Controversy and Acceptance in the Autism Community

Bridging the Autism CommunityWith the publication of the DSM-5, controversy has been sparked again in the autism community. Rather than maintaining the old distinctions between autism, Asperger syndrome, and other related disorders, a new diagnosis—autism spectrum disorder—has been put in place. What does the change mean? Honestly at this point it’s hard to tell. One of the big issues is whether families with kids who have special needs will continue to get services they need to succeed in school.

The other, more philosophical issue for the autism community to hash out is whether the new diagnosis helps to normalize autism or if it will further stigmatize people with an ASD diagnosis. Will the new diagnostic language encourage making distinctions between those with “just Asperger syndrom” or “high functioning” vs. the rest of people with an ASD diagnosis. To put it another way, are some of my friends “Christians” or “people with Christianity”? Do we need to correct others who self-identify as “autistic” without qualification? Maybe we should exchange insurance paperwork before starting to chat. I’m being a bit sarcastic here, but the question remains: Where does political correctness override individuality?

I’m a comic book writer, so I have an active imagination. My dream is that we in the autism community can come to a point where our language can demonstrate autism acceptance. Of course, in the world of special services and insurance companies, these distinctions are necessary. But in our community, in casual conversation, it seems to create divisions where we should be united. While not everyone experiences autism to the same degree or intensity, we do have common experiences and perceptions. We need to communicate our unity to each other, first of all, and then to neurotypical people.   I want Face Value Comics to be at the forefront of bringing autism acceptance to all our readers.

Listening to the Experience of Girls With Autism

Girls with Autism can be strong role modelsWe’ve been profiling our female characters recently. That’s because we feel it’s important to give voice to the women and girls with autism. Autism is more often associated with males than females. It’s hard to pin down precise statistics, but there are definitely more males diagnosed than females. This leads to a male bias in the diagnostic criteria. Sometimes girls are able to copy neurotypical social interactions so well that they don’t seem to have autism or Asperger syndrome or whatever.

In our stories, we’re really trying to bring the multifaceted experience of autism into focus. Girls with autism experience the disorder differently from boys. In part this probably has to do with different brain chemistry and hormones. In general, females have better imagination and feel the need to interact socially more than males do. Another element is the different social expectations women and girls with autism experience. There is more pressure for females in our culture to interact socially in particular ways. Often girls with autism will learn how to imitate the social interaction they see around them. This can sometimes lead to the development of anxiety and depression issues because of the feeling of pressure.

Our own female characters in Face Value Comics experience autism, physical disability, and anxiety and depression. Although the diagnostics may lag behind the experience of girls with autism, we want to give them heroines to look up to. We’re also hoping that the comic book heroines will inspire girls with autism to use their own voices to describe their experience.

What Does Accepting Autism Mean?

We All Make Choices About Accepting AutismWe’ve talked before about what autism awareness means.  We hope that it leads to people accepting autism.  Of course, we can’t force that one anyone.  But our characters with autism can help bring a fuller picture of what it means to live life with an ASD diagnosis.  Stories can help break down stereotypes and make accepting autism easier.  Even families with an autistic child can struggle with acceptance.  By focusing too much on the limits that can come with an ASD diagnosis, they resign themselves to a life of suffering and pass that attitude on to their child.  It’s better to focus on the strengths of someone with autism.  It’s also better to focus on the commonalities of people with ASD and neurotypical people.

Not long ago the Huffington Post published an open letter called, “To the Woman and Child Who Sat at Table 9”.   The author is a manager at a restaurant.  On an especially busy day, he was asked by some of his customers to speak to a woman whose daughter was being very loud.  As he approached the table, the woman asked him, “Do you know what it’s like to have a child with autism?”  In that moment, the restaurant manager thinks about his love for his own children.  Though they don’t have an ASD diagnosis, he sees his commonality with the mother of the autistic girl.  He is able to move straight from autism awareness to accepting autism because he sees a mother who loves her daughter, just as he loves his children.  Instead of reprimanding them, he chats with them and gives the little girl a high five.  This is accepting autism.  It’s not so much about autism as it is about accepting people with differences.  It’s about seeing people who are “different” from us as fellow human beings.

Giving Girls the Female Role Models They Deserve

Female Role Models in Comics

One of the goals of Face Value Comics is to break down stereotypes and show people for who they really are. We’re doing that for autism, physical disabilities, and mental health issues. We’re also breaking down the stereotypes most comic books employ for their female characters. We want to empower girls and give them deep and interesting female role models. Too many comic books rely on unreal bodies and one-dimensional characters. We have a variety of female characters, each with unique strengths, struggles, and interests. We’re proud of the variety of female role models our readers meet in each of our comics.

We talked about Myra in our last post about our female role models. We also have Cassiopeia. Where Myra is rather gentle, Cassiopeia is mostly very outgoing. She’s very interested in science–meteorology and aeronautics, to be precise. She’s also a diligent student. While not many female role models exhibit these traits, it’s not unusual for girls to be good students who are fascinated by science. They absolutely deserve to read about a hero who shares their interests.

One of our more complex female role models is Claudia. She exhibits a lot of bitter traits in the first issue. She’s sarcastic and driven, so much so that Michael thinks “I don’t know who’s the worst bully…Edge or Claudia.” Claudia is also up for adventures. Though she was born without her legs from her thighs down, she’s able to maneuver her wheelchair over bumpy terrain. She also shows remarkable courage when she is captured by the aliens. Often girls are encouraged to ignore or downplay their anger and other negative emotions. This is totally unhealthy and unfair. By showing Claudia’s multifaceted emotional life, we want to empower girls to own and acknowledge the full range of their emotions, too.

Three Cheers for Strong Female Characters!

Cass as a Strong Female Character

Too often in comic books, the female characters lack depth.  They’re just buxom fighting machines without a lot of characterization.  At Face Value Comics, we’re working on bringing strong female characters with varied interests, strengths, and powers to our storylines.  In other words, just as we’re bringing comic awareness to autism, we’re bringing that same awareness to strong female characters.

We’re not just talking physical strength when we talk about strong female characters.  We’re talking about strength and depth of character.  It’s important to show female characters with a commitment to their values, such as friendship, courage, and intelligence.  We want our female characters to empower our female readers to live up to their own potential.  We also home that exposure to strong female characters who are interesting and complex will give our male readers a new respect for women.

In upcoming issues, we’re introducing a new female character named Myra.  Like Michael, she has an ASD diagnosis.  It’s important to us to give girls with ASD a heroine to look up to.  She’s also mute, which gives kids with difficulty communicating a hero to root for.  Finally, she’s completely feminine.  She and Cassiopeia are complementary, not competing, in their expressions of femininity, while being deep, strong female characters.

Using a Steampunk Universe to Build Comic Awareness

Grunts steampunk builds comic awareness

We’ve talked a bit about why we chose a steampunk universe as the setting for Face Value Comics.  People with an ASD diagnosis are often very comfortable with technology and complex detail.  Another important element of the steampunk setting is that it helps us build comic awareness, which is at the heart of what we do at Face Value Comics.

By placing our characters in a world that’s just a bit off kilter, even for our neurotypical readers, we’re able to help them better understand what it’s like to navigate the neurotypical world with an ASD diagnosis.  For our autistic readers, we can use the steampunk world to engage their attention while using Paul Ekman’s theory of expression to help them better read others’ facial emotions.  We’re building comic awareness and expanding our readers’ empathy while entertaining them at the same time.

We see the steampunk setting of our comics as one of the best tools we have for building comic awareness.  No reader is going to know exactly what to expect there.  That’s part of the fun of our series.  While Michael and his friends struggle to find their place in their world and in their school, our readers struggle just a little bit along with them, working to understand a setting that is at once like and unlike their normal world.  The great thing about comics is that they show their heroes triumphing in the end.  This gives both neurotypical people and those with an ASD diagnosis hope that their own struggles are worth going through and will come to a positive end.

Become a Better Reader Through Comic Awareness

Be a better reader with Autism at Face ValueFor some with an ASD diagnosis, reading can be a challenge. Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate because of sensory issues. Sometimes it’s hard to relate to the story. Becoming a better reader is possible. If you or a loved one has ASD, you might just have to take a different approach.

Getting into a comfortable space without too many distractions is an important first step. A room without a lot of decorations on the walls is ideal. A comfortable pile of floor cushions can help, too. The most important component of becoming a better reader is finding a book that captures your imagination. Comics from Autism at Face Value might just fit the bill.

Our comics are written for people with autism as their primary audience. Our superhero himself has an ASD diagnosis, making him a very relatable character. The intricate steampunk universe can be very attractive and engaging, too. Click here to read more suggestions about becoming a better reader with an ASD diagnosis.

Another great thing about comics from Autism at Face Value is that they employ comic awareness as a communication tool. Since communication and reading emotions can be a challenge for those who have an ASD diagnosis, we’ve actively chosen to focus on reading emotions in our comics. By using techniques of facial recognition, we hope our readers will become better readers of words and emotions. Having comic awareness is another way to improve reading and communication skills.

Once a person has found an engaging book or comic, becoming a better reader is a piece of cake. Just keep reading what you love! Autism at Face Value values reading and welcomes you to our next event, at the Dover Public Library in Dover/York, Pennsylvania on January 28th from 6-7 p.m. There is NO cost to attend although donations are gladly accepted. Children and their families will receive one free copy of Issue #1 just for coming! In order to attend, please RSVP here since seating is limited.

Exploring the Links Between Steampunk and Autism

Steampunk and Autism Similarities

We’ve talked a little bit about why we chose the steampunk aesthetic for the comics at Autism at Face Value.  The connection between steampunk and autism seems tenuous at first, but it’s really not.

Steampunk is an extremely intricate re-imagination of a steam powered future. People with autism are often really good at observing small details. The steampunk world abounds in fascinating minutiae.  Look at any one character in our comics.  You’ll see a detailed mash-up of Victorian and futuristic aesthetics.  The clothing tends toward the Victorian.  There can also be expansive details that are more futuristic, like wearing goggles or having tiny steam powered technology.

The emphasis on technology is another great link between steampunk and autism. Many people with ASD feel very comfortable with technology and as a whole, those with ASD, are very imaginative people.  There aren’t a lot of rules about steampunk. So there’s plenty of room for people to dream up a new piece of steam powered technological equipment.

Technology has allowed greater opportunities for communication. For example, Carly Fleischmann does not use her voice to speak. However, this young college graduate, with autism, keeps readers well-informed through her world-famous blog and Facebook posts. With an expansive universe in social media, people with autism have more and unique avenues for self-expression than simply spoken words. In Issue #2, we introduce a mute character named Myra. You may be wondering, “How will she “speak?” in the comic. Yet you can trust that Myra will have a strong voice, even if she never utters a single word from her lips!

Finally, steampunk and autism actually go great together because of the inherent quirkiness of steampunk technology and aesthetics.  The sky is the limit in steampunk.  No one can tell you you’ve done steampunk wrong.  It’s all imagination!

As stated by “Captain Robert,” of the steampunk rock band, Abney Park, “It takes a special kind of moron to argue that your “make believe” isn’t real enough.”  With steampunk as the inspiration for our own steampunk comic world, we take that to heart as we connect fantasy themes to help kids and teens in the “real” world.  Our comics may portray real emotions and use descriptive words, but they also are inventive!

The freedom to just explore and create can be really appealing for people with ASD. It’s hard to cope with the neurotypical world all the time. A steampunk universe can feel like a bit of a vacation, as do similar genres and technologies that we will soon explore, like bio-diesel power. Stay tuned!

Face Value Comics Becomes Autism at Face Value To Touch More Lives

Face Value Comics Cover - Autism at Face ValueThe release of our first comic has prompted us to change our name. Face Value Comics has officially been renamed Autism at Face Value.

The new name better reflects our goals of raising autism awareness, advocacy, and action. Our focus is and always has been helping people with autism and neurotypical people come to understand each other. We want to facilitate understanding and being able to take each other “at face value” and our comics are the chosen vehicle for that understanding. But our mission is not just about comics or telling a story.

Autism at Face Value reflects our wider goals and our hope that our comics will be part of a nation-wide change in how people with autism are viewed. As part of that wider change, we’ve developed a local literacy program which we will introduce to local libraries starting in January.

Autism at Face Value will be a leader in creating ideas and spreading autism awareness through a host of methods, including comics that are family friendly and make a positive impact on social change. We’re confident that this is just the first step to positive change and acceptance for those with ASD and those without.

Learning to Embrace Differences and Build Empathy

Embrace Differences to Build EmpathyOne of the most important goals of Face Value Comics is to help both neurotypical people and people with an ASD diagnosis embrace differences in people. It can be really difficult to understand the different ways people have of understanding the world. To embrace differences is harder still. However, if we as a society are going to make any progress in decreasing prejudice and building empathy, we’re going to have to start to understand and embrace differences.

One way to help people to embrace differences is to tell stories. Telling stories is one of the ways people learn best. When our interest is engaged in an exciting tale, we’re more likely to be open to other messages in the story. We hope that Face Value Comics will be a leader in helping people to embrace differences. We have a wide variety of characters, each with different challenges and strengths. Our autistic hero Michael has friends who deal with physical disabilities, depression, anxiety, and other struggles. By showing these characters in interesting and relatable situations, we hope readers will come to like the characters and even see them as friends. Once we have embraced a person (even a fictional one!) we’re ready to embrace the differences that person experiences and embodies. We see the person as quite similar to ourselves. This is the process of building empathy and understanding.