Sometimes it takes another person with your specific disability label, not another neurotypical teacher or peer, to help the world understand your experience. One of the first books I read about autism was Donna Williams’s memoir Nobody Nowhere: The Extraordinary Autobiography of an Autistic (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1998). One of her observations has always struck me as particularly apt: “Communication via objects was safe,” Williams says. For me, computers are objects that can be a bridge to interpersonal connection and growth. Those are things we all want, regardless of our differences.

Source: Valuing differences: Neurodiversity in the classroom – kappanonline.org

See also:

Bring the backchannel forward. Written communication is the great social equalizer. – Ryan Boren

Newt Scamander as a compassionate portrayal of autistic monotropism (special interests):

While I am not the first to notice this – as Newt Scamander’s autistic tendencies such as his lack of eye contact, his subdued voice and, of course, his ‘special interest’ have been pointed out and praised by many – I do believe that few people have managed to accurately capture what it is about Newt’s hidden condition that makes his potential diagnosis so worthy of praise.

Of course this could, as always, just be coincidental. But, if not, then I love the idea that something which so many autists pride as their special interest: Harry Potter, has, in turn, been used to spread a positive message which our community can also cherish.

Source: Why ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ is the Autism Film We NEED – Autistic & Unapologetic

Compare the portrayal of autistic special interest/monotropism in Fantastic Beasts with She-Ra & the Princesses of Power.

On monotropism:

Monotropism is a cognitive strategy posited to be the central underlying feature of autism. A monotropic mind is one that focuses its attention on a small number of interests at any time, tending to miss things outside of this attention tunnel. The theory of monotropism was developed by Dr Dinah Murray, Wenn Lawson and Mike Lesser starting in the 1990s, and published about in the journal Autism in 2005. Wenn Lawson’s further work on the theory formed the basis of his PhD, Single Attention and Associated Cognition in Autism, and book The Passionate Mind.

A tendency to focus attention tightly has a number of psychological implications. While monotropism tends to cause people to miss things outside their attention tunnel, within it their focused attention can lend itself to intense experiences, deep thinking and flow states. However, this hyperfocus makes it harder to redirect attention, including starting and stopping tasks, leading to what is often described as executive dysfunction in autism, and stereotypies or perseveration where a person’s attention is repeatedly pulled back to the same thing.

Source: Monotropism – Wikipedia

While we’re here, Newt Scamander as a non-toxic portrayal of masculinity:

Newt Scamander, the protagonist of this Harry Potter spinoff, is a refreshingly atypical male hero for a fantasy adventure blockbuster. This video essay is a detailed character study of Newt Scamander’s performance of masculinity.

Source: The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander

She-Ra & the Princesses of Power is good. It has a lot going for it. I appreciate the body diversity, neurodiversity, inclusivity, and emotional range. I lost count of how many times I choked up. I like shows for the writing, and I like She-Ra.

Character spoilers:

I’m still processing the autistic and ADHD coded Entrapta. Entrapta has elements of the “Mental Handicap, Moral Deficiency”, “Attention Deficit… Ooh, Shiny!”, and “Hollywood Autism” tropes. Her Autistic/ADHD hyperfocus conveys incredible scientific talent that she pursues to the exclusion of ethics, evoking “The Madness Place”, “Neurodiversity Is Supernatural”, and “Science-Related Memetic Disorder”.

I relate to parts of her characterization, but she’s pretty heavy on “Mental Handicap, Moral Deficiency”, complete with “Dumb Muscle” manipulation by other characters. She often exemplifies the clinically un-empathetic autistic stereotype. In the episode that introduces her, she suggests taking She-Ra apart to see what’s making her sick—with an enthusiastic grin on her face and a gleaming scalpel in hand.

Entrapta says to Glimmer with scalpel in hand: “I’d have to take her apart to be sure.”

Glimmer takes the scalpel from Entrapta and replies, “You’re not taking her apart. She is a person.”

Glimmer also has some autistic coding with her social anxiety and hyper-empathy. Between Glimmer and Entrapta, we can piece together some satisfying autism representation. The most autistic-coded princess being evil by lack of “theory of mind” is a bummer, though. Lack of empathy stereotypes harm us.

I’m looking forward to seeing how both characters develop. Representing Entrapta’s monotropism with its flow states and attention tunnels without using “Lack of Empathy” to sociopathically disaffected levels would be nice for Season 2. I want Entrapta to lean less heavily on the aforementioned tropes and grapple more with morality, manipulation, and pursuing obsession. I hope her emotional and compassionate empathy are revealed to the audience as she confronts her “Moral Event Horizon”.

I can see myself in both Glimmer and Entrapta, except for taking people apart for the sake of curiousity. Dial back on the “Mental Handicap, Moral Deficiency”. If she’s gonna break bad, give her some agency.

And this is where the neurotypical belief in theory of mind becomes a liability. Not just a liability – a disability.

Because not only are neurotypicals just as mind-blind to autistics as autistics are to neurotypicals, this self-centered belief in theory of mind makes it impossible to mutually negotiate an understanding of how perceptions might differ among individuals in order to arrive at a pragmatic representation that accounts for significant differences in the experiences of various individuals. It bars any discussion of opening up a space for autistics to participate in social communication by clarifying and mapping the ways in which their perceptions differ. Rather than recognize that the success rate of the neurotypical divining rod is based on mere statistical likelihood that the thoughts and feelings of neurotypicals will correlate, they declare it an ineffable gift, and use it to valorize their own abilities and pathologize those of autistics.

A belief in theory of mind makes it unnecessary for neurotypicals to engage in real perspective-taking, since they are able, instead, to fall back on projection. Differences that they discover in autistic thinking are dismissed as pathology, not as a failure in the neurotypical’s supposed skill in theory of mind or perspective-taking.

Ironically, constantly confronted with the differences in their own thinking and that of those around them, and needing to function in a world dominated by a different neurotype, autistics are engaged in learning genuine perspective-taking from the cradle on. The perceived failure in that perspective-taking is thus based on the fact that autistics do not rely on and cannot rely on neurological similarities to crib understanding by projecting their own thoughts and feelings onto others.

As such, autistics talk about themselves rather than others, a feature of autistic narrative that has been pathologized as “typically autistic” by researchers like Ute Frith. The fact that much of autistic writing is dedicated to deconstructing neurotypical fallacies about autistic thinking set in the world when they spoke about (or for) us, and to explaining differences in autistic thinking in order to broker mutual understanding remains unremarked upon, as it would have required adequate perspective-taking to have identified this.

Thus, if we were to summarize the effect of neurotypicals sitting in wells that are structured in much the same way, delimited in much the same way, oriented in the same general direction and located in the same geographic location, manifested as an unassailable belief in their natural gift of theory of mind, we would have to conclude that this belief in theory of mind severely impairs neurotypicals’ ability to perceive that there is sky or even the great sea outside the narrow limits of their purview. It also necessarily impacts their cognitive empathy vis-à-vis autistics and, sadly, their affective empathy as well.
This deficit in neurotypicals needs to be remediated if autistics are to have a chance to participate as equals, because the truth is, in this regard, autistics suffer and are excluded from social communication not because of our own disability, but because of neurotypical disability.

Source: The belief in a theory of mind is a disability – Semiotic Spectrumite

How autistic characters are used in “Lack of Empathy” tropes:

On the flip side, just because a character has empathy does not mean that they possess one ounce of compassion or sympathy, though the lack of either usually coincides with at least a diminished sense of empathy. For instance, someone with narcissistic or antisocial personality disorder should not be confused with someone with Asperger’s or another form of autism. Narcissists and sociopaths usually have perfect cognitive empathy, but utterly lack affective empathy necessary for genuine compassion. Those with Asperger’s or Autism sometimes have defective cognitive empathy, but normal or even hyper-effective emotional or compassionate empathy. In short: narcissists and sociopaths are generally superficially charming and polite, but their pretense of empathy is simply that, a mere ruse to attain a tangible end. Autistic people, on the other hand, more or less invert this: they’re perfectly capable of feeling other people’s triumphs and tribulations – often quite intensely – but you wouldn’t necessarily know it from their face or tone of voice, and that’s assuming they have learned to identify them.

Source: Lack of Empathy – TV Tropes

A passage on passing, masking, and burnout from a great #ActuallyAutistic #OwnVoices book, “On The Edge of Gone”.

The thought hits me out of nowhere. I gasp for breath, tears suddenly right there, pressing behind my eyes, and I no longer know what I’m doing here. I don’t know why I ever thought I could be here. I’m not the kind of person who can sit at her tab all day and smile and work and chitchat. I’m not Dr. Meijer. I’m not Els’s colleagues at the university.

Sometimes I think I could be, and that I have a hard time because I’m lazy, and that the way I’m suddenly staring at the plant in the corner for twenty minutes straight and seeing how many leaves are on a twig and how many twigs are on a branch and if any branches break the pattern – that that’s me looking for excuses. I’ll think that the only difference between me and the rest of the world is that I have no goddamn discipline, and that all of this is in my head, and if I tried, I could fit in and be the productive little cog I ache to be.

I’m not like those kids at the shelter, the ones playing. Not really; not anymore. Maybe I’m not different at all, my autism is just bullshit, and all I am is a failure. I should do more than I am. I should be more than I am.

But if what my head feels like now truly is what other people feel all the time— if everybody I see on the street or on TV really manages this day in, day out –

They can’t be.

The world can’t be that hard.

Source: On The Edge of Gone

Via: GUEST POST – Amy Pond, mental health and me | DoWntime

This is a book about an autistic girl, written by an autistic woman. This is the first book I’ve ever read in my entire life that is about someone like me, someone I really, deeply related to. It’s the first book I’ve ever read with an autistic protagonist that isn’t about autism. It’s about the end of the world, and it just happens to be told through an autistic person experiencing that. And it’s authentic, because this wasn’t written by someone who has studied autism, or who has a child with autism, but by someone who has autism. And this is the first book I’ve ever read that’s like that. I’m sure there are more books like it, but not many. Oh, there’s a wealth of books about autism, often written by parents of autistic children, often incredibly harmful books. Books that treat autism as a disease, that treat autistic people as something other, something not quite human. They treat us as if we don’t have a voice.

Do you know how tiring that is?

On The Edge of Gone made me cry, not because it was a sad book, but because I felt a little bit less alone. I felt seen. I felt like someone understood. A neurotypical person might read On The Edge of Gone and not understand. Or rather, they won’t feel it, not the way autistic people do. Or some autistic people, anyway. We come in many shapes and colours, after all. Not everyone experiences this. But I think that for a lot of us, it will resonate. I know that it did for me. And even if you haven’t experienced what the protagonist of Corinne Duyvis’s novel has, that doesn’t mean you can’t empathise with her. You might not be able to feel what she feels, but you can feel for her. Even if she isn’t ‘normal’.

Source: GUEST POST – Amy Pond, mental health and me | DoWntime