Loyalty : Asset or Trap? by Stiofán MacAmhalghaidh Âû

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La città che sale (originally titled Il Lavoro), 1910, Umberto Boccioni, oil on canvas, MOMA New York retrieved from Widimedia Commons 13 Aug 2017

When we look at the list of positive characteristics autistics have identified in themselves as a counterpoint and correction to the prevailing picture of deficits and impairments, one stands out as problematic. That characteristic is Loyalty.

On the face of it the concept of loyalty appears quite positive. We speak with admiration of a loyal pet dog, of loyalty to a life partner, boast of remaining loyal to a favourite sports club through thick and thin. All good stuff really – what’s not to like? Well, there is a hint hidden in there: “through thick and thin”.

Loyalty is not something that can be quantified. You cannot hold it in your hand. It is even more ephemeral than that – it is meaningless unless there is a reason to be disloyal. Essentially it does not exist unless there is an opportunity and reason to take advantage of that opportunity.

Specifically in the context of the workplace, loyalty means remaining in your job despite the availability of alternative employment that offers easier access, better pay or opportunities, better work conditions and so on. When a person does not have those options – or does not feel confident in those options – they stay where they are. And the boss boasts of their ‘loyal workforce’.

Employment is a problem for many autistics. It is estimated that in the region of 85% of adult autistics are either unemployed or under-employed at any time. From an autistic perspective, this situation creates a real vulnerability to abusive and unhealthy working conditions that simply does not exist for most of their peers. When this is coupled with a lifetime of experiences that commonly include exclusion from social activity – and consequently limited opportunities for networking, restricted access to educational opportunities, and all too often an early life filled with traumatic experiences, there is a very real risk that employed autistics will endure an abusive work environment. They will stick it out, not protest, not leave. There is too much at stake. There is too much to lose.

This is called loyalty.

Now certainly there are circumstances where autistic dedication is coupled with a supportive environment. The two work in harmony and everyone benefits. We’ve all read reports of businesses that have capitalised on the real positive attributes that many autistics have to offer, Microsoft being a well-known example. These instances only result in – at best – a few hundred jobs. There are well in excess of 200 million autistics globally, which means in the region of 27-30 million autistics holding down some form of employment. Those are the people at risk.

This issue is three-fold. We’ve seen that employers can exploit autistic disadvantage in the name of loyalty; we have seen that, for autistics, those same disadvantages mean the opportunity to nullify the negative impacts of that exploitation are heavily restricted. We have seen, too, that central to this problem is the word ‘loyalty’. So, let’s break this down.

In terms of addressing this deeply problematic situation – and it is a common one for many neurodivergent and disabled people – we know that seeking to change employer attitudes directly will be a long and slow process with many instances of back-tracking. We know also that, while easier in some ways, addressing the self-image and opportunities for autistics is also a long-term project. What we can do today is unmask the lie.

The word is perfectly suited to hide abuse. More than that, when it is presented to autistics as an attribute they can ‘sell’ to a prospective employer, we directly undermine their already deeply compromised opportunities to self-advocate, to protest abuse, and to seek a future that is better than their past.

While I’ve focused on the workplace here it is important to appreciate that this issue does not stop at the factory gate. It applies to abusive personal relationships; it applies to schoolyard bullying; it applies to the denial of services and supports; it applies even to the exploitation of autistics by organisations (and individuals) claiming to be ‘about autism’ or ‘combatting autism’ or even ‘curing autism’.

Let’s think about this. Let’s unmask the lie. Let’s make the future honest, respectful and dignified. We have waited long enough. The ‘loyalty’ stops here.

 

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Why I Don’t Use Functioning Labels

Instead of getting all emotional about functioning labels, (which will not help me make my point), let me just express why I would strongly prefer that people don’t casually toss around the terms “high functioning” or “low functioning” with me.

1) As a young child I did not pass well. I know what it feels like to have people speak about you like you are not there. I know what it feels like to be underestimated.

2) Assigning the term “LOW” (synonyms: Less, Below, Under) to a person is giving society permission to underestimate, limit, hold down and devalue that person.

3) Many people, (like my son), do not speak fluently due to neurological issues. They may also not test well on standardized testing developed by Neurotypicals. That does not mean that you have any idea whatsoever what is going on in their complex minds. Even if a person DOES have an intellectual disability – SO WHAT? That doesn’t make them “low” either.

4) I know that many Autistic people do not mind, and even use the term themselves, but when you say “high functioning” to me what I hear is, “Good job, Nadine! High five!” In other words, after 48 years of practice, stress, social anxiety, bullying, low self-worth, OCD etc. etc. … I can manage to look really “normal” and “smart!” What an inspiration!

5) When someone is labeled “high functioning” they are expected to act Neurotypical at all times regardless of the toll it takes on them. If they make a social faux pas, they have a meltdown, whatever … the NT’s who are otherwise big fans, turn on them in an instant and seem to forget that they are really Autistic. And if they lose the ability to speak periodically, or forget themselves and flap their hands, or cover their ears in pain … that just makes a lot of NT really uncomfortable because it’s so …. Autistic looking.

We are TOO COMPLEX for these labels. Don’t simplify us like that please. Thank you.

Dear Me by Savannah Nicole Logsdon-Breakstone

(Note: This piece by PA Disability Rights activist, Savannah Nicole Logsdon-Breakstone was originally published by the blog, Cracked Mirror in Shalott in 2015 in celebration  of International Women’s Day. https://crackedmirrorinshalott.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/dearme-for-international-womens-day-2015/)

 

Dear Me, By which I mean young me,

A couple of things. Number 1: You are disabled. This is not a dirty word and isn’t shameful. In addition to being someone with mental health disabilities (which you’ve already owned, go you!) you are Autistic. I know at this point in your life, you still get very very upset any time staff bring it up. It is okay- this isn’t shameful either.

Also, your joints aren’t supposed to bend that way (It’s called hypermobility, and means you can get hurt easier) and the random pains you have will eventually get the name “fibro.” Neither are because of your weight or malingering, despite what Rick told you. By the time you hit my age, you will use a cane- which contrary to what you think, is super badass and femme- and a service dog, who makes your life a LOT easier to navigate.

Number 2: Don’t follow a boy to school. Trust me on this. Instead look for schools that might offer you a scholarship, and possibly ones that have a history of social justice or disability studies. Speaking of scholarships, keep applying for those- I know it feels like you’ve applied for tons but keep at it. You’ll need them.

Get accomodations from disability services. You need them, and they exist so that people like you can focus on actually learning. I know you are still going through your “I am crazy, but JUST FINE. This is FINE.” phase, but it isn’t and REALLY isn’t worth it.

History will become a hobby for you, and that is ok. (Also when you get a moment google “Anthropology.” You’re welcome.)

Number 3: You will eventually become someone who loves policy meetings. You know those things mom help you get invites to about mental health? That’s going to be more the direction that your career goes, not academia. And that is okay. You know that drive to see justice and equality? That passion will become the driving force in your work and in your life.

The internet will be really important as well. You already know this- you had it open things up for you already, and you now have things called, “friends.” It can do that and more for others, too. Don’t give up or get discouraged when people act like it is a waste of time. As you know now, it isn’t, and it will eventually make up about 80% of your work.

You will eventually find words for what was done to you, and it will make things better for others.

Number 4: Don’t let yourself make your sense of self worth be about your smarts or being perfect if you can. I know that Rick made it seem like if you messed up, even a tiny bit, that you would get locked away. That if it wasn’t for your smarts, that you would already be locked up. He was wrong, and you were right. You. Were. Right. You are worth it, you are valuable, and you are wonderful just by being you.

The Fiction Inside My Head by P.

(Note: For many people on the spectrum, writing is a release. This is a piece by an Autistic adult who is trying to find their words again.)

Do you know what I really hate? More than people who start a conversation with a question, I mean. What I wanted to say was, do you know what I could go my entire life without ever hearing again? “But you don’t look like you are____.”

Usually, the blank is filled with whatever label people need to put on me. Lets face it, I am covered in them, but it’s when they are used against me that I really do not like it. It is not my fault that I am the way I am (unless you believe in predestination and sacred contracts, in which case I guess it IS my fault).

I know that, according to many people, I am in control of how I react to people and my immediate environment, but something you must understand is that there are times when it is impossible for me to be in control. All it takes is too much of something, like too much noise or light, and the switch gets thrown and I am out of control. I go off and it can take me a long time to come back. Sometimes it is minutes, occasionally hours, and once in a while it is a day or more.

I do not choose what level something will hit before I go. I have been set off by something as simple as the hum from an electrical panel, which most people do not even hear. I hear it, and feel it, and sometimes I can even smell it if there is enough humidity in the air. Before you say, “Whack job!’, let me step in and stop you. I am not a whack job, I am autistic. I have Asperger syndrome, to be more specific. It is a part of me, like my eyes and heart and limbs. I cannot make it go away, even if I REALLY want it to. I have fought my entire life to appear normal, just like everyone else, but I have reached the point where I do not want to do it anymore.

People know I am different after spending a few minutes with me, so why expend energy on trying to blend in? I want to write, but I have such a mental block against writing that I find it nearly impossible to write any of the stories in my head. Do you know why? Because someone read my stories and held them against me. Or at least a part of my stories, anyway. I feel that my stories were what brought unwanted attention on me, and I was so harmed by the attention that I could not write anymore. So for the last 8 years, I have had these stories backing up in my system, like a bilge water. I truly believe that this is the reason for my lack of release. I don’t know, maybe release isn’t the ideal word, but it is the most descriptive.

So I struggle with the truth about me and the fiction inside of my head, and never the two shall meet, because I have had writing terrorized out of me, It sucks. What do I do?

The Protective Gift of Meltdowns by Max Sparrow (formerly Sparrow Rose Jones)

(Note: This piece was originally published on the blog Unstrange Mind at the following link: http://unstrangemind.com/the-protective-gift-of-meltdowns/ )
I hate meltdowns.  I hate the way they take over my entire body.  I hate the sick way I feel during a meltdown and I hate the long recovery time — sometimes minutes but just as often entire days — afterward when everything is too intense and I am overwhelmed and exhausted and have to put my life on hold while I recover.I hate the embarrassment that comes from a meltdown in front of others.  I hate the fear that bubbles up with every meltdown.  Will this be the one that gets me arrested? Committed? Killed?

Meltdowns, Like Shutdowns, Are Harmful But Necessary

We Autistic adults and teens put a lot of energy into figuring out what will lead to a meltdown and working to avoid those things whenever possible.  Parents of younger Autistics also put a lot of energy and work into figuring these things out, both to try to keep triggering events out of their child’s life and to try to help their child learn how to recognize and steer around those triggers themselves. Outsiders who don’t understand will accuse us of being overly avoidance and self-indulgent and accuse our parents of spoiling and coddling us.

I have written about how shutdown can alter brain function in unwanted ways.  Meltdowns also have their dangers and can alter brain function over time.  A meltdown is an extreme stress reaction and chronic stress can damage brain structure and connectivity.

But meltdowns serve a purpose, just as another unpleasant experience that can also re-wire the brain if it continues chronically and unabated — pain — also serves an important and very necessary purpose.

Pain is an alarm system that helps us avoid bodily damage and urges us to try to change something to protect our body. While pain is usually unwanted and something we seek to avoid, without pain we would not live very long because we would not have such a strong drive to eliminate sources of damage to our bodies.

Meltdowns are alarm systems to protect our brains.

That idea is so important I gave it its own paragraph.  And I’ll say it again: without meltdowns, we would have nothing to protect our neurology from the very real damage that it can accumulate.

So often, I see researchers and other writers talking about meltdowns as if they were a malfunction or manifestation of damage.  I strongly disagree.  It is easy for someone outside of us to view a meltdown that way because they see an unpleasant outburst that makes their lives more unpleasant or difficult to be around.  They see someone who appears to be over-reacting to something that’s not such a big deal as all that.  They see someone immature who needs to grow up, snap out of it, or get a “good spanking”  to teach them to behave.

When someone doesn’t experience the hell it is to be the person having the meltdowns, they can easily misunderstand and misjudge what it actually happening.

Meltdowns Are A Normal Response To Sensitivities

Let me ask you something:  this is a thought experiment and you don’t have to actually do this, but you might understand better if you actually follow along physically.  Take your finger and poke the softer flesh on the inside of your thigh with it so that you are pressing the tip of your fingernail into your thigh.  Don’t actually damage yourself! You’re just looking for a reference sensation.  Poke it about as hard as you might press a button to ring someone’s doorbell.

If you have long, sharp fingernails that might have hurt a little bit (I hope you were careful.  The goal here is not to injure yourself — just to create a physical sensation.)  It was a quick poke, so it probably didn’t even leave a mark behind, no matter how long your fingernails are.

Now do the same thing to your gums, either above or below your teeth, in that area between your teeth and the inside of your lips.  Oh! You couldn’t even poke it as hard, could you?  Do be gentle with your gums, please.  I repeat, this is not about harming yourself.  You don’t even have to poke yourself at all if you don’t want to.  You know your thighs and gums.  You know without lifting a finger that I am telling you the truth when I say your gums are much more sensitive than your inner thigh.

And you are not “over-reacting”  when you have more pain response in your gums than in your thigh, right?  It’s easier to hurt your gums so your reaction to the same stimulus is much more intense when it is applied to your gum than to your thigh.  You are not self-indulgent or spoiled.  You don’t need a good spanking to get over how sensitive your gums are.  You just need to take extra care that things don’t poke you in the gums.

So what’s my point?  If you are not Autistic — and even more so if you are pretty close to neurotypical — your neurological wiring is more like your thigh.  Life pokes at you a lot and you don’t even notice it.  Much of life’s poking is fun for you.  Some pokes are less recreational but present satisfying challenges.  So when you see an Autistic person having a meltdown you might not even recognize the pokes they have been processing all day long because you don’t even feel them.

But our Autistic neurological wiring is more like your gums.  Except not even that predictable.  Some of our senses may be “hyporesponsive”  and we need to stimulate them to be aware that they are even functioning.  Some of us spin around or pace in circles.  Some of us move our hands or fingers in ways that make us feel better.  Some of us blast loud music with a heavy bass and drum component to it.  Some of us rock back and forth.  Our wiring demands more input than the world’s regular pokes can give us.

Some of our senses are “hyperresponsive”  and we need much less stimulation.  Life’s pokes are like fingernails grinding into our gums and we need to make it stop because we cannot bear the pain.  Loud sounds or high-pitched sounds get to some of us.  Others are overwhelmed by the struggle to understand speech when more than one person is talking at the same time.  Some can’t stand textures of fabrics or foods.

Most people I know are a complex mixture of hyporesponsiveness and hyperresponsiveness.  Most people I know have some senses that are both hypo and hyper responsive, changing over time.  I can’t give you any single idea of a sensory pattern for an Autistic neurology because we each have our own combinations of needs.

Normal Human Variation Includes Variant Emotional Sensitivity Levels

But when it comes to meltdowns, it’s not just sensory input (or lack thereof) that will set off an Autistic’s neurological warning system and throw us into meltdown.  What inspired me to write about this topic today was reading something I had written a year ago.  I spent a few months living in an emotionally abusive situation last year.  The man I was living with for a brief time figured out very quickly how to manipulate my compliance triggers.  He even commented specifically on how easy it was for him to physically subdue me once he spotted the compliance “fish-hooks”  that childhood had left embedded in me.

I’m not going to go into much detail about what he did for the same reason that I shy away from going into much detail about my decade of childhood therapy.  I am working on removing those hooks from my flesh.  The last thing I want to do is instruct others as to where those hooks are embedded and how to use them to steer me like a puppet.

My point in mentioning the incident at all is that I realized after the fact that my meltdowns had been sending me a very clear message I should have heeded immediately.  Instead, I did what I always do: I interpreted my meltdowns as a sign of how damaged I was and how much I needed help to gain self-control. Most of my life, I’ve allowed lovers to convince me to try to medicate my meltdowns into submission.  I have hated them because they seemed to illustrate how flawed and awful I was.  My thought process went like this: I melt down because I’m Autistic and meltdowns are frightening and horrible and who would want to be my romantic partner? I can’t blame people for treating me badly and wanting to get away from me because look at these meltdowns!

My experience last year helped me to finally realize that I was looking at things backwards.

I don’t melt down because I’m Autistic.

I melt down because something in my environment is intolerable and I am having a normal reaction of pain and/or anxiety.  That pain can be from something physical, like an intolerable temperature in the room or a sound that is piercing my eardrums and making me nauseated.  Or it can be something emotional, like internal feelings of frustration or external abuse.

Everyone has meltdowns.  It’s not just an Autistic thing.  But our wiring is different, just like the wiring is different between your thighs and your gums.  Some things that make neurotypicals meltdown don’t bother me.  A whole heaping lot of things that don’t bother neurotypicals make me meltdown terribly.  I’m not deficient in some way; I’m  wired differently.

Meltdowns Protect Us From Harmful Situations And People

One of the things I learned last year is that even when I can’t recognize abuse because I have alexithymia, even when I can’t recognize abuse because my compliance training is kicking in full force, my body and nervous system will send me the message with repeated meltdowns.

What I wrote a year ago:

If I have lots of shouting, freak-out, PTSD meltdowns when we spend time alone with each other, yes it’s an Autistic thing. But it also means you’re regularly doing something messed up.

An isolated meltdown could just be a random convergence of awful that has nothing to do with you, but if a pattern develops, you’re probably gaslighting me, mistreating me, abusing me, or generally taking nastily unfair advantage of that same autistic neurology that makes me unable to recognize I’m being abused or mistreated until I see the pattern of meltdowns.

All my life I’ve been told, and believed, that losing my shit was a personal shortcoming I should work to overcome.

I now realize it’s actually my body/brain’s alarm system letting me know something’s seriously wrong in my life. Something bad that needs to be fixed, like yesterday, if not sooner.

I finally realized all this today. Everything suddenly connected.

And in an instant, I no longer hate my meltdowns. I think I might actually love them. They protect me.

So… I still do hate meltdowns.  More specifically, I hate having meltdowns.  They are hard on me, physically and emotionally.  They are embarrassing, messy, frightening.

But I am grateful that my body has a way to tell me when I’m in a bad situation, even if my mind is not capable of figuring it out yet.  I vow to respect and honor my meltdowns.  This is not the same as excusing my behavior.  This is not the same as giving myself free reign to do whatever, whenever.

I still want to do whatever I can to avoid having a meltdown.  I still want to work on my ability to detect a meltdown on the horizon and remove myself to safety before things go too far.

But I also vow to listen to my meltdowns and pay closer attention to my triggers.  Meltdowns teach me what my nervous system can handle and what is too much for me.  Meltdowns teach me how to take care of myself.  Meltdowns teach me what my nervous system needs.  Meltdowns highlight areas of my life that are not on track.

Sometimes my depression shows me that something is wrong in my life but sometimes depression is just like a wildfire, burning out of control.  The same with anxiety.  But I have learned that meltdowns are always highlighting something I need to address.

Meltdowns protect me.  Some aspects of my neurology make me more vulnerable.  Some remnants of childhood experiences leave me more vulnerable.  Meltdowns fill that gap and send me messages about my life that can help me protect myself.

While I will never enjoy having a meltdown, I promise I will always value the protective gift meltdowns bring me.

 

Getting and Keeping Friendships by Jane Strauss

Especially on-line I have often been asked by younger Spectrumites how they can make friends. I have the possible advantage of having been labeled in middle adulthood, and not spent my early years in Special Education, where the authorities often keep students separated and, based on what some of my friends have said, teach dysfunctional “social skills.”

I still am in touch, 50 years later, with a friend from grade school, and have friends from High School, College, and a variety of points in my life.   I have successfully raised 4 kids on spectrum to adulthood and they have found their places in the world. Unlike many in the world, I have been divorced only once, and have maintained long-term romantic relationships as well. That said, I have come up with several skills and behaviors that I recommend, based upon my decades of experience.

            There are five main rules here:

  1. Take part in activities you like, if possible outside of your room. If you like gaming, do that. If social fear means you have to start online, by all means do, but look for gaming groups, conventions, clubs, meetups, so you can meet people in the real world.   In high school, my friends were also involved in Orchestra, theater, art, Scouts, and folk music groups. We started out with interests in common, and were able to build interaction and relationships on our commonalities. In college, I made friends with people in Outing Club, as I liked climbing, hiking, and camping. It’s best to try to get involved with a group that meets on a regular basis – weekly, monthly etc, or as with performing groups, at times more often.
  2. Do not take part in something you do not like to do, JUST to meet people. One example is going to bars, if you don’t like drinking alcohol or being around people who do. I have found that doing that, leaves me unhappy and sets me up for failure. If you like doing the activity, then you will be more likely to enjoy going. When you enjoy it, you will be more likely to look happy, and people will more usually approach and want to meet people who are smiling. I met both my partners through science fiction activities which I enjoyed.
  3. If you do not understand something a potential friend does or says, ask them what they mean. There is nothing so sad as losing a potential friend through a misunderstanding.
  4. Remember that getting to know someone does take time. Even if it feels to you as if you must become best friends in a week or two, this is not realistic. Try to let them take the lead on getting together. This does not mean that if you will be going someplace fun that you think they might also like and want them to come along, you don’t ask. It does mean that you might not succeed if you think you should be together every day or even every week when you have first met. They have other people in their life and it looks like stalking if you try to monopolize their time. That can get you into trouble.
  5. Be nice to people. You never know where other friends may come from. Sometimes “popular” people may be imitating others, or saying mean things about them behind their backs, saying that they are “just joking” and you think that joining in will make you popular too. It won’t. It will just make you as mean as they are. Try to find people who are kind to others, watch what they do, and copy them. In the long run they make the best friends, to you and to others, and are models for how you can be a good friend too. And, being nice to your friends is a good start to keeping them, over the long term.

 

NOTE TO MY CHILD SELF by Kimberly Gerry-Tucker

(Note: This poignant piece originally appeared on Art of Autism in 2015. Here it is again with minor relevant changes.) 

If it could be said that I have a super power, I suppose it is this: that I have become very good at ‘passing’ at (so-called) normal. My weakness (kryptonite?) is that I’m very good at passing at (so-called) normal. I am incidentally not the only person on the spectrum who will tell you this. Because this takes so much effort, I often wonder a couple of things:

At what cost to myself?

Is it worth the lengthy recouping time afterwards?

I’m an adult with some hypo and some hyper sensitivities. Add in anxiety.  And dysthymia, a hard to treat ‘flat affect.’ I happen to have diagnoses of both Aspergers and
selective mutism. I remember very well what it was like to be a child with those challenges. As I said, with age, skills have developed to get by. But every thing, and I mean every thing, is an effort. This means telling myself with intention, not to map, that is to say, how to walk with a gait that doesn’t draw attention. Skipping, quick right angles, forgetting to say ‘excuse me,’ all of this and more I actively concentrate in any given daily circumstance. But, to be cliché, that is the tip of an iceberg and so much more is under the surface.

Low-lifes took advantage of me growing up. Adults who knew better laughed at me.
Peers waved their hand in front of my face: “Yoo hoo! Is anybody in there?” At the time, I
thought that because I was so different from everyone else that I must have be an alien
dropped here and expected to know the culture! I was nearly 100% mute in school settings, to the point I appeared to be staring into nothingness. Because I was. School had commingling, expectation of speech, shuffling, sudden departure from routines, other
children quick to laugh at jokes I didn’t ‘get;’ and also school had hidden rules I couldn’t
comprehend. Thinking back, it was an ingenious survival mechanism I had: staring into the pattern in the radiator to stay focused and tune out invasiveness. Selective mutism for me is lifelong and it is a source of, and brings feelings of vulnerability, frustration and terror.

Still, there are times I almost disappeared completely. Not speaking at all was and is a
comfortable place. I realize now that the sense of disappearing is a common feeling. If I
could write a note to “My Child Self,” it would go like this:

Dear Child Self,

Your childhood truly is magical. There are so many wonders, so much laughter, so many animal friends to love. But some emotions seem as big as the universe. You will experience fear, tragic loss, indignities and confusion, and all of that seems so overwhelming. But guess what? Huge uncomfortable feelings are survivable. They really are! Peers your age seem to know how to bond. You watch them, puzzled, like an anthropologist. But Child Self: you can’t get words out. They stick in your throat like the biggest lump ever. You cringe when people say, “She’s so shy,” because you know that you are not shy. The word ‘shy’ minimizes something feeling more serious. But don’t be alarmed by that difference. What you can’t know, Child Self, is that your senses are cranked on high. If you could see your brain, you’d see it may look like other brains physically, but the way it takes in information, makes sense of the information and manages output is unique. Still…I understand right now, BLENDING IN seems like the most important thing in your life. (There will come a time later in your life when you realize it’s perfectly okay to embrace your individuality. You will even find like-minded people with which to commiserate.)

Your serious, all-out desperate meltdowns leave you sleepy, red-faced, and even ashamed, but also you feel somehow better afterwards and you should not feel guilty about that. The meltdowns leave your mother weary and that is hard for you to see but know that she is weary faced because she is worried and she is worried because she cares. You don’t know this now, but sometimes Moms are blamed for having children with ‘different’ behaviors and she too is feeling big emotions. Don’t blame yourself for everything, Child Me.

Sometimes you can’t even communicate to your own parents. You attach notes to clothespins and throw them into the living room for your parents to read. This is clever on your part, Child Me, because you show that you are determined to communicate! They do not read your clothespin notes. They will simply yell, “Stop throwing things!” Give yourself credit for trying to communicate. At least you tried. You must know this: Many times, now and throughout your life, your thoughts, feelings, and ideas will indeed go unexpressed. But they are valid! Guess what, Child Self?

You aren’t alone. 

All this time that you isolate yourself, struggle, and are confused by the things others do, take my word for it– there are others who are just like you! One day when you are much older, you will know true peers who understand. You will find a belonging with these fellow anthropologists such as you have never known. This I promise.

Keep reading! Keep journaling! One day people will read what you have to say. Your words will become the biggest clothespins ever thrown into the world…and people will unclip the words from them and hear what you have to say! Keep creating! You have the ability to lose yourself for hours; ‘just’ drawing. You can’t begin to realize Child Self, how therapeutic art truly is. One day you will even show your paintings in galleries and you will sell them! Your art will be on the covers of books too! All human beings have ways to de- stress and for you that is Art, and always will be; even when you are grown up. Write what you cannot say aloud, and save those journals. Draw what goes unexpressed. And be easy on your young self when you are overwhelmed and lose control. So much of what happens is a learning experience even though it is often painful. Above all, trust me, ‘Your Future Self’ when I say:

Your Art and writing will sustain you. It will always be your safe footbridge over turbulence. 

If you cannot express yourself through your voice, continue to do so on the written page.
The things you think about really are important.

You may not believe me but you are stronger than you think. You try harder than most to
do what others seem to take for granted. The good news is, this is called perseverance and bravery. It makes you a resilient person, just like that silly toy you have: the blow-up
wobbly clown that keeps getting back up every time you push or punch it.

Take pleasure in being in your own company because one day, others will too. I promise.
So draw! Make Christmas ornaments from cinnamon sticks, glue and sparklies! Spread
peanut butter on pinecones and enjoy watching the squirrels come for them. Write!
These types of expressions will carry you all your life.

Being you, uniquely you, fully and wholly is all you’ve ever had to be. It’s enough because you matter.