Autistic, Non-Speaking, and “Intelligent” by Amy Sequenzia

Note: This piece by the very talented Autistic activist, writer and poet, Amy Sequenzia, appeared first on Ollibean and can be read there at the following link:  It is reposted here with her explicit permission.

“Being Autistic is not the same as being intellectually disabled”.

“Non-speaking Autistics are intelligent”.

“When non-speaking Autistics learn how to type they can ‘prove’ their intelligence’”.

All the statements above are true. They are also incomplete.

Statements like these are assumptions that do not help in making the world more respectful of all disabled people.

They are incomplete because some non-speaking Autistics might also be intellectually disabled;

Because some Autistic people might be Autistic AND intellectually disabled;

Because while some typists are able to show that the assumptions about their IQ were wrong, being able to type is a way to make it easier for neurotypical people to understand us, it is simply another way for us to communicate.

I know how hurtful it is to be presumed incompetent, to be called “retarded” just because we cannot speak, or because we usually move differently, or look like we are not paying attention.

I can understand how eager we are to show the world that we can have complex thoughts, that we understand things, that we have opinions and feelings.

I was, and still am, eager too.

Intelligence is a socially constructed concept.

Not because I want to be seen as “intelligent”, but because I want to be heard, even if my views are not based on my perceived intellect.

I feel some frustration when I see a fellow typist saying that they can finally “prove” that they are not intellectually disabled.

It is the same frustration I feel when someone tells me that I am “clearly” not intellectually disabled.

The frustration is not because I don’t celebrate my peers’ successes. I do celebrate them. I know they worked hard to achieve their goals. The frustration is because “intelligence”, and proving that we are “intelligent” should not be the main reason for us to demand our rights, to demand respect, to demand to be treated with dignity.

When we focus on “intelligence”, we risk endorsing the normalizing concepts of value and worth, consequently devaluing a lot of Autistics, non-speaking Autistics, and other disabled people who can’t, or don’t want to, “prove” their intelligence.

Some of us don’t care about this arbitrary concept called “intelligence”.

Some of us will never be interested in academic knowledge.

Some of us will never want or be able to go to college, or even to get a real high school diploma.

Some of us just want to be heard, even if what we say is perceived as not accurate, not “well-thought”, or intellectually immature.

Some of us are, indeed, intellectually disabled.

Intelligence is a socially constructed concept. It addresses the majority’s perception of desirability.

Autistics are neurodivergent. How we absorb and express information is not typical. We are not the majority, we don’t “fit” the majority’s concepts of “normal” and “desirable”.

Neurotypical Definitions of  Intelligence and Success

I don’t want to be valued by the nondisabled, neurotypical definitions of success.

I don’t have a PhD, a college degree, or a high school diploma.

I don’t have a job.

I don’t pay taxes.

Degrees, jobs, being a taxpayer are worthy goals for anyone who wishes them.

Those are not the goals I have for my life.

I still deserve to be valued.

Degrees, jobs, being a taxpayer are achievements, but they are achievements as defined by the neurotypical, non-disabled majority.

Sometimes my achievement is to get up in the morning. I celebrate this.

It is to be able to type a sentence. I celebrate this.

It is to be able to pay attention to an audio book. I celebrate this.

My achievements have nothing to do with the majority’s definition of success.

Being compassionate does not require “intelligence”. I consider myself compassionate.

Being wise does not require “intelligence”. I consider myself wise.

Intelligence, as defined by a normalizing society, is not a requirement to be a worthy human being.

I don’t allow others to define me, and to value me, according to their view of the world, of life.

I type to be heard, and to challenge assumptions.

If you say I am intelligent, you would be wrong.

If you say I am not, you would be wrong too.

The Inspirational Meme: How to Disrespect Disabled People From the Comfort of Home

Note: This piece was originally published by the blog, Extemporary Sanity, which if you have not yet figured this out, was me writing anonymously several years ago.

How can you disrespect disabled individuals, misquote historical figures and show cute pictures of puppies and kitties all at the same time? By creating an inspirational meme of course!  After all, what are disabled people and kitties for if not to inspire able-bodied individuals to get up off their asses and achieve?

Do you have a bad attitude?  Well, rather than sitting down and seriously contemplating how you could find more meaning in your existence,  just check out a picture of a cute kid with Down Syndrome. Wouldn’t it suck to be her? And look – she’s so happy!  So what’s wrong with you?  It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t really suck to be a person with Down Syndrome at all, or that her role in life is not to make sure that you get up off the couch and make it to the gym today.   All that matters is the INSPIRATION that it brings you.

Today I saw possibly the best example of this phenomenon to date.  It was a a meme with a quote by Helen Keller.  Helen Keller, as most know, was a woman worthy of respect, an intelligent woman, a writer, an educator in her own right.  The quote was thoughtful and relevant at her own time and in our own.  The tag line accompanying this quote?  “If Helen Keller could “see” this – nobody else has a good excuse not to.”   Allow me to paraphrase – Dude, this chick was BLIND and DEAF and even SHE knew this.  WTF man?!  The brilliance of it – actually using a historical figure who was disabled to devalue disabled people – is unmatched.  Of course the creator erred in that she accurately quoted Ms. Keller, but that’s easily correctable.   I think that if they can just find a good picture of her holding a puppy it will be absolutely perfect.

So, how can you too inspire others while patronizing disabled people? Start by finding a person with an obvious disability.  None of that “hidden disability” crap unless it’s somebody famous.  The more disabled the better.  Then make sure not to mention their name so that you can assure that people only see the disability and not the individual.  Then point out that if someone like this can actually get through life everyday, and possibly even achieve something, then somebody “normal” should certainly be able to.  Simple.  And don’t forget – work the puppy in somehow.

How to Be Socially Awkward or What I Learned In Social Skills Class

NOTE: This piece was originally published by the blog “Extemporary Sanity” and was subsequently published by “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism” blog. 

Over the years many people have “explained” the autism spectrum to me for which I owe them a debt of gratitude.  Without their thoughtful help I would never have guessed that I was cognitively impaired and lacked empathy.  Who knew that I would never grasp the subtleties of language or concepts, like irony, sarcasm or satire?

More than anything, though, I deeply appreciate how their expertise helped to blend in flawlessly in social situations. Rather than just staying at home and doing things that make me happy, like reading or writing about subjects I like, (being socially isolated and fixated on obsessive interests), I can instead engage in meaningless conversation with people who I don’t know well or like very much (socialize appropriately).   I have a whole list of conversation starters in my pocket and I’m ready to mingle baby!

There’s only one snag that I have run into so far, the fact that apart from other Autistic people, nobody else has had social skills training. Time and again I seem to encounter people who have not learned that when I approach them, (with a smile and good eye contact, making sure that my body is facing them and I am standing at an appropriate distance), that they are supposed to turn toward me and pause their conversation so that I can use one of the “openings” that I diligently practiced.  They also don’t know that they are supposed to warmly welcome me when I toss out, (in a carefully slowed down and not overly-loud voice),  my “Hey guys” or “What are you guys doing?”  Amazingly enough, some of them even seem to find this type of thing a little awkward, or even creepy, coming from a complete stranger.

I’m sure that it has nothing at all to do with anything like the realistic quality of the scripted conversations that I memorized.  After all, they were created by  experts who clearly must have known a great deal about the dynamics of social interaction – especially back when I was a teen attempting to interact with other teens and those experts were so much older and wiser.  I suppose I’ll just have to chalk it up to coincidence.  It’s not that I have been systematically taught to be even more socially awkward than I already was, it’s simply that everyone who I have ever approached and been rejected by has been an undiagnosed autistic person in need of appropriate social skills training.

The Importance of Finding Out Useless Crap About Autism

Note: This piece was originally published by the blog “Extemporary Sanity.” 

As you may have heard, many Autistic people like routine. Well, I’m one of them. Every morning I get up, shake off the three hours of refreshing melatonin-induced sleep that I got, and head downstairs. Sitting down with a steamin’ cup o’ joe I fire up the computer and find out why I’m Autistic today. Were my parents old, fat, Republican? Was my mom, dad, anyone, exposed to a viral infection in the first trimester? Perhaps I was raised in a toxic waste dump or born on a Tuesday. The possibilities are endless. What matters is that the routine never changes. Ever.

In these turbulent and uncertain times it is good to know that we can rely on something. Leaders may come and go, empires may rise and fall, but there will always be some researcher somewhere spending money that could be used to keep Autistic adults out of institutions on finding out useless crap about autism.  And thank God. What would society do without the knowledge that Autistic people lack empathy because we don’t assign the same personality traits to anthropomorphic triangles on a computer screen as “normal” people? How would people form stereotypes about us without modern studies based on outdated, discredited, ambiguous and arbitrary data from 1947? This research is absolutely essential.

What frightens me is that someday some irresponsible (sentient) person may decide that this money should be spent in other ways, like helping Autistic adults overcome decades of discrimination to thrive in the workforce.  Who needs that? What we really need is more studies on why Autistics are so … not normal … and how we can fix them, or better yet, prevent them all together. Hey, nobody needs another Albert Einstein on their hands.

I’m not really worried though. Luckily, we have plenty of big groups that will keep raising money for the “right” autism causes.   Remember, the best way to make sure that nothing ever changes, is to keep listening to those groups instead of actual Autistic people.   We wouldn’t want to mess up our routine.

Aspie Anxiety

When living on the autism spectrum, especially Aspergers, there are a lot of struggles that come your way. One of those struggles, especially for me is anxiety. Anxiety has always been something I’ve had a struggle with and what makes it difficult is it comes in waves. For instance, in the morning I can feel very happy go lucky and even jovial. However, later on that day, my anxiety would kick in. My heart would start racing, I would stutter, shake, and get very paranoid to the point of being scared to death. Most of this has to do with certain social situations.
Due to me having Aspergers, it can be hard for me sometimes to do well in social situations their times especially if I know people in which I feel fine and I can enjoy myself amongst company however their house of been times in which I would feel afraid I’m kind of scared even when there’s no danger to be seen. It’s as if I’m going to medieval battle with no armor no sword only my flesh and blood. Yes, it can be that scary. There have been times in which it has gotten so bad, that I would be afraid to go to social events, even though I really wanted to.

No matter what day it is, this anxiety would creep up. However, there have been things that I have been testing to help me with this.

First, I would take deep breaths. Although this might sound very simple, doing this has helped me to calm down. Second, I would recite sayings to myself, mantras if you will. These sayings could be, “you are in good company”, or “you are going to do great today”. No matter how I say them, they help to be reminders for myself in times of anxiety. So far, they have been very helpful both at work and in the social world.

I’m still learning more tactics to help myself get through these challenging moments. I guess what I am saying for those in the spectrum with this issue, and even for those who are not autistic, is that there are times in which anxiety may creep its demonic head around the corner. But there are ways that you can fight it and, most importantly, is that you are not alone.