Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Autistic Language: What "Functioning" Even Mean?

It seems to be universally agreed that what makes humans different from other animals is our language. All animals communicate, but human language goes beyond non-verbal methods like body language and physical gestures to using spoken and written words. Unlike physical communication, words have the most value in how people communicate our thoughts, actions, feelings, and ideas. We have all decided that above everything else, words matter the most.

It's with this concept in mind that I want to talk about the language surrounding autism. There's lots of ways to describe autism and how it affects people and as many different viewpoints on how autism is discussed in language and tone. I don't want to get into the various tones of autism discussion because I know that'll cause nasty fights that I want to avoid at all costs. But I do want to talk about certain terms used and what they mean in how autism is seen by the world. This will take a couple of posts as there's a lot to go into, so bear with me and my thoughts.

Please note that these posts only reflect my personal views on autism language. I'm not going to dictate how other people should talk about autism because A) I'm not the boss of everyone, and B) people can get really angry when they're told what to do. I just want to explain how I feel about these terms and I hope that I can be respected for feeling that way. I won't tell you what to do or feel, so please do me the courtesy of not telling me what to do or feel.

Got that?


Now let's talk "functioning" labels.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Fishy Feels - How "Finding Dory" Does Disability Right

A few weeks ago, I wrote about disability in the media (or rather how disability is portrayed as a tragedy by media). In it, I said that stories about disability are mostly about how a disabled person affects others, and how all involved parties "struggle" with it and have to "persevere". And I wrote that the remedy to this is to tell stories from the disabled character's perspective and promote it like whoa.

I honestly didn't think that I'd see that kind of story would be done so soon. Nor would that story be hugely successful. And nor that that story would come from, of all places, Pixar.

My first thought upon hearing "Finding Nemo" would spawn a sequel called "Finding Dory" was the same as everyone else's - "Really? A sequel? Can't Hollywood come up with anything original?" It doesn't help that most sequels to movies tend to do nothing but spout the same story as the original without the original's magic and with nothing new to say. Even Pixar isn't immune to this rule: the sequels for "Cars" and "Monsters Inc." fell flat in comparison to their predecessors. And whenever a sequel happens to be good, it's because it expands on the first film and has its own story to tell.

"Finding Dory" succeeds for those reasons indeed, but it does something more. It tells of living with a disability and all the complications and strengths within it. And it did something that very few movies do - it made me profoundly relate to it and sob by the closing credits.

Why? To explain, there will be spoilers from here on out.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Me Before "Me Before You", Or Disability Doesn't Always Need to be Tragic

I'm not a big fan of sappy romantic dramas. While I will admit to being among the many who sobbed at the end "The Notebook" when I first saw it as a teenager, stories of people falling in love while something "greater" than themselves try to keep them from being together just feels tired to me. There aren't many ways to make this Romeo and Juliet narrative new and innovative, and the onslaught of these films in recent years (more often than not adapted from Nicholas Sparks books) just reinforce how tired this trope has become.

The recent entry into this genre, "Me Before You", initially looks the same. Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, but will their love survive something neither of them can control? And like its contemporaries, it received mixed reviews upon release. But what makes this film different from its boring, tepid ilk is the "tragic" thing that complicates the boring couple's love:

The boy is a recent quadriplegic, and the girl is trying to prevent him from pursuing assisted suicide through the power of love.

*le sigh*

Monday, May 16, 2016

How Do You Handle Autism, Anxiety, and Depression?

Earlier this week, one of my favorite actors Kristen Bell revealed that she suffers from depression and anxiety. In an interview with "Off Camera with Sam Jones", she talked about how her mother told her at a young age about a hereditary serotonin imbalance in her family and taking medication to help ease the hormone. You can watch the interview here:

It was shocking to me to hear this from Bell. She's known for being a very bubbly and positive personality, which makes her one of the most likable personalities in Hollywood. To hear she apparently has purposely worked to cultivate this to compensate for her mental illness is something I would've never expected. But it ultimately made me love her more for her honesty and willingness to be open about herself.

And it particularly hit home for me because aside from being autistic, I too suffer from chronic depression and anxiety.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Despite Everything, I Don't Hate April

The month of April has always held a special place in my heart. Spring is fresh in the air, it's still early in the year but not too much so, and the weather is pretty cooperative in the not-too-hot-but-not-too-cold way. But it's most likely due to the fact that it's my birth month, as I was born on the eighth. In fact, April holds a lot of birthdays of people I love - one of my closest friends' birthday is four days before mine, my father's is towards the end of the month, and my late grandmother's was six days after mine. It's always been a month of celebration in my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

But since becoming more involved in the autism world, I see people who don't like April as much as I have. That's because April has somehow been deigned "Autism Awareness Month" and with it comes a lot of feelings on how it's handled. But in spite of all the issues that come with the concept of "autism awareness", I honestly can't bring myself to hate April because of it.

I know that looks like a controversial statement from an autistic person. Just hear me out.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Help Me - I'm Becoming an Autistic Adult!

Come May, it'll be a year since I graduated from USC with my Masters of Social Work. A full year since I left the confines of school and was thrown headfirst into the wider world to fend for myself. Now as I have mentioned before, I got pretty lucky as far of my transition post-grad school into working life in a pretty inclusive environment with some helpful strategies to ease my new responsibilities of bill paying, budgeting, and schedule management, among other things. And all of this wasn't just sprung upon me unexpectedly upon graduation - my parents spent years teaching me various life skills such as cooking, health care, and managing my money (which I was horrible at until I realized my pay check was gonna cover my rent and other bills previously paid for by my parents). I had also been living on my own for the past four years and thus had to work out how to care for myself outside parental supervision and care. And I knew how to work out bus routes from college before getting my driver's license at age 23. So I guess I was more prepared to adjust to adulthood than I previously thought I was.

But many autistic people aren't so prepared for that adjustment. In fact, becoming an autistic adult is fraught with challenges. And that's largely because autistic people face a world that is not built for nor ready to accept their needs and wants.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Those Overwhelming Feels of Being Autistic

If one of the biggest characteristics of being human is having many emotional states, there seems to be this weird idea that autistic people have an innate inability to understand or express emotions. This would in turn lead autistic people to become hard to connect to, let alone engage with other people. It's kinda like Spock from the original Star Trek series - a purely logical creature who has to constantly ask his crew-mates why human beings interact the ways that they do. Spock isn't a cold-hearted Vulcan with no regard to people's feelings, he just doesn't understand humanity and its workings on a fundamental level.

I find this to be a completely unfair  assumption. It assumes autistic people don't have feelings nor can express them, and that we're cold people at best if not downright heartless. Having trouble processing feelings and understanding others' emotional expressions doesn't make us cruel, unfeeling people that can't connect to others. It simply means that we need understanding as to how things are the way they are so we can bond better with others. No one on Star Trek shuns Spock for his lack of understanding emotions - they help him by answering his inquiries to the point where Spock is accepted and forms deep attachments to his crew, especially Captain Kirk.

And as for me personally? I'm not emotionless. If anything, my emotions have dictated my entire life.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Turning to Face the Change

I spent this New Years visiting one of my closest friends in San Francisco. It was a great five days (despite having a nasty stomach bug the day I arrived) and it felt good to see her, as the distance between us (her in San Fran and me in Los Angeles) makes that kind of engagement rare. And it was exactly what I wanted it to be - low key, relaxed, and just shooting the shit with a really good friend in one of my favorite cities on earth.

We talked a lot about our respective years during that week and it got me thinking a lot about transition. The two of us have spent the last few years in graduate school pursuing degrees designed to groom us for specific professions so a lot of our lives have revolved around school and all the elements that come with it. But with me graduating last year and her about to graduate this year, we have come to terms with that leaving school means no longer depending on certain beats to center our lives. After graduation, you have to make it on your own.

One of the most consistent things said about autistic people is that they're adverse to change. Any disruption to things or patterns we understand throws us into a tailspin of frustration and chaos, convention says. I can't claim to speak for every autistic person on the planet, but I'm kinda in the not-cool-with-change camp. Why should I be? I make an effort to keep things consistent in a way that works for me. I like having certain things I can count on. Any change to that throws me for a loop to a point where I have major trouble processing it.

But change is an inevitable part of life. To avoid change is futile. And I can attest to that as 2015 was the year of huge change that was hard to adjust to.