Category Archives: Social Responsibility

Why we’re angry, dear Rosie…

Dear Ms. Rosie O’Donnell:

More than a week passed since we last chatted, albeit one-sided, about autism advocacy. Our fans wish you roaring success with your upcoming performance, and hope you are well. If people read anything more recent about you, I think many would be alarmed by the outpouring of hate directed at you regarding your armchair diagnosis of Barron Trump. We needn’t add fuel to that fire. Instead, I’m offering insight as a fellow rights activist and (self) advocate.

If people are angered by your lack of credentials to offer a diagnosis, I think their anger is misplaced. If people dislike you because of your own open identity, we aren’t likely to solve homophobia in this blog post. More importantly, I’m not sure you – or anyone who flippantly diagnoses someone with autism – understands the real damage.

You betrayed us, Rosie.

Within the autism community, many of us struggle with implied, unwritten social cues. However, most of us grew up and learned about the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. Rosie, you broke that rule.

Spin your dialogue. Would you appreciate someone from the autism community saying another person was obviously gay because of how they look for thirty seconds? Even if that person’s experience and vigilance within the LGBTQ community would lend some credit to observations, is it anyone else’s right to out them as gay? If this approach is not okay with you, why is it okay for you to do something similar?

Hypervigilance with your own daughter’s autism diagnosis may lend you small credit, to recognize symptoms. Being good at computer work or mathematics makes someone autistic as much as (insert LGBTQ stereotype, here) makes someone gay. We fight hard to correct social misperceptions; please don’t add more misdirection.

We could presume you have nothing but benevolence towards a man and his family. Refresh my memory: is this the same man and his family whom you battled on Twitter during the Presidential Election this year? Do you doubt Barron Trump will have the absolute best medical care as the son of the United States President-Elect? Do you think you know better than a physician, Rosie? You act like you do.

…and that’s why people feel anger. May I offer a solution? Tweet how your intentions were born from compassion for a young person. Start a discussion about his father’s lack of understanding about autism, and the need for more openly autistic legislators and representatives. Share how you may have mourn(ed) Dakota’s lost potential following an autism diagnosis; we’ll understand and work through this very common grief with you. Invite more advocates to work with you, and stop making our advocacy work harder in 140 characters or less.

Let’s have tea next week, okay?

Be well and break a leg,

Dave Kot

Solving State Budget Crisis with 4th Grade Math (by an adult with autism)

 

[WARNING This post may incite Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder over remembered experiences with mathematical word problems or school experiences the same.]

A train leave Chicago at 4:15pm, travelling 120 mph.

Another train leaves New York at 5:25pm, travelling 90 mph.

At what time will Pennsylvanian legislators resolve their political rhetoric to decidedly vote on a balanced budget, as promised?

We already have an untapped revenue stream that would certainly add immediate funds to our resource pool. Instead of cutting special needs education or laying-off social service agency workers, we can exercise better safety while building a sizable revenue like never in history.

We do this by adding a small usage fee to known, speedy racers on state turnpike roads.

It’s simple math we learned in fourth grade, folks.

The distance between Place A and Place B is 60 miles along the turnpike.

The posted speed limit within this distance is 65 mph. With some advanced mathematics, we can determine how acceleration, deceleration, weather, etc. means a typical average speed of 60 mph.

If, driving an average of 60 mph over 60 miles’ distance means we could arrive at our destination within one hour. Is everyone still with me?

Sure, I may stop and use a public washroom, or eat fast food, or take-in a local attraction. All of these variables only ADD to our overall travel time. This means that my estimated, expected one hour drive will take longer by as much as I want. There is no need to worry about these drivers. In fact, they contribute to the local economies with their patronage.

I want to address the willing speeders. I want a safer road and travel.

I want a small ‘pay-to-play’ fine immediately assessed on turnpike/state-paid toll roads. The system partially exists. When we enter the turnpike, we get a date-and-time stamped ticket. We present this ticket to the toll booth operator upon exit, and pay the cost of travel from known Point A to Point B. Alternatively, we can use an electronic debit system that assesses the toll tied to our bank.

We also know an average, safe rate of speed for that trip. Again, if I pull-off road for an overnight stay at a commercial hotel, so be it. My time spent on road is more difficult to calculate. We won’t bother about these variables, and instead focus on the known speeders.

If a driver speeds in excess of the known variables, and exits Point B a few minutes sooner than expected, we begin to see my strategy unfold. Again, if someone was expected to be driving just 5 mph (or less) faster, so be it. What if they drove the distance in HALF of the anticipated time?

We assess a fine, to be paid immediately via deductions from electronic debit systems like E-Z Pass, or ask toll booth workers to assess the penalty. For drivers who may be short on cash, we extend sympathy and an envelope in which they may place their fines within a certain time frame. Failure to pay these assessed fines could be easily bypassed, but I wish good luck to such skipping drivers the next time they exit a toll road.

Fines do not be to be large sums of money. Maybe assigning a value of a mere dollar for speeds 5-9 mph over expected arrival times will suffice. I doubt most people would notice a dollar ‘fine’ or ‘tax’ for their speedier driving. For larger speed differentials, we assess larger fines or taxes.

Pennsylvania has more paved roads within its borders than all of New York and New England combined. Surely, we have speeders who may willingly pay pocket change for the freedom to travel just a little faster than expected. We exercise the same serious tone with speeders as they who brazenly and willingly think they can justify speeding on public roads with lots and lots and lots of potholes.

How much money could this enterprise bring? This formula can be done with your own state.

Calculate mileage of toll roads. Determine distances between entry and exits. Predict various speeds, like entry acceleration or exit deceleration. Include factors like weather, if needed. Assign thresholds of speed accountability (i.e.: Is 5mph over limit too generous? Is 10mph over limit too generous?), and fees for those speed rates (i.e. Is $1 too much or too little? What dollar amount would you assess a speeder who drove 120% of the speed limit?). Direct accountability in billing or fee assessment. Build computation infrastructure to do repetitive fourth-grade math. Promote. Market. Advertise. Implement. Sit back and get paid by speedy drivers at a proportional rate to non-paid speeding tickets, but whose fees could be deducted automatically via electronic debit systems already in use. Enjoy safer, less speedy drivers on toll roads. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Of course, the cost of educating people, building collection systems, and other factors may exists that I do not yet realize. This isn’t a perfect system. However, it uses something largely in place, with a system that many of us expect already (read: You mean there ISN’T an obligatory fine waiting for me when I get clocked for speeding?). It also reduces the number of police force dedicated to solely speeding on toll roads. Police can be better utilized, since the basic math already implicates speedy drivers’ deeds.

What about speedy drivers who realize their lead foot, and just duck into the local rest stop before their exit and cheat the system? Well, we now have an individual frequenting a place of business along a toll road. What are the chances they buy something that may cost as much or more than the anticipated fine? I suspect someone will drive like lightning, hoping to stop and buy a candy bar at Zero-Hour near the exit ramp. However, if you are speeding, I doubt that you will want to ruin your great track record by making a pit stop. You drove fast for a reason, and unless you are driving without a speedometer, you also know just how much faster you are driving over the posted speed limit. You gambled, and until now, you won. You beat the system. You dodged other drivers, including police officers. You broke old land-speed records in your attempt to visit your Great Aunt. Congratulations, speedy drivers, but your time in the Victor’s Circle comes to an end.

How much money could we net as a state or nation if we- shockingly- held people accountable for breaking laws on toll roads? How many people do you think use the PA Turnpike daily? How many of them speed, do you think? Multiple this last number by as little as $1 USD and see how we can prevent political bias in promised budget reformation.

This is my second idea to end the PA budget stalemate in the same day. What have our elected officials offered today? Remember, most people will dismiss this idea just because I am an adult with autism, and therefore automatically presume I have less public value. What do you think? If you like this idea, please share it. Honestly, I don’t even care if I get credit for this work; ‘business as usual’ shouldn’t mean massive layoffs…

…while the politicians still get paid to merely debate with no real offers on the table. I’d like to ask all PA Congress to work without pay from TODAY until they pass a balanced budget; we’d have amendments flying off desks before tomorrow, I expect. Also, no congressional representative can vote for increased salaries for two years, making their lives more typical to our own, with just a modest, meh, 2% cost-of-living increase (maybe).

Maybe you dislike my revenue streams or ideas. I am okay with other opinions voiced respectfully, but I do ask for you to come up with some way(s) to make money for our Commonwealth before you throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Open Letter to U.S. Congress

Dear Congressmen Doyle and Smith, and Respected Members of the U.S. Congressional Autism Caucus:

I write to you as an autism self-advocate. While my local representative, Congressman Mike Doyle (Co-Chair), and I met this summer, I bring new concerns to you all.

Recently, price spikes of certain prescription medicines caused alarm from the economic and health care sectors. Now, without prediction, some health care providers must cut generic medication from their formularies because of inflated cost. Some doctors prescribe medications to treat acute symptoms or other diagnoses for people with autism. I would like to know how the Affordable Care Act is insulated against future cost cuts of very commonly prescribed medications.

Congressmen Doyle, I’d like to revisit your invitation to meet and address more of your colleagues. Since we last met, I’m happy to share how my research into facial feature recognition for persons with autism has been vetted in a scientific medical journal! With so many budget decisions before our legislature, perhaps now might be a time for me to discuss the (special) education cost savings/surplus model with you; it’s the same model that received unanimous votes from our local school district this year.

Finally, I ask for an opportunity to grow beyond my comfort level. I am just a man. Nobody expected how a comic book would thrust me into international spotlight for autism awareness and acceptance. I’ve a social responsibility to use my fame and (self) advocacy mission for good use. For example, I’ll share this letter through all of our social media outlets, as an example of how to address civil leadership. If/when I meet with you, may I bring some friends who would quell my anxiety and lend their voice to mine if I tire? (After this letter hits Facebook,) May I bring one-thousand like-minded friends discuss the future of autism advocacy? I encourage everyone reading this letter to seek healthy relationships between civil leadership and autism advocates at any level.

Be well,

Dave Kot

Direct Questions to Autism Speaks

Dear Autism Speaks:

As an autistic self-advocate, I appreciate your good-hearted intentions as a powerful voice within our community. I have a problem that only your organization could solve. Since we’re both busy nonprofit organizations, I’ll dispense with flowery language and simply ask:

Why does your organization act like a lightning rod for any other social media posts I create?

Why do so many people automatically dismiss your organizational mission?

How can we help more people find a more peaceful way to address organizational questions about Autism Speaks while maintaining our own sense of autonomy and self-advocacy?

I’ve done some of my own research, and these are some possible reasons our fan base and like-minded advocates shared, in no particular order:

  • Money gained through fundraising lacks sufficient transparency. Reportedly, less than 5% of all money raised actually goes to families living with autism. I have a solution:
    • Recently, we shared how Katie Cuoco helped raise money for autism awareness. May we ask how much of the $35k is earmarked as direct payments to families or (local?) non-profit organizations that directly services families living with autism? Since Autism Speaks is a non-profit organization, all of this information should be available upon request. No, I don’t need to know that the Smith Family at 1343 Cherrywood Lane got $800; more simply, an answer like “30% of $### went to families/organizations supporting autism advocacy in the Greater Manhattan area,” would suffice. Can I ask how much money that a beloved actor helped raise went into administrative fees, like Autism Speaks’ salaries? May I ask how much money, by percentage, your Board of Directors and other administrators take from fundraising for families living with autism?
  • Why don’t you have anyone advising you about autism with a clinical autism diagnosis? John Elder Robinson’s departure left a void that hasn’t been filled. I have a solution:
    • If you are looking for candidates, I toss my hat in the ring; I pledge to take $0.00 salary for this work. I’ll let the internet validate my candidacy in this regard for autism advocacy, from popular culture to being included in a medical journal about effective, insurance-billable, non-medicinal autism treatments.

I think having answers about these questions may help our fans grow to trust what you are doing. Otherwise, possible misrepresentation or rumors will continue to divide our autism community. Will you please provide some personal answers to me, and to our fans living with autism? I am interested to see if your organization will listen and respond to an adult with autism.

Be well,

Dave Kot, creator and script writer for Face Value Comics

P.S. Would you be willing to share Ms. Cuoco’s contact information with me privately? If she has a sincere interest in autism awareness, she may be interested in helping us plan/fundraise for a large initiative for independent living and affordable housing in our local communities for individuals with autism. Thanks in advance!

DEAR SANTA CLAUS

Dear Santa Claus:

This year, I have tried to be a good boy. Our family made some great memories, and the children feverishly write and re-write their Wish Lists with wide eyes. Although I’ve endured some significant health threats, I find myself humbled by the experiences. In 2015, I want to ask you for some very special gifts – gifts for me and for the world.

Will you please bring me solid definitions? Many of our advocacy goals wilt against undefined or misinterpreted words. We fight wars with bullets and words, and inflict more harm with words, especially on social media. Without shared understandings, we risk continued fragmentation in any advocacy path we take.

Gender and racial identity seems as fluid as a rushing river. Too many people cling to words like “man” or “woman” or “marriage” or “race” or “special needs” without an acknowledged definition, or dangerously presuppose their definition reigns supreme. Perception becomes reality. A lot of our words used to describe a human condition take root in medical definitions. Laws try to reinterpret these definitions with little success. Worse, some words pre-date codified laws yet have semi-religious or spiritual connotations which not everyone shares. We lack cohesive, shared goals on topics that divide us because of unclear definitions. Will you please help us acknowledge language barriers within a shared spoken tongue? While we may still disagree about action or outcomes, we may do more good works if we can first recognize glaring deficiencies in our vocabulary.

Will you please bring me more compassion, too? We seem to be running low, as a society. Some groups seek racial or spiritual equality by tearing down non-members. Sometimes they recruit young people into their campaigns of prejudice despite new laws or better understandings of scientific fact. For example, a lot of information exists to discredit a long-standing argument about vaccinations’ link to autism. However, a parent of a newly-diagnosed child with autism needs compassion and support, not scientific pie charts and lectures. Despite any amount of overwhelming evidence, I cannot flaunt data to a parent whose child talked and walked prior to a vaccination; they deserve and need answers to solving their own bereavement of a childhood that may not be as typical as planned. They need solutions to new challenges in communication, in education, in self-care, and maybe many more areas. We need definitions, Santa, but also the compassion to wield those definitions. Children need more compassionate adults who stop behaving like entitled children themselves.

Without sounding greedy, may we also have more leadership who better understands these first two requests? It would be great if such a leader were also autistic, because we lack representation. Our Founding Fathers fought a great war because of such gaps in government; we cannot expect neurotypical leaders to fully understand the economic and social variables influenced by an autistic life. Maybe having equal representation could mean the same moneys get shared. A recent study now suggests that autism impacts 1 in 45 people. Knowing that only 1-in-10 autistic adults is currently gainfully employed should draw more eyes into long term planning.

Instead, we go to Twitter to decry how #BlackLivesMatter using 140 characters or less. Again, because of definitions, even this social movement finds itself mired in confusion and political trappings. Too many people misread the slogan as: “ONLYBlackLivesMatter.” Conversely, nobody would hashtag a phrase like: TooManyBlackLivesHaveBeenLostToNonBlackPoliceBrutalitySoWillSomeonePleasePayAttentionToQuestionableGovernemntalSponsoredGenocideBecauseBlackLivesMatterToo. Although cumbersome, this statement more accurately describes the Black Nationalist movement rooted within #BlackLivesMatter. When an unarmed 6 year old boy with autism was murdered in his car by police, I hoped that #BlackLivesMatter could be an ally. Since the boy was non-Black, I can expect no help from Black Nationalists, according to their own website. Add to the fact that the alleged murderer IS Black, I cannot expect help from #BlackLivesMatter, regardless of their mission against armed and reckless police with personal agendas. When #BlackLivesMatter hashtags claimed recent Parisian terrorism was a white-on-white crime, I recalled Malcolm X’s response to President Kennedy’s assassination. I also remembered a great poem about segregated victimization and abdicated defenses during World War II. When will they come for people with autism, and who will be left to stand with us? Honestly, we should rally as human beings when any threats seems to come for any one of us, regardless of height, weight, pigmentation, or self-realized identity. Somehow, by misappropriating now-ambiguous words like “white” or “woman,” we dehumanize the situation where HUMAN rights are concerned.

Black. White. Autistic. Person with Autism. Boy. Murder. By itself, each word may solicit a call to action. Blend these same words together in any combination, and some people will deny help they could give. Some people will be confused by what we need when we ask for help. Again, Santa, we lack shared definitions and enough compassion to supersede or suspend our mortal-made definitions. This Christmas, will you please bring me better operative definitions and shared compassion? I promise to share!

When a fan visits us at a comic book convention and identify themselves as “high-functioning,” what am I supposed to do with this abusive identity? Should I hold up a picture of Albert Einstein and correct their interpretation of “high-functioning?” Should I point out how, despite my own autism diagnosis, I’ve sold more published books and received more international awards than 90% of the people coming to see me? While harshly accurate, this approach does nothing to build our community, yet perpetually bragging how people should automatically presume more competence than our peers is equally damaging. Again, definitions and lack of compassion to use those words is harming our people, our country, and our shared world. We find ourselves grasping at any words to individualize us, and neglect our own self improvements. We expect words to clearly define who, what, when, where, why, and how we are…but not everyone uses these same definitions. Santa, my health and time spent understanding more about advocacy has sorely impacted our own production of comic books and toys. I need better understanding of socially-divisive words, and more compassion and humility to use words that forge real progress. I apologize in advance if I mis-spoke (mis-typed?) words that elicit anger, contempt, disgust, or fear. I am just a man, and am trying to describe what I want for the holidays- a better world, but forgive my fumbles with ambiguous words.

Thanks, Santa Claus. Please be safe when travelling this year! We’ll set out some cookies and milk for you, as always.

A MARVELous Dirty Secret

EDIT 23 April 2015: Fans have asked me to explain my thoughts about Marvel Comics’ diversity. My reply is found here: https://facevaluecomics.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/invulnerability-a-new-social-superpower/

We congratulate Marvel Comics for embracing diversity! Today (22 April 2015), Issue #40 of “All New X-Men” hits comic store shelves. In it, long-time hero Bobby Drake comes out as gay, or at least bi-sexual. We may see Iceman wrestle with his sexual identity after talking with fellow mutant, Jean Grey. If shown with compassion, Iceman’s real-life sexual identity questions could establish him as a contemporary role-model for readers.

 

This example gives us at least the third suddenly-diverse character from Marvel Comics. Last year, a female picked up Mjolnir as Thor! An African-American donned the classic shield and mantle of Captain America. Iceman was created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, so it’s been a long time for him to finally discuss his sexual identity.

 

Ardent comic book fans may want small changes their new characters’ super-powers or heroic battle-cry. Change begets change. Despite any perceived flaws in a costume design, for example, fans will grow to accept their heroes. Maybe, fans will even grow to love the newest incarnations of their beloved heroes.

 

Certainly, we can’t DISLIKE ‘em. This edict applies to comics reviews, too. Why?

 

If we don’t like a new African-American as Captain America, we’re racist.

 

If we don’t like a new female incarnation of Thor, we’re sexist.

 

If we don’t like a new gay Iceman, we’re homophobic or heterosexist.

 

We congratulate Marvel Comics for a brilliant, polarizing marketing strategy!

 

Some of Marvel Comics’ most popular characters – Wolverine and Deadpool – have recently died in their respective titles. Keeping a running count, now we have at least FIVE distinct changes within the Marvel Comics Universe in less than a year. May we ask WHY we suddenly have such an outpouring of new characters?

 

I contend this change has nothing to do with diversity and everything to do about money.

 

Knowing how much money popular comic books have hauled at theaters, Marvel Comics’ so-called benevolence is actually tied to a HISTORY of money choices.

 

Artist Jack Kirby created Captain America and Thor. When an average fan recollects an image of either two heroes, they likely think of the characters as drawn by Kirby. Since so many fans already connect these two characters with Jack Kirby’s art, his family sued Marvel Comics. They wanted rightful compensation for the characters that Kirby helped make famous.

 

Marvel Comics countered by showing the world their news images of these two heroes. Alongside a blonde hair, blue eye, Caucasian Captain America, we saw the NEW  African-American Captain America. There’s no comparison! Similarly, we saw a female Thor who looks nothing like her bulging biceps male name-sake. Again, there is no comparison!

 

Thankfully, people saw through the charade. These new characters created by Marvel Comics pre-dated the lawsuit by months. They played a shell game with very high stakes. If Marvel Comics wins, they retain all rights to box-office giants’ sales. Lose, and they have to pay an artist handsomely. Eventually, Marvel Comics paid Jack Kirby’s estate a settlement.

 

Did you remember how Iceman was co-created by Jack Kirby, too? Sony Pictures Entertainment once owned exclusive cinematic rights the the Spider-man franchise. This explains why movie-goers saw a completely different-looking Electro character from the one created by…guess who- Jack Kirby!

 

Gregor Mendel is rolling over in his grave- Marvel Comics owns the copyright to the word “mutant!” This suggests how Kirby’s creations – Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch – are NOT going to be mutants in the new Avenger’s movie this summer. They will have NO ties to the X-Men as we grew to know from the comic books. What?!?

 

20th Century Fox bought movie rights to some characters from Marvel Comics. Primarily, these characters include the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. All SIX of the popular X-Men movies were created by 20th Century Fox, not Disney or Marvel Comics. Therefore, the profits from these movies go into pockets at 20th Century Fox.

 

Like a spoiled child at the playground, Marvel Comics decided to take their ball and go home. They made a dramatic strategic plan: destroy their comics characters tied to 20th Century Fox. Make certain characters unusable. Marvel Comics indicated how they want to end the print run on the Fantastic Four. In the new Fantastic Four movie re-launch, the Human Torch inexplicably transforms from Caucasian to African-American. Next, Marvel Comics killed Wolverine. Deadpool is, ironically, dead, too. More importantly, fans should recognize how these two characters’ deaths happened within the world of the X-Men franchise.

 

…which is the same sinking ship where Bobby Drake just professed his sexual identity.

 

Take a mature step away from the world of comic books. Look at these transactions like a business. Marvel Comics just drew a line in the sand- they killed two main characters in the X-Men line-up. Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) and Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) won’t draw audiences to any new X-Men movies. Would YOU want to see an X-Men movie without Wolverine? Professor X died in the last movie, too. Who leads the team? How about Iceman? If 20th Century Fox does NOT use Iceman as a gay character in future movies, guess what happens:

 

20th Century Fox – NOT MARVEL COMICS – gets any heat for how well they use a character’s undefined homosexual/bi-sexual identity.

 

I really want to like the diversity we now see in comic books. Regardless of the genesis, I really want to like the new Captain America, Thor, and Iceman identities. I think they can be good examples of how people value heroism in different ways.

 

Hopefully, we’ve learned a lot about new comic books. More importantly, we may have learned a crucial business lesson taught by Marvel Comics. To this end, I challenge:

 

If Marvel Comics easily dismisses an African American Captain America – THEY ARE RACIST.

 

If Marvel Comics easily dismisses a female incarnation of Thor – THEY ARE SEXIST.

 

If Marvel Comics easily dismisses a gay Iceman, THEY ARE HOMOPHOBIC and/or HETEROSEXIST.

#tableflipped

School is still in session. Let me show Marvel Comics how they can embrace diversity and influence real social change.

 

Give Peter Parker, the Amazing and Spectacular Spider-man, CANCER.

 

C’mon- a RADIOACTIVE spider bit the guy! It gave Spider-man his unique super-powers. Why not add ‘cancer’ to the list? Partner with writers who understand the cancer experience. Solicit advice from well-respected cancer treatment experts. Welcome new fans who need a hero like themselves.

 

Imagine a world where Spider-man had too many decisions. Rescue the damsel in distress? Stop the villain bent on city-wide destruction? Study for tomorrow’s big chemistry test? When does he fit-in needed chemotherapy treatment? How well does he feel following a visit with his physician? This strategy taps into creative writing minds and see an opponent more deadly than any foe Spider-man ever fought. Will villains know about Spider-man’s diagnosis, and will they use his physical weakness against him? How will his allies help Spider-man combat crime? Will Mr. Fantastic or Dr. Strange suddenly “cure” cancer within five days of this story line, though?

 

Hopefully, our fans know how serious we take autism advocacy in comic books. We took our own advice! We’ve partnered with great professionals who help advise us about certain aspects of autism. Diagnosed as an adult with autism, I write the script for the world’s first featured autistic comic book hero. We weave real-life personal and professional experiences, and clinically-accurate diagnostic criteria, into our stories. Facial feature recognition helps many of our readers understand character’s emotions, and their own. This science has been well-researched for 25 years, and formed the basis for educational reform in our home school district. Yes- Face Value Comics helped influence tax-free educational reform for students with special needs.

 

Why would we expect a multi-billion dollar business to give the common man legitimate diversity in its heroes? I cannot respect Marvel Comics’ attempts, knowing the source of change was only money. Don’t feed me table scraps , call it ‘diversity,’ and expect me to feel satisfied.

 

Yes, I WILL buy the new comic book today. I wonder when Iceman may tenderly hold another man’s hand. I wonder when he may kiss another man in love. I wonder when Iceman will get married to another man. All of these things have heterosexual counterparts in the Marvel Comics Universe, so why not see these common life events happen to a gay hero? It’s a fictional world, so Marvel Comics’ writers aren’t bound by repressive same-sex marriage laws. If I can believe in green-skinned monsters and flying robot-men, I can imagine a (fictional) place where equality can finally reign. Can’t you?

 

Today, Marvel Comics’ biggest secret isn’t that Iceman is gay. Their push for diversity is driven by competing rights to their popular characters in a battle of attrition. Knowing our politically-correct society, Marvel Comics embraces new, gullible fans. Meanwhile, they use their free hands to gesture obscenely towards 20th Century Fox and Jack Kirby’s influences.

Who Taught Us to Hate Ourselves? (Oops, we did…)

“Joe” self-identifies himself as “autistic.” He invites his friends to observe World Autism Awareness Day. They meet to celebrate at a fancy nightclub.

 

A Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim walk into the nightclub. After talking for a while, they each agree to set aside their different religious beliefs. Together, they understand how their beliefs include great compassion and service for their fellow man.

 

An African-American, an Italian, and a Mexican walk into the nightclub. After talking for a while, their agree to set aside their different experiences. Together, they understand how their experiences include great perseverance despite discrimination or persecution.

 

Three more people walk into the nightclub. They respectfully identify themselves as bisexual, transgendered, and heterosexual. After talking for a while, they agree to set aside their personal preferences. Together, they understand how their personal preferences represent individual pursuits of love.

 

Joe welcomes his guests and thanks them for coming. He adds his own doubts about who may show-up for his celebration. “Persons with autism sometimes don’t have many friends, let alone friends who would brave this social experience,” Joe begins.

 

“I’m not a ‘person with autism;’ I’m ‘autistic!’” says one guest.

 

“I’ve ‘Asperger’s Syndrome,’ not just autism,” retorts someone.

 

“I am a ‘highly-functioning’ autistic,” says a third member of the crowd.

 

With one introductory sentence, Joe unintentionally derails the solidarity within the group.

 

“Autism” serves as an equal-opportunity challenge. This diagnosis transcends religion, nationality, or gender/sexual preference. Autism affects one in sixty-eight persons without prejudice or respect to age, education, or financial security. In some way, autism promises to unite people who may otherwise have little in common. We have a new social justice rallying cry that impacts entire future generations.

 

Instead, we finish where we begin. Without cohesive definitions accepted by the group as a whole, we flounder. As autistics, we undermine our own struggles for equality while neurotypical people and associated supportive services watch our divisive, horrific trainwreck.

 

Autistic individuals tightly grip their own ideas about what autism is. Can we assign blame? Too often, persons with autism are browbeaten into believing that the reason(s) we don’t feel socially comfortable is because something is inherently wrong with US. How dare someone challenge how we define ourselves! More damning, how dare a neurotypical person tell me how to self-identify with my own clinical diagnosis.

 

Imagine if our political-correct cowardice world invaded other self-advocacy groups.

Would we tell a Jew that he isn’t Jewish, but a ‘person with Judaism?”

Would we tell an African-American that she isn’t African-American, but a “person of color?”

Do we remind a homosexual person how some religions damn them, while other sciences slate their sexual identity for extinction? What end goal do we have by using this language? Is it a GOOD goal? No, it is not a good goal, because it teaches hatred of differences. However, I sincerely encourage people who defend “person first” language to apply this idea across other cultures and see how well it is received. Argue how the diagnosis is problematically perceived by others in the community with equal vigor as those who deny equality on other topics, like gay marriage. Instead of rallying around the label, chastise others who think differently than you about something very personal. Become a global influencer by seeking division, not unity.

 

Do we, as autistic individuals, only feel better about ourselves by putting-down other individuals with autism? At comics conventions, we meet many different fans, with and without autism. I sit shocked as some fans whisper, “I’m autistic, but I’m high functioning.” What should I do with this information? Should I reply in kind and list my academic and professional accomplishments? Is there any value in trying to be more (or less) autistic than another person with autism?

 

Sociologists study interactions that take into account the real or imagined presence of other people. When someone reaffirms how they are ‘high functioning,’ they probably aren’t literally seated or standing beside someone with greater (or lesser) intellectual or sensory challenges. Similarly, most people wouldn’t point to the person whom they don’t know and state, “I’m smarter than this guy.” However, when people use the label “high functioning,” they are secretly disparaging other people with greater challenges. These individuals undergo a transformation in our minds – they are now “low functioning.” Like some perversion of a caste system, we label different people, like ourselves, as ‘untouchable.” We needn’t worry about reproach, however. “Low functioning” persons with autism aren’t likely to point out this prejudice, because they are less intelligent, or nonverbal, or socially anxious to criticize. If we continue to differentiate ourselves as ‘high functioning,” we automatically build the counterexamples of “low functioning,” with whatever additional garbage we wish to include. We demonize the spectrum of autism within our own autistic communities.

 

In a job interview, employers do not seek a “high functioning” autistic applicant. Can the prospective worker do the assignments, or learn the role? Does the applicant show creativity and punctuality? I doubt interviewers have any boxes to check about how autistic a candidate is.

 

In marketing, I learned something as we advertised our comic books – the world’s first to feature a hero with autism. Labels DO mean a lot of things. For example, Marvel Comics seems to have clearly heard the ‘high functioning’ terminology in use. They responded by labeling less influential characters with autism as having a ‘mental illness weakness.’ Yeah, that label sounds like a good synonym for ‘low functioning.’ No wonder no Marvel-based hero has autism. On a side note, our social media inquiry to Marvel helped them realize how negative their labels were; they changed the label to ‘neurodevelopmental disorders’ in less than a week our our public question.

 

In our first example, Joe invited friends to celebrate autism. We see how individual identity is important to many different people. However, autism continue to self-divide itself on identity. Within our own autism advocacy groups, we struggle for acceptance and recognition. We have no major social agendas, except “nothing about us without us.” This sentiment is a farce- where are any autistic members of Congress? Is your child’s special needs teacher also autistic? Do you have an autistic pediatrician? Did you at any point stop and pre-determine: “Nah, nobody with autism could be a Congressional representative or doctor or teacher?” Well, some influential people must have these thoughts- how else do you explain the lack of such prominent examples?

 

Perhaps someone whispers, “I’m not autistic,” and secretly capitalizes on the spectrum of conditions and splintered social solidarity we have.

 

Until we forge a NEW, UNITED AUTISM IDENTITY, neurotypical sharks will circle our bloody boats. Sooner or later, we’re likely to toss out one of our own, anyway, for some difference we cannot accept (yet expect the world to recognize what we do not see or have). Mankind fears the unknown. In fact, fear motivates us to do more things than happiness. Do you stay at the office with a headache because you enjoy it, or because you fear reprimand by calling off from work? Do you pay the mortgage bill with a skip in your step to the mailbox, or do you hope the postmaster clearly delivers your rent check by tomorrow morning? If we do not know autism, we may fear what is unfamiliar. If we fear it, we move away from the source of fear. Next, we have neurotypical groups or persons who reinforce this fear, but who offer cures or even short-term fixes for the autism condition. We lose advocacy due to our fear. We lose independence by allowing other organizations to ‘speak’ for us, because – high functioning or not – we’re too divided to advise about ourselves. Capitalism finds and fills a gap. If autistic individuals willingly vacate opportunities to compassionately, mindfully unite…someone else will steal this agenda from us. Their claims will sound loudly – autistic individuals in-fight among themselves on identity, so, here’s what’s best for these low-functioning savages with social leprosy.

 

Wow, I’ve shared a lot of idea with you. What should we do about these challenges, now that we know more about how problems can arise? In lieu of actual leadership, follow me.

 

CALLS TO ACTION:

Beginner Level:  Vote during elections. Make your voice heard, even if you are nonverbal. Stop dividing ourselves over self-identification labels, and avoid negative stereotypes.

 

Intermediate Level: Ask what representatives are doing to accept autism in schools and communities. Ask how your child’s teacher understands the sensory overload experience, and how they mitigate these conditions while teaching basic reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic. Help someone with autism learn to read or write well.

 

Advanced Level: Hire persons with diverse skills sets, but avoid hiring a token autistic person to justify deep-seated feelings of guilt or shame or poorly-directed pity. Run for political office at communities. Write a blog about your experiences. Volunteer in your community. Learn facial feature recognition like you would study another language.

 

What do I plan to do? I’m going to keep writing comic book script and share ideas. When we talk about autism awareness, Face Value Comics is now more than a dozen pages deep on an internet search result without paid advertising. When we talk about autism acceptance, we are in the National Museum on Disability History, and sit on the same comics book shelves as Batman and Spiderman. Additionally, I will write the President of the United States, our local state representatives, and other influential persons of celebrity status. I will give them a copy of our comic book(s), and hopefully educate people about what an adult with autism is doing to unify understandings about autism on a global stage.

 

What are you going to do for autism awareness and acceptance?

Autism Labels As a Tool for Understanding

Autism labels do not define usMany people receive autism labels these days.  Sometimes people are diagnosed with autism when they are young children.  Other people struggle into adulthood until their challenges are given the autism label.  This labeling can be helpful for some to get professional support and education.  Different labels can help us understand aspects of ourselves and our loved ones, and help us empower ourselves to address our unique challenges.

At Face Value Comics, we’ve dedicated ourselves to helping society understand those given Autism Labels: children, teens and adults everywhere who are challenged with Autism Spectrum Disorders, or ASD. At the same time, we want to give people with ASD tools to help them navigate the neurotypical world.

One thing that people with ASD struggle with is recognizing what others’ facial expressions mean.  In our stories we use the theories of Dr. Paul Ekman and his Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to illustrate different emotions.  Because a comic is a static image, people can study the face as long as necessary to decode the emotional signals.  The words appear in speech bubbles and captions help place the scene in context.

More than anything, we hope that Face Value Comics will give useful autism expressions, both to help people with ASD understand the emotions of others, and to give a positive and affirming view of people with ASD to a neurotypical world.  An autism diagnosis isn’t the last word on a person.  Autism labels should just be a tool for understanding.  We hope that we can further this understanding with our stories of Michael, his friends, and The Zephyr!

What’s the Difference Between Labeling Autism and Raising Autism Awareness?

When trying to understand something, we human beings often turn to labels to help us organize our thinking.  This can be useful or it can reinforce prejudices.  Anyone with ASD knows the dangers of labeling autism.  Most of the time, people want to understand, but they accidentally choose labels that are hurtful or misleading.  I’ve written before about how Marvel and DC Comics have had characters with ASD.  While I applaud the willingness of these companies to include people with ASD, I dislike labeling autism with the category tags “Mental Illness Weakness,” as Marvel does.

Michael Draws Zephyr - do autism labels workAt Face Value Comics, we’re trying something new.  We’re raising autism awareness by giving the main character, a Superhero, autism.  This allows us to show an autistic person dealing with everyday situations.

Rather than simply labeling autism as a weakness or a mental disorder, we’re showing a person coping with it in realistic situations.  Of course, our futuristic steampunk universe isn’t exactly reality, but who could pass up the chance to write about crazy aliens or robots that are a mix of plants and metal?!  By removing the stories a bit from our daily lives, we’re allowing space for our readers to get involved in the characters and the story lines and absorb the messages, raising autism awareness and teaching readers to decode facial expressions.

Autism awareness is the first step we take with readers. We make relatable characters for kids in middle school. Demystifying the broad spectrum of autism is a huge task.  Our goal is to start by showing kids can have heroes like themselves, and one hero just happens to have autism.

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.