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The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People

Autism neurodiversity

My Neurotypical Friend Meg

The reason I wrote this very long blog post was to tell you that Meg has an amazing, free New Year’s Summit coming up that features NeuroClastic contributors, such as The Autistic OT, and even an Autistic comedian!

The event kicks off on Monday, 1/11,20 at 12 noon in her private Facebook group and will blow your mind. Check out the full list of events here.

I could have simply created an advertisement but this felt more authentically Autistic.

I am a deaf, autistic, occupational therapist.  It’s a fun combo and I rock it.

A picture of a brown person wearing prosthetics and a flowing coral dress while dancing. In teal coloring, the words read, “Disabled people are bad ass.”

We always knew I was deaf, but being Autistic was a bit of a surprise. My autism diagnosis pathway started the way it does for many: awkward home, school, and community interactions that fell apart into a collection of loosely-fit mental health diagnoses, sporadic employment, and disassociated life experiences.

I found that I worked best in situations that were 1:1 or small-group oriented such as cashier, preschool teacher, sandwich artist, nanny, online MMORPG gamemaster, paraeducator; I never maintained employment over 18 months.

A peach icon of a person shrugging.

Friendships were another difficult beast to master. 

I excelled at the first few weeks and months of sharing secrets, favorite colors, and Tiger Beat posters, but would find myself abandoned when lines were drawn in the cliquesh sands of social politics.

I would eagerly seek friends but just couldn’t make them stick around. I knew I was supposed to have a “group” or a “crew” but could never find the right gaggle.

Enter the internet…

However, the internet changed that for me. I thrive in the virtual context and always have since the good ol’ days of the by-the-hour AOL. I have always been comfortable creating friendships online, and that suits my autistic self just fine.

I tend to e-huddle with other autistics and neurodivergents and have cultivated decades-long friendships with them on the internet.

Fast forward lots of years.

I had just started my Facebook page, The Autistic OT, and was looking for anything and everything related to being autistic.

The scholarly databases were a disheartening mixture of extreme pathology, traumatized parents, and ego bloat, so I turned to the ‘net. I knew blogs were “low-level evidence,” but decided to throw academic caution to the wind.

That’s how I found Meg.

Meg had written an evidence-based blog post for Learn Play Thrive (LPT) Autism about why therapists should consider not using hand-over-hand guidance.

I found my heart rate elevating with each word until I could do nothing but jump up in joy for finally finding another occupational therapist who shared my vision of empowered occupational therapy for autistics.

Image of a heart happy-flapping.

Like any good autistic, I fangirled.  Like, hard.  I read everything she wrote and then said nothing directly to her, but lots about her work on my page.   

Months later, Meg contacted me to ask if I would consider reviewing her education materials with my autistic eyes. I keyboard-smashed a glorious email freakout that was eventually erased and reworded in a calm, professional, yes.

On the day of our first Zoom call, I was so freaking nervous. I have this weird social dance I do which consists of polite conversation, interesting facts, and quirky commentary during conversation.

It’s somewhat endearing and marginally effective, so I stick with it. I was terrified to speak to Meg. I already like-loved her because of her blog posts.

I have no chill and no filter when I love someone, and I hadn’t even talked to Meg yet so I was reasonably certain I would only get more hyped.

I knew my regular routine would immediately fail. I knew she was neurotypical, and I had a solid pattern of failed interactions and a penchant for self-fulfilling prophecy.

I was definitely going to infodump.

I was going to be super autistic.

An image of a young girl jumping for excitement. It is a representation of my happy-flappy inner child.

I was hoping she could handle it.

And she could. She did. Meg never blinked. In fact, she joined me.

We talked about autism, being autistic, consent, ABA, social justice, occupational justice, sensory processing, and marginalized experiences in this chaotic parallel dance of communication.

Over the next couple of months, I have had the opportunity to have more conversations with Meg.

When I get really excited about a topic, I connect “big dots” – which means, essentially, I ramble until I make some solid points.

Instead of the typical glaze of boredom, Meg started connecting her own big dots, and we parallel-talked until we knew we were definitely friends.

I treasure the moments I am able to connect with Meg, as an autistic being vulnerable and unmasked.

At the end of our discussions, I am always a little breathless and a lot hopeful for my profession.We decided to continue our conversations as a podcast. We called it Two Sides of the Spectrum. The title refers to the spectrum of our friendship.

Unfortunately, I was unable to make a long term commitment to the podcast because of my ADA court case. Meg forged ahead and, if I may say, it’s been phenomenal.

Meg has committed to amplifying autistic perspectives through her podcast, including advocates such as Lydia X. Z. Brown and Ido Kedar. Her education courses are identity-affirming and challenge the ableist foundations ever-present in academic tropes. If you haven’t yet, give a listen.

Meg’s friendship is so dear to me. 

It may not be the typical text-swap fest as seen on TV, but it’s filled with sincere, authentic connections and lots and lots of work. Meg creates a container for me to process in the way I process, speak in the way I speak, and BE in the way I AM without judgment.

An image of a long-haired person giving away love.

Meg changed the way I saw myself as an autistic and an occupational therapist. 

I cannot tell you how many times I would minimize my insights (helloooo, internalized ableism) and Meg, like the good friend she is, had absolutely none of it. She genuinely hypes me as much as I hype her. In fact, Meg will tell you that I have changed her even more. It’s great.

As neurotypicals go, she’s all right by me.

We need more neurotypicals like Meg.  

We need people to be as excited to play in our world as we are to play in yours. The way we play is authentic, the way we sense is a symphony, and the way we tell you about it is a textured tapestry of communication.

We need for it to be okay that we really, really like what we really, really like. And when I am telling you about how much I really, really like something, it just means that I actually like you and I think you’re rad enough to share my special things.

I don’t know how to tell you any other way, and I should never feel pressured to tell you in words that are not my own. (I’m looking at you, social skills.)

An image of a person hugging themselves. It is meant to represent my feeling of self-acceptance and love.

We need neurotypicals like Meg to amplify our voices and pay for our contributions to advocacy, especially in the nonprofit sector. I am tired of hearing stories of professionals that benefit financially and positionally from autistic contributions, but do not pay fair consultant rates for their expert efforts.

We need neurotypicals like Meg to hire us — not because we’ve been trained to mask by robots — because we bring a diverse set of skills, a tenacious work ethic, and good jokes.

Be like Meg.

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