10.18.2015

Pumpkin Patches and Mezcal

Autism acceptance doesn't magically turn Leo's or my life into sugar-topped cakewalks, just so you know. (Allow me a smidge of irritation over how often Pollyanna charges gets leveled at us.)

I accept that many things are hard for Leo because he's autistic, that I can't understand why they're hard if I approach those roadblocks like a non-autistic person would, but that if I try to see and understand matters from his perspective -- his unique autistic perspective -- things get easier for both of us.

But I can't make everything in his life about being autistic either, because that means I end up underestimating him in other ways, specifically regarding how much he is maturing. Oftentimes, I'm the one who's lagging behind, in terms of adjusting to the sometimes decreasing amounts of backup Leo needs to navigate this world.

An example: last week, after several days of promising Leo I'd take him to a jumpy house pumpkin patch, I finally managed to get him and Mali to the closest one. And after all that build up, after all the yays and the "we're here!," and the walking between and pointing at the inflatable slide and the jumpy house, and declaring how proud I was that he didn't grab any candy from the bins scattered all around the check-in area...

...the woman manning the gate told Leo he couldn't go in, because he was too big, and because there were lots of little kids. She wasn't nice about it, either.

Reader, I almost died. How could Leo not have a meltdown (not a tantrum, a meltdown), given how excited he was, and how long he'd been waiting to go, yet things didn't go as planned?

I was paralyzed. I hadn't considered the possibility that Leo would be barred from a pumpkin patch -- it's never happened before -- and I had no back up plan to help Leo deal with such a huge disappointment.

Image: A snifter of mezcal, and some orange slices.
After a few sputtering beats, I paraphrased what the Grinchy gatekeeper said -- told Leo I was sorry, but that apparently the pumpkin patch was for little kids right now and he he had grown so much since last Halloween that now he was too big, and I hadn't known he could be too big. That I knew he really wanted to go, but maybe he could settle for ... (crap) a trip to the forbidden halls of Dairy Queen instead?

And you know what? Leo didn't protest or complain once. He agreed to go to Dairy Queen for a small plain vanilla cone that he's really, really not supposed to have but, you know, desperate times; he ate the cone with delight, and we went home and passed an uneventful evening.

(His mother, on the other hand, took several hours to recover from the what-could-have-happened adrenaline rush of having her happy, expectant son being denied admission to a favorite place, eventually resorting to a double shot of reposado mezcal with orange slices, once the kids were to bed. Is it Leo or is it his mother who had the better set of coping skills, do you think?)

I was still determined to get Leo to a &!!%*! pumpkin patch. And a few days later, I was not only successful but found a patch ten times better than that silly run-of-the-mill place that wouldn't let him in. This place had inflatable human-size hamster balls that float on water! Leo was ecstatic, and I was amped up on joy for my dude (and his little sister, and her friend).

Boy (and Girls) in the Bubble(s)
[image: white teen boy kneeling inside a transparent inflatable bubble, in
large inflatable wading pool. Two other bubbles with kids inside are behind him.]
All Hail the Floating Bubble!
[image: white teen boy lying inside an inflatable bubble,
arms raised, in a large inflatable wading pool.]
No mezcal needed, that second time. It was the best time ever, for all of us. But I might need another snort right now, after reliving that first nixing. (Bitch.)

10.08.2015

Achievement Unlocked: We Have a Driver

[image: white teen girl with long curly dark
blonde hair holding up her new driver's license.]
This kid is now a licensed driver. In the scant few hours since getting her license, she has:

1) Driven to a friend's house in another city
2) Driven herself to and from soccer practice
3) Decided that she wanted a specific kind of snack from the grocery store, drove herself there, and paid for the snack with her own money (did I mention that she also has a job?)

All good things, all good things. All really weird things.  All big steps that will lead to bigger steps that will lead to her being gone in less than a year, if her plans come to fruition.

I haven't been great about recording milestones. These milestones need recording. *sob*

10.07.2015

Don't Blame Autistic People, or Mental Illness, For Mass Shootings

The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) felt compelled to issue a statement debunking media myths linking autism and mental illness with violence:
"Recent media reports have attempted to suggest a link between individuals on the autism spectrum and violent behavior. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network [ASAN] is concerned by the proliferation of misinformation which may contribute to increased stigma and discrimination against Autistic Americans. Autistic people are no more likely than any other group to commit acts of violence. People with disabilities of all kinds, including autism, are vastly more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. There is no link between autism and violent crime. Similarly, there is no link between psychiatric disability and violent crime."
You might assume the statement is a response to emerging reports about the Umpqua Community Colllege shooter being on the autism spectrum, but that statement was actually written almost 18 months ago in response to a different spate of violence and the resulting media missteps. ASAN's words were relevant then, and are unfortunately relevant now. Please share them widely.

Why does the media continue to perpetuate these myths about autistic people planning mass murders? As Emily Willingham pointed out the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, it's because of assumptions that autistic people lack empathy, because people mistakenly assume empathy is a monolithic state. But there is a distinct difference between cognitive empathy (recognizing physical and social emotional cues and acting on them, which can be difficult for autistic people) and emotional empathy (identifying with another person's recognized emotional state, which autistic people can do just fine). Because autistic people have their own ways of reacting to emotional situations, people who aren't autistic can mischaracterize their autistic peers as unfeeling -- when in fact it's usually the opposite that's true: autistic people are often overwhelmed by emotional empathy to the point of paralysis.

And it can't be repeated enough that autistic people, like those who are mentally ill, are far -- far -- more likely to be victims of violence than to commit violent acts. John Oliver addressed this issue in detail, in the context of media (and ignorant dillweeds like Trump and Carson) blaming mental illness for the UCC shooting. (Video without captions, apologies.)


Autistic or mentally ill individuals are also less likely to plan violent acts -- when they are violent or aggressive, it is usually a reaction to being provoked or having their environmental tolerance limits bridged, and is a panicked, fight-or-flight response. People running on pure instinct and adrenaline are hardly in planning mindsets.

Knowing that autism and mental illness aren't to blame for mass shooting tragedies, isn't going to prevent those tragedies, however. What can we do about having fewer future victims?

There's not a whole lot we can do under our current gun control laws, and as long as American policy makers refuse to acknowledge that countries with stronger gun contol regulations have dramatically few gun-related deaths. Currently, Americans can get a gun more easily than they can get an abortion or driver's license, so individuals who have been exposed, conditioned, or encouraged to consider mass violence are going to have the opportunity to act. Currently, not enough Americans or American media outlets give a shit about gun control laws to limit those opportunities. Currently, while the NRA is puppetmastering the GOP,  none of that is likely to change, and more shootings will happen. That's the pattern. That's our current reality.

But you can act. You can sign petitions for better gun control. Even better, you can write to -- or meet with -- your local congress member and tell them how you feel. You'd be amazed at how straightforward arranging such a meeting can be, and what your impact will be.

And in the meantime, please keep keep debunking those myths about autism, mental illness, and mass shootings.
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