Tag Archives: Disability

Dropping the Mask: Does it Take a Diagnosis? #TakeTheMaskOff

Today, the theme for #TakeTheMaskOff is diagnosis or self-discovery and its effects on masking. This is applied mostly to the experience of being autistic, but I can relate to it from a trauma survivor perspective too.

I haven’t yet read any of the other contributions for this week, but I assume the idea behind this challenge is that discovering you’re autistic, either through professional diagnosis or not, can help you drop a facade.

This is definitely true for me. When I was first diagnosed with autism in 2007, my staff claimed that I was using it as an excuse, because I reacted more to for example loud noises than I’d done before diagnosis. Similarly, my parents claimed that I was over-protected by the staff who felt I’m autistic and this led to my psychiatric hospitalization in November of that year.

To be honest, yes, I may’ve started to use autism more as an explanation for my behavior once I was diagnosed than I did pre-diagnosis. Note that I say “explanation”, not “excuse”. I don’t feel I need an excuse to act like myself, unless acting like myself were harming other people. Saying that we use autism as an excuse for our behavior is really saying that we should conform to non-autistic standards of behavior at any cost. Autism is an explanation for why I can’t conform to these standards, but even if I could, that doesn’t mean I should.

Then again, once my autism diagnosis was taken away in 2016, I did feel like I needed an excuse. And so did many other people. I was kicked out of autism communities that I’d been a valued part of for years. Suddenly, I’d been faking and manipulating and “acting autistic-like” all those years rather than just having been my autistic self. One Dutch autistic women’s forum’s members and admins were notorious for spinning all kinds of theories on why I’d been pretending to be autistic all those years and had finally been unmasked.

<PAnd at long last, I started to believe these people. I started to believe that self-diagnosis may be valid for other people, but it isn't for me. I started to wonder whether my parents were right after all that I'd been fooling every psychologist and psychiatrist before this one into believing I'm autistic.

This process of self-doubt and shame led to my first real episoede of depression. After all, if I’m not autistic, why did I burn out and land in a mental hospital? I’d been diagnosed with dependent personality disorder by the psychologist who removed my autism diagnosis, so were my parents right after all? I suddenly felt like I needed an excuse to act autistic-like, as if being autistic is indeed less than, not just different from being neurotypical.

I sought an independent second opinion and was rediagnosed with autism in May of 2017. I still am not cured of the idea that it takes a professional diagnosis to “excuse” a person from acting non-autistic. I don’t apply this to other people, but I do still apply it to myself and that’s hard.

I originally posted this to my other blog. I use that blog to counteract this self-stigmatizing attitude. This, after all, also applies to my status as a trauma survivor. I got my autism diagnosis back, but I never got and most likely never will get my trauma-related diagnoses back. I still mask, hiding my trauma-related symptoms when I can. And that’s not usually hepful in the long run.

#TakeTheMaskOff: What Is Masking?

Today, rather late, I found out about the #TakeTheMaskOff campaign designed to promote autism acceptance and awareness of the effects of masking. I really want to participate, so even though it’s incredibly hot here, I’m writing a post.

The campaign consists of six consecutive weekly themes about which participants blog, vlog or post on other social media. The first weekly theme is “What is masking?”

Masking, put simply, is pretending to be something you’re not. This can be done either consciously or uncnsciously. Many autistic adults have learned to mask so well it’s almost second nature. We’re also encouraged to mask on a daily basis when people judge us about being autistic. Then when we mask successfully, we’re told we don’t look autistic.

For example, I’m often told that I don’t appear autistic. After all, when I hold a conversation, I appear pretty “normal”. I am told I can hold down a reciprocal conversation that doesn’t sound stereotyped or like I’m scripting. I ask people about their interests, for example. Now that it’s been extremely hot here for a few weeks already, I have even mastered some smalltalk about the weather.

This obviously (to me) does not mean I’m not autistic. Autism, despite what many people think, is not about social niceties. Autism is not the same as a lack of interest in others. Besides, I have 32 years of experience being told how selfish I am for not appearing to show an interest in others. So instead of showing a genuine interest in the people and topics I’m genuinely interested in, I learned to appear to be interested in whatever and whoever I am supposed to be interested in. In other words, I learned to mask my autistic curiosity.

For example, I was eleven when my mother told me I might be institutionalized if I didn’t become more age-appropriate. My having too many toys and dolls, according to her, contributed to my challenging behavior and I was to get rid of them. Instead, I was supposed to develop an interest in music. I wasn’t all that sophisticated at the time, so rather then developing a genuine-appearing interest in music, I hung Backstreet Boys posters on my wall.

Similarly, I was encouraged to wear jeans rather than sweatpants even though jeans were a sensory nightmare to me. It was assumed that I wore sweatpants because I didn’t care about my appearance – which is partlty true – or because I, being blind, didn’t know that my peers were wearing jeans.

Masking can become so internalized, apparently natural, that you no longer notice you’re doing it. For instance, I wear jeans without a problem now.

It is easy to assume that, because the autistic person no longer notices that they’re masking, it must not be affecting them. This often leads to the assumption that, if someone doesn’t appear autistic and isn’t acting out, they must not be autistic after all. Then people go on to assume that, if said neurotypical-appearing person does act out, it must be “manipulativeness”.

I am, however, definitely masking when I wear jeans, or listen to my husband’s favorite radio station in the car, or engage in smalltalk about the weather or someone’s upcoming vacation. It isn’t always a negative thing, but it is still masking.

Blind People Should

A few years back, there was a flash blog event that had autistic bloggers all finish the sentence “Autistic people should …”. I think the reason was to counter the hurtful search suggestions that Google made when people typed in “autistic people should”. I was reminded of this event when I read this weeks #theprompt, which is “should”.

I was also reminded of my own preconceived ideas about what disabled people should. A few days ago, I wrote to a disability support group on Facebook about feeling like I was setting a bad example for the disability community because I don’t work and spent years in an instituton. Shouldn’t I have to explain why I can’t work or live fully independently? The short answer is: no.

I was feeling like I should have a disability label to justify my every need because of what I learned whilst being part of E-mail groups run by the National Federation of the Blind, one of the two major organizations of the blind in the United States. This was in the early 2000s, mostly before I’d been diagnosed with autism. What I learned was that blind people, unless they have severe additional disabilities, which I’ll address later, should be able to achieve as much as sighted people do. For example, we should be able to read at the same speed, get around with a white cane completely independently, go to college (I think I picked up the term “college-bound” there), be employable, etc. I can’t do or be any of these things. Keeping the bar of expectations high was the motto of the parents’ organization of the NFB or so it seemed. I always imagined a candy bar put up on a star light years away and me being told to reach for the stars.

Sometimes, when people judged blind children or adults they only knew through newspaper articles not to be independent enough, someone would come up with the get-out-of-jail-free pass: “Maybe the person has additional disabilities?” This is a real possibility, since strangers usualy assume my every impairment is due to blindness despite my additional disabilities, so I assume newspaper reporters are no different. Yet does it matter? Should it? Apparently, sometimes.

In an old (like, late 1990s) issue of Future Reflections, the NFB’s magazine for parents of blind children, a blind adult reported his shame when he crticized parents of blind teenagers for not taking their teens to a seminar on independence. It turned out he was speaking to a roomful of parents of teens with multiple disabilities, so obviously they couldn’t bring their teens. I assume most of these teens had the type of disability that seems to have a monopoly on the term “multiple disabilities” when additional disabilities are involved: severe intellectual disability. After all, when I played the additional disabilities card after my autism diagnosis in 2007, I was told to look up Temple Grandin.

I may sound bitter and I shouldn’t be. After all, I do get the services I need now, even though they cater to, well, people with severe intellectual disabilities. That being said, I know I’m incredibly privileged now to have found my particular care agency, because most others would try to fit me into the mentally ill mold or the blindness mold or any other not-completely-fitting mold rather than looking at my needs.

This all brings me to my point, which is that blind people, autistic people, any kind of disabled people, any kind of people in fact, should not have to justify their needs. We are all human and all different, after all.

mumturnedmom

“Just Blind”: My Experience With Passing and the Resulting Burn-Out

Last May, I wrote my first post in the 30 Days of Autism Acceptance. I never followed through with the rest of the challenge, but today, I’m inspired to write on the day 2 topic, which is passing and autistic burn-out.

There is a lot of societal pressure to look and act as “normal” as possible. Passing is the situation where people who don’t belong to the “normal” majority appear as though they do. This may refer to disabled people appearing non-disabled, but it also refers to people of racial minorities being perceived as white or to queer people being perceived as straight.

I never fully passed for non-disabled, because I’m blind, but I did try to pass for a long time. People however often could tell that I had some kind of disability even if they couldn’t tell what it was. Interestingly, besides not passing for sighted, I don’t believe I could ever fully pass for neurotypical, except to those who believe an autistic appearance is normal for blind people.

In addition to appearing normal, disabled people are also pushed to achieve those things that are deemed “normal” in society. That is, except when you look so obviously disiabled that people judge you to be too “low-functioning” for that, in which case they usually greatly underestimate your abilities. I may write about that at some other point. There is a lot of pressure even from within the disabled community to perform as well as non-disabled people do. I see this particularly in the blind community, except, once again, when a person is seen as severely disabled enough not to need to achieve.

Until I was twenty, I was almost universally perceived as “just blind”. Oh and presumably extremely intelligent. As such, I had to perform according to my intelliigence, so I had to go to a mainstream, high-level secondary school. All my problems there were chalked up to either my blindness or my high intelligence.

At age twenty, I resided in an independent living training home for the disabled, which had originally been set up specifically for the blind, so most staff had some expertise on blindness. It was there that it first became apparent that I’m not “just blind”. I was referred for a diagnosis and diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in March of 2007. Eight months later, while living independently, I completely fell apart. I experienced autistic burn-out. Yet many people still see my diagnosis, my burn-out and my subsequent voluntary admission to a psychiatric hospital, as an elaborate way for me to manipulate people into giving me care.

I never fully recovered from my burn-out, in the sense that I went back to living a “normal” life for a person who is “just blind”. I was in college in 2007. Now, even though I’m out of the institution, I have no plans of going back to full-time education or finding a paid job. Though I may want to attend some part-time education or do volunteer work in the future, I’m now happy to be at a day center doing sensory activities. I am also glad that I was finally approved for home support yesterday.

In this sense, I did in fact recover from my burn-out. I mean, I did not return to the life that essentially caused me to burn out, but I do think my life is meaningful. In fact, I am happier now than I was when I still passed for “just blind”.

Ten Things You May Not Know About My Disability Experience #SEND30DayChallenge

Today I discovered the #SEND30DayChallenge, a 30-day special needs and disabilities blogging challenge. I have participated in way too many 30-day challenges and there’s not one I’ve finished. However, they’re usually just meant to inspire people to write about certain topics. Most people I know don’t follow these challenges over 30 consecutive days.

The first topic in the #SEND30DayChallenge is “the meaning beheind your blog name”. I have a pretty self-explanatory blog name, so I’m not writing about this. Instead, I’m going with the day 2 topic, which is “10 things you don’t know about ___”. Here are ten things you may not know about my disability expierence.

1. I am multiply-disabled. One common myth about multiple disabilities is that the term should refer only to those with an intellectual disability combined with a mobility impairment. I do have a slight mobility impairment, but I don’t have an intellectual disability. However, I am multiply-disabled nonetheless. I am, after all, blind and autistic and mentally ill and have some other difficulties.

2. I struggle with seemingly easy things while I find seemingly diffcult things easy. For example, I can work a computer but not put peeanut butter n a slice of bread. Similarly, due to the variability in my energy level, executive functioning and mental health, I can do some things one day but not the next.

3. You cannot always tell why I have a certain difficulty. Neither can I. This is hard, because people often want to categorize and label things that are out of the ordinary.

4. I have difficulty with communication sometimes. I don’t just mean non-verbal communication, which would seem logical because I’m blind. I mean speech too. I am usually verbal, but lose my ability to speak coherently (or sometimes at all) under stress.

5. I have serious sensory issues. For instance, I find certain sounds incredibly overwhelming. I also seem to have sensory discrimination issues, like with understanding speech in a crowded environment. The worst bit about my sensory issues is that I don’t always notice which is bothering me. For example, I may be hungry but not notice it because there’s a radio in the background that catches my attention.

6. I have slight motor skills deficits. Whether these are diagnosable as anything, I do not know. People on social media often urge me to seek a diagnosis, as my parents either weren’t given a diagnosis or don’t care. However, I find this incredibly stressful and difficult.

Just today, I considered buying myself a white walking stick. They’re sold at assistive equipment stores for the blind. I after all usually use my white cane more as a walking stick and the white walking stick would still signal people to my blindness. However, as much as I seem comfortable invading Internet spaces for mobility-impaired people, I don’t feel so comfortable getting assistive devices for this reason.

7. I am blind, but I still can see a tiny bit. I have light perception only according to eye tests. This’d ordinarily mean I’m functionally totally blind and I usualy say I am. However, I can see such things as where windows or open doors are located. This sometimes confuses people, but in reality, most people who say they’re blind have a tiny bit of vision.

8. I exhibit challenging behavior. This is not willful misbehavior. Rather, it is a response to overload or frustration. I am learning better coping skills.

9. I am more than my disabilities. I have summed up most of my recognized challenges in the above points, but like every human being, I have my strengths and weaknesses.

10. I don’t have special needs. I just have needs. I mean no offense to the special needs parenting community, as I know they don’t mean to offend me. My point however is that, if we see the needs of disabled people as somehow more “special” than those ordinary needs that non-disabled people have, we may forget that not all our needs are explainable by disabilities and we don’t need to have a recognized disablity to justify our needs. We’re all human, after all.

You Baby Me Mummy
Spectrum Sunday

“Pushy Parents”?: A “Pushy Adult”‘s Opinion

There has been some talk around the UK special needs blogosphere about a recent report that suggests parents may be pushing for special needs diagnoses when these are not needed. The report is poignantly called “Hooked On Labels”. It points out that many teachers feel that pushy parents are responsible for unwarranted learning or behavioral difficulty diagnoses. The report does not ask for parents’ views and did not ask anyone to quantify how many parents might be working the system to gain diagnoses their children don’t need.

I understand both sides of the issue. My father used to work at a secondary school with at the time around 1500 students. Of these, at one point, 139 had a formal dyslexia diagnosis. At the time, it was thought that only 1% of the population have dyslexia, hence suggesting a serious overdiagnosis. I just googled it and found current estimated prevalence rates as high as 17%. Assuming that reading ability runs on a bell curve, this would indicate that those only one standard deviation below the norm would be classified as dyslexic. Now I have no clue whether reading ability runs on a bell curve, but if a disability occurs in as many as 17% of the population, in my opinion, it can barely be called a disability. This means the system is failing, not the student. Either that, or parents are being pushy.

I find it interesting that parents are automatically blamed for overdiagnosis of learning or behavioral difficulties. Some teachers surveyed for the report suggested parents were working the sysstem to get accommodations for their children. Some even said perhaps parents wanted these children to enter into more competitive education which they otherwise would not have been able enough for. I do believe there may be some parents who get their children labeled with disabilities in order for them to be able to compete. However, doesn’t that mean that schools are just too focused on competition rather than individual differences? If you need a diagnosis to get your idnividual strengths and weaknesses recognized, isn’t that the problem rather than parents seeking that diagnosis?

I have always, ever since I first self-diagnosed with autism in 2002, believed that, if a child doesn’t cope, either the child has something going on or the system is screwed. I have always advocated for more individualized educational programming, but this doesn’t happen yet.

Mind you, I disapprove of parents seeking labels for their child – or adults seeking a label for themselves – just so they can get into special ed, collect disability benefits or the like. That’s not fair and if it happens, it needs to stop. This is however talking extreme examples. With how restrictive the special education and benefits systems are these days, I don’t believe many people would be able to fake themselves or their children into them. Where accommodations at home or at school are concerned, I don’t think anything is wrong with demanding them. Like I said, the need for labels to qualify for them, is the problem.

Some people see me as “working the system”, too. They don’t deny that I’m disabled – they can’t deny my blindness -, but they do deny that I’m as disabled as I claim to be. I asked for a second opinion when I was given a diagnosis that by some is perceived as meaning I misuse the system. Now dependent personality disorder is a genuine mental health condition, not willful behavior, but even my psychologist has some trouble seeing that. Treatment for DPD is not a kick in the behind to solve your own shit, but even my psychologist has some trouble seeing that, too.

In my case, the DPD diagnosis resulted from the same flawed logic that might get parents to seek learning or behavioral difficulty diagnoses for their children: the need to always have a label to explain every single need a person has. The occupational therapist from the blindness agency said my difficulty making tea wasn’t due to blindness. Another occupational therapist said it wasn’t due to motor difficulties. My psychologist assumed there are no executive functioning diffiuclties, so it wans’t due to that either. Since there needs to be some explanation, my psychologist decided to consider it a sign of dependence and to label that dependence DPD. As a side note, my husband tried to make tea with his eyes closed and it was way harder than it is with his eyes open.

I am often told that I desperately want to be different and that’s why I seek an autism diagnosis. I do see myself as different indeed, but I don’t need an autism diagnosis for that. There’s “highly sensitive”, “introverted”, “intellectually gifted”, and probably others that don’t require a shrink. I don’t even seek an autism diagnosis specifically – I seek recognition of my impairments.

Like I said, I have always felt that, if I fall through the cracks with the support I do get, either something’s wrong with me or something’s wrong with the support system. If blindness could get me the support I need, I wouldn’t have sought a mental diagnosis. For your information, it wasn’t me who sought my first autism diagnosis in 2007. They were professionals working with the blind. If I am just a lazy, unmotivated fatass who willfully misuses the system, I shouldn’t even get a DPD diagnosis – the label for that is malingering.

Back to pushy parents. It is my firm belief that there are as many parents who ask for labels their child doesn’t need, as there are parents who deny their child labels they do need. The solution to both is individualized support.

Hooked on Labels - responses & other relevant posts linky

If I’m Not Autistic, What Am I?

My psychologist removed my autism diagnosis, which I’d been first given in 2007, last summer. After a long process of negotiations, she decided to diagnose me with dependent personality disorder, borderline personality disorder traits and depressive disorder NOS. I strongly disagree particularly with the DPD label, but more importantly, I want my autism diagnosis back. I requested an independent second opinion, which I’ll be getting the first appointment for this Thursday. Just this evening, I told a leader of an autism group in the Netherlands that I’d be closing the autism chapter if the second opinion provider agreed i’m not autistic after all. Then I’d definitively consider myself, well, what? I’ve rarely used the word “allistic”, which is someone who isn’t autistic. I feel that all people with neurodevelopmental conditions essentially fall on the same spectrum. Many autistics disagree and would not allow, say, a person with ADHD into their community. Indeed, if I’m not autistic, I’m allistic, period.

There used to be some concept of “cousins” in the autistic community, which included people with other neurological or neurodevelopmental differences, such as ADHD, Tourette Syndrome or hydrocephalus. Maybe I could consider myself a “cousin”, since I was at one point diagnosed with hydrocephalus and that’s a far more hard-wired diagnosis than is autism. So I’d be an allistic cousin to the autistic comunity. The concept of “cousins”, however, is barely accepted anymore.

Besides, it’s not just about community. It’s about identity. If I’m told that after all I’m not autistic, a vital part of my identity is being destroyed. Someone compared it to losing their status as an animal lover. It’s far worse. It’s like being told I’m not blind – there is another reason I’m unable to see, but that’s not called blindness. Besides, there’s no ICD-10 or ICD-11 or where are we these days code for it. This is analogous to what my psychologist has done with respect to my autism: it isn’t there, because there is another reason I have cognitive and sensory and social-communicative difficulties, but there’s no DSM-IV code for that.

It affects services, too. If I lost my status as a blind person, I would no longer be allowed to use my white cane. I would no longer be provided with reading materials in accessible formats. I would no longer have access to services for the blind. If there’s no ICD-whatever code for explaining my lack of sight, there won’t be any other way to gain access to these accommodations or supports. I can imagine this is in part the reality for people with conversion disorder manifesting as blindness, since some service and accessible reading material providers ask for verification of the “physical basis” of one’s blindness.

If I lose my status as an autistic person and there’s no diagnosis to replace it with, I’ll not be able to access services that take into account my cognitive, sensory and social-communicative difficulties. In fact, my psychologist has already voiced her disagreement with me applying for day activities for people with traumatic or acquired brain injury. She says I have “congenital brain injury”. At least, that was her reason for removing my autism diagnosis. Since “congenital brain injury” isn’t acquired or traumatic brain injury, I won’t qualify for services for that. Since in fact “congenital brain injury” does not exist in the diagnostic handbooks, there is no help for it. It’s worse even than conversion blindness, since that can be treated somehow.

Now imagine that I, who clealry has an eye condition causing blindness, were told I had conversion blindness for lack of a better diagnosis. That’s about what it feels like being diagnosed with dependent personality disorder as a clearly neurodivergent person.

It could be worse. I could be told I’m not neurodivergent at all. This would go beyond saying I am an unfortunate case of falling between the cracks with my useless diagnosis of “congenital brain injury”. To use the blindness analogy again, this’d be like being told I am fully sighted, yet only believe I’m blind for attention, because I don’t accept my status as a short person, or whatever nonsense claim people have made as to why I erroneously believe I’m neurodivergent. This is a possible outcome of my second opinion too. After all, though I have hydrocephalus, there is no proof as per a neuropsychological evaluation that this has caused me lasting impairments. My psychologist is of this opinion to an extent and so are my parents and sister, believing I have problems because I think I do.

Back to my autism diagnosis or the lack thereof. Some people say you’re autstic if you’re autistic no matter how many professionals say you are not. They say that, if support tailored to autistics, including being part of the autistic community, works, you must be autistic. With my poor self-image, I’m not so sure this would be the case for me.

Adaptations I’ve Used for My Disabilities

A few months ago, I wrote a post in which I described my limitations in as much detail as I could. I had just agreed to settle on a brain injury diagnosis rather than autism, so had to figure myself out all over again. Since then, that diagnosis was revised several more times and I finally decided to want a second opinion. I want answers to what’s going on with me.

The good point of that post I wrote, however, is that I felt free to describe my limitations in a non-judgmental way. As a follow-up, I am going to write a post today on the adaptations I’ve used throughout my life for dealing with these limitations.

The first adaptations I remember using, when I was about four, were not for what most people think of as my primary disability, ie. blindness. When I was four or five, I had to have my left foot in a cast to prevent my heel cord from becoming too short. This problem is common in children wth motor difficulties like cerebral palsy, though it occasionally happens to children with other neurological conditions too. I also had limited strength in my hands, so I got to use scissors which bounce back automatically. When I finally got to use a Braille typewriter, it had lengthened keys which were easier to press, too.

When I went to the school for the visually impaired at the end of Kindergarten, I was introduced to large print adn later Braille. I started learning Braille when I was seven-years-old. Because I was a print reader before I became a Braille reader, I had an advantage and a disadvantage. I could already read and knew my letters, but Braille wasn’t my first written language. I didn’t become truly proficient at Braille till I was around twelve and still can’t read it as fast as some blind people.

Apparently, around age seven, I had enough vision to ride a bike. I didn’t have the balance though. I still don’t know whether it was my parents being pushy or I truly had enough vision to safely ride a bike, but in any case I got a large trike paid for through the city department of disability services. My parents transported it to our new city when we moved when I was nine, even though this required approval from the authorities. I used the tricycle for about five years, until I became too blind to safely ride it even for purely leisurely purposes in my quiet neighborhood.

By the time I transferred to the school for the blind at age nine, I no longer needed most adaptations for my motor difficulties. I could use a regular Braille typewriter and in fourth grade, we weren’t crafting anymore anyway, so no scissors. I had also by this time become a full-time Braille user, though particularly in fifth and sixth grade I still peeked at the large print atlas every now and again. I got a handheld magnifier for my birthday or St. Nicholas around that time, because without it I couldn’t use the atlas. I had a large collection of tactile maps too, which I also loved.

When I was eleven, I got my first laptop with Braille display. I had occasionally used my parents’ computer before then, but had by this time long been too blind to even see very large letters on the screen. I tried for a bit to use a screen magnifier on the school computer, but I quickly learned to use Braille and syntehtic speech on my own computer.

I also had a white cane, of course. I started cane travel lessons when I was around seven, but rarely used my cane until I was fourteen. Then, when I had entered eighth grade in mainstream education, I had realized I was going to look blind compared to all fully sighted fellow students anyway so I’d better use a cane.

I went through school using mostly my computer for learning. We had a number of tactile educational materials, but I rarely used these. I hated tactile drawings, because I had an extremely hard time figuring them out.

In college and university, I used my computer with Braille display only. I also had gotten a scanner, so that I could scan books that weren’t available in accessible formats. A few years ago, I bought myself an OpticBook scanner that is especially good for scanning books. I rarely used it though, because eBooks became accessible to screen reader users in like 2013. I also rediscovered the library for the blind and last summer, like I’ve said, became Bookshare member.

I never used adaptations for cognitive impairments even after my autism diagnosis. I wanted to learn to use some and I still badly want to get a weighted blanket someday. I also am currently exploring adaptations for my fine motor issues. Because I felt more secure this way, I did for a while use a mobility cane. However, it was too long, then when someone had sawn off a piece it was too short. Also, it isn’t safe to use a mobility cane for me without also using my white cane and because of limited use of my left hand, I can’t use both. The adaptive equipment store does sell mobility canes with the white cane look, but these only have the advantage of making one recognizable as blind. They can’t be used for feeling around for obstacles. I could of course use a mobility cane with the white cane look in place of my white cane when walking sighted guide. However, I have learned to use my white cane for some support. The main reason I choose to use my white cane rather than a mobility cane with white cane look, however, is that I feel too self-conscious. I feel that I’m not mobility-impaired enough for this. I do wonder whether I’d feel more confident walking if I had a mobility cane, but I fear people will judge me for exaggerating my disability.

Dear Psychologist: Why I Believe I’m Autistic (And Why It Matters)

My psychologist wrote the referral letter for my second opinion last Wednesday. Because this second opinion thingy is now becoming real, I have been thinking of why I believe I’m autistic after all – and why it matters. I have tried to explain this quite a few times already, but nobody amongst my staff seems to understand. Because some of my readers just might actually get it, I’m writing it on my blog. I chose to write this in the form of an open letter to my psychologist, but I’m not sure I’ll ever consciously point it out to her.

Dear Psychologist,

You have been telling me ever since you became my responsible clinician in late 2014 that you don’t believe I’m autistic. You initially said brain injury explains my symptoms far better, but you seemed not to care. We needed to treat symptoms, not syndromes, you said. Yet last summer, you changed my diagnosis. And you changed it again. And again. You claim this was at my request. Fair enough, I told you I wasn’t happy with just a borderline personality disorder and adjustment disorder diagnosis and I wanted a second opinion. However, it was you who offered to change my diagnosis to brain injury-related personality change, apparently to avoid me getting a second opinion. I was stupid enough to go along. The further diagnostic changes were solely your responsibility.

Yes, I told you it doesn’t matter whether my diagnosis is borderline personality disorder and adjustment disorder or dependent personality disorder, BPD traits and depressive disorder NOS. To me, neither diagnosis explains why I’ve been having problems all my life. After all, personality disorders first become apparent in a person’s teens or early twenties, not when a person is a young child.

There were – or at least, there should’ve been – many signs of a developmental disability when I was young. Even things that my parents tout as signs of genius, should when combined with the signs that point to delay, signal a developmental disability. Like my ability to calendar calculate. Or my first word. It was “aircraft industry”, echoed from my grnadpa when I was ten-months-old (seven months corrected).

These are cute factoids about me. They don’t necessarily signal autism when taken alone. Then there are the signs that point to delay. I had motor skills delays, but these could be due to dyspraxia or mild cerebral palsy. My parents don’t know whether these were ever labeled as such. I was a toe-walker – still am when stressed. Though I walked on time (at fourteen-months-old), I didn’t sit or roll over without physcal therapy intervention.

My language development was quite advanced. I did reverse pronouns, but my parents say this happened only for a short while. I took many things literally growing up. I also had one word that I’d use obsessively and often out-of-context after another. The psychologist who diagnosed me with Asperger’s in late 2007 brushed this off because I couldn’t come up with examples right then. I can now, but I don’t have the energy to elaborate in English.

My social and emotional development was delayed from a young age on. Even though I didn’t have many meltdowns or temper tantrums until I was about six, I did have my problems. I couldn’t talk to children my age. I had trouble forming friendships. I was even more self-centered than any young child.

When I became aware of my differences, I started acting out. Educational psychologists blamed this on my difficulty adjusting to blindness. What if I’d become aware of my social difference then, too? Even though I didn’t start regularly having temper outbursts till I was about six, I remember head-banging and hand-biting from a younger age. I also had this crawling movement in bed that parents of other kids went to the doctor for when the children were toddlers. Well, let me tell you I did this till I was nineteen.

When I became a teen, I had many more difficulties. One could no longer blame my high IQ, because I was in a high-level high school were 30% of the students were intellectually gifted. Maybe then I did it all because I’m blind, even though no-one at the school for the blind had displayed these behaviors either. Or maybe I was precocious for developing a personality disorder. I guess your logic would go like this.

I could give you dozens more examples of why I believe I’m autistic. I have been thinking on these for the last few days. Many, however, are just too embarrassing to go on my blog.

My parents may not be involved with my care now, but you never asked them participate in a developmental interview. Not that I’d want you to do an autism assessment on me, after all the flawed arguments you’ve spun. You won’t believe that someone with hydrocephalus can be autistic, even though there’s plenty of literature showing that they can. You won’t believe that preemies are more likely to develop autism than children born full-term. I even didn’t bother correcting you when you wrote in my referral letter that I had had a stroke. News flash: an intraventricular hemorrhage, which is the most likely cause of my hydrocephalus but was never ascertained, is not a stroke. I don’t expect you, a psychologist, to know the difference, but then at least stop basing your diagnosis on it.

But you’ll say we should look at symptoms, not syndromes. You’ll say it doesn’t matter for my care whether I’m diagnosed with brain injury, even if it isn’t in my DSM-IV classification, autism or a personality disorder. To be honest, the main reason this whole diagnosis thing is important to me, isn’t care. It’s understanding. I need recognition of my struggles. I need to know I’m not the only one. As much as you hate this, I need something I can google and join support groups for. I’m tired of shooting in the darkness. Granted, care matters too. Personality disorder patients have far fewer self-care problems than autistics and warrant a totally different approach. I wouldn’t mind that approach if it turly worked for me, but it doesn’t. However, I don’t mind having a personality disorder diagnosis along with autism – I had one for nearly three years.

You won’t understand a thing about autistic culture. I won’t explain. I don’t have the spoons for that. (Google the spoon theory if you want to know what I mean, if you even care.) Suffice it to say that autism is not just a disorder – it’s an identity. It’s something, unlike brain injury, that is part of us before we’re old enough to realize it. It’s not a disease – it’s a part of who I am.

Hannah Spannah

A Call to Revive the Concept of “Cousins” in the Autistic Community

Today, I was rejected from a Dutch autistic women’s forum. I had already been kicked off last August for having lost my formal autism diagnosis, but had reapplied because I am in the process of getting a second opinion. Back then, my losing my diagnosis had stirred up a lot of commentary as to why I’d been presenting as autistic for six years – the time that I’d been a member of the forum – if I wasn’t. Well, for one thing, that’s just one professional’s opinion that I’m not autistic, while three others said I am. Not recently, but since when does one lose an autism diagnosis as one ages? However, the fact that the admins doubted I’d get anything but suspicion and hostility if I came back, prompted them to reject me for good. Thankfully, people in other autism groups, especially international ones, were still welcoming and supportive.

Then I read Mel Bagg’s blog post from last month, which was on the subject of autistics and “cousins”. A “cousin” is someone who is not autisitc, but who has some significant experiences that are similar to those experienced by autistics due to a related condition. For example, Mel Baggs tells the story of a person with hydrocephalus who could relate to many of the social and communicative difficulties that autistics experience, but wasn’t autistic. As I have hydrocephalus myself, this struck a chord with me.

Mel Baggs”post is a call to revive the concept of “cousins” in the autistic community. I applaud this, for it’d finally mean I could fully feel in place in the autistic comunity again. I mean, autistic communities used to ask that no neurotypicals join or participate. now they’re asking allistics – a term I’d never heard of but which means non-autistics – to keep out. Though most internatoinal communities who state allistics are not allowed, welcome self-diagnosed autistics, I still feel a bit left out.

Like Mel Baggs says, the autistic community can be very excluisionary. An example is the Dutch forum I got kicked off from. I didn’t know this until I lost my diagnosis, but apparently it has the rule that people who suspect they’re autistic get a year to get a formal diagnosis and if they don’t get it, they’re out. I mentioned this is a women’s forum for a reason, because women have a particularly hard time getting formally diagnosed. The other main Dutch autistic community, open to all genders, doesn’t ask for a formal diagnosis. Another act of exclusion applied by autistic communities is the assumption that Aspies (people with Asperger’s Syndrome) are somehow fundamentally dfferent from other autistics, and subsequently the creation of Aspie-only spaces. Other groups allow “high-functioning” autistics in only. This, obviously, perpetuates the division of the autistic community, which perpetuates discrimination. For example, if Aspies are fundamnetally different from other autistics, people can use the idea that Aspies are not really disabled, which is populated by some, to exclude anyone they see as an Aspie from protection by laws like the ADA. They can also continue advocating for harmful “treatments” against autistic people’s wishes based on the idea that autistics who can advocate for themselves are not “autistic enough”. I don’t say that the autistic community is responsible for discrimination by non-disabled people. I do say that those who exclude some people from the community based on being “not really autistic”, “not autistic enough” or too “low-functioning” or “high-functioning”, do contribute to it.

Back to “cousins”. The criteria for autism keep changing over time. I easily met DSM-IV criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome. I probably meet DSM-5 criteria for autism spectrum disorder too. However, I also have hydrocephalus, which according to my current psychologist, means I can’t be autistic. I believe DSM-IV might agree, though DSM-5 definitely doesn’t. Does the fact that I meet the criteria for an autism spectrum disorder, mean I’m legitimately autistic, or does the fact that I have hydrocephalus, mean I’m not? Really, that shouldn’t matter, if “cousins” are welcomed into the autisitic community again. After all, what counts then is not diagnosis or self-diagnosis, but whether I relate to the lived experience of autistic people. It also means the community can no longer be divided along the lines of stereotypes, formal diagnosis or the lack thereof, or suchlike. Everyone who shares the experience of social and communication problems, is welcome. This in turn means we can form a better front against discrimination, because we no longer fall into traps like being accused of not being disabled enough for protection.