Americans, women, Native Americans, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, and, yes, autistics.

There’s no way that I can write about Martin Luther King Jr. without sounding trite. Most of you already know who he is and why he was important (if not, you can always just look him up!) and I probably know as much about him as you. For that reason, I’m just going to focus on the state of civil rights, which is what today is really about.

Keep in mind that what I’m about to say is not directed at any public figure in particular but more directed towards the way more ordinary people understand civil rights as I’ve witnessed among my circle of people. It’s the thoughts of ordinary people on this issue that matter and say more about where our understanding is.

One of my biggest complaints about the way that some people handle civil rights issues is that they often portray it as a ‘David vs. Goliath’ issue. For example, some may think that you’re not pro-black if you’re not anti-white or the only way to combat misogyny is with misandry. Granted, you do have a lot to be upset about if you are in a minority group but by directing nothing but hatred toward your oppressors, you are actually increasing the tension between you and them and not actually working towards any kind of resolution. In such a person’s mind, they are being noble, because hating general groups of people is such a noble pursuit. Systems of oppression are often so embedded into our consciousness that most of the time, your oppressors are not aware that they are oppressing you. In this case, accusing them of ‘oppressing’ you when you feel cornered will only confuse and upset them.

Take it from me. I’m a straight, white-looking, cissexual, Christian, upper-middle-class, college-educated male – who’s also 6’2”, 1.88m, which helps in the privilege department – so outside the paradigm of mental disability (and weightism, but that’s another story), I’ve never experienced oppression and therefore I wouldn’t have fully understood oppression to be a real issue. I was unaware that women were being oppressed and I was trained to believe that what I was witnessing was just the way things are. And I understood being autistic the same way. I was originally a bystander in my own oppression. When you’re autistic and in the hands of authority, you’re conditioned to believe and assume that those in power really do know what’s best for you, even if you have weighty doubts about that.

Although I’ve become an advocate through my experience with autism, it’s important to realize that no system of oppression works in its own vacuum; they are all connected and rely upon each other to thrive. One cannot be a true civil rights advocate if they advocate for one group without awareness of other groups. For example, you’re not a good feminist if you only advocate for white, straight, neurotypical, etc. women (and if you only advocate for attractive women, you’re basically a faux-minist at this point). You’re not a good advocate for African-Americans if you exclude queer, fat, female, etc. African-Americans from your work.

The surface issues obviously differ for each minority but almost all the core issues remain the same for each minority: subjugation to double standards, an expectation to conform to the stereotypes of one’s group in order to be considered a legitimate member, limited opportunity, ostracism, stripping of power and personal autonomy, etc.

I’m for civil rights but not just for African-Americans, which is what most people would think of when they think of Martin Luther King, but for everybody. The work of Martin Luther King is not done and won’t be done for a long time but this cause, even over 50 years later, is still worth fighting for.


On Political Correctness

Ever since I started writing about autism, I’ve become more aware of and more sensitive to other systems of oppression. After writing extensively about the role of language in propagating ableism, I’ve especially become more sensitive to such use in other systems of oppression. In racism/white supremacy, there’s the tendency of White Americans to call the indigenous people of America ‘Indians,’ rather than the term ‘Native Americans,’ because that fits the narrative of the White Americans and disregards the history of the indigenous tribes. In sexism, there’s the recent popularization of the word ‘bitch’ to, in a twisted turn of events, positively describe a female – by describing her negatively, that is.

I try to bring these issues into any discussion I have with people and they often accuse me of trying to make the conversation ‘too politically correct’ in this regard, which makes political correctness sound like a hobgoblin. People have been criticized for having no respect for others in conversation, which makes sense, but when have we started criticizing people for trying to foster on environment of respect for others? Since when was it uncool to be mindful of others and their experience?

Perhaps I should say something about the origin of the term ‘politically correct.’ The term was originally used to describe members of the Communist Party who adhere to the overly dogmatic principles of Communism. The idea was that to the Party’s followers, there was only one correct stance and whoever took that stance was ‘politically correct.’ The use of the term in describing Communists was meant to be insulting, of course; this is where the pejorative nature of the term comes from.

Now it has been reappropriated by the right wing as a means of smearing their ideological enemies (by subtly but incorrectly comparing them to Communists…) while avoiding the responsibility of engaging in meaningful debate. For example, in the hollow and reactionary ‘War on Christmas,’ right-wing pundits had described the effort to use the phrase ‘Happy Holidays’ in place of ‘Merry Christmas’ as too politically correct. Other than construing the effort as a personal attack on their beliefs, the argument doesn’t go beyond that.

Essentially, ‘politically correct’ is a clever right-wing term designed to dismiss rather than engage and its use speaks to our desire to appear tough and edgy (that’s the genius behind it). It frees one from the responsibility of actually being conscious of the implications of the words one uses and ultimately works to justify one’s ignorance and one’s incorrect and/or offensive use of words. Attacking an argument simply because it allegedly makes steps toward ‘political correctness,’ however that may be defined, is a logical fallacy in that it does not meaningfully address the actual argument and depends upon something other than reason to be considered a legitimate point.

In addition, it only serves the person using the term, portraying themselves as someone who engages in controversy or outdated ideas (usually in the name of ‘the truth’) while trying to appear noble or wise. Do not be fooled by the jerk in maverick’s clothing. In reality, it’s tricky to convincingly appear noble and wise while saying controversial things, repeating outdated ideas, or upholding archaic traditions. These are people who reasonably wish to exercise their right to free speech yet don’t want to take any responsibility for the consequences of what they say.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

To the people who say that I’m too sensitive in these matters, I say that it’s better to be overly sensitive than to be desensitized.

Get Over Yourself: Associating With Autistic People Does Not Make You A Saint

Whenever I, an autistic person who just barely passes for neurotypical, mention that I mentor and support autistic adults for a living, the most common reaction that I get is something along the lines of ‘that’s amazing’ or ‘that’s very kind of you’ or ‘you’re a saint!’ I secretly seethe when I hear these remarks. This leads me to feeling hesitant to talk about my job with new people, despite it being a source of pride for me. Yes, the people with whom I work need some help in their daily living and yes, basic decency and empathy are required to do this job well but I think that calling me something along the lines of a ‘saint’ for doing it is a stretch.

In fact, I find the notion that I’m a ‘saint’ for deliberately associating with and working with autistic people (and, by extension, disabled people in general) to be personally quite hurtful. It’s a weird two-faced problem that exposes people’s hypocrisy literally as fast as you can say ‘I like trains.’ The fact that I’m supposedly a charitable person just because I associate with autistic people sends the message that we are clearly an unwanted people. At the same time, however, they still recognize the loneliness that we occasionally feel (because of their general ableist assholery) and as a result, there’s a begrudging acknowledgement of our humanity. Basically, when I mention my work and when they talk about ‘how great I must feel about myself,’ they’re effectively saying ‘well, better you than me!’ Whether or not they know of my being autistic is irrelevant, although it may be a huge mindfuck to them if they knew.

But seriously, the message that autistic people are unlovable and that support workers are highly charitable people for being around them had been responsible for lowering my expectations in friendships and relationships. The message had been that my friends and lovers would have to ‘tolerate’ my being autistic and see past it rather than see it as part of a whole that cannot be separated. The message had been that I couldn’t reasonably expect anyone to fully love me because apparently, a prerequisite for associating with me, never mind liking me at all, is pure saint-like goodness and in my almost-23 years of living, I’ve learned the hard way that there are very few people with such character.

This pervasive assumption concerning us had left me feeling jaded and bitter. I viewed my friends and family members as people who merely tolerated me and kept me around because they were actually selfishly seeking recognition for being A Good Person, despite how wrong I turned out to be most of the time. In fact, it’s possible that it was my accusatory yet baseless suspicions that manifested themselves implicitly, rather than my Big Bad Autism, that drove people away from me, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On a side note, I should mention that as I write this, the root of my anger and cynicism is becoming clear to me.

Sometimes I wonder if my mentees secretly or unconsciously loathe me because I’m paid to spend time with them; they probably suspect that I wouldn’t hang out with them otherwise (which, for the record, isn’t true in all cases). Lord knows that that’s how I felt when I had people supporting me in middle school and high school.