The Digital Hyperlexic

Poetry, neurodivergence, book reviews, activism.

Nothing About Us Without ALL of Us. That Means Autistics of Colour, Too.

by ravenswingpoetry

First things first: I suggest that Steven Shapin find a new profession.

His lack of journalistic integrity in his recent New Yorker article, “Seeing the Spectrum“, is painfully evident. While reporting about John Donvan and Caren Zucker’s book In a Different Key: The Story of Autism, there is a clear failure to recognise just how problematic this book is. All Shapin has managed to do in almost 3900 words is perpetuate the same old tired and horrible myths about autistic people, including:

  • that we need to be cured;
  • that abuse is acceptable treatment (READ: ABA);
  • that we are rigid, inflexible, emotionless beings; and,
  • that our own communication and testimonies are unreliable.

Shortly after the article’s appearance, protests on social media began by autistic people. Some of them used the hashtag #notblackmirrors, in reference to a quote from the article:

“It’s a searing experience to have a child who doesn’t talk, who doesn’t want to be touched, who self-harms, who demands a regularity and an order that parents can’t supply, whose eyes are not windows to their souls but black mirrors.”

Thinking it would be helpful, I also posted a couple of selfies — one on Facebook, one on Twitter — adding my voice to the #notblackmirrors protest. Trouble is, this wasn’t probably the most well thought-out protest. Not too long after my own tweet, I saw this post from Radical Neurodivergence Speaking on Facebook:

“SHOCKINGLY ENOUGH Autistic PoC exist. Many of us have extremely dark eyes (mine are on the light side of ‘dark’ & if you know me in person AND look at eyes you know…yeah they can be mistaken as such). I can think of a dozen Autistic people off the top of my head that have basically-black eyes.”

This was a case of me not thinking before I posted and tweeted: not considering something very important. While #notblackmirrors may have been well-intentioned, it does leave out a large percentage of autistic people of colour. Sometimes, my own eyes are so dark they’re almost black. This was true for my late father, who was African-American and autistic, and well as my future husband’s late  father, who was South Asian (Indian) and also autistic. Additionally, I know several autistic people of colour whose eyes are black or almost black.

Radical Neurodivergence Speaking ended that post by saying “Do better. Please.”

And they’re absolutely right.

A few artifacts surrounding all of this are very telling, and point to additional larger issues. Because the link above is to the Do Not Link version of that heinous article, the original contents and artwork are still visible. Included is an illustration of what seems to be a large image of a light-skinned male child, in front of which there is scaffolding with small groups of people standing on it. Of course, my mind immediately flashes to the often perpetuated image of autistic people as, as someone else on Facebook put it (and my apologies to the original commentator, as I can’t remember your name), “eight year-old white boys obsessed with trains and airplanes.”

Which, of course, leaves out ALL autistic adults. And autistic people of colour. Finally, it leaves out autistic women and nonbinary autistics.

When I used to blog on Woman With Asperger’s, I frequently mentioned lower diagnosis rates for autistic women and girls, and also lower rates of diagnosis, later diagnoses, and lack of access to services for autistic people of colour. For me, these were issues very close to home. I’m a multiracial person of Black ancestry, and until late 2014 I identified as female (the story behind that is a different post for a different time). And I was not diagnosed until age 34. To be fair, I grew up in a dysfunctional family of origin: so my late diagnosis may have saved me. Had I been identified autistic as a teenager, it is very likely my family would have institutionalized me, or worse. I might not be sitting here writing this post right now. I spent nearly all of my childhood trying to pass for allistic, once I figured out that I was not the so-called “normal” that everyone else seemed to be. My chameleon circuit worked so well it almost killed me.

My set of problems are shared by some autistics. There are also issues of abuse, exclusion and restraint, our own testimonies being seen as unreliable, lack of access to needed supports and services, and so forth. However, for some of us — particularly autistics of colour — there can also be issues of life and death. Autistic people from all backgrounds have been murdered, but autistic people of colour face institutionalized racism which increases our chances of facing wrongful arrest and violence. One need only think of the cases of Neli Latson and Kayleb Moon-Robinson — both within the last two years — as examples.

Nothing about us without us. That phrase has often been used to address policy made on us autistic people without our input, a lack of autistic voices in media coverage about us, and funds raised without any of the money directly benefiting us as well as harmful, ableist pity-based messages about us used to raise those funds.

That statement should be amended to read: Nothing about us without ALL of us. Just as mainstream LBGTQIA+ organisations have ignored the needs of queer people of colour, autistic activism should strive not to make the same mistakes. It’s bad enough that mainstream media whitewashes autism. Autistic activism should be careful not to (whether purposefully or inadvertently) do the same.

My words are meant out of love for fellow autistic activists. Shapin, Autism Speaks, et. al: no love for you. Sorry not sorry.

N.I. Nicholson

A 1991 STUDY OF APPLIED BEHAVIORAL ANALYSIS, OR, AN OPEN LETTER TO DR. LOVAAS

by ravenswingpoetry

Thou shalt beat him [a child] with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
— Proverbs 23:14

Dear Dr. Lovaas: I must tell you
about the hot brand embossed
into my sacroiliac skin,
a letter D like my algebra grade
from high school freshman year — or,
D for “dumb”, D for “different”,

the toothless sideways grin
of my Thalia mask.

Maybe it was a comedy,
trying to pour my skinless self
into a “normal” mold:

but the licks of angry tongues
and leather belts
made me try to liquify, solidify,

until I was all Good Christian Girl,
a Goody-Two-Shoes with a warped face
and curved heart — a thing
I vaguely recognized in the mirror.

Truth is, I had the mask
upside down: it was Melpomene’s.
I should have been singing
its goat-song, to match the stinking fur
slapped onto my back

while I, 14 years old, autistic,
ignorant of my stripped fiber optics
and brain wiring like barking sycamores,
was made to dance to Normal in B# Minor
in glass-shard ballet shoes.

Lovaas, you demon, you quack,
maybe you never instructed
my family in your methods
but the outcome is the same:
at 38, my feet still fucking bleed

Written 8/11/14
Revised 10/8/14
 © 2014 N.I. Nicholson. All Rights Reserved.
—————————————————–

(Below are the original notes with published with the poem on my old blog in October 2014.)
This was a poem originally written in August (2014) but just revised today (10/8/14) as I feel it is timely. Sparrow Rose Jones’ blog post about ABA (applied behavioral analysis) inspired me to revise and post this poem. Jones breaks down with clarity and detail about ABA and why it is not only useless to help teach autistic children but why it is damaging and hurtful.

I grew up not knowing I am autistic. I was abused physically, emotionally, and sexually by my family of origin, who insisted that there was “something wrong with me” and I needed to be forced to “act normal”. I see so many parallels between some of the abuse I endured and modern (and even past ABA methods, as evidenced by this 1965 Time Magazine Article describing therapies that are the precursor to ABA — DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE EASILY TRIGGERED!). Dr. Lovaas may not have been instructing my family on how to abuse me, but he helped influence the dominant cultural paradigm which insists on a false sense of “normality” — a state of being that the majority is but minorities are not. Normal is a lie, and no matter whether your difference from the dominant culture is in terms of race, gender, gender identity, neurological state of being, sexual orientation, disability, what have you, if you are different, you are often made to feel as if you must conform.

So this poem, you could say, is my comment on the issue. I was angered and hurt at some comments parents have made on The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism which started this whole debate in the first place — and Jones’ response is brilliant and well thought out. Mine is certainly angrier, but I’m throwing it into the dialogue, for what it’s worth.

This poem, it should be noted, was also generated in my writing towards my final MFA thesis and book of poems. It may be revised and republished, but I hope its essence remains the same. It should get pretty interesting, folks.

-N.I.

Coming November 24 from Autonomous Press — The Real Experts: Readings for Parents of Autistic Children

by ravenswingpoetry

Mark your calendars for November 24, y’all. The Real Experts: Readings for Parents of Autistic Children from Autonomous Press is coming! As author and Neurotribes blogger Steve Silberman put it, this upcoming book is:

“Full of practical advice and transcendent ‘Aha!’ moments, The Real Experts offers young autistic people and their families the kind of wise mentorship from tribal elders that was unavailable in previous generations. It’s a landmark book.”

The book features essays by autistic authors and bloggers such as:

More info on The Real Experts is available on the Autonomous Press website.

 

Ten Things THIS Autistic Kid Learned from Being Bullied

by ravenswingpoetry

[TW: Bullying, Abuse, Gaslighting,]
Read the rest of this entry »

The Problem with Columbus Day

by ravenswingpoetry

From a protest in Seattle, WA against Columbus Day. (courtesy of NPR.COM)

[Image description: two people standing outside. Only their arms and parts of their legs are visible. One on the viewer’s left holds up a white sign written in black marker: “Rethink Columbus Day!!!” Below that, a wanted posted with the face of Christopher Columbus. Next to that, the person on the viewer’s right holds up a round, tan object. The front is painted with two drawings of birds: one black on top, and the other in red on the bottom.]

Today is Indigenous Peoples Day.

Notice I did not say Columbus Day.

Christopher Columbus did not discover anything except for new ways to expand Europe’s colonialist influence around the world: particularly, into the Americas. Celebrations of Columbus Day — and what many of us were taught in history classes as young children and teenagers — gloss over several very glaringly ugly aspects of the Italian explorer’s conqueror’s true history.

Read the rest of this entry »

BURN WITH ME (for Baltimore)

by ravenswingpoetry

The Thirteenth Doctor, in Baltimore, April 2015

This city is an angry
wound flaring up
a centuries-long nightmare
into the sky —

an orange flame fist
throat crying
not “How long?”,
but “NOW!”

A sliver of me —
not Time Lady but
black woman, braid-
mantilla crowned,

piñata hearts burst
open — kneels to weep
in the middle of
some street;

but now is not
the time for water.
It is the time for
fire, erupting

from the chasm
of a severed black
man’s spine, bullets’
exit wounds, nooses,

hard leathered skins
poverty-worn and
tented on their bones
to house their souls

from flaying knife
winds still blowing
from your Middle
Passage.

Blame not the broken
kindling for burning,
but the hot winds for
igniting them.

Burn with me, you who
watch from your tellys
and tsk-tsk-tsk — burn
black like me

and you will finally
understand.

Written 4/28/15
————————————–
This was written for Baltimore. I’ve created a future regeneration of the Doctor (after Peter Capaldi’s Twelve Doctor) and made her female and dark-skinned. I did this last fall, but I thought of all of my fictional creations who needed to say something about Baltimore, it was her.

 

My Essay “Speaking for Myself” in NeuroQueer Online

by ravenswingpoetry

“It is way too easy for marginalized people to internalize the dominant cultural prejudices against them. Neurodivergent folk are subjected to both overt and unspoken prejudice against them in many forms, including ableism. And with that ableism comes a pressure to be “normal”: fake it until you make it, if you can. Why use a scooter sometimes, when you can walk? Why use a device to help yourself communicate when you need it, when you can speak “perfectly fine”? Heaven forbid you appear disabled!”

My essay, “Speaking for Myself: My Cognitive Style, Ableism, and Communication” was published today (February 24, 2015) in NeuroQueer online. Go read it. 🙂

-N.I.

IMMORTALITY (for Leelah Alcorn)

by ravenswingpoetry

Leelah Alcorn. Photo originally from lazerprincess.tumblr.com

Leelah Alcorn. Photo originally from lazerprincess.tumblr.com

[Image:a young, pale skinned woman with short, black, spiked hair wears a sleeveless white dress with black straps in a fitting room. She holds a smartphone and takes a photo of herself in the fitting room’s mirror.]

A digital woman
called lazerprincess
walks through Tumblr;

if you reblog her
she stops to pose
and take a selfie —

in the first
and last dress
she ever wore.

Her blood:
stamped into sun-baked
macadam and bitumen;

invisible ink letters
onto the face of I-71
read #fixsociety.

Her parents
will call her Joshua,
insist she was a boy;

her — her — digital voxbox
whispers shouts screams —
reblog their echoes

and Tumblr explodes,
raging grenade hearts
in hashtag shrapnel:

#translivesmatter
#endtransphobia
#restinpower

#hernamewasleelah

Missed My Poem, “Dorothy, Under the Bodhi Tree”? Read It Here…

by ravenswingpoetry

Howdy folks!

If you missed the opportunity to read my poem “Dorothy, Under the Bodhi Tree” the first time around when it was published in December 2014, you can read it again! NonBinary Review through their Alphanumberic project has archived all of the previous poems on their site, including mine.

Go read “Dorothy, Under the Bodhi Tree” here: http://nonbinaryreview.com/dorothy-bodhi-tree/

To read the current poem on Alphanumeric, plus archived previous poems: http://nonbinaryreview.com/alphanumeric/

– N.I.

Neli Latson Receives Conditional Pardon by VA Governor

by ravenswingpoetry

Neli Latson, as a child

[Image: a pair of tan-colored hands holds a photo of a young black teenager with closely cropped hair wearing a plaid blue and orange button-down shirt. The photo is inside an ornate red and gold picture frame.]

Qapla’!

Neli Latson has been granted a conditional pardon by the governor of Virginia.

This is due to Kerima Cervik’s petition to pardon Neli Latson receiving over 2,000 signature and the diligence of many disability rights, autistic, and other activists.

As Kerima says, ” Please don’t lose track of Neli, and do not forget the injustice done to him. We need to make certain the ADA is protected and that what happened to Neli never happens again.”

Related links:

– N.I.