The State of the Black Autist (for Autistics Speaking Day 2014)

from queenunique.wordpress.com

 

I proud to say that since my initial diagnosis in 1990, society has come a long way from the “dark ages of autism”. Growing up, I had only a few options: be institutionalized, spend the rest of my life with family, or spend my adult life in rehabilitation centers. I dreamed of going to college, not spending all my school years in special education, enjoying independence, and pursuing a career in whatever passion I desire. Only a handful believed that I can actually achieve it. Back in the 1990s, I don’t recall having heroes on the autistic spectrum. Sure you have the savant on films, but that’s about it. There were no real-life autists and aspies in my book. The world seemed unprepared for dealing with people on the spectrum, because they weren’t as many supportive programs.

In 2014, I admit that it’s actually a great time to be an aspie or autist. You can be the IT whiz, writer, professor, artist, activist, athlete, musician…any passion you love, you can do know with little objection. I see more people on the spectrum attend mainstream classes and excel at post-secondary institutions. We don’t have to rely on just Raymond Babbit for inspiration. There’s Stephen Wiltshire, Sondra Williams, Donna Williams, Dr. Temple Grandin, and others who are role models for the autistic community to follow and emulate. More efforts are being made to employ people on the spectrum. We can live independently and even go to groups that are tailor-made for our needs, without relying on parent-oriented orgs like Autism Speaks.

I’m liking the chances that I have today, but I feel like I’m still an outcast to my own community. Perhaps it’s because that not only I’m autistic, but also African-American. I wish my ethnic group can be more supportive of the African-American autists. I don’t why autism can be a taboo subject. Maybe my community was taught that autism is the devil and it needs to be fixed, considering that the African-American community is built on Judeo-Christian beliefs. For some believers, the autist is a gift from God and needs special care. Sometimes for black autists who are capable of independence, this could mean facing constant overprotection from family and friends.

I think this fear also have to do with the notion on trying to “be normal and cool”, like the entertainers and athletes. Or perhaps being autistic can suck for an black person like me because intelligence and geekery equals “acting white”. Talk about your crab in the barrel situation!

Also consider the access to health care centers and schools that can help autistic people. In the inner city, or any area that is primarily of African descent, health and autistic programs are not as abundant, accessible, and adequate as ones in other neighborhoods are. In Atlanta, for example, 40% of autistic children in the metropolitan area were diagnosed at only schools. Basically, you can only afford the school psychologist to try to evaluate the autistic child.

By the time black autists enter adulthood, like me, they are totally screwed. Black unemployment is general is a pain, on top of all the other pressures that the black community already have to face, like lack of education, broken families, drugs, gang culture, etc. Unemployment and underemlpyment is still an issue for people on the autistic spectrum in general. Throw in the struggles to interact with people and the odd reactions to certain mannerisms, and you witness the negative cloud that is over the black autist.

But no worries, it more hopeful for the black autist than you think or see in the media. I thought I have no autistic hero to emulate in the black community, until I read about Maurice Snell. He graduated from college and now holds a position at Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago. If he can rise up to get the job that he loves, then so can I!

Black people on the spectrum can do it too. But it will take plenty of love, willpower, and support. Families should look more at the positive sides of the autistic spectrum, or matter of fact, accept the autist or aspie more instead of nick-picking at their ways of life. I wish that my ethnic group can buy into more autistic ACCEPTANCE than AWARENESS. Geekery is fine; it doesn’t “strip” my blackness or African-American heritage. We should form self-advocacy groups specifically for the black community.

But more importantly, we, the autistic people in the African Diaspora (including myself) should not worry about those who try to derail our dreams. We can take examples from the Stephen Wiltshires and Maurice Snells of the world, and be shining lights in our community. Furthermore, we should know that the autism community at large has our backs. Besides, we are all bond by a condition that non-autistics still can’t grasp and understand the benefits that comes from it.

My “Together We Make Football Essay”

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With 29 minutes left before last night’s deadline, I finished and submitted my essay for Together We Make Football. Feel free to share and comment on it. It is also found in the TWMF website.

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When you see someone with autism, I bet you may see that person as a shy, geeky savant who is more into the sciences and mathematics than hanging out. You probably wouldn’t think twice about seeing the aspie as an avid football fan.

I’m autistic, shy, and nerdy alright…and I’m geeked about American football! It’s the only sport that I follow all year long and watch games. I tweet and post Facebook statuses on about football all the time. I watch many NFL documentaries, such as A Football Life and Super Bowl highlights, repeatedly without tiring myself out. I write about football, take pictures during football games, and play pick-up games. The game is my wife that never lets me down.

I’ve been a football fan all my life, and I thank my godbrother, uncle, and father for introducing me to football. My father always talked football around me. Though I didn’t get to see him as much during my childhood, football bridged the gap between us. My uncle showed me moves to shed blockers and get to the quarterback; he also took me to some of my junior varsity games. My godbrother is an avid fan of football. I used to come over his family’s house to watch Bears and Super Bowl games. We love to debate NFL topics like the greatest running back of all time, which is Walter Jerry “Sweetness” Payton (sorry Barry Sanders fans). In addition, I recalled pretending to be Neal Anderson when I was around five or six, carrying the football and wearing a miniature version of his uniform. And though I didn’t know how they really work until high school, I would emulate formations I saw from the Game Boy game, NFL Football, by putting small toy figures in their places on the floor.

Football is the best sport for me to play, watch, and get involved in. For starters, it’s an exciting game of explosive offenses, innovative strategies, hard hitting, and surprise endings. But that’s not the only reason why I like the game. It have taught me many life lessons, such as teamwork and rising up from adversity. It kept me fit for most of my teenage years; it opened doors for me in writing and event photography. I’ve wrote several feature stories on the Atlanta Falcons during the 2013 season. As a freelance photographer and fan photographer for FanPhotos, I followed the miraculous championship run that Auburn University had that year.

More importantly, football is my favorite sport because it helped me interact with peers and family members and it molded me from a shy kid into respectable man. As mentioned earlier, I have high-functioning autism. I excelled academically throughout my schooling and I lived independently for most of my adult life. In fact, I have just received my MFA from SCAD-Atlanta in this March, and I recently turned 27 in October. However, I have difficulties interacting with people. For instance, I struggle with maintaining friendships or making friends because of my narrow interests and inability to read complex emotions. I’m also sensitive to bright lights and popping noises.

I was a quiet, aloof kid at first. It didn’t stop me from participating in social activities or doing the things I wanted to do as a child. Though I’ve been a sports nut since childhood, starting with basketball, it was football that gave me the most joy. I played kill-the-man on school grounds during recess and impromptu games of football in the backyard after school. I also enjoyed games of flag football and knee football while attending an after-school program at Foster Park. Sports, especially football, were the first activities where I felt like I was just one of the guys instead of an oddball. I can just run around, catch, throw, hit, and be myself on the field. Peers didn’t seem to mind picking me to be on the team. And even when I was just watching or talking about football, I wasn’t greeted with strange looks. I was always welcomed to join in on football conversations, whether it was with my peers or coach Ron Crenshaw, one of my first coaches.
The game of football had the most impact on my life during my high school years. I tried out for the freshman football team when I first entered Hyde Park Academy in summer 2002. I was picked on a lot by the varsity squad, because of my squeaky voice, my tendency to stay to myself, and my inexperience in playing organized ball. But I eventually gained respect of my teammates once I developed a knack for blowing past offensive lines and going after quarterbacks. I played two years with the JV team, as a defense end. By the time I was promoted to varsity, I’ve already made some good friends on the team and gained the respect of coaches. I played in significant amount of games during my junior year. When I was a senior, I was given more responsibilities. By the end of the 2005 season, I started most of the games as a defensive tackle and played on special teams as well. I was also becoming a fan favorite and one of the most academically sound players on the team. Overall, football transformed me into a more confident person who can be depended on, and thanks to the sport, I have learned how to interact with more people.

I don’t know what my love of football would take me next. It may open doors to inspire autistic athletes to try their hands in college and professional football. Alternatively, that passion may lead to me debating football on “First Take” or “Numbers Never Lie“.

Nevertheless, I’m glad to have football as my buffer to the social world.

Mini-Midlife Crisis (My Current Status As Autistic Adult)

I didn’t write the previous post for randomness. There is a science to my madness.

You see, I’m approaching 27 on Wednesday and I’m 3 years away from the big 3-0. On one hand, I’ve accomplished more than people thought I would achieve that this point. When I was diagnosed with autism at age 2 1/2, I’m sure most people thought that I was going to spend the rest of my life with my mother or eventually institutionalized. They just hoped that I could speak full sentences. Instead, I obtained my MFA from SCAD-Atlanta this year and I think I was the youngest in my class.  I have a BA in English at the University of Minnesota, while I joined Sigma Pi Fraternity International (Iota Zeta Chapter). I’m already published in several publications, including Football.com, and took photographs at memorable events like the 2013 Iron Bowl. I worked several jobs, been in some relationships, and lived on my own for most of my adult life. I maintained a few long-term friendships over the years. And I’m current writing a book on being an autistic adult and the challenges we face. Not bad for an autist, right?

I would say so, except I’m either not satisfied or I’m still prone to occasion bouts of despair. Some would ask me, “Why am I so sad? You got a degree”. Like it’s my destiny. I didn’t pursue higher education just to be a career student. I want to get the advantage I need to land a full-time position in the communication, media, or IT field. However, I haven’t found any full-time work yet. I don’t want to be the savant who’s imprisoned at home with my family. Despite being in three dating relationships, all of them failed and I’m scared to date again due to fear of failing or having something happen to me. Heck, I can’t even fit in. I’m an oddball to the “cool guys” because I don’t go far in trying to be cool, like listening to certain music or do something criminal. Can’t fit in with the nerds because I like football. Some say that I think too much. People knick-pick at any quirk that I may do. I feel that I’m behind because everyone else is married, have children, and make money but me. I am either misunderstood or not listened too because I think differently. All that plus this sad statistic: 1 out of 15 people on the spectrum may experience depression. Not a good look, for I’ve been dealing with despair for the past year due to my difficulties and struggles to succeed in a neurotypical world. All of those factors are triggering my current episode now; it’s been like that for a week. Worst of all, suicide can creep up on adult autists and aspies.

I really hope that I don’t get to this point. With writing, I hope that I can get out this whole and go back to what I love to do best: learn, work, educate, and explore. Pray for me. I normally don’t share my emotions, but I don’t want to come across as a robot who writes about only interests.

Depression, Autism, and Understanding the Autist’s Pain

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Good evening everyone and welcome to another edition of Pharaoh’s Principles!

Recently we lost a great actor and comedian due to suicide. Though we may have thought that Robin Williams should have been happy with all the success he had. But we’ve learned otherwise; despair still strikes regardless of how successful you are. Depression and pain is no joking matter, and it cannot be dealt with conventional means like blowing someone’s feelings off or telling the person to get over it. Depression is not like a cold that can be killed with quick remedies and over-the-counter drugs. The person really needs love, support, and understanding. Sometimes the support may mean giving that person space or not argue about why he or she is upset.

I can understand what Robin Williams or any one with depression go through, especially those who are depressed and have autism. I may not be clinically depressed, but I have experienced increased despair over the last couple of years. My depression is not frequent, but when something drastic does happen, it hits me like a sledgehammer. I tend to retreat to my own world and not communicate with a lot of people. I can ban myself from the social world, diving deeper into my obsessions, like watching Super Bowl highlights and watch my favorite movies & clips over and over again. I may even sob and question my place in the world.

Depression also affects adults on the autistic spectrum. According to a 1998 article, 65% of a sample of Asperger syndrome patients  had symptoms of psychiatric disorders. The suicide rate among the aspies and autists are high. I understand why. Some neurotypicals don’t understand how difficult it is to live in their world day after day. We try to fit in with our family and peers, attempt to play normal by hiding our “autistic tendencies” like rocking and avoiding eye contact, find work, form friendships and relationships, deal with overstimulation, read social cues properly, etc. But it can become a pain in the ass after doing those things constantly and not getting the results you want.  In my case, I’ve been struggling with unemployment/underemployment for a year, along with a failed relationship, legal issues, and the growing issues with being an adult with autism (e.g., reading people’s intentions without concrete and obvious clues, not being listened to, struggles with relationships). If all that come to a boil or bombard me at one moment, then I can meltdown and go into a depressive state.

However, I don’t think people are equipped to tend to the needs of the aspie when the person is depressed. In some places and cultures, depression is a sign of weakness. Or you may run into people who wants to try to talk you, in hopes of “curing the depression”. And of course, there are others who either run away from the depressed or over-medicate them. I’m not weak; I’m just going through a dark period in my life and I need a lot of support from I loved ones. If I was to go to a doctor, then I am afraid that taking medicine won’t cure the depression completely. And just because I’m sad doesn’t mean that I’m always a threat to society. Negative people can increase chances for potential harm. To make matters worse, I’m not good with expressing complex emotions verbally and sometimes I am misunderstood. Thus I, along with many autists and aspies, resort to staying quiet during sad times.

I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t give you medical tips on helping an autist who is depressed. But I do have some practical advice if you come across an aspie or autist going through a depressive state. The primary thing to do is to give the person some space if he or she requests it. Don’t ask the person a lot of questions on the cause of the depression or bring up things that can trigger further pain. Checking up on the person every once and while is good, but don’t question or upset him or her. Also, be sure to be in the person’s shoes and tend to HIS or HER needs. Dealing with depression won’t work if you looking at the autist from YOUR viewpoint. Try to understand what he or she is going through; listen to what the person is saying. Lastly, we may need understanding and space at times. But without love and kindness, the healing process may stunt. Hanging out, making inspirational cards, writing poetry, sending gifts and food, and prayer are some of things that a loved one can do to brighten one’s day. Jokes help too, but be careful because some humor may trigger certain painful emotions. And I like embraces too, though some on the spectrum may not like it.

Hopefully, more adults on the spectrum can educate people on how depression affect us and ways that loved ones can help us without causing meltdowns. I pray that neurotypicals read and share this to those who may not understand what autists go through on a daily basis.

Pharaoh’s Principles: Navigating Worlds

world

  • the earth, together with all of its countries, peoples, and natural features.
  • all of the people, societies, and institutions on the earth.
  • denoting one of the most important or influential people or things of its class.
  • another planet like the earth
  • the material universe or all that exists; everything
  • a part or aspect of human life or of the natural features of the earth, in particular.
  • a part or aspect of human life or of the natural features of the earth, in particular.
  • a region or group of countries.
  • a period of history.a group of living things.
  • the people, places, and activities to do with a particular thing.
  • average, respectable, or fashionable people or their customs or opinions.
  • a person’s life and activities.
  • everything that exists outside oneself.
  • a stage of human life, either mortal or after death.
  • secular interests and affairs.

One word, but so many definitions to consider. That’s how a world works. You may be living in at least three worlds at one time. You can be in the world we call Earth, in which it is governed by universal rules. Then you have a world where you’re living in a local environment and society is according to that place. Add on your viewpoints based on factors such as upbringing, dramatic events, ethnicity, medical condition, etc. Add all those and you’ll have multiple worlds that may collide with each other at one point in time.

I’m writing about worlds for two reasons. The primary reason is that I’m starting my non-fiction book and the introduction will focus on how people can live in worlds within a world, based on circumstances and beliefs. Additionally, I want to show people that not everyone can fit into another person’s world. The second reason behind the post is my own personal viewpoints on living in multiple realities.

You see, I think that people on the autistic spectrum get ridiculed a lot for not understanding the neurotypical world. Sure, we may not get social cues or expectations on how to survive in the NT world. And their world may be scary due to triggers that aggravate over-stimulated senses. But we can say the same thing to NTs about not understanding OUR world. For instance, I can blog all day about people not understanding why I choose to talk about societal topics more than reality TV shows. I can lament about NTs’ failure to understand my thoughts without expecting me to communicate through feelings (I normally rely on events, facts, and tangible things to convey my points, not societal norms or complex emotions).

At the end of the day, and in any group on Earth, people aren’t meant to convince others to accept a particular way of life or thinking. Otherwise, we would argue about how to each a sandwich “correctly”, which varies from person to person. It would bore people and maybe even cause unnecessary conflict. If more people want to understand autistic people, then would it be better if more people can stop and explore the aspie world in depth? Matter of fact, don’t just limit it to just understanding aspies. Try applying this rule to any one you may not be familiar with. The more you listen and understand another world, the more giving and respectful you’ll be to that person. You might even begin to change perspectives on how you interact with things and people with in your own world.

Practicals:

  • Never preach to a person if your opinions differ from those of the person you’re interacting with. Give wisdom after looking into his or her world first. Also allow the person to explain the viewpoint(s) in question.
  • Research the aspects of a person’s life. In my case, I would appreciate it if you can ask my inner circle about how autism affects me. Reading credible books on my condition helps too.

Otherwise, that’s all I have for looking at different worlds…for now. Heheheh. No worries, I’ll be more in depth once I finish the introduction to my upcoming book.

Pharaoh’s Principle #1: Toni Braxton’s Former View on Autism

 

Good evening everyone!! After months on hiatus and a messy end to Abilities of the Arts (my project that I helped grow for a year), Pharaoh’s Principle has returned. I will be doing this weekly for now on.

Before I go on, please read the following articles on Toni Braxton’s former view on how her son became autistic and the Christian response to it

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/24/toni-braxton-autism-son_n_5385477.html

http://guardianlv.com/2014/05/toni-braxton-says-sons-autism-is-gods-judgment-for-previous-abortion/

Braxton’s comment hits home to me in two ways. Though I’m spiritual and don’t like to prefer a religion over another, I’m strongly influenced by Christian beliefs. I’m also autistic myself; I was diagnosed at age 2 1/2. Both can be polarizing topics to talk about, since they are some controversial undertones to it. Autism and its role in the church is one of them.

I will give Ms. Braxton the benefit of the doubt. She mentioned that Diezel’s autism was God’s punishment for aborting a child before her second son came into the picture. But according to the Huffington Post, she has since changed her viewpoints. Braxton admits that her son is “is special and learns in a different way.”

As long as she learning that autism is not a curse, then I’m cool with her expressing her prior guilt in her memoir. Also, I understand her initial concerns because my family had that similar reaction when they first found out that I am autistic.  My father probably didn’t know how to approach me at first or was wondering if I would ever be the All-American son who can drive, play sports, and get married. I’m pretty sure that my mother would’ve hypothesized that my autism was a result of her past mistakes she thought she made. I can’t make further speculations because I didn’t comprehend either one of their thoughts back then, but I know that they were scared one way or another. But like Braxton, they don’t immediately go for the autism label. To them, I’m their proud, artsy son who loves his sports, social topics, cartoons, and adventures.

At first, I hated Braxton’s admission. It sounded like how the congregation can sometimes see my autism, as an impediment or curse from the deities. Yet I backed off after seeing that she was referring to the initial diagnosis, not a continuing belief.

However, I do want to pray for those who continue to think that autism is sin or punishment from God. And sadly, it’s not new. From the beginning, some linked any disability to the fault of the family or some kind of curse. It was brought up in the Bible, when Jesus’ disciples asked if a man’s blindness was a result of his parents’ sin. He replied:

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned, said Jesus, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:2–3).

From what I read and know in my own life, autism happened so that God can work through people on the spectrum. It also happened so that God can inspire people to do God-pleasing works, no matter what condition you have or background you’re from. I believed that God worked through people like Temple Grandin, Anthony Ianni, Jason McElwain, Donna Williams, Blind Tom, Stephen Wiltshire, and even 50 Tyson (though we can question his lyrical content and delivery). And perhaps Ms. Braxton is slowly realizing that her Lord his working through Diezel to become a great person in the future.

Furthermore, the higher powers may be working on your child to grow into a great leader too. It takes believing in his or her abilities though, not focusing on the “negatives” of autism.

On Trolling Autism Acceptance Advocates and People with an ASD

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