Tag Archives: autism labels

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.


B.E.A.S.T. Training, Part 2

Most online autism advocacy resources provide basic information about autism and/or links to connect with social service providers.

My blog post identifies the most important resource for your loved one (or yourself) with autism:


Nobody else can easily adopt your role with the never-ending compassion, hope, and love you hold. No artificially-inserted, government-appointed care provider will be as invested as you. We must better address the needs of front-line defenders to ensure the longevity of autism (self) advocacy. Today, I cannot tell you the BEST autism resource link. I offer no cures for autism. I will only tell you what works best for my family and me: self-care.

Do you feel safe? How can we expect great strides in advocacy or development without this basic human survival need in place?

Do you feel wanted, welcomed, or loved by somebody? How can we expect good outcomes without love guiding our decisions?

Do you feel successful? How can we expect to move forward if we feel trapped or overwhelmed?

We cannot be effective autism (self) advocates without sharpening our SaWS: SAfe, Wanted, Successful. These three feelings will unconsciously direct our advocacy efforts.

Here are some culturally-biased examples:

I doubt any American would have written about lion poaching on September 12, 2001. Americans needed to feel safe before advocating for anything else.

I doubt many writers would have written about school-based inclusion during World War II. We needed to feel welcomed and valued before advocating for anything else.

I doubt any American would write about college tuition or lending reform challenges before their teenage child with autism learns to read. We need to recognize and appreciate successes in any form in order to build future successes.

Let’s be better autism advocates by sharpening our SaWS.

Let’s agree to be kind to each other. We can create a positive social change by leading with solid examples. Please consider these ideas for use whenever you feel ready. Some examples have stages of accomplishment to match a busier schedule.

Fire Chief Faust, from Face Value Comics
Fire Chief Faust, from Face Value Comics


This weekend, check and/or replace the batteries in your home smoker detector. Charge or re-charge a household fire extinguisher. Inventory your baking soda or flour for accidental grease fires. Draw a map of our home with realistic exits and meeting places for an emergency. Identify any potential barriers that sensory-processing challenges may present to an alarm, new sights, new smells, etc. Consider contacting your local fire fighting teams and introducing your family and addressing their special needs. Practice a family fire drill with escape times under ten minutes, then five minutes, then as fast as you can safely escape and meet together.

These collective steps help build a safe environment. These activities help us show our love and value of other people in our family and community. These suggestions, at whatever piece you can complete, build real successes about our future hopes and plans. These ideas help us

Be Effective Advocates with Social Temperance: Be a BEAST!


This week, members of our non-profit organization met with the collective body of Police Chiefs in York County, PA. With our friend Trish IIeraci from Providing Relief for Autistic Youth, we offered our local policing authorities additional training about autism (and facial feature recognition). We want our community to appreciate, not fear, its autism residents. Can you name any other comic book team who met and helped advise county police chiefs about autism?

Welcome to Philadelphia, Jahlil Okafor!

Last month, the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) held its annual draft selection. This event had nothing to do about autism advocacy.

The Philadelphia 76ers made the third overall lottery selection. This event had nothing to do about autism awareness.

When 76ers General Manager Sam Hinkie chose Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor, fans booed. This event has a LOT to do about autism acceptance.


To the best of my knowledge, Jahlil Okafor is NOT autistic, nor has any publicized ties to autism. He doesn’t need these connections to understand his uphill battle for acceptance in Philadelphia. Everything he does for the 76ers will be magnified unfairly under a high-powered microscope. Fans do not presume competence in Jahlil Okafor while most of society presumes no faith in autistic individuals.

Despite leading a collegiate championship team at Duke University under Hall-of-Fame Coach Mike Krzyzewski, fans won’t accept ANOTHER tall (6’10”) player to their roster. Forgive me, but aren’t tall people usually welcomed to play basketball? Didn’t the 76ers win the 1983 NBA Championship with their twin towers of Julius Erving (6’7”) and Moses Malone (6’10”)? Wasn’t Okafor a powerful offensive weapon, capable of scoring 20+ points and/or rebounds in a game; aren’t these skills that translate well into a professional sport like basketball?


Instead of asking questions about how the Philadelphia 76ers will use Okafor’s talents, fans automatically feel disparaged by the team management. For years, owners encouraged outright failure in order to secure top lottery picks to unearth new talent. Now, they have some of this coveted ability with duplication and opportunity. Yet, nobody trusts ‘em, and that distrust becomes disproportionately shelled at a ninteen year-old rookie.

Okafor will earn and likely spend millions of dollars by the end of the year, paid to him by a team that distrusts him before donning a uniform. Among all of my personal friends with autism, we won’t likely crest above the average poverty level with all of of incomes combined. A disliked Okafor will have a palatial residence, while many individuals with autism peacefully and quietly exist on the fortunes of their families and friends for as long as humanly possible; only one-in-ten autistic adults find meaningful work. Fans cannot presume competence in Jahlil Okafor or the Philadelphia 76ers, so neither starts with success in mind. Similarly, our struggles for acceptance hinge on society presuming more competence. In the (near) future, Okafor could request a trade to a team who wants his talents. He could sign as a free-agent and earn MORE money or a chance to contend for a title. For autistic individuals, where do we go when society really doesn’t want us? How receptive to being integrated should we be, when we fear electrocution-as-therapy, earn less than minimum wage dollars for unimportant work, and face disproportionate unemployment statistics? Why does society tolerate negative media campaigns about how autism destroys jobs, marriages, and families? Why do scientists seek a genetic “cure” for autism without telling us what will remain after their so-called “cure?” Why do people desperately reach for bleach as a drinkable cure for autism unless they gravely fear the myths about autism?

The problem facing Jahlil Okafor is the same problem facing autism acceptance: lack of presumed competence. Nobody has faith in the team managers’ abilities to use talent. Nobody has faith in Okafor’s own perseverance or maturity into a powerful basketball presence. Nobody has faith in at least three tall men being able to win basketball games.

In autism advocacy, too many professionals presume no competence in autistic individuals: we cannot use the telephone to call home from school during a difficult day; we cannot carry a volunteer position without constant supervision from support staff who seemingly know less about autism than we do; etc. Like Jahlil Okafor, many people with autism have exceptional talents and are presumed incompetent or a poor fit for their business. This mismatch has nothing to do with individual abilities, but is an artificial organizational barrier created by misinformation and misunderstanding.

Like many with autism, Jahlil Okafor must fight for acceptance. He must prove doubters wrong, and thrive in a place that doesn’t seem to really want him. There is almost nothing short of an NBA Championship to quell doubt. For individuals with autism, there exists no easily-substituted Holy Grail to grasp. We walk around with invisible disabilities, but when we do something close to good or “normal,” we get pitiful praise. An alarming percentage of our fans treat me like a show-dog at comic book signings. Some feel happy that the poor autistic man wrote a big book, yes he did. Who’s a good boy? You are, Dave, you are a good boy. Some fans introduce themselves as “high-functioning,” in an odd way to build familiarity. Instead, attempts to align with “normal” by using “high-functioning” automatically throws “low-functioning” individuals under a bus. Am I supposed to like you MORE because you appear more “normal?” Will you wear a t-shirt boasting your IQ to avoid further comparisons to “low-functioning” individuals with autism? How do our peers in other minority communities respond- do people talk about their cancer diagnosis by disparaging another form of cancer? Obviously, we can celebrate fluidity in gender and marriage, but cannot accept racial self-identification any better than we can accept identity-first language without harsh criticism. In the absence of real-world awareness, acceptance, and compassion, I invented a fictional world within our comic books to show at least one positive alternative.


Jahlil Okafor won’t find acceptance in Philadelphia for a long time, until his business world dismisses what they think he CAN’T do and focus more on what he does well. Individuals with autism won’t find social acceptance until we find more patience and tolerance to develop our skills in contributable ways. Okafor will win ANOTHER championshp, this time in the NBA, before my friends or I find traditionally-meaningful work, where our abilities and talents are celebrated naturally within a well-suited organization without forced-fabricated “acceptance.” Go ahead and tell me I’m wrong, but unless you’re offering me a suitable “normal” job, then I reaffirm my claims and will rabidly root for Jahlil Okafor and the Philadelphia 76ers in the meanwhile.

GO 76ers! GO 76ers! GO 76ers!

YOU Decide – I Won’t Say a Word

In our politically-correct world, certain adjectives cannot clearly identify some groups. For example, ‘African-American’ replaces ‘person of color.’ Likewise, ‘mental retardation’ stirs ire, so we use ‘intellectual or developmental delays.’ Gone too are words like ‘actress’ and ‘stewardess;’ use ‘actor’ and ‘flight attendant,’ respectively. By example, let’s discuss something we can change: public perceptions about autism. Professional clinicians once labeled ‘homosexality’ as a mental illness! If social change can re-correct misinformation at a medical opinion level, I have hopes that my simple suggestion may also bear weight.


As it stands, I fear the word “non-verbal” encapsulates too many negative stereotypes. Simply stating that a person with autism is non-verbal damages public opinions (read: neurotypical persons’ reactions). I see two things immediately incorrect by continuing to refer to persons with autism as NON-VERBAL.


Problem One:

Did you take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)? No, we’re not engaging in discussions about cultural dis/advantages about the SATs at this moment. Think back – maybe even waaay back – to your scores or scores of someone close to you. Usually, SAT results fell into two categories. Do you remember the Math section of the SATs? What was the other categorization? For me, I also got a VERBAL score. Nobody asked me to talk during the test. In fact, testers were forbidden to speak during the SATs. Nobody spoke with me while I took the test, aside from a procter’s instructions.


The problem with labeling someone as “non-verbal” is we completely dismisses any written proficiencies with communicable language. Famous self-advocate Helen Keller was not non-verbal, even though she was mute. She knew words and communicated their value to (sometimes limited) audiences. I cannot think of Helen Keller’s experiences and still consider her “non-verbal.”

I offer to use the word “vocal,” to replace “verbal,” and more correctly capture the social interactions with someone who does not often speak aloud.


Problem Two:

At what percentage do we equate anything with an adjective, “non?” If I’m a non-smoker, I won’t smoke tobacco. If a book is listed as “non-fiction,” we expect it to include some historical realism and facts. If a person is non-verbal vocal, we may (incorrectly) assume that this person does not talk at all – ever. I believe this assumption undermines abilities of some people with autism who have limited, but some, vocal skills.


At what percentage does “non” capture? If my glass contains 99% fat-free milk, is this non-fat milk? Would things change differently at 98% of non-something or other? How about 95%, or 90%? Does NON really mean zero-percent 100% of the time?!? If so, what hopes do we dash by referring to persons as “non-verbal” or “non-vocal?”


From ancient Greece, we have an interesting word: PARA. This prefix means beside; next to, near, from; and against or contrary to something. I like the words, “near,” “from” and “against or contrary to” to better explain vocalization skills for some persons with autism. Does “near-vocal” more accurately, more clinically, explain some behaviors of people with autism that you know, or does using “non-verbal” paint a better picture or empowerment? If you wanted to become an evil dictator, which word would you select to undermine a group’s potential?


To this end, I suggest we use words like “para-vocal” to better explain future social communication expectations.


Use “para-vocal” instead of “non-verbal.” Otherwise, we may be unintentionally limiting our collective expectations about persons with autism. Otherwise, we may grow to expect absolutely nothing from someone we list as “NON.” Let’s presume competence. Some people with autism may never willingly choose to talk. However, we owe it to everyone, including ourselves, to think of many wonderful abilities and skills autistics have, and focus less about what a select group does not have.


If you like this idea, please share it and use it yourself. I’m not copyrighting this word. I will use it to explain our comics character, Myra. I will use “para-vocal” to explain this aspect of autism which I describe today. Do you like it? Will you use “para-vocal,” please?


Change and acceptance begins with us. To my friends at ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network), this idea falls in line with “nothing about us without us.” Can ASAN stand behind this idea of compassionate and clinically-accurate autism descriptions? Will ASAN use para-vocal instead of non-verbal in the future?


…or, we can go back to using “non-verbal” in literature. I would be wholly within clinical accuracy to refer to my African-American best friend (Sky Owens, our comics artist) as “non-white.” How far would that very factual adjective get us as a society? How would my friend respond? Look, I’m quite certain that some autistic people who don’t easily or willingly talk won’t say anything, right? Society questions the “verbal” skills of some autistics, I find more glaring verb and adjective omissions from neurotypical so-called experts.

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.



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.