Defying Stereotypes Since 1976

Posts tagged ‘autism awareness’

J. Cole’s Lyrics Prove that More Understanding of Autism is Needed in the Black Community

There’s nothing like the smell of insults in the morning. I checked my Twitter feed and found this little gem:

I did some investigating about the lyrics which @AutisticPoet had referenced and found that they come from Drake’s song “Jodeci Freestyle”. In the last few days, J. Cole has certainly gotten the wrong kind of attention for these lyrics. There are many, myself included, who are upset at him because he chose to use the word “autistic” as an insult. “Autistic” by itself is merely a descriptive word that describes a person on the autism spectrum, or a person with autistic traits – unfortunately, the way in which J. Cole and others use the word can change its connotation to being negative, demeaning, and potentially dehumanizing.

Some in the autistic community are already taking action about this. Anna Kennedy and the Anti-Bullying Alliance have started a petition asking for an apology from J. Cole and Drake for the offensive lyrics. But I think this particular incident is indicative of a larger issue: the severe need for autism understanding and acceptance in the Black community.

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The Souls of Black Autistic Folk, Part II: Paul Robeson, the Aspie?

I have done the state some service, and they know’t.
No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am, nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice…
(From Shakespeare’s Othello, Act V, Scene 2, lines 339-343a)

Paul Robeson

 In part I of this series, I provided an overview of Paul Robeson’s life in order for readers to begin to understand who we was. Robeson was a multitalented individual – an academic star during his undergraduate studies at Rutgers, an actor of great renown, and a singer with a power, singular voice. Based on evidence presented by Norm Ledgin in the book Asperger’s and Self-Esteem: Insight and Hope Through Famous Role Models, I also believe that Robeson was autistic. I will present that evidence in this post.

 (Please note: Ledgin uses a summary of main points of the diagnostic criteria for Asperger Syndrome from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV. At times I will be referencing more specific criteria for Asperger Syndrome – 299.80 – as posted at the Centers for Disease Control’s website.)

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The Souls of Black Autistic Folk: A Prelude to the Journey

Last Friday was the beginning of Black History Month. Amidst what we will be hearing about it in February 2013 — which tends to be everything ranging from the celebration of African-American historical individuals and events to the usual question of why the shorter year of the month was chosen for this celebration — I will certainly be adding my own voice to the chorus of writers and bloggers.

In my case, I am fascinated with Paul Robeson — one individual where autism and Black history intersect. I first studied African-American history in high school through a (what was considered groundbreaking) semester-long class and found myself introduced to history I had never encountered before. It is where I was introduced to the Harlem Renaissance. It was where I began to explore poetry and where my love of the craft began to take wings through learning about Langston Hughes, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and Maya Angelou. And I recall a brief mention of Paul Robeson — giant of stage and song and inspiration to the likes of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. Robeson, best known for his portrayal in the title role of Shakespeare’s Othello, is proposed to have been an Aspie by author Norm Ledgin in his book Asperger’s and Self-Esteem: Insight and and Hope Through Famous Role Models. Ledgin compares some of Robeson’s behavior with the diagnostic criteria in the soon-to-be-superseded DSM-IV and concludes that Robeson fits the criteria for an Asperger diagnosis.

This month, I’m going to explore Robeson — who he was an an artist and a person, and through the lens of Asperger’s. Robeson was born in 1898 and died shortly before I was born (January 1976). I wonder — and would like to explore — about the reality he encountered as an African-American autistic in the early part of the twentieth century, and how that reality compares to the reality I encounter today as a multiracial African-American autistic.

And of course, this exploration will lead me to related questions. I know I am not the only African-American autistic out there. In my journeys over the last three years I have encountered some wonderful individuals, including record producer and autism advocate Michael Buckholtz. Logic dictates that he, I, and the few other individuals I have met cannot possibly be the only African-American Aspies out there. The big question in this case is: where ARE we? Through a bit of exploration, I hopefully may find some general answers (while being careful to respect the privacy of those who cannot be “out”) this month.

I hope you’ll join me on this fascinating journey this month. Hold on tight. It might be one heckuva ride.

-Nicole

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In this series:

Congratulations, Miss Montana 2012!

Miss Alexis Wineman, Miss Montana 2012

Miss Alexis Wineman (Image Courtesy of What’s On Tianjin)

I normally don’t pay attention to the Miss America pageant, but this morning during breakfast I happened to see a broadcast about Ms. Alexis Wineman, who is Miss Montana and is the first autistic contestant in the pageant. Miss Wineman was diagnosed with PDD-NOS and mild Asperger Syndrome at age 11 and plans to use this pageant opportunity to raise awareness and understanding about autism.

WWA offers congratulations to Miss Wineman and best wishes for this year’s pageant, which airs on Saturday, January 12 on ABC at 9:00 P.M.

To read more about Miss Wineman, check out this Huffington Post article and this International Business Times article. She is also on Twitter.

Poem: Glass and Concrete (For World Autism Awareness Day)

I place my hands on the glass wall,
pushing against one more boundary
between me and the world, as if my bare hands
could make the wall more solid, less breakable: and when
I lift them up, I see the remains of one language
I speak, an entire matrix of lines, swirls, and whorls
dictated by DNA, stamped onto the glass
in oil and sweat. The handprints won’t tell you

about the endless rooms in my attic brain full of
my memories in Super 8 film rolls coiled up and sleeping
which have been magically appearing since I was a year old;

or the rooms of computer hard drives storing facts, numbers,
and encyclopedia notes numbering somewhere in the octillions;

or the glass-shatter heart that sometimes fractures if I breathe,
or suck in air from the shock or suspended surprise
of someone else’s pain, or when one of my own free-floating
pieces of celluloid with razor blade edges slices my fingers
when I yank it out of my film projector and try
to stuff it back into the canister it escaped from. The handprints

won’t tell you that our family’s collective lips are sealed
about our green strangeness, the unuttered word
that I alone out of the clan speak: autism. The handprints

won’t tell you that I shut my eyes and imagine
the lost, the mute, and the gaunt lit with pain
and pulling razor blades out of their throats
appearing as time-delimited half-tones behind this wall:
Tommy the pinball wizard;
my grandmother made of cedar beams, Indian blood, and elocution;
and a lizard poet, white knuckled, hanging on
to a rollercoaster of pain for dear life,
just to name a few. But the handprints will tell you
that I am human.

I wonder if you can see them: sometimes, I know
that on your side, you only see graffiti-infested concrete,
slapped and glued with headlines about
how our hearts are hollow, how we live as alien mutants
among you in a universe of uncertainty, and how
the word “never” seems to creep into your speech about
us. And you wonder why I erect a glass wall? Some days,
I am forced to pour concrete and hide behind
the wall of cold cinnereal while I listen to the noise
coming from the other side and my eyes
flood and create another ocean: but eventually,
I raze the walls that I construct, and all that separates
me from the world is a stately barrier of glass.

Place your hands on the glass and line them up
with mine: can you feel
the warmth from breath and skin, sweat and
rhythm, blood like tom-toms pounding and marching
all through my body? This is how we can be,
hand to hand, eye to eye, toe to toe, once I feel
I can approach the glass. We touch, and it can melt away
into a membrane, or it can eventually evaporate
and become a ghost that we used to look at each other
through: this is the understanding I need, and the vision
that you need. But as long as you insist on concrete
slapped with pity, pithy headlines, and ignorance,
you will never feel my handprints. You will never
feel my warmth. And you will be convinced that I am a
comic, hollow being that can never feel. And all
the while, I will be drowning in another one of my oceans
behind that wall.

Written 4/2/12
© 2012 Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved.
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I wrote this to share today because it is World Autism Awareness Day (April 2, 2012). I hope you enjoy the poem and that it gives you another glimpse into my world.

-Nicole
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New Video Version of “You Don’t See It” on Youtube

The newest version of the video for my poem, “You Don’t See It”, is now available on YouTube. This is the version that first aired at the April 2, 2011 Awe in Autism Live Event. Included in the video is some of my own artwork specially created for the poem. Watch below. I hope you like it. :)

I Am One Woman. One Woman With Autism.

I am one woman.

Who am I? I could be your coworker…your next door neighbor…your best friend…your classmate…your teacher…your student…your secretary…your boss. I could be your mother…your daughter…your sister…your lover…your wife.

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Long Distance Poetry: The Awe in Autism Arts Exhibits

A newly cut video for my poem, “You Don’t See It”, will be featured at two Awe In Autism arts exhibits in April in New York state.

The events collectively are called The Awe in Autism: A Spectrum of Creativity. The first event is on Saturday, April 2 (World Autism Awareness Day) at the Glenwood Arts Center in Glenwood, NY, and will feature my work and that of several other Awe in Autism artists. The second event is on Sunday, April 10 at the Great Neck Arts Center in Great Neck, Long Island; this will feature the same Awe in Autism artists, plus a group of performers.

Sorry, I can’t show you the new video right now…however, I will post in on the Raven’s Wing Poetry YouTube channel after the events are over. I’m very excited at the opportunity for my work to be exhibited and to reach others and thank Awe in Autism for choosing to feature my work along with such talented artists on the autism spectrum.

-Nicole

This Is Why We Do What We Do

For those of you who have been following this blog or have been around the Interwebs, you probably know by now about Autistics Speaking Day (for those who don’t know, check out the link and my last post about this.)

I received a comment about this which I thought was especially thoughtful and articulate from an autistic gentleman who counsels adults on the spectrum. I especially loved the last half of his post and thought, “This is why we speak out. This is why we are self-advocates. This is why we do what we do.”

Please read the comment from Jim below:

“I wholelly agree. I have autism as a diagnosis (since my 6th). I’m also a councellor specialized in coaching of adults with autism and a normal to high intelligence.

In my communication with clients, the main issues they speak of are:
* sexuality and the wish to have intimate relations.
* communication, and the difficulties in verbal face 2 face communication with non autists.
* giving meaning to their lives.
* wanting to be treated as equal, worthy citizens.

Some clients prefer speaking back to back, some prefer internet chat or e-mail, some prefer text…… very few prefer face to face contact or telephone voice contact.

modern communication media have increased the communicative capacities of persons with autism. Unfortuneately, the internet has also become a gathering place of non autists who choose to give meaning to their lives by emphasizing how pitifull we are, and advocating a cure for us.

Don’t fix us, we aren’t broken.
Don’t pity us, we aren’t pitifull.
Don’t change us, accept us as we are.

Cherish us.
Challenge us.
And watch what we do.

Try to connect with us.
And follow our lead.
Because we will innovate.
Because we have to innovate.
Because we don’t understand the standard.
So we’ll make our own.”

And maybe one of us will be foolish enough.
To show the rest of you the way to the stars…….”

Bravo!

Also, please check out these other amazing posts and pages about Autistics Speaking Day:

And if you find any other awesome or thought-provoking posts about it, PLEASE don’t hesitate to share them in the comments.

-Nicole

Why Communication Shutdown Day Is a Bad Idea (And What You Can Do Instead)

listen carefully – this is Asperger’s talking
speaking in tongues ain’t easy
but I do not regret the wings that God gave me
just give me my damn feathers
and I will keep on singing

(from my poem, “Speaking in Tongues”)

I happened to come across this post over on the No Stereotypes Here blog in which the author, Corina Becker, discusses Communication Shutdown Day, an international effort scheduled for November 1 which attempts to raise money for participating autism-related charities.

The idea behind Communication Shutdown Day this year is to refrain from using social networks (such as Twitter and Facebook) that day. It is, in the words of one supporter, supposed to “mirror autistic silence” and “draw attention to the isolation and intense loneliness experienced by those who are impeded from connecting socially with others”. In short, it is supposed to create empathy for those on the spectrum as well as raise charity money.

And I think it’s a bad idea.

Hold on a minute, Nicole, you might be saying. This is helping raise awareness for autism. So what’s the problem?

Well, for one thing, it could reinforce an existing idea that autistics cannot communicate – and if you’ve been reading this blog, you know of at least one autistic person who can. I am not denying that we do have our communication difficulties, and that many individuals on the autism spectrum are non-verbal. HOWEVER, reinforcing the concept of our silence is just a bad idea and doesn’t really do much for us as autistic individuals. While this event claims to help create empathy for us, I can’t help but wonder how much of that is going to end up becoming pity instead.

And the last thing our community needs is more pity. Pity for us is based on the idea of “oh, poor things, they live such miserable lives – they need a cure”. Pity detracts from the real issues that confront us day by day, which include: equal treatment, opportunity, and access to needed services and accommodations in educational institutions and the workplace; dealing with the social landscape of whatever cultures we are in; encountering and finding solutions to problems unique to our population, such as sensory overload, emotional expression, and low frustration tolerance; building and maintaining a healthy self-esteem; ensuring that we are treated with care and respect by medical and mental health professionals; and navigating an uncertain world with a brain and nervous system that craves predictability. Pity also detracts from our strengths, such as: persistence and focus; unique thinking patterns and methods; honesty; narrow interests which can lead to expertise in a subject; and the potential for creative, scientific, and other forms of positive contribution to society.

Becker has proposed an alternative: Autistics Speaking Day. Instead of remaining silent and refraining from usage of the Internet and social networks, she proposes that we on the autism spectrum speak out. As she puts in in this post:

…on November 1st, Autistic people should speak up and be heard. That in the absence of NT voices, Autistics should reclaim the Autism community by communicating in our own ways on our life experiences.

And once I read about the idea, I found myself in natural agreement. So to help spread the word and promote Autistics Speaking Day, I will be tweeting about it, posting about it on Facebook, and other places. I also encourage those who agree with this idea and/or plan to participate on November 1 to SPREAD THE WORD. Tweet, blog, share on FB, etc. the HELL out of this mofo. Let OUR voices be heard that day. I’ll be tweeting that day and writing at least one poem as part of this effort.

If you do participate, please read her suggestions here (e.g. being mindful of subject matter that could trigger people and so forth). And SPREAD THE WORD! Thank you.

-Nicole

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