Category Archives: Tolerance

New Autism Advocacy Strategies…and yeah, comic books.

As Autism Awareness Month slides away, let’s reflect on new developments towards advocacy. Lately, I’ve read many blogs and memes which suggests autism as a singular experience. Instead of anti/pro-vaccination links, we find more stories about autism in the workplace. Side-stepping the person-first versus identity debate, we share our talents as authors, musicians, and painters.

As a community, I’ve seen a rising wave of SELF-Acceptance; autistic persons may want others’ approval and validation but won’t hold our breaths. Instead, we go about the business of embracing our uniqueness. More importantly, we share our successes despite our challenges.

As age and experience mount, I realize I want to be a part of this group. I believe we have more power being genuinely positive about autism than blaming others, boycotting groups we never patronize, or faulting professional helpers who forgot why they became doctors and teachers. I also realize how draining fighting social institutions becomes. For a long time – perhaps too long – I found satisfaction in polarizing “gotcha” victories. My professional network includes respected members of the Pennsylvania Congress, United States Congress, U.S. Department of Justice, and the United Nations. Sadly, I used this collective’s best practices about autism to shame or steamroll others less-informed than myself.

…but I’m learning, from you, better ways to deal with people. For example, I started #WeAut2Vote last year to encourage more voting participation within our community. Studying other social activist groups, I copied successful engaging strategies. However, this year was different. Instead of shaming a politician, I reminded our PA Congress of three distinct autism outreach programs that do good work. I reminded politicians about a growing segment of autistic individuals who now vote. I thanked each member of Congress for their work, regardless of political affiliation, in promoting equal opportunities for persons with autism.

The adage is true: you get more flies with honey than vinegar. (Question: why do we WANT to attract flies, anyway? #NoFliesInMyHouse)

To this end, I re-engage our fans with new perspectives and directions.

What will this look like? Here’re two examples:

  • Show you, not tell you. At my core, I’m a comic book junkie. I’ve met and learned from some giants in the comic book industry. This single piece of advice was repeated again and again and again and again and some more. Rather than TELL you how cool something about autism might be, I’m going to SHOW you. Gone are length or preachy caption boxes, or fumbled commentary spewed by pre-teens in our comics. Instead, our heroes overcome challenges with fewer words and more action. Violence isn’t always the best answer, either, even in a comic book. What does this mean? To tell you more would violate Principle #1; we’ll show you in upcoming issues.
  • Give back and nurture new ideas and talent. I envision starting a crowd-funding campaign to pay new artists and writers with autism, anxiety, depression, etc. Our team volunteers our experiences to overcome writers’ block or page layouts. This comic anthology is independent of Face Value Comics, so I hope your ideas are even cooler than ours. These comics will include new voices in the conversation about acceptance and tolerance. Instead of expecting DC or Marvel Comics to tell honest stories about us, WE WILL. I simply ask new talent and prospective submissions to be of a PG rating; no blood, no bombs, and no breasts as the focus of your stories. Do good work; you represent an oft-silenced minority in comic books, so have self-respect and restraint. We expect no financial compensation for this shared work because we’re paying forward some of the advice and help we got. Money raised by crowdfunding goes directly to contributors and incidental costs (i.e. printing and shipping), not us. Crowdfunding also means YOU have more responsibility to share this news with family, friends, teachers, and more.

Kids need heroes like themselves. I said that on Day One. Days Two until recently, I mistakenly believed *I* was that hero with a swelled head. Hopefully, I’ve corrected those oversights as I lay out new direction. Follow me. I want to hear your stories, and publish them. On our end, I want you to have a genuine comic book hero with autism, devoid of attention-seeking commentary or accolades. We deserve better than I’ve been, and I’m taking action on being a better man.

Kids need heroes like themselves, and new “voices” need a chance to be heard.

If you’ve read this far, you ought to see an image of some new characters in our comics. They help the Zephyr, our featured hero. Introducing, the Vultures…

Vultures 01

Do you like the Vultures? They don’t care! They will exist just fine without your approval. What other choice does this group of motorcyclist outcasts have after Dr. Moebius won the war? Also notice our hero unmasked, with a new scar. His childhood robotic aid, TESS, appears more human as time passes. What else lies in store for Face Value Comics? We’ll show ya…

BTW- did you know I like to play games? Check my other most recent blog posts!

For a chance to win a t-shirt featuring an image of the Vultures, comment with “I like the Vultures because…” and insert your reason. We will random determine a winner, and ship your t-shirt free of charge to anywhere in the United States in May 2017. G’luck!

Diarrhea and Low-Functioning Autism

After Thanksgiving dinner, I had diarrhea.

This example may give some readers pause as they flash signs of contempt or disgust. However, most people share a personal understanding of brief diarrhea. Exact causes may be difficult to pinpoint, but usually involve complex chemistry of fluid imbalance. Other factors, like stress, may warrant consideration, too. Still, most people can empathize and sympathize with this gastrointestinal challenge. In polite company, we refrain from sharing our toileting experiences. This is an unwritten social rule. I contend how diarrhea may only momentarily detract from our daily routines or work performances, though. As filthy as diarrhea might be, we understand it well enough from our own experiences, and still dislike addressing it. I wonder how proud actors feel whilst filming commercials for an over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medication.

Unconsciously, we might assign those negative images of watery feces to the person having diarrhea. We give the ill person distance, to avoid contracting diarrhea ourselves. We encourage bed rest, medication, and other things which completely remove them from future conversations until WE think they act or feel …

…wait for it…

“normal.” Despite our intimate knowledge of diarrhea, we automatically shun anyone who currently experiences it. We devalue their contributions because we assume their illness also affects mental alertness or other skills we otherwise expect. We seek to avoid contamination ourselves, and scrub our hands with anti-bacterial soap. Flush our relationship until the illness passes. We may want our friends to rest, or we may want nothing to do with a stranger who ate gas-station sushi.

Why are we so dismissive and lack compassion for an experience we likely have all shared and at least conceptually understand? Couldn’t a person with diarrhea still draw, still code, still do a lot of non-physically challenging things of value? I believe this person can add value. However, society caps their presumed potential until their diarrhea passes and they “act” less of an uncomfortable threat to our societal expectations.

1 in 68 persons has autism, and I believe more than this ratio have had diarrhea. Not as many people understand autism as well as diarrhea. Making understanding more difficult, we ascribe words like “low functioning” as a description. No, we may not come out and say “low functioning.” Instead, we use words like “high functioning autism,” which immediately supposes its counter-point: low-functioning autism. Likewise, we avoid invoking the word, “diarrhea” because we know peer judgement follows. Instead, words like “upset stomach” or “wiped out” seem more polite. What is a nicer way of saying “low functioning autism?” Yeah, there aren’t any, and you’re foolish to think aggressors won’t prey upon this distinction. Even worse, I contend some people with “higher functioning autism” also know how to throw bully-wolves off their scent by making such comparisons.

“I don’t have diarrhea; I’ve a tummy ache.” “I might have autism, but it’s ‘HIGH functioning autism.'”  Both sentences desperately seek acceptance, and use language to seem more approachable. I believe most people know what diarrhea looks like, but doubt many of these same people could identify two clinical needs which warrant a lower functional categorization. Instead, society fumbles with perceptions over what “low” functioning might be, even if their examples seem disconnected to autism. This becomes a dangerous enterprise, adding more doubt, myths, and missed opportunities for our community as a whole.

Instead, leave the adjectives “high functioning” and “low functioning” autism to the clinicians who crafted the words for their own medical processes. Stop manufacturing more reasons for polite society to fear or further distance themselves from an impolite conversation. As a collection of human beings, we cannot have easy discussions about loose stool, so why do we think invoking high/low functionalities will improve understandings of autism without similar contempt, disgust, or fear of known diarrhea?

Please add to this conversation if you have a counter-point. I boldly contend that we should erase the use of autism functionalities outside of our clinicians’ offices. Someone saying they’ve “high functioning” autism is really saying, “Yes, I’m autistic, BUT please don’t confuse me for someone with low-functioning autism, because I know you won’t give me any chances otherwise.” I dare anyone who identifies as having “high-functioning” autism to say it WITH a person who has “low functioning” autism also present, and then point to that person and call ’em “low functioning” to their face. OWN that glorified trap, if you must insist on its non-clinical use. Outside of educational/medical care, can you name any situation where identifying an autism functionality is helpful to the individual, the recipient of that information, or “polite” society (the same group who cannot stomach talks of diarrhea) as we seek greater acceptance?  Nah, we won’t have acceptance from neurotypical folk until we can accept ourselves.

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.

Re-introductions

“Who am I? Why Am I here?” – Admiral James Stockdale, 1992 Vice-Presidential Running Mate

This quote seems appropriate for me. For several months, I’ve been noticeably absent from social media. Friends and family have given me space and support. Still, I needed to address some things, and share some of those things with you now, in no particular order:

  • My father had a stroke and subsequent heart surgery, and he continues to recover.
  • Due to some health concerns, I’ve been battling lingering effects of at least one concussion sustained in a fall(s).
  • At a holiday celebration, I had to advocate about autism acceptance because,
    • A young man rejects his autism diagnosis because he believes himself “too smart” to have autism, and
    • (Too) many (family) members treated a young lady with autism like Lenny, from the book “Of Mice and Men,” when she wanted to play with new kittens; no kittens were harmed.
  • I’ve reviewed a LOT of internet chatter and direct inquiries about the comics’ utility, including inquiries about its academic merit and curriculum suggestions.
  • We’re in a state of growth, including adding new writers, artists, and equipment like a phenomenal printer.

What does all of this mean for you, as fans of the world’s first-featured comic book hero with autism? Stay tuned, because I will begin to break-down how these events have galvanized my resolve. I promise to be honest with you even if I don’t know what direction to take.

Follow me. Walking arm-in-arm for advocacy suggests a patient pace, right?

An Autism “Cure”

In society, we can cure some diseases and offer substantial treatments for other ailments. When we discuss autism advocacy, our conversation magically shifts. A problem arises that few notice; autism is a neurological (brain) condition. Medicines have not effectively re-wired an autistic brain. Therapies treat other symptomologies without resolving autism itself. Too often, we treat autism as a socially-driven variable and ignore its biological roots.

In college, a friend was born blind. No pills would restore her sight. Therapy failed, too. Assisted technologies helped, though never really replaced fully-functioning vision. However, medical treatments and therapies helped in other ways. Since she found difficulties making friends or other social commitments, she battled constant depression. Prescription medications and therapists helped her understand her feelings, and subsequently overcome some fears. Her professional team addressed presenting symptoms, but not her blindness. Due diligence suggests how her team consulted  my friend’s medical history to rule-out possibilities of curing her blindness and optic nerve damage. In a visually-driven marketplace, I can sympathize with wanting a cure for blindness.

Finding a “cure” for autism can be seen as morally and scientifically derelict. We wouldn’t give a person a pill to cure their life-long deafness, or suggest they drink bleach. Likewise, we certainly not condone electro-convulsive shock treatments against prisoners of war – even prisoners with valuable military information. Society would riot if we advocate these practices because they are inhumane.

Mr. Yuck
                   Mr. Yuck

…for anything but autism. Drinking bleach is now advertised as a “cure” for autism, among many other ailments. Everything Mr. Yuck taught me suggest bleach is deadly if consumed, right? The Judge Rotenberg Center promotes the use of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) – which is fine – AND skin shock aversive treatments. Oddly, peer-reviewed literature suggests a fault of ABA lies in its inability to motivate students over time. In other words, kids get bored with some rewards, and need new prompts to comply with rote questions and answers. Society wouldn’t ethically apply shock collars to a young puppy, but go ahead and slap an electrical shock device to a student with autism because…well…what I am I supposed to think? I guess my take-away is that practitioners and proponents of the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) must value autistic students with less regard and more contempt than dogs. No, I’m sorry that I can’t accept any amount of voltage running through another human being as a way to “cure” them or help acclimate them to social expectations.

One of the largest non-profit autism advocacy businesses worldwide recently held ANOTHER conference at the Judge Rotenberg Center. At no time did they use their dollars or influence to stop human tragedies at the JRC. To me, this is not positive autism advocacy. Trying to “cure” autism is the exact opposite of acceptance. Some researchers believe Albert Einstein, Amadeus Mozart, and Thomas Jefferson displayed enough historical traits as to warrant an autism label. Where would our world be without different-thinking people, with or without autism.

Some people may absolutely hate this blog post. Instead of alternatives, a sweeping removal of autism from the planet is in order in too many people’s minds. I make this offer to people who want a cure:

  1. I’ll listen to your claims of an autism cure from authoritative scientists.
  2. You listen to music I like. When the thrashing European metal chords and guttural lyrics make you cringe, I’ll dub your intolerance of something I find quite normal – sometimes soothing – as YOUR faulty brain condition. To help you overcome your aversion to my music tastes, let’s agree to use bleach and electrocution until you do like it, while I remind you how damaged and wrong you are for liking any other music. Please know that I do this work in kindness and love – I just want YOU to be more like ME, and that includes having a life filled with music…regardless of what happens to your brain or personality in the process. I offer no guarantees about what doing what I say will actually help you appreciate diversity in music, or what may happen to the portion of your brain that translates music and auditory messages.

Is it a deal?

…or, we could treat autism symptoms, but distinguish between other factors. For example, a lot of people contract poison ivy rashes, and statistically-speaking, at least one of those people is also autistic. It seems unfair to take the person to the doctor and exclaim- “He’s autistic. Cure him of his autism and the rash won’t be a problem.” I remember a time when accommodations ruled. Instead of blaming autism for a child’s inability to wear a cotton t-shirt, perhaps consider buying them a NON-cotton t-shirt. Stop pretending that capitalism meet your demands for diversity but let markets dictate how valuable autism advocacy is. If people stopped buying cotton shirts, someone will take notice and the marketplace will fill the gap. Be poised to know who and what sparks these changes. For me, I have a threatening kidney disease- should I blame autism for it, too? If my autism were somehow magically “cured,” would my kidney disease be easier to manage? Also, my kidney disease is more likely to shorten my life experiences than autism. If you want to talk to me about finding a cure, please talk to my nephrologist before my autism therapist, okay?