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Police Violence & Autism

My Thoughts on Police Violence & Autism

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Some of you may have seen the recently released dashboard camera video of the Philando Castile shooting. I’m not sure I’d recommend it. It is, after all, the video of someone being killed.

 

When I saw that video, I was afraid. I heard the instructions the officer gave. I heard Castile’s responses. He said, “I wasn’t reaching.” The last thing he said, after being shot, was an attempt to explain to the officer that he was following instructions. And I saw myself in every action Castile took.

 

The officer gave him two instructions. The first was to get out his identification and then after being made aware of the legally possessed firearm, not to take out the gun. Castile, from what we can see in the video, claimed to be complying, reaching for his identification, while reassuring the officer he wasn’t getting his gun. The officer, on the other hand, seemed to think “don’t reach for your gun” was an order to also stop getting the identification.

 

If I was Philando Castile, I would not have interpreted it that way.

 

It just wouldn’t have occurred to me. A traffic stop is a high-pressure situation even without a gun involved, and you’re just trying to make sure things don’t escalate. After seeing that video, the one thought I had in my head was “If that had been me, I’d have done the same thing, and I’d be dead too.”

 

And the officer was found “not guilty.” Because a reasonable officer in his situation would also be afraid, and being reasonably afraid is a justification to use lethal force.

 

There are very few crimes that we punish with death in the U.S. Typically murder, and then, only when proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But we also punish “frightening a reasonable police officer” with death. And we instruct juries that the officer was trained to do this, and that as long as the jury agrees a reasonable police officer could be afraid in that situation, they did the right thing and did not commit a crime.

 

So what does that mean for me? I’m autistic. My body language isn’t right. I might come off as on drugs, or trying to hide something, or just challenging their authority. I take instructions literally. I’ve already had back-up called on me once for an expired license place, because “please step away from your car” was performed literally, which meant I stepped nearer the officer. If I tell an officer that I’m autistic, and they assume a common misconception that it means I’m more dangerous, does that make it more reasonable for them to be frightened?

 

After this, I’m afraid of revealing my autism to a police officer, should I be pulled over. I’m afraid of not revealing it as well, because I know I don’t present as entirely typical.

 

“Reasonable fear” shouldn’t be a justification for killing someone, in my mind. Police officers are there to protect us. If they’re afraid, they can quit the job. I can’t quit being autistic. I can’t quit being pulled over if I match a description. They have every right to defend their own life, but at the very least I think the hurdle should be more than “any officer would be afraid in that situation.” That makes the standard lower the more poorly trained officers are — the easier they are to spook, the more legally sound acting on that fear becomes.

 

An officer should not be justified in killing me because he feels uncomfortable with my presence and because I follow the orders he gives, rather than the orders he thought he gave.

 

I could quote you numbers about police shootings, and try to show you the data, and you and I might interpret it differently. But that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to tell you how that video made me feel.

 

After that video, I’m afraid. Because I can so easily imagine it happening to me. And I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be afraid of our own police force. But I am.

Three young men in swimming attire

The Autistic Swim Team that Proved Everyone Wrong

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This week on the blog, I’m sharing information on an Autism Awareness Month event. Avondale House is proud to host a free screening of the award-winning new documentary film Swim Team, which is an inspiring look at the rise of a competitive swim team of teens on the autism spectrum. 

 

Following three teammates on the cusp of adulthood, when government services become scarce, Swim Team is a portrait of diverse American families grappling with the problem of “aging out.” Over the course of a year, the film explores the overwhelming struggles they face and the triumphs they achieve as they strive for independence, inclusion and a life that feels winning.

 

The movie, directed by Lara Stolman, who has a 10-year-old son with autism, focuses on Mike and other members of the Jersey Hammerheads swim team, which was formed to cater to teens on the spectrum.

 

Swim Team was most recently screened in Austin at SXSW; and now they’re excited to bring the experience to the Houston audience. If you’re interested, you can learn more about Swim Team at the film’s webpageThe movie has been featured in the press in recent months, including articles in the New York Post, Columbia College Today and the Hollywood Reporter.

 

Avondale House will be screening this film on Friday, April 14 at 6:00pm at the Children’s Museum of Houston. While the event is free and open to the public, seating is limited so attendees must please RSVP here.

 

If you’re interested in sharing the word, feel more than free to pass along this information. If you would also like to promote the event on social media, you can contact Alyssa Purcell, Development Coordinator at Avondale House at alyssap@avonalehouse.org for more information. 

 

More info here: Swim Team Film Screening

Cityscape

My Thoughts on Autism Awareness Month

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Autism awareness month can be challenging for many of us who are on the spectrum. A large amount of it centers on non-autistic people talking about what to do about us, and a large amount of the publicity is created and focused around Autism Speaks and their “light it up blue” initiative. And both the organization and the initiative itself can be seen as controversial for reasons that aren’t really as important as the effect.

 

For many of us, autism awareness month is a period of time where we hear people talk about an “epidemic” that needs solving. We hear people who know almost nothing about what it means to live as an autistic, talking about how important it is to raise “awareness.” But awareness doesn’t even begin to offer people clues about realistic things that can be done to improve the situation. And we all know that when the month ends, most of these individuals will spare hardly a thought about autism for another year.

 

On the other side, however, autism awareness month has resulted in millions of dollars being raised toward research into both therapeutic and biomedical approaches to autism that have changed the lives of thousands, if not millions, of individuals for the better. The “light it up blue” initiative both paints autism as “something that mainly affects boys,” leaving women struggling on the spectrum to feel left out and “not as important” and also reminds millions that autism is something affecting all of us, as monuments around the world turn blue for a day or an entire month.

 

Autism awareness month, like many things, is a mixed blessing. We don’t suffer from autism one month out of the year, and our struggles aren’t improved by the simple fact of people knowing about us or giving money to research. We’re real people, living in the real world, trying to get by day to day.

 

World autism day gives us the chance to have a voice. News organizations are willing to have us on to talk about it. Right now “autism awareness” largely means “awareness that it exists.” We have the chance to change that into “awareness of who we are” and I’m hoping this year and the coming years we’ll see more and more autistic voices welcomed to the conversation that we have each year about what autism is, and what can be done about making people’s lives better.

 

Thanks again for reading.

— Paul

Motivation written in journal

Motivation and Self-Discipline

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I hope you’re all doing well! We’re currently in the midst of the first week of my book being available, and I could not be more thrilled about the support that I’m getting from so many great people. It’s been such a long road to getting this book published — I guess you could say it’s been a lifetime! But I’m so happy that people are enjoying it.

 

With that in mind, I wanted to write a post this week about a topic that I cover in my book, and a topic that I regularly receive a large number of questions about. That topic is: motivation and self-discipline. Motivation, self-control and self-discipline can be extremely difficult for those of us on the spectrum. Even some things I really enjoy and like to do, I still have difficulty doing on a regular basis.

 

The lack of positive, emotional memories limits my motivation and accomplishing anything in life ultimately requires successful interaction with others. The stress of foreseeing those interactions, which don’t always go right for me, also limits my motivation.

 

A big part of motivation for me in almost everything I do is having time to build up to an event, like a mental long jump. You can’t do the long jump with a standing start; you need a run up to it. I need to get a mental run up to almost everything.

 

The executive function of the brain, which handles time management, motivation and processing the general events of a day, is also affected. When this is functioning poorly, a person may have severe difficulty with motivation even with things they enjoy. They may have difficulty staying aware of what time it is and how long they have to accomplish certain tasks. Routine tasks such as grooming, house cleaning and mowing the lawn may lose their importance in daily living.

 

Overall, motivation and self-discipline will likely always be tough for me. As I mentioned, I will always need that “build up” time, and I encourage everyone who communicates with people with autism to try to keep the “build up” time in mind. It really helps to limit the stress and that is a hugely important thing for many people on the spectrum — myself included!

 

I hope you enjoyed this post. And if you want more info on the book, you can check it out here.

Man holding his head

Autism and Anxiety

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Anxiety hovers over a person on the spectrum like a gray cloud. The world is very stressful, because uncertainty looms everywhere.

 

A lot of people with autism don’t really have any awareness of how stressed they are, how to recover, or how long it’s going to take to recover.

 

Anxiety is a real and serious problem for many people on the autism spectrum. I’ve heard this from parents, teachers and doctors, and I’ve also heard this from people with autism. Often, anxiety can lead to panic disorder and phobias.

 

Children with autism express anxiety or nervousness in many of the same ways as neurotypical children. This could mean separation anxiety, anxious worrying or social anxiety. These issues commonly affect both children with and without autism. However, social anxiety is especially common among kids with autism.

 

That said, one of the most important parts of an autistic’s life is figuring out what parts of their schedule are most stressful for them.

 

For example, many people on the spectrum become stressed in social situations and don’t know how to pinpoint the source. When you don’t recognize what’s causing the stress, you don’t have the tools to ask for help in finding a way to make the situation easier.

 

Helping an autistic discover the source of their stress and an awareness of how stressed they are, how to recover, or how long it’s going to take to recover, is among the most important steps toward a more productive life.

 

If you have any tips or suggestions on how you think people can better understand the stress felt by those on the spectrum, I’d love to get your feedback!

 

Thanks for reading.

 

— Paul

Sign Arrows: with Help, Guidance, Support, Tips, Assistance

Is Autism Advice Misleading?

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Often I’m asked if I think that my advice on autism is misleading to some people, since not every person is the same and everyone has different experiences that make them who they are. And my answer is simple: Yes. To many on the spectrum, my advice will not be helpful. But to a lot of others, it may be very helpful.

 

My greatest fear is the day someone else on the spectrum approaches me and says, “This isn’t my experience at all! You’re misleading and confusing people, and making it harder for me to get the help I need!”

 

Unfortunately, I know this will happen eventually, because people with autism are exactly that: people. Every life is a unique experience, and what I’m trying to share with you is mine.

 

The diagnosis for autism is much more limited than the external symptoms you see. Autism creates many different symptoms that are coping mechanisms and can vary a great deal from person to person.

 

Working to understand some of the common challenges and experiences faced by most people with autism can make all the difference in your ability to understand them, and afford them the opportunity to function better in the world at large. And that is the primary goal of my life.

 

I truly hope that everyone takes my advice with a grain of salt and that they do some of their own digging for what advice is helpful, and what advice is not. I want to share my experiences and help whoever I can. But I know, for a fact, that everyone is different, because we are living our own lives.

 

Thanks for reading and I hope you continue to enjoy my blog posts!

Emojis

Autism and Emotions

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I often get asked about people with autism and why we show emotion in a different way than people without autism.

 

People with autism do have emotions just like everyone else, but we aren’t affected by those emotions the same way, we don’t express them the same, and we don’t remember or recall them very well.

 

We can be considered cold or dispassionate, even robot-like, without visible emotion. This is a big misconception. We do have strong emotions going on inside, but we don’t know how to recognize them in ourselves or how to express or explain them to others.

 

Typical people express their emotions through subtle cues, like body language and tone of voice. Those of us on the autism spectrum don’t pick up on those cues very well.

 

When someone is sending emotional data to those of us on the spectrum, and from their perspective it seems as if we’re ignoring the data, it tells them the situation is not important to us. The truth is, we don’t even know we are sending that message.

 

Emotional understanding and expression is a very cultural thing. Japan for example, places the emphasis on NOT expressing emotions. Regardless of where someone lives, if they are on the spectrum, they will undoubtedly have the same struggle within their culture.

 

So just because someone on the spectrum may not seem to care, it is very likely that they do care, and either they do not know how to express that care, or they think they are expressing care, when indeed they are not expressing their emotions the way that is understandable to most people.

 

Always try to remember, people with autism are still people. We just express ourselves in different ways.

 

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed this post! Please let me know if you ever have any questions.

Words Have Power

Person First Language

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This week, I want to talk about an issue people with disabilities face, in some cases, every single day. That issue is person first language.

 

Person first language is the idea of not identifying people as instances of a disease. You don’t want to say 30 autistic people, but instead, you want to be sure to say 30 people with autism. You always identify the person as a person, because, well, we ARE all people!

 

This is simply the idea of changing how we think about people, by first changing how we talk about them.

 

There’s definitely a lot of evidence that shows the way we phrase things and the way we discuss things affects how we internalize our thoughts about certain issues. If we always focus on the person first, and the condition second, this reduces the dehumanizing effect. And doing this makes communication with, and our overall thoughts about, that person immediate and much more personal.

 

This might seem obvious to many people with disabilities, or people who’ve spent a lot of time around people with disabilities. But, in fact, it’s quite common to hear “that autistic kid” or “that deaf guy.” But you wouldn’t describe someone without a disability without using people first language, because it just would not feel right. For example, if your friend John was a chef at a restaurant, you wouldn’t say “that chef John,” you would instead say “John, who is a chef.” It’s the person first. And that’s the way it should be.

 

I hope this helps clear up the topic of person first language. If you have any questions, feel free to make a comment below. I love getting your feedback and read every comment.

 

Thanks,

Paul

Autism written on a puzzle

How Common Is Autism?

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How Common?

 

Today, the rate of autism is roughly around one in 89, with it being much higher among males; almost one in 50. The numbers change pretty much yearly, and they’ve been rising frequently throughout the last decade.

 

Part of the cause for this increase in the number of people with autism is that each and every year, we become better at identifying autism. A huge reason for this is awareness campaigns. And we’re living in the information age. Everyone has access to so much more information than ever before and this has been great for those trying to better understand autism. We all have access to Google and to other search tools that can lead us to autism advocacy groups where we can find all sorts of great information.

 

The Information Age

 

We now have access via search engines to groups like Autism Speaks, the Autism Cares Foundation and Autism Empowerment. These organizations have started campaigns like “Light It Up Blue,” which spreads awareness and understanding of autism, celebrates and honors the unique talents and skills of people with autism, and brings attention to the needs of all people with autism. These campaigns are a benefit to both people with and without autism.

 

Along with everyone having more information at their disposal, a large part of why the diagnosis rate may be so high right now is that we’re trying so hard to diagnose people early.

 

Of course, we know that autism likely has multiple causes. Some of them may be genetic. Some of them may be environmental. And there are surely causes that we do not even know of today. At the very least, the increased rate of diagnosis is at least due, in part, to our ability to identify autism so much better now than we could even ten years ago.

 

Overall it’s clear that people are, without a doubt, trying to understand autism. Along with that, it’s more common for people to try to understand what it’s like to have autism, and how they can better communicate with people they know who are on the spectrum.

 

If you have any other questions, feel free to leave a comment below.

 

As always, thanks for reading!