Wednesday, January 2, 2013

"_____ has autism/Asperger's/ASD" - the media

I admit it - I watch television shows. More specifically, I've always been a fan of procedural crime dramas for some reason, namely NCIS and Dexter, provided Dexter counts as "procedural."

NCIS is a great show - it must be, since I have over the last year or so (maybe less) watched every single episode from season 1, episode 1 to the most recent season 10, episode 10. NCIS is also a successful franchise in that it spawned a spin-off (NCIS: Los Angeles) despite being a spinoff itself (of a now-cancelled CBS show, JAG).

So last night, I was watching NCIS: Los Angeles season 4 episode 3, entitled "The Fifth Man." It didn't take long for the thought to cross my mind that one of the characters was possibly autistic in some way. Not a main character, just a major character in this particular episode.

The basic premise was that some people were playing an online game meant to predict how individuals or groups would act in carrying out a terrorist plot on American soil. There were five "exemplary" players, four of whom were murdered in the opening scene. The fifth was suspected to be a man with a gambling problem, but was actually his daughter.

As the episode progressed, the girl was brought in for questioning. Watching one agent's unsuccessful attempt to communicate with the girl, one of the main characters (Sam Hanna, played by LL Cool J) proposed the idea that "maybe she has some form of autism, Asperger's Syndrome."

At the end of the episode, "the doctor diagnosed her with Asperger's Syndrome."

That wasn't exactly central to the plot, but I found it interesting nonetheless. She was portrayed as not just withdrawn, but practically anti-social. An agent asked how old she was, and she responded with the number of years, days, hours, and seconds, counting the few seconds after she spoke. She said a few times that she "didn't have friends" and asked at one point "is this what friendship feels like?" She was portrayed as tactless and unable to relate to "normal" people.

Essentially, she was a high-functioning but socially-impaired autistic savant. There wasn't anything particularly offensive about the character or her portrayal. It's not like she was a broad caricature - well actually, she was, but not necessarily in a bad way.

The media thrives on stereotypes, whether they mean to or not. The gay guy is always sassy and fashion-aware, a good cook (or else very domestic in some way), and so on; the Asians are always either smart, brainy types or gangsters; you get it.

Neuro-diversity advocacy dictates that those with any form of mental difference ought to be treated with the same respect and afforded the same dignity as those without. There are differences, however.

It's one thing to say that a white male, a black woman, and an openly gay person should be considered for a job position equally and based solely on their respective qualifications.

However, there are some jobs for which people with Asperger's and other forms of autism are simply not cut out.

I would just hate to see people with autism portrayed in the media as either end of an unfortunate spectrum - on one hand, they could be depicted as "deficient" or in some way "less than human," or even as retarded! On the other hand, they could be depicted as geniuses, unusually gifted savants, with seemingly super-human mental capabilities, but otherwise seriously impaired such as to make them "freaks."

Neither of these scenarios (each an extreme end of the media-portrayal spectrum) is ideal and in no way would show the autistic community in a "good" light.

But for some reason, I struggle to find a decent way to represent us in a relateable form! Perhaps there is none. Perhaps that realization only serves to further strengthen the case against painting the autistic community and neuro-atypical individuals as objects of study to be "understood" or "deciphered" by everyone else.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Don't Worry.

To whom it may concern: Please don’t worry yourselves sick about me.

My mother claims it is part of her job as a mother to worry about her children, even knowing full well we can take care of ourselves at a level appropriate for our different ages. So she worries about me as well.

My father worries about me because he doesn’t want me to make mistakes. Not that he made very many at my age, or really at all (joke), but he knows I’m not like him and never will be, so he wants me to be happy with the road I end up taking.

My best friend of about (or more than?) five years worries about me constantly, as I know from her telling me that many times. She’s more like an older sister despite being a year younger than I.

My girlfriend worries about me too, which I didn’t fully realize at all until last night and today. But she worries about things she probably shouldn’t, which is only because she hasn’t known me for five years (or my whole life).

But you know, I worry about people too.

I worry about my parents because they fight often and their arguments rarely have resolutions, and they both know we can’t afford a divorce and things are not bad enough to call for one, but that my mom even mentions it at times is cause for worry.

I worry about my best friend because she has made poor choices in the past and dealt with the consequences, and has also been through a lot of unfair shit that wasn’t her fault at all.

I worry about my girlfriend because I’ve never cared more about anyone ever, and for a lot of reasons about which I don’t feel comfortable writing.

But people shouldn’t worry about me. There are things that merit worry, sure. Worry about my health. Worry about my overall state of mind. Worry about my future. Hell, worry about my present too, if you’d like. Just don’t let it consume you.

But please, don't worry about me because of the way I live my life. If anything, worry about me in spite of it, if you must.

Don't worry about me because I'm not straight, and life is difficult for people who aren't straight. We deal with it the best we can.

Don't worry about me because I have mental problems. I deal with those very well, as evidenced by the fact I am still here and carrying on day-by-day.

Don't worry about me because I don't have much money, or because I don't exactly love my home life, or because I don't have a job, or because I don't have a college degree, or anything like that.

And please, definitely, promise me you won't worry about my present and future because of things in my past. Please.

The world would be a much better place if everyone could just learn that oneself is the most important person in the world.

That’s not to say that you should fix every little thing in your life before you even think about helping others. It certainly doesn’t mean that every person should be completely alone in fighting their many battles.

It just means that if I say I’m okay, I mean I’m okay.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Puzzle Pieces and Identity

Since Asperger's is an Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, the "logo" for its accompanying support movement is the same as the general Autism Awareness symbol.

Sometimes it's just two pieces, sometimes three, but you get it. You usually see those ribbon-shaped magnets or stickers on cars with this pattern.

I saw a disturbing thing, though. Someone casually mentioned that they wished "the autism awareness movement hadn't adopted the puzzle piece logo." Saying things like that is like saying "I wish breast cancer awareness hadn't chosen the color pink." What else would we use? Most of the colors for ribbons and awareness movement logos are taken! Breast cancer, heart disease, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, POW/MIA, Support Our Troops, and so on - they all have something. So should we.

The puzzle-piece logo is an interesting choice. A good choice, but interesting nonetheless. Autism, you see, is a puzzle. No one really understands it fully. In fact, scientists and doctors and other such professionals still can't agree on whether or not Asperger's is a "syndrome" or a "disorder."

Personally, I believe it's a bit of both, but then again I like compromise where appropriate. But to me, having Asperger's is just another part of my identity and therefore part of who I am.

Things that are facets of my identity:
  • my biological sex
  • my gender identity
  • my sexual orientation
  • my ethnicity and cultural heritage
  • the way my brain functions

Notice that none of those are things I can choose or change. What follows are things I can choose or change, and therefore not innately facets of my identity:
  • my spirituality or lack thereof
  • my morals
  • my personality
  • my interests and hobbies
  • my job or career
This essentially should prove that attacking people with Asperger's or any ASD is as bad as racism, sexism, or homophobia. It's like making fun of people for having depression or anxiety disorders. It's like making fun of people who stutter or limp or were born with only one arm.

No one chooses to be autistic. Trust me, even if you could, you wouldn't want to. Just like no one chose to be a black American around the 1950s and no one chooses to be a woman in the Middle East.

If a person claims to "hate" autistic people, that person is actually very nearly committing a crime. In America, we have something called "freedom of speech," but less commonly known is that the government also defines what is "unprotected speech," or more accurately, things you cannot say unless you wish to be fined or imprisoned, or at least investigated.

Unprotected speech includes "hate speech," as well as other things it's illegal to say:
  • Threatening violence against any individual - if it can be proven you have the means to act on your words, your words alone are considered motive and you can be charged accordingly.
  • Threatening any government official, law enforcement officer, or member of the armed forces in any way
  • Advocating violent overthrow of the government*
  • Advocating complete anarchy by means of violence (similar to the previous point)
  • Saying you are a doctor when you actually aren't
  • Like above, saying you are (or otherwise impersonating) any government official, law enforcement officer, or member of the armed forces in any way
  • Shouting "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater**
  • Threatening or using speech to marginalize or otherwise discriminate against any individual on the basis of race, culture, ethnicity, biological sex, religion, or disability***
And if I am denied a job because of my Asperger's, that is illegal as it violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which states that unless it can be reasonably proven in a court of law that my disabilities would prevent me from performing my necessary duties, I must be considered for employment alongside all other qualified candidates.

That means that if my potential employer is really convinced I won't be able to do my job because I have Asperger's, they'd need to make a legitimate case against me that would hold up in court. Generally, employers are so afraid of violating the ADA (along with many, many other equal-opportunity laws) that this doesn't happen.

In a perfect world, people with mental differences would be fully accepted and integrated just like black people - at least legally. I mean, look at it this way - we have tons of laws saying black people are equal to white people, and it's in our goddamn Declaration of Independence (officially considered a legal document), but racism still exists. It's all but illegal, but it still exists.

If John Doe says "I hate that n***** down the street - one of these days I'm gonna kill him," that's not only cause for neighborly concern, but also a reportable crime! Hell, if he said "guy" instead of the n-word, and the "guy" in question was white instead, it would still be illegal!

So why is it okay to casually use words like "retarded?" It's just as marginalizing, especially because people with ASDs are not technically retarded. We are mentally handicapped in certain ways, but we are not retarded. There's a difference, and it's very complicated and definitely not for this post.

* advocating that the government be "replaced" in some way by peaceful means is legal and, in fact, intentionally allowed in the Constitution - the Founding Fathers wanted a safety net in case people in the government ever got out of control!

** this applies to any other crowded area, but the actual law forbids causing a public disturbance which would result in dangerous conditions, such as people potentially being trampled!

*** recently, on a state-by-state basis, this has been amended to include sexual orientation and sometimes even gender identity, a huge step forward!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Love and Family

People with Asperger's are so often misunderstood by those who are meant to understand them the best.

This select group of people includes immediate family members, significant others, and close friends. For very lucky people, it extends to grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and anyone else who cares.

I feel very incredibly lucky to have a supportive family. When I first came out as "bisexual" at 15, I was practically forced. My mother explicitly asked me, and I can't lie to my mother! She didn't really care that much. In fact, I'd be perfectly fine if she didn't care at all. In fact, she's so understanding that she was only a little confused when I later said I was gay, and then most recently that I'm pansexual. She even listened to my explanation of what makes that different from "bisexual."

My father is a different story. He grapples with a lot of internalized feelings, most of them negative, that likely came from his upbringing because it was simply the norm at the time. I imagine it's partially because he is afraid of being like his older sister, who is so far beyond the left wing it's worrisome. He's also deeply religious for some reason, which I understand did not come from his upbringing at all.

That said, he's at least accepting. He has never once shoved a Bible in my face and never told me I'm going to hell. He liked my ex-boyfriend and was reasonably polite and quite civil to him, which says a lot since, like me, he occasionally has a hard time communicating with people. He doesn't believe I should be allowed to marry another male, but also doesn't believe we should not be allowed to be with each other. He let me borrow his car to see my ex-boyfriend several times, and drove me there himself more than once. I think he'll come around.

However, it comes as no surprise that my parents are very supportive of me in terms of my Asperger's. For one, they both have doctorates. My father is a very experienced anesthesiologist who was still being educated (finishing his residency, I believe) when I was born! My mother has a doctorate in pharmacology. So essentially: my father's job is to put people to sleep, wake them up, and make sure they don't feel pain. My mother is a biology teacher, but her expertise is in the field of how chemicals and drugs affect and interact with the body and brain. Needless to say, I will never be unhealthy ever.

My mother, of course, is the one who diagnosed everyone in the family with at least something. My father has not listened to anything she's said about him specifically, but readily accepts her findings about herself, my three siblings, and me. She's apparently so good that my very experienced psychiatrist believed her as well, and now we are all medicated and our family is so much more functional. My siblings get good grades, play music wonderfully, and also figure skate competitively. Except my  17-year-old brother, who wrestles and rows instead.

And yet I'm the only one with Asperger's (who admits it, anyway). Guess who initially thought I had it? My mother, that's right - when I was about 15. She told me I probably had it, and I laughed her off and ignored her and told her she was wrong, like I did about most things when I was 15.

But now she's the one seeking out therapy and counseling for me so I can cope with life. Meanwhile, my father is supportive in his own way, often giving me advice on how to deal with certain things as they come up. We don't butt heads very often, though, since we both lack certain social skills and are both pretty bad at effective communication. He can't be that bad, though, since he's still married and definitely employed.

He also doesn't reject that I have depression and severe anxiety problems. He's fully aware that everyone else in the family has pretty bad ADD or ADHD. He's a doctor, after all, and he's also extremely stubborn and, in a strangely good way, an elitist - so he will listen to what other doctors say. This means that if and when someone with MD after their name says I have Asperger's, he won't dispute it for a moment.

My siblings are a bit of a different story. Chris, who is 17, jokes about Asperger's sometimes just like he does with my sexuality or the fact I'm an atheist. At the same time, reliable sources indicate he has realistically threatened kids at school for using gay slurs against my younger brother, who is 13 and probably straight but a little metrosexual. I'm also not entirely sure he is a huge fan of religion, though he's not quite atheist. He never makes fun of me for being depressed or anxious or having ADD or being an insomniac, since he has terrible ADD and is borderline narcoleptic or something like that.

My younger two siblings probably just don't really understand. My 12-year-old sister understood I was dating another guy as of probably a year into our relationship, when she was 10, and to her it probably just seemed normal because she has never been told it's wrong. Same with my 13-year-old brother - he makes gay jokes sometimes, but has also stood up to other kids for being against gay rights. Eighth-graders. Do you know how hard it is to not act like everyone else at that age? But still, I don't think he gets what autism is.

My there's a problem. I haven't told her and I don't know how. I feel like I can and should, and soon, but I'm terrified of doing so. I know she won't reject me, but I'm afraid of her reaction all the same.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


I know it is not 12/12/12 anymore, but that day merits its own post at the very least, as do the few days since.

This is a day that will only happen once in history - in more ways than one. On December 12th, 2012, I drove a mere half hour to meet up with a wonderful individual for the first time. I already knew she was great before we met, but our first date was absolutely lovely.

Considering this "date" consisted of walking a few blocks to Starbucks (where we ordered the exact same drink by chance) and sitting and talking for a while, then sitting and talking in her room some more (sans sorority-girl-roommate), that's quite something.

Ordinarily, I find it extremely challenging, if not even a bit painful, to make regular conversation with people. I am not a small-talk kind of person. Hell, I'm usually not an any-kind-of-talk kind of person. But it's so easy talking to her. It felt so natural.

This is where I admit I met her online. How can someone possibly "click" with somebody he met online? Sure, we Skype'd once, but that's it - online chat and texting. And yet, I still felt it - still felt that click and that connection within only a few minutes of starting to talk to her (she started it).

I think it's still sinking in. But it happened. The last few things we said to each other before I left to meet her had to do with how nervous we both were. When I arrived, I said "I'm outside - the red SUV." She came out a few minutes later and said "Hi. I'm really nervous." It sounds corny, but having that in common right off the bat meant a lot.

I can't deal with over-confident people. Sure, I admire them and all, but I can't deal with them. I am so glad, therefore, that she is not a super-confident, outgoing socialite kind of person. She's quiet, unassuming, modest, reserved, and exactly what and whom I need.

I can't explain why I liked her so much, nor can I explain why after only one time together we fell for each other. Nobody can explain that. Even NT people don't get it. No one understands attraction. Sure, it has to do with chemicals in the brain and signals sent and triggered and received, but as much as I trust in science to resolve life's mysteries, I firmly believe that love cannot be quantified and as such am giving this no further thought.

Yes, we are together. I have a girlfriend. The novelty of saying that has yet to wear off, and even when it does, it'll still keep me going.

My whole life came crashing down in the last couple of weeks, and she found me at exactly the right time. It's uncanny. She was initially attracted to my honesty and how genuine I appeared (and, in fact, am), which is flattering in and of itself. But now we've found we have so much more in common than that. It's an amazing feeling.

And yet, I find it difficult to describe what I see in her. All I know is that I see a lot. She's been through a whole bunch of unfair shit, just like I have, so we bond over that. But even though her self-confidence could use some work, she still carries on being herself, and I can't begin to say how much I admire that.

My self-confidence is still kind of low, but boy it's improving fast. Knowing how she feels about me and how she loves me for who I am really helps.

So she's not into computers or music like I am. Big deal. She says her photography is terrible compared to mine. She wrote poems but doesn't have them to show me. She might see herself as not being particularly good at anything, but all I see is a fascinatingly creative mind who hasn't found just the right outlet yet.

I could never date someone too similar to myself. Everyone says that...because it's true. We're both incredibly shy, quiet, and generally "average-seeming" people, the latter of which is something we both do, consciously or not, to "fit in." But our shyness manifests itself in different ways. When I get nervous, I talk a lot. A whole lot. And I say things that maybe aren't the best things to say, like "I'm afraid my parents might find you unremarkable." That was a terrible choice of words, wasn't it? Like, who the hell says that? But when I don't know how to deal with my feelings, I panic, and shit like that comes out.

I am actually afraid my dad won't like her. But who cares? He doesn't like anybody. I'm just terrified of him saying something like "You can do better," because not only is that terribly hurtful to her, it would be an awful insult to me. Right now, I can't do better. I don't think there is anyone better out there.

I spent a long time as of late thinking about what I need and what I want, specifically in a person. I didn't reach a conclusion. Not even close. But I knew what I didn't want. She's none of those things, that's for sure. She's also not perfect, which is the best thing about her. She has so many flaws with which I identify and problems I face as well.

If anything, we're going to deal with them together and make each other happy in the process. People help people because people need people, and I need her. Realizing that gives me chills. I thought I'd be alone for this entire semester off, but now I have her, and she's perfect for me. She's not a distraction from my problems, she's a solution. She's everything I've wanted for a really long time.

We're both the kind of person who doesn't like leaning too hard on others. That's great, because I don't want her to think I'm relying on her to "fix" me, since I'm not, nor do I want her to think I'm with her solely to help her with her own problems. What's the point of that? I'm not a damn therapist. But if she needs to rant about the shit in her life, I will sit and listen for hours. I want to be whatever she needs and fill the voids in her life, because I know she'd do the same for me.

I almost feel bad saying things like "she's not perfect" and talking about her shortcomings, but rest assured, the list of things wrong with me is likely longer. And you know what? It doesn't fucking matter. She's right for me. So she has issues. She isn't "damaged." She's not crazy. She's not a sociopath. She doesn't say things like "I don't deserve to be happy." In other words, she's not the last person I tried to date. God she's so much better. She's wonderful in every way.

Together, though, our issues will cancel out. So we're both really shy and kind of anti-social? Great! We know we'll never fight about going to a party or something like that. Neither of us has many friends? Cool, no awkward hanging-out with people the other party doesn't really know. We're both lonely and sad a lot? Perfectly fine - in fact, great - let's be together and happy instead!

I really like the way my life is going and the path I'm on right now. I love you, Olivia. Let's walk that path together.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


This is a bit of my background and an introduction to this blog. It should also adequately serve as an "About" page, or at the very least a description of this blog.

My name is Jaska. That is not my given name, but it is the name I prefer. Many people know me by other names, but online I am Jaska. I do have a rather strong online presence, as indicated by the many links I provide to profiles I have all over the internet on many different sites!

I am 20 years old and live in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. I am biologically male, but identify as genderqueer, meaning I don't identify as entirely male or entirely female. I am in between. I do not express the typical ideals of "masculinity", nor do fit in with the more "feminine" crowd. I know people see me as male, and I'm fine with that. It's most likely the facial hair.

I am also pansexual, which essentially means I do not discriminate in attraction - emotional or sexual. I find myself attracted to people as people. I have been in several relationships in my life - a very gay boy, a somewhat straight girl, a bisexual girl, and a pansexual androgynous male. I have been attracted to transgendered people and others outside the gender binary. And I don't care.

The main reason I made this blog, however, is not due to part of my identity, but rather part of my psychological makeup. Rather than influencing the way I feel about things, this influences simply the way I am.

I have Asperger's Syndrome (AS), a high-functioning form of autism that has only lately (within the past few decades or less) come to light as a legitimate diagnosis for many traits people once thought to indicate anything from simple social anxiety to full-on mental retardation.

People with AS do have social anxiety (to a crippling degree!), but are not retarded. Our brains function perfectly normally. We can do anything a neuro-typical person can do. We walk normally, talk normally, do math, drive cars, make music, play sports, have jobs, even fall in love.

What sets us apart is the way in which we interact with the world. We see things differently. Namely, we see people differently. AS is what was called, at one point, a social disease. AS is not actually a disease, of course, since there is no cure. It is part of how our brains are wired. They are wired differently, and that's all there is to it.

Well, maybe not. AS impacts everything we do or try to do, especially if it involves other people. People with AS, called Aspies, lack the brain "wiring" to innately understand things like social cues, basic interpersonal relationships and interactions, and how to communicate effectively.

I struggled with this all my life. I have gone through phases of terrible, deep depression and am plagued with anxiety and stress. I went undiagnosed for years. In fact, AS is not my only problem at all. AS typically exists alongside various other mental conditions or disabilities, such as depression, anxiety or panic disorders, and ADD/ADHD.

Even with an elementary understanding of what AS is and how it manifests itself, one can see how it would cause depression and related conditions.

I have all three of those things - terrible depression, panic attacks, crippling anxiety, and awful ADD.

I have been receiving treatment for all of that since I was fourteen. The ADD barely bothers me ever - it is well-controlled with Adderall. The depression sneaks back sometimes, but is also managed. The anxiety is controlled with benzodiazepines I take as needed (as in, not every day). Those drugs incidentally also help with my sometimes unbearable back pain, which causes my shoulders to get very tense and uncomfortable.

But I'm not damaged goods.

This blog is a progress report, a journal, if you will, detailing my time of recovery and self-discovery.

This "time" is a semester off from college. I had to take medical leave because I couldn't cope with what life was throwing at me. I will talk more about that in forthcoming posts.

A lot of what I'll post here is very personal, but not meant to be depressing or discouraging. In fact, I strive to be the opposite. I want to show that people with AS can "fit in" and lead happy, healthy lives.

It takes a lot more effort for us than for most people, which is why we are often terribly misunderstood. I know I have been misunderstood a great deal in the past, so I'm out to mitigate that as well!

I hope this blog proves insightful and informative, if not even enlightening and refreshing.