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.

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.