I’ve been so busy that somehow there wasn’t an Autism News post since June. But news has been accruing at an astonishing rate! So we’re going to have a REALLY BIG news post today. Hold on to your hats.
- Lydia Brown on the intersection of autistic and trans experience.
- A Fusion video on the intersection of race and autism
- Dani Alexis Ryskamp on emotional labor and autistic women. [I’m really glad to see an article on this topic; I’ve been wondering about autistic people’s experience of emotional labor ever since I was introduced to the concept.]
Science and technology:
- The University of Edinburgh’s Development Autism Research Technology team overturns some common assumptions about screentime, “technology addiction“, and children’s physical health
- Speaking of which, Feminist Aspie on technology panic
- Mark Wallace has an interesting new theory about sensory integration and timing
- Emily Morson on ADHD tipping points. [ADHD and autism are not the same, but there are similarities, and there are many points here that I feel autistic readers might find useful or thought-provoking.]
- Dani Alexis Ryskamp reviews “In a Different Key”: [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10]
- Shannon des Roches Rosa reviews “Life, Animated“
- Sparrow Rose Jones reviews “Life, Animated“
Some writing advice:
- pyxamid et al on writing accidentally autistic characters
- Alyssa Hillary on what to do if you find this occuring in your own writing
Some good posts about ableism:
- Alyssa Hillary on the hidden meanings of “use your words”
- Alyssa Hillary on indistinguishability from peers
- M Kelter on the effects of stigmatizing language on suicidal autistics [TW for basically what it says on the can – there are no graphic or specific descriptions of suicide.]
- Chavisory on privacy
- Rhi from Autnot on safety nets
- Lisa Daxer on faking normal
- Susan Walton on a school for autistic students based on movement and activity needs
- Joel from Evil Autie on “prompt-critical excursions“. [I had one of these after arriving back in Canada from Finland and trying to get home.]
- Clarissa Kripke has a very detailed post for caregivers on dealing with meltdowns
- Kerima Cevik describes her attitude towards meltdowns
- Sam Crane on housing choices for autistic people
- Alyssa Hillary on Pokemon Go and autism
- Zoe Cannon on the Association for Autistic Community Conference
- Kermia Cevik on why she opposes the use of tracking bracelets for autistic children
We have a doozy of a Sad Things section this time, partly because of a few well-publicized cases of attacks on autistic people in the news. A man named Charles Kinsey was shot by police in the US, who later claimed they had meant to shoot the autistic person Kinsey was caring for. Meanwhile, an autistic man named Abdirahman Abdi was killed by police in Canada. A person in Japan performed a mass shooting in a facility for disabled people, claiming he wanted a future without disabled people in it. An autistic boy named Austin Anderson in the US who was killed by his mother also made the news.
The Charles Kinsey case got enough media attention to merit its own section:
- Official ASAN statement on the shooting
- Lydia Brown on the violence of ableism
- Pharoah Inkabuss on #BlackDisabledLivesMatter
- Kerima Cevik on the role of community in preventing more shootings like this
Meanwhile, other sad things:
- Carly Findlay on the mass murder in Japan
- Feminist Aspie on the Austin Anderson case
- Aside from the most publicized cases, Lisa Daxer’s Autism Memorial keeps accruing additional names, including five autistic people who were killed in nine days in June, and seven more over July and August.
- The deaths of four developmentally disabled men and their group home’s administrator in California are being investigated as homicides.
- Jennifer Partin on how awareness campaigns contribute to ableist violence. [I don’t think that everyone who uses the word “awareness” is guilty of what Partin describes, but what she describes is a very real thing that a great number of people using the word “awareness” do, including the biggest autism charities in the world.]
I continue to be completely swamped, mostly by good things!
Can*Con. Um. Can*Con. I somehow went to an entire convention in Ottawa last weekend and forgot to post anything about it. Spoons were in short supply, but it was a lovely convention as always and I enjoyed seeing both familiar and new faces (and a few people I knew, but only from online). I did panels on Mental Health and Character Arc and Bodies of Difference: Disability in Science Fiction, and read “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library” aloud.
(Side note: This is still my greatest story title ever.)
The Bodies of Difference panel was especially good, with all of us agreeing that we could easily have talked about the topic for another hour. Shout-out to Derek Newman-Stille, who was, as always, an excellent and clueful moderator.
Also, school. Omg school is starting and I completely forget how everything just flies out the window at the beginning of every new semester. I’m taking a class, as well, for the first time in several years, so that’s new.
While I was mostly off the Internet for a few days due to technical issues, my poem “Million-Year Elegies: Oviraptor” went up as part of the Strange Horizons fund drive bonus issue!
The poem is, as @goblinpaladin put it on Twitter, “a great poem about a sad dinosaur fossil”.
Strange Horizons is an amazing magazine. They were my first full-length professional fiction sale, and one of my first poetry sales. They consistently publish interesting work by diverse authors and employ diverse editors also. If you like my poem or anything else they have published, and you can afford to do so and haven’t already, then I would strongly recommend their fund drive as a worthy target for your donations.
Hot on the heels of my last poetry publication, Uncanny Magazine issue #12 is out, featuring my poem “Million-Year Elegies: Tyrannosaurus.”
This (in late 2014) was the first “Million-Year Elegies” poem I wrote. I already knew it would be part of a series, even though I had no idea yet what the rest of the series would look like. So far, that instinct has proven correct.
It’s available now if you want to buy the whole issue; otherwise, it will be free to read online starting on October 4th.
August. August. Where did August go?
It went to some pretty good places. Including Finland for a while, and some big steps careerwise, and a new relationship. I kind of disappeared off the writerly Internet, though, and all sorts of small tasks I’ve been neglecting because of the awesome have piled up. I suppose this is just one of those things that happens at times.
Anyway, here I am, with a new publication in inkscrawl. “Roar”, a tiny poem about a magical rock concert, is here.
A horror story about an autistic woman mourning the death of her girlfriend. The protagonist’s grief is described in a way that, to me, feels both distinctively autistic and realistically nuanced. There are sensory aspects, analytical aspects, philosophical aspects, and a strong undercurrent – implied more than explicitly described – of immense confusion and distress. This distress only intensifies as the horror plot progresses and the scene becomes a surreal nightmare: a nightmare which is no less haunting for its mathematical aspects. [Recommended]
Lynn Kilmore, “By the Numbers” (Crossed Genres Issue 31: Novelette, July 2015)
A story about a math-obsessed autistic professor who discovers that she can communicate with equally math-obsessed aliens. The story makes a point of including realistic details, such as the protagonist (Mel)’s sensory sensitivities and her anti-cure perspective. It also makes a point of sharing and validating Mel’s experience. That said, a few things about it didn’t work for me. Mel is portrayed as a very disagreeable person (and, frankly, a bad professor) in ways that have little to do with autism, but that could easily be conflated with it by an outsider. I’m not opposed to writing autistic protagonists who are disagreeable, but I don’t think this one is handled well. Additionally, mathematical sequences are thought to be one of the easiest ways for two sentient species to establish communication over a long distance, so it feels like a stretch when the other characters (including a physics professor!) conclude that the aliens must be “annoyingly obsessed” like Mel, rather than performing a logical and necessary first-contact protocol. This one tries, but doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. [YMMV]
Bogi Takács, “Skin the Creature” (Through the Gate, Issue 9, December 2015)
[Autistic author] This is a poem about seizing hold of life. While it’s not “about” autism, mentions of flailing movements and sensory intolerance suggest that its vivacity is a neurodivergent vivacity, one unbothered by its own intensity and oddness, unafraid of standing out, and eager for the next experience. [Recommended]
Rose Lemberg, “The Desert Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Berevyar” (Uncanny Magazine, Issue Eight, January 2016)
[Autistic author] A light, warm, and rather flowery long-distance love story set in Lemberg’s Birdverse world. I read one of the lead characters, Vadrai, as perhaps on the spectrum. She has anxiety, fear of crowds, preference for solitude, aptitude for work involving tiny details, and admitted lack of understanding of how to deal with people. (I also read both characters as demisexual.) These elements are backgrounded and perhaps debatable, which only makes the story more charming to me: we need more love stories involving (arguably) autistic people in which autism is not presented as a major barrier to the characters’ happiness together. [Recommended]
Merc Rustad, “Iron Aria” (Fireside, Issue 34, July 2016)
[Autistic author] I read the protagonist of this story, Kyru, as autistic because of his expressive speech difficulties and sensitivity to noise. Kyru also gets to be the typical bildungsroman-fantasy protagonist, leaving a home where his relatives underappreciate and misgender him, and traveling to a magical mountain where there are problems only Kyru’s abilities can fix. I especially appreciate the way Kyru’s sensory sensitivities and his magical abilities affect each other, without being at all conflated. An ominous but hopeful story in which an autistic trans hero comes into his own. [Recommended]
Today’s Book: “A Rational Arrangement” by L. Rowyn
The Plot: A polyamorous romance between two bisexual men and an autistic woman, in a pseudo-Regency low-magic fantasy setting in which both bisexuality and polyamory are unheard of.
Autistic Character(s): The heroine, Wisteria Valsiver.
I have never reviewed a romance starring an autistic person before, and this one did not disappoint. Wisteria, the autistic heroine, is portrayed both as a person who is genuinely different from others and struggles to fit in, and as a romantic and sexual person who is both capable and worthy of love.
(This is not to say that asexual/aromantic autistic people shouldn’t be represented. But we’re all too frequently portrayed as people for whom romance is impossible, either due to internal or external factors – so it’s deeply refreshing to see the reverse.)
Wisteria is an extremely intelligent woman, who has traveled the world and been successful in business, yet who finds the intricate social norms of her pseudo-Regency world baffling. She also, like some real autistic people, has a very flat facial affect. Regardless of what she is really feeling, her face barely moves. Neurotypical characters see her as blank, severe, formal and rigid.
The story alternates between Wisteria’s point of view and those of her two romantic interests. Wisteria’s perspective includes some realistic anguish about the feeling that life is full of rules that she is incapable of understanding even though everyone else does. But it also includes a realistic range of interests and feelings about many other things. When thinking about romance, Wisteria experiences a conflict that I find deeply relatable. She has a great deal of romantic and sexual desire, but doesn’t know what to do with it, especially since the people around her act as though such desires don’t or shouldn’t exist – and also doesn’t know who would ever desire her back.
We also see Wisteria from the point of view of her love interests, which allows for a deep exploration of exactly what these men (who are both NT) find attractive about her. Nik, who is initially put off by Wisteria’s flat affect, soon becomes fascinated by her willingness to speak her mind and ignore taboos. Nik is impatient with the level of pretense and superficiality in society around him and he finds Wisteria refreshing. And while some of Wisteria’s candor is involuntary – caused by an inability to understand which topics are socially acceptable – she also genuinely prefers a frank communication style, which means she and Nik get along well.
Justin, Wisteria and Nik’s other love interest, doesn’t analyze his attraction to Wisteria as much. Unlike Nik, Justin is someone who thrives on superficial social connection and uses its superficiality as a defense mechanism. He’s at a bit of a loss at first when trying to communicate with Wisteria. But he’s fascinated by her, particularly when she displays analytical intelligence and courage – both traits he more often associates with men.
These three different perspectives mean the story ends up with a lot of interesting things to say about communication, and about contrasting communication and face needs.
There are also giant talking cats.
Nik, by the way, is a mind-healer – which makes this the second work of fiction I’ve reviewed (after Geometries of Belonging) that portrays a mind-healer’s reaction to an autistic person’s mind. Like Dedéi in Geometries, Wisteria must also deal with a family who would rather make her “normal”. Nik is not pleased when Wisteria’s father asks him to intervene:
The older man scooted to perch at the edge of the couch, lowering his voice. “You know. You saw how she was with you and your parents. That dreadful contract. She doesn’t comprehend that it’s not normal – she’s got this, this—” he broke off, hands waving vaguely.
Nik stared at Vasilver as if he were a new and particularly repulsive kind of bug found crawling on a sleeve. “The technical term you are looking for, sir, is personality.” Icicles dripped from each word.
Vasilver cringed. “Yes, but—”
“I am afraid you have misunderstood the nature of my Blessing. The Savior uses me to heal minds and treat mental illness. Contrary to what you may have been told, a personality is not a disease.”
(Note for squeamish readers: The “Savior” worshipped by Nik and other characters in this setting is not at all related to the Christian god, though this may not be clear in the first few chapters. Another thing that may not be clear early on is the role of demons in Nik’s mind-healing practice. Some mental illnesses, in this setting, are caused by demons, which anyone with Nik’s abilities can drive out. This is the first use of Nik’s abilities which is mentioned in the text. However, it is soon explained that the majority of mental illnesses have more subtle causes. Treating these ones has much more to do with gently encouraging parts of the mind into a different shape, or a different relation with each other.)
If I had a complaint about this book, it would be that it comes down a little too hard on the “a personality is not a disease” side. Wisteria is, by the social model, disabled. She has difficulty facially expressing her emotions, understanding unwritten rules, or engaging in other expected forms of nonverbal communication. She’s marginalized and punished by other characters for these differences. But we never see Wisteria struggling with anything that is not solely socially imposed. She seems to have no difficulties with sensory integration, executive function, or emotional regulation. She is portrayed as a wholly competent, independent person, who would be perfectly capable of doing everything for herself if only people didn’t judge her so harshly.
I don’t want to overstate my problem with this. Some autistic people do fit this profile. It’s not a bad way to be. The problem is that, if poorly handled, a story that solely portrays autism in this way can verge on Aspie supremacy. It can promote acceptance of highly intelligent, hypercompetent autistic people – even admiration – but at the cost of ignoring any genuine support needs that these highly intelligent people might have – and of leaving in the dust all the other autistic people who aren’t able to present themselves as being superintelligent in this way.
A Rational Arrangement avoids the worst sorts of Aspie supremacy, but there are times when it verges close enough to make me slightly uncomfortable. One scene that particularly troubles me is when Nik magically examines Wisteria’s mind. He finds that she is the way she is because the mental structure for rationality is overgrown compared to a neurotypical person, and is connected intimately to everything else in her mind.
Nik does not conclude that Wisteria is somehow superior to other people. (He prefers her to most other people, but since he winds up marrying her, this is entirely natural and necessary.) But the idea that the difference between autistic and normal people comes from rationality – that we are simply more logical than others, and all our difference stems from this – doesn’t sit well with me. It is a point of view too often caught up in internalized ableism and in ableist (and sexist, racist, capitalist) viewpoints about what is and isn’t rational. These viewpoints can, in turn, end up harming other autistic people who are less able to express themselves in a way that NTs recognize as rational or logical, and sowing discord between “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” autistics. Rowyn’s narration is never blatantly supremacist, but it doesn’t do quite as much to distance itself from these viewpoints as I would have liked.
I do not think this is at all intentional on Rowyn’s part. I suspect that she simply didn’t know how loaded a term like “rational” can be in a disability context.
Anyway, for the most part, I really liked the book. Wisteria is a well-drawn, three-dimensional character whose experience of the world rings true to me. The romance is adorable and compelling, all three of the characters had me invested in their struggles, and the setting is pleasant to read about. We definitely need more autistic characters who are allowed to explore love and passion as Wisteria does, whether it makes sense to the NTs around them or not.
The Verdict: Recommended
For a list of past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, or to recommend a new one, click here.
Mythic Delirium 3.1 is out today, and my poem, “Million-Year Elegies: Edmontonia” is in it, along with work by Jane Yolen, Lynette Mejía, Yukimi Ogawa, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, and others. You can purchase the issue and read it immediately, or you can wait until August, when “Edmontonia” and some poem notes will be free to read online.
“Edmontonia” is a companion piece to last month’s “Hallucigenia” – hopefully, there will be quite a few others forthcoming in this series.
Posts about childcare and education:
- Chavisory on why we should not force children into friendships
- Alyssa Hillary has a nuanced post about the concept of “age appropriate”
- Crystal Garrett on the harm done to children by restraints in schools (TW)
- Real Social Skills on the assumption that parents of disabled children will grieve for their child
- Shannon des Roches Rosa and Carol Greenburg report on the IMFAR autism research conference
- A roundup of articles about “Me Before You” and why there are very large problems with how it handles disability
- Alyssa Hillary reviews “Uniquely Human” by Barry M. Prizant
Sadly, the murder of autistic people by their caregivers is back in the news again, so here’s a section about that. Everything in this section has the usual TWs that you would expect given the topic.
- Dani Alexis Ryskamp on suffering
- Kerima Cevik on the duty of severely disabled people’s parents
- Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone on survival and how it fails
- Autnot on not “looking autistic”
- Pierrette Mimi Poinsett on autism, Blackness, and anti-vaccine rhetoric
- Alyssa Hillary on the difference between plans and routines
- Sparrow Rose Jones on when mental health services are inaccessible
My poem, “Million-Year-Elegies: Hallucigenia“, is up in Liminality, Issue #8.
This poem is about a creature from the Cambrian explosion. It is also about perception and belief, and being the object of flawed perception. It’s the first in a series/project of many different poems that I have been writing about ancient creatures.
Although my poem has nothing to do with it, Issue #8 of Liminality is dedicated to the victims of the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.