What Good Representation of Autistic Characters Looks Like, Part I: Interiority and Neurology

Elizabeth Bartmess elizabethbartmess.com This is a three-part series. Part II explores Diversity in Autistic Characteristics and Demographics. Part III explores Setting, Plot, and Character Growth. “A lot of writers and actors seem to be able to get their heads around what autism basically is, in terms of language, sensory, and social communication difficulties. But then it’s as if they don’t know, or can’t extrapolate to, the full range of experiences that autistic people actually live. That things have happened to us, and things have happened in certain ways for us all our lives, and those things have had consequences for who we become and who we are….[T]he autistic characters [readers and viewers] are used to seeing have no depth of experience. They are people without history.” —Chavisory, at Chavisory’s Notebook This series is about what autistic characters look like when they’re written well, when they have the depth of experience…

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Why Is the Autistic Unemployment Rate So High?

Photo © Terry Chay | Flickr/Creative Commons [image: A colorful office workstation with two large computer monitors.] Maxfield Sparrow unstrangemind.com In the United States, thirty-five percent of Autistic eighteen-year-olds go to college. Of those American Autistics with university diplomas, only 15 percent are employed. This 85 percent unemployment rate (among college-educated Autistic adults) is massive—the general population’s unemployment rate (at all education levels) is only 4.5 percent. There are some obvious reasons for this disparity. Just as with all Disabled people, workplace understanding and accommodations are a huge reason why Autistic people have such a hard time finding and keeping employment. Making it past an interview can be an insurmountable hurdle for many of us. While organizations and employer programs are popping up to help Autistic adults find and keep employment, with an estimated 50,000 new Autists entering the workplace every year, the few programs that exist cannot possibly keep…

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Autism, Transmasculine Identity, and Invisibility

The Transgender Pride Flag By SVG file Dlloyd based on Monica Helms design [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons [image: A flag with five horizontal stripes. The center stripe is white, flanked by two pink stripes, then a light blue stripe at the top and the bottom. Devin S. Turk @devinst97 Everyone in my life knows that I’m transgender. Comparatively, very few people know about another major part of me: that I’m autistic. At age twenty-one, I’ve come to understand that many of my young adult years have centered around trying to bridge the gap between my two ways of being: The way that I present myself to the world, and the way that I perceive who I am. I imagine that someday, hopefully soon, those two components of my life won’t feel far apart. And hey, sharing this essay might even help. I realized I was trans when I was…

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Mental Health and Autism: Why Acceptance Matters

Photo © Mariana Zanatta | Flickr/Creative Commons [image: Hand-drawn black-and-white outlined block letters spelling “anxiety” on a background of “anxiety” written repeatedly in black & filling all space.] Christine Motokane www.workingthedoubleshift.com It is well known that individuals on the autism spectrum are likely to have co-occurring mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. However, mental health is a less-discussed topic surrounding autism, compared to behavior and social challenges, etc. As an autistic young adult with anxiety,  I can give personal insight on this high prevalence. A big part of our susceptibility to issues like anxiety has to do with how we were slowly socialized, either implicitly or explicitly, to believe that an autistic lifestyle is something that is defective and therefore needs fixing. A recent Independent article sums up the strong link between lack of autism acceptance and the development of mental health disorders in autistic people: Research shows that lack…

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Please Stand By Is Not Harmful to Autistic People; It’s Just a Bad Movie

Poster for the movie Please Stand By [image: Dakota Fanning, a white blonde woman wearing an orange sweater and lots of colorful lanyards, as the autistic character Wendy in Please Stand By,] Amanda Forest Vivian adeepercountry.blogspot.com I usually don’t watch movies about autism, but after being told that [TPGA editor] Shannon would make me a gimlet I dipped my toes into the horrible pool. My limply positive impression of the trailer was borne out by the movie: it doesn’t say anything bad about Autistic people, and the main character Wendy breaks some stereotypes. She is female, can’t live on her own but can talk, and isn’t a genius. I don’t think this movie will harm Autistic people, and I’m grateful for that. However, it’s still a bad movie that has nothing going for it but a dog in a cute sweater. You can see a dog in a cute sweater…

Parents: Let’s Talk About Grief and Disability

Spectrum Disordered www.facebook.com/asdisordered Let’s talk about grief. To be specific, let’s talk about a specific way the term “grief” is used: as a suggested framework given to parents to process the news that their child has some type of disability. I’ve encountered this outlook throughout my life. My parents, by well-meaning professionals, were set up to view my disability as a loss: I was not normal, and would have to fight against my deficits for my whole life. They would not know what my future looked like and could not plan. They should feel Very. Sad. About. This. Having a grief mindset instilled into my parents was the single most devastating thing that has happened in my entire life. I learned very quickly that I was broken, and that there was something wrong with me. I learned very quickly—and at a very young age—that my parents would have preferred a…

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Despite Best Efforts, the Same Old Autism Narrative Hampers The A Word

The Main Cast of The A Word [image: A white British boy wearing headphones and looking to the side. Behind him are grouped five white adults, one white teen girl, & a black woman] Sarah Pripas Kapit @SarahKapit The most important thing to know about BBC’s drama The A Word is that it both is and is not a story about autism. On a basic level, The A Word is very much an autism story. The show’s first season told the story of the Hughes family as their young son Joe (Max Vento) was diagnosed with autism. In the second season—the focus of my review—the family continues to navigate life. Given this premise, it is remarkable how many of the show’s scenes have little or nothing to do with autism. The Hughes family, who live in rural Northern England, have a seemingly unending litany of interpersonal dramas: the marital strife,…

Autonomy First! Accessing Good Supports Without Sacrificing Your Independence

Spectrum Disordered www.facebook.com/asdisordered We’ve all heard or experienced horror stories about accessing services and supports. Often the idea of receiving services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including autism, conjures up images of institutions—visions of Willowbrook. Or, ideas of what is “optimal” for us look like segregated lives, or “intentional” communities where the true intent is to lump us together under the guise of “keeping us safe.” Regularly, the idea of seeking supports to live in one’s daily life carries an expectation that the cost will be any and all independence and autonomy in having positive control over that life. These fears are rooted in fact and truth, both of how things were and in some cases, continue to be. But that does not mean they are a universal truth! There are a lot of really great disability support providers out there! Unfortunately, there are also plenty of…