Thursday, March 30, 2017

I am or was a dancer, and that's okay except the parts that weren't (autistic athlete series)

I was exposed to dance earliest of all my attempted athletic endeavors. I've been in and out of dance for years.This would not be the case, however, if I had not done gymnastics. We're gunna just throw that right out there.

Not because I don't like dancing, but because dancers are really hit or miss, as are dance environments, teachers, and organizers. I keep going back to it, so obviously I enjoy it, but there are situations I cannot and will not put up with.

My first experience with dance was a parent/child tap class when I was about 4 or 5. This was an alarmingly bad choice, as anyone who has known me for more than 10 minutes knows. I expressed a desire to try ballet at this time, but my mom wanted to take tap so tap we took. If it hadn't been such a small class (3 kids, 3 parents) I'd not have been able to deal, and I did make a habit of hiding my tap shoes. I don't remember the teacher at all but tap is the one kind of dance I unreservedly will never try again.

My next dance experience line dancing of all things. My mom and stepdad met country dancing. As a family, we all went country dancing--their favorite teachers opened a club that was all ages, so we could go any night.  I know it is dorky and uncool and I do not give a single fuck that it is dorky and uncool, because it was also really fun. The moves are simple, and you do the same 64 counts or less over and over and over. And the number of moves is fairly limited, so they're just remixed. AND generally one song is played for the same dance and only that dance (although if the floor isn't too crowded you can get 2 groups doing 2 different ones, and you may have a couple's dance going around the edges) so there's always a right thing to do. I'm pretty sure line dancing is the way I learned to position my body in relation to other people's bodies, just as gymnastics is how I learned to master my body.

Given where I grew up, country line dancing also offered me an in to a social activity. That all ages country club? Was a hot thing to do in my hometown, because it was something that could be done without parents. I'm from the midwest, ok? So when I had friends, I also had a place to hang out with them on Saturday nights. And I had enough mastery that I wasn't their dorky awkward friend tagging along, I was one of the people who knew a bunch of the dances and could figure out by following along many of the others. As much as people bag on country line dancing, it was a net positive for me. I made a friend there. I hung out with friends there, like a Real Kid. I learned to space my body in relation to a whole lot of others, and I developed a rudimentary sense of rhythm. These are all useful things.

In high school the Y I competed for also decided it needed a competitive dance program. One of my friends was a dancer and was transferring from her old studio for other reasons, a couple girls who took tumbling classes also danced for the Y, and I was encouraged by my coaches and my friend to join them in a class. I can do a backflip, I can do full splits, I can be taught to dance, seemed to be the rationale here. As my dance teachers also coached me, their assessment in this matter could be trusted.

And, it turns out, I could be taught to dance. We did 2 jazz numbers (one technically in the novelty category, since it had tricks) for competition and a lyrical one as well for the recital. Our costumes were pretty simple to keep prices within reach of our participants, which also meant they were not a sensory nightmare. I actually wore the top of our lyrical costume as streetwear until it fell apart. My teachers were skilled in the art of showing off all the dancers to our best advantage, and in positive motivation. We never won anything I don't think, I still don't understand dance competition scoring, but we had fun (and I got to make a teacher who I tumbled with for about 6 months really mad by doing a skill she didn't think I'd ever do, but that was just a bonus). The makeup involved was a sensory problem (fortunately I have strong enough coloring that I could make due without lipstick on stage, mostly) and the leaving at 5 AM for competition was not any more fun for dance than it was for gymnastics, but it happened.We also learned that I have too much hair for a gymnastics coach to put into one French braid but that's neither good nor bad, it just is.

These experiences--dance at the Y and line dancing--are what compelled me to take ballet in college. This was a much more mixed bag. I took two semesters, took time off, took some open classes at a studio much later, and half a term a couple years ago. The format of barre, at least, is almost accessible. You do the same families of movement in the same order every time. The choreography for each segment of barre rearranges itself, but it's always plies then tendus then jetes etc etc.

The problems are...I do not learn choreography by having words said at me. I gotta see it at least once. I can learn it by seeing. This was an even bigger problem in open floor settings because the possibility for crashing into others is significant. So I was always behind on learning the exercises. In some classes this is fine. In some it's not.

There's also elements of dream student/nightmare student that happened in ballet. I'm very flexible. This is a constant. Ballet teachers love this. Except my turnout is really, really bad. Like horrible. And teachers, to a greater or lesser extent, treated this like a won't rather than a can't. I really can't get my hips to turn out more than 90 degrees (perfect turnout is 180). I also had a really hard time finding my arms until I danced in wrist weights for a month, which exasperated my first teacher. My last teacher though is the reason I'm probably done with ballet. Not only am I flexible, I am muscular. I am descended from people who, like, live their lives on horses. Who get on and off at speed. My musculature reflects that--it's quick and it is bulky.

No one gets to tell me I jump good for a big girl. I jump good for anyone and it's a really twisted world in which someone is telling me that my body is too big. No one's body is too big.

Between the body snark and my knees always hurting from trying to maximize my turnout, and the taking my inability to learn choreography without actually seeing it personally, I was done. That's not ok. This is a community college ballet class here. I don't need that shit in my life, so I walked out & dropped the class.

Not to say ballet was completely negative, although it was ultimately an environment I will not deal with. One of the projects I was part of was setting up a dance class for autistic children who couldn't, or couldn't yet, access the class settings available. We had three students and three assistants, and only one wasn't autistic. They all learned things, performed in the recital, and two of them transitioned to integrated dance classes (and in one case, theater as well) in our pilot year. The program is fully funded in perpetuity. Although I've grown in my ideas about "for autism" dance classes and such, I was really proud to be part of it. That was the least restrictive environment, at that time, for our students. If I had not done ballet, I'd not have gotten to be involved in that (and they'd probably have done it in a more neurotypical-focused way).

Other dance bugs bit me too. Enter: swing dance.

I've written a lot on this blog about swing dance, since swing dance is where I figured out that I love dancing and hate dancers.

With so much background in finding my body, and with figuring out how my body is in space relative to others, swing dance was a natural fit. It's high energy. The beat is usually pretty clear. I don't have to decide what to do if I am following. Your feet do the same thing for the most part, and the lead tells you where to go with body cues. It's social interaction but not too much, since each song is generally under five minutes. And the touching is scripted, so it worked for me. It's also generally not electronic music.

I did make friends dancing, but ultimately it's ableist as shit. Nah, the ADA doesn't apply to us, you're an asshole for saying it does. Nah, it's totally cool to go to an event that hired someone to assault you with a flash, we really wanted to go why are you mad at us?

I miss swing dancing but swing dancers, especially here, can go fuck themselves. I miss people trying to get me dizzy. I do. But I can't deal with the environment. At all. Jesus doesn't mean the ADA doesn't apply to you. Oh yes, that's a thing I was told. So as much as I love swing dancing, working with a partner so everyone has fun, I can't deal with the events.

Then there was modern. I actually wrote a post about modern dance on this blog, sort of. The format was extremely accessible and the teacher wanted students to learn more than he wanted them to Become Dancers. Some of the movements were alien to me, but it was fun and progress was seen as good. My flexibility was also not an excuse to expect ridiculous things from me.

Around this time I also attended a belly dancing class with a friend of mine, although I had iffy feelings about it and cultural appropriation. I hated the first teacher instantly for her autistic hate (she has A Brother) and for the way that she didn't adjust her teaching, at all, for the learning and body styles of the students. Throwing advanced things at us and saying "oh just relax" doesn't work for me. Our second teacher spoke biomechanics, so that actually did work for me and I learned a lot. She also taught the way I learn choreography (show me once. Do it with me twice. There we go now you know). Alas, she said things that were low key racist and then high key ableist. So we were done there. The last teacher we tried...said things high key racist and I was done. I've also decided that belly dance is not mine to do, but the holy shit bigotry from teachers didn't help.

Dance has been a mixed bag. I am glad I tried it, even tap, but the culture is so hit or miss that whether a class will be great or terrible is a hard guess. In a perfect world all kids could be safely exposed to dance but we clearly don't live in that world.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Why gymnastics? (athletic autistic series)

My longest lasting and arguably most successful athletic endeavor was gymnastics. I took tumbling classes when i was little, messed around in the yard, took classes again, competed, coached, competed while coaching, retired suddenly and unwillingly, coached more, did 2 more meets while coaching, and judged.

I do a lot of things, I love a lot of things, but gymnastics is arguably my soul. It's been an enduring passion. And my mother hated it, but I loved it enough to keep fighting to do it.

There's reasons for gymnastics of all things. They're not the kid doing cartwheels on the playground legends you hear, but they are reasons nonetheless.

I don't look like a gymnast. Well, that's untrue actually. I'm built basically exactly like Svetlana Boginskaya, a gymnastics legend who competed in 3 Olympics. But she doesn't look like your classic 80s & 90s gymnast either. I'm legs and arms and limbs and moved like I was only vaguely aware of my extremities. But as far as my mom was concerned, I was going to be taller than 5' so I was too tall to be a gymnast, she can't touch her toes so I am not flexible enough to be a gymnast (yes, really, she said that), and basically it was the worst sport ever. My mom loathed my choice in sports until the day she died, but it was my first love.

The first thing that drew me to the gym is that it's pretty. It's so pretty. The physics, just watching, demand to be analyzed. I found that captivating. And each gymnast makes each apparatus her own. The individual nature also really worked for me. I didn't quite understand the whole team competition thing, and until you're competing for college or your country you're competing as an individual anyway. I could only mess it up for myself, not for anyone else. No one could be mad at me for not being able to do what they wanted of me. My performance was only affecting me. There were no mystical codes of how to teamwork in gymnastics like there are in team sports.

The things that kept me in the gym are numerous. I had gifted coaches--not gifted in the art of creating little gym-bots who win no matter what, but gifted in the art of meeting their athletes where they are, in finding new ways to approach challenging skills, in knowing when to push and when to stop pushing. They worked with us rather than on us. And they trained everyone as though they'd compete some day, instead of deciding some kids had what it takes and some never will early in a budding gymnast's career. In one of those gyms I'd have been done very quickly, as it was a long process for me to develop any skill at all.

The sensory aspects are of course the thing people think of when they think of autistic gymnast, and that's true. I like crashing into things. I got to crash into the ground a lot. I don't get dizzy but I do love to try. I got to try in new and exciting ways in the gym. Things bounce, and spinning and flipping is a vestibular stimmer's dream.  As far as sensory integration goes, gymnastics was better than any sensory integration therapy available in my hometown, and more fun. But they aren't the only thing.

The thing about gymnastics is that you have never learned all of it. There's always a new skill or a new combination. And you have to adjust your physics just so in order to master it. And perfection is a goal, but it's a goal no one can actually meet, and everyone knows that. Everyone goes for perfect, sure, but it's not like when people seriously think that's a reasonable thing to expect. It was a place where I was allowed to not be perfect, because no one is perfect, and where I was allowed to not know how to do things, because no one knows everything in gymnastics. Even people who have skills named for them don't. Because there's so much to learn and some things just won't ever work for one person and that's ok, you can try something else and that may work better. Being allowed to find things that worked better than the little box my mom and school and everyone wanted for me? That tasted like freedom.

Granted, freedom tastes like sweat and blood and pushups and mats the smell like feet. But it turns out I like pushups and don't mind mats that smell like feet, when my abilities and inabilities are taken into consideration. When my fears are seen as rational. When failing is met with the assumption that I tried my hardest and just couldn't, rather than with the assumption that I am defiant and noncompliant and need to be punished or ignored. It was the first place where I was allowed to not be able to do things without it being treated like I was unable to do them at someone.

Because my failures were treated as part of the learning process instead of as me being a butthead, I learned from them. I was this awkward weak little kid, right? I was made of rubber but seriously just rubber. I was not a naturally strong kid any more than I was a naturally graceful kid. Autistic kids, disabled kids in general really, tend to be treated like anything we can't do on the first try is a thing we will never be able to do, but gymnastics isn't like that. If you can't do the skill, you do more drills, you condition more, you stretch more, you try again. You fall? Try again. You can do it 10% of the time? Try again and then it'll be 20% and then 40% and then 98%. That 2% of the time you can't do the thing you can totally do? That's not because you are autistic or because you are being difficult, it's because no one is actually 100% on anything. Very close yes, but anyone can miss something that they basically have mastered. It happens. It's a thing. Your failures may be vanishingly rare, but anyone can mess up and that's life.

So I found my body parts by finding them over and over and controlling them in gymnastics. Because everyone was learning mastery of their bodies...I learned mastery of my body. And learning to do a backhandspring is way more rewarding than touching nose. When you can do backhandsprings you get to do back tucks. And then back layouts. And then twisting layouts. And on and on and on. When you touch nose you get to listen to other boring orders. The corrections in gymnastics actually mean something. No one was telling me to do things so they could control me. They were telling me to do things so that I could control myself, at greater velocities or amplitudes. Implementing what they told me was rewarding, intrinsically, for me. It didn't earn a token. It meant I did this ridiculously hard thing that I wanted to be able to do for myself. In a world where I was expected to do the things everyone else wanted me to do, it was all about the "do this because then you can do this and that's awesome".

And once I found my body parts? I found poise and confidence too. I was good at something, not because someone built me from raw parts (no more than any other gymnast) but because I did the work. You can't hand over hand all those push ups. Muscles don't work that way. It was a success no one else could claim. Those trophies were mine. Those oohs and aaaahs at the spring show were mine. I learned to cover every inch of ground I walked on, and that I deserved to. It was a place to be proud instead of being ashamed that I care about things. Gymnasts can be intense. It's not a liability to be single minded when you're attacking a new skill.

As I got too injured to continue, I still got to pass on the sport, too. And I get to judge. People never think of autistic people as being good at these things, but we can be. The devil is in the details and gymnastics is all details. Analyzing what is going wrong, conveying it as a coach or quantifying it as a judge, that's totally an autistic-friendly thing to do. Details. Yes I will tell you, young person who wants to fly, every detail. And we will work them out together, and you can defy gravity too.

Gymnastics is why I can do so much of what I do now. It's why I can do the athletic pursuits I still pursue. It's why I can present--and where I learned to own the stage while doing so. It helped me find the edges of my body when early intervention sought to teach me they didn't even exist, that I was just an extension of other people. Gymnastics may very well be why I am still here at all.

So fuck yeah gymnastics.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

I'm kind of a jock and that's ok--series introduction

A common stereotype about autistic people is that we are unathletic, that we are bad at sports, that we don't like to move our bodies.

This is not strictly true. However, our community is full of people who have had really bad experiences with sports and other physical activity because the environment was wrong or the instructors were wrong or the activity was a mismatch. I have had some of those experiences, but I've also had some great ones.

I did gymnastics, and it was wonderful. I danced, and the activity was fun but the people were Problems. I played both wheelchair and on feets basketball (at college and in middle school, respectively) and it worked out ok. I do archery and while my favorite range isn't open in the winter, it's a thing and it works for me. I currently do aikido and it's managing to fill the gymnastics shaped hole in my life enough that I no longer dream about going back to the gym (that's pretty amazing).

There's reasons these things worked. Some are in common among all of them. There's reasons the environments did, or didn't, work. There's common themes. And the prevailing wisdom is that we are bad at moving our bodies and we're in a weird space with access to such activities anyway that it's important to offer an exception, if you will.

So over the next week or so I will be writing about the structured movement things I do, to offer a narrative of "actually we totally can do this".

I'm kind of a jock and that's okay.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Your therapy likely IS like that, or at least your attitude is

Another day, another parent going on and on about how their ABA is Not Like That, because reasons.

This is a problem all by itself, but the thing is, the act of doing this very much proved that their ABA is exactly like that, in attitude if not in the wrestling tiny children to the ground mechanics.


Because it was immediately after an autistic person said "do not come at me with my ABA is Not Like That, and go read The ME Book before defending it at me at all".This is a hard boundary folks. And when parents trample that boundary, they're saying a whole lot.

Namely, they're saying that they do not believe autistic people have a right to have boundaries. Actions speak, folks, and that's what your say. What you want to say is more important than not trampling over a very clear line that is drawn for self protective purposes.

Funny thing, this attitude--is exactly the attitude of ABA based therapies. Autistic people don't get boundaries. Neurotypical people get what they want and to hell with what autistic people need or want, what the Real Person in this situation wants is what matters. No, you don't get to draw the most basic line for self protection, because the Real Person will just ignore it. It inconveniences them. They don't like it.

Speaking of things to not come at me with "well I would respect my child's wishes if they would just tell me". That is the biggest crock of shit and we both know it. You won't respect a clearly stated in concrete direct words boundary from an adult. You want me to believe you'd accept one from a child? No honey no. I know better. You've internalized that autistic people's needs are less worthy than your wants and convenience and desire, and you live in a society that treats children as lesser even when they're abled.

So yeah. Your therapy probably is like that. If it wasn't you'd listen when I told you the prerequisites to having this conversation with me. Your kid needs you to check yourself. Now. Years ago quite possibly. You need to observe their boundaries, and you need to observe mine.

We don't owe you shit. We do it for your kids. Don't break them as badly as we were broken. Observe their boundaries now and make others do the same.

Fix your goddamn attitude.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Autism Meet Up Groups ARE NOT for "finding a girlfriend"

Autistic dudes, and yes I do mean dudes, specifically straight cis dudes, and moms of autistic straight dudes as well, we need to have a conversation. By which I mean I am going to tell you to stop doing something, you're going to cry about it, and it's not going to be my problem at all. You're going to persist in making it my problem no matter what I do, but it's not.

Gentlemen, stop going to autism meetups to 'find a girlfriend'. Stop. No. Do not collect go do not collect $200. Do not do this.

I can already see you whining "but how am I supposed to get a girlfriend?" as though that is my responsibility. And that's the problem. Autistic men come to autistic groups with the sole goal of finding someone who will take over for their mom in keeping him fed and all that, and also have sex with them. And that's awful. Don't do that.

First, we do not owe you shit. "We're both autistic and you make my pants tingle" is not a basis for a relationship. I am not your mom. If I wanted a son I'd make one who was smaller than me and who I could raise to not be a manchild who felt entitled to women's labor and attention. I do not want a son. I especially do not want to adopt you and also have sex with you. That dynamic is fucked up, dudes.

Second, you're being awfully presumptuous there. What if I told you--many to most of the people you are assuming are straight women are not? Maybe they aren't straight. Maybe they aren't women. Maybe they are neither straight nor women. But a large number of people you're hitting up for a date are not attracted to men, or not attracted primarily to men, or only sometimes attracted to men, or not attracted to anyone. So you could be the best catch on earth--and, sorry gents, you are not, there's only one of them and I don't know who he is but I highly doubt he is reading this blog--and many a person there who you think you are interested in would never be interested in you!

Third, my dude, "I am a boy, you are a girl, can I make it any more obvious?" is not a basis for a relationship. At all. You have no business "getting a girlfriend" if you can't manage to be friends with people who happen to be girls. You do not just go to the girlfriend store and get monogamous heteronormative bliss off the shelves. You have to meet people. You have to get to know them as people. That trope where people dislike their romantic partner? It does not make sense! It's totally a thing in media but it is not how reality land works. In a healthy relationship, you like each other as people. "Go get a girlfriend" may seem like a milestone for you but that is treating women as objects rather than people. And she may be under loads of pressure to get a boyfriend, but that doesn't mean that you are a good choice for her. Don't be this guy. Just don't.

Fourth, you have to bring something to the table. The guys who go to autism events to "find a girlfriend" tend to bring naught but neediness. If you rely on your mom for your day to day everything, you're probably not dateable. Sorrynotsorry. I'm not in a position to take over for your mom, I can barely take care of myself. You do know that autistic women have difficulties too, right? We totally do. That's...why we are at autism events. Because we are autistic. I can't take over for your mom even if I want to. Which I don't. There's something that makes my nethers whither forever at the idea of adopting a son my age and having sex with him, and that's what so many of these dudes are looking for. No. No. Ugh. I am so very not into that.

And even if you do have your shit as together or more together than I do? That doesn't mean you have attractive qualities. Are you super hot? Funny? Kind? Interesting? A lot of the guys who hit on me at these things are...none of the above. No one likes to date boring unpleasant people. Autistic women are allowed standards. And "well she's really hot and autistic so I want to date her" gets exactly nowhere with me. Great! Your pants are tingling! That is a personal problem! For you to work on! Yourself!

And mothers of autistic straight men, this is for you: do not approach an autistic woman and ask her to go out with your son. Ever. Are you fucking serious what makes you think that is a good idea?

I've been approached by over a dozen mothers who thought I was pretty and would be a good influence on their sons. Lady, no. "Unable to approach me himself" is a hard no. Are you going to follow him into the bedroom and remind him to use a condom too? Where the clitoris is? Nah I can't see you even caring about that part, because you cold approach autistic women to guilt them into dating your son.

That is so inappropriate. What the fuck, allistic moms?

Straight autistic men, if you want to go on dates, be dateable. Clean up yourself. Wear clothes. Clean ones. Every day. Do your own laundry, even. Find hobbies. Find interesting hobbies, not whining about lack of girlfriend. Make friends with no ulterior motives to get in their pants. Be around people you like interacting with. Make friends, and this is important, even with people who don't get your motor going at all. And don't be a jackass trying to make them feel bad about it either, women do not exist as prizes for you to win or things to make your junk happy. When you do meet someone who you are attracted to, don't rush to the "women find autistic men repulsive date me?" thing. That behavior is what women find repulsive. Get to know her as a person. And don't be a whiny pissbaby when things are not mutual.

Be kind. Unlearn bigotry. See people as people. Become an interesting person. Worry about that.

And for fucks sake stop going to autism meetups to "meet a girlfriend". Stop being the reason that autistic women have no social support. We do not like being swarmed by horny entitled dudes. A good organizer will kick your ass out for that. Don't test the mettle of organizers. Organizers, stand up for the women in the group when a man does this.

Also be aware we talk. Every autistic woman I know knows the names of the entitled manchildren who want me to take care of them and their pants tingles. And I know the names of the men who do this to my friends.

Be better than this for the love of all that is holy please.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Disability Day of Mourning: about the victims and no one else

Wednesday was the annual Disability Day of Mourning, when disabled people and our supporters gather and hold vigils and read the names of the hundreds of disabled people murdered by caregivers. In addition to holding meatspace vigils, there is an online vigil and people make their observance known in other ways across social media and in person, as their abilities and inclinations allow.

This post isn't about that much, except that the list is SO LONG. SO. LONG. Y'ALL. Starting with 2016 (it was cold, rainy, and a very late start) it still took half an hour to read names without causes of death. That's upsetting.

But what this post is about is the reactions of...certain the existence of DDoM.

The Disability Day of Mourning is about remembering the disabled victims of caregiver violence, who are so often erased from their own stories, who are made to be the bad guys in their own murders. That is what it is about. That is who it is about.

So why are parents of disabled people making it about them? Why is the knee jerk reaction of so many parents "stop demonizing me" and "not all parents" and "acknowledge how hard it is!!!!"

Y'all. Listen to yourselves.

If you did not kill your disabled family member, you don't get a cookie, and DDoM is in no way about you. No shit "not all parents", this is not about parents. It is about disabled people, who are people in our own right, not just as appendages to Real People like yourselves. And everyone goddamn acknowledges your shoes all the fucking time. DDoM started because, after the murder of George Hodgins, the Autism Society of America put out a story about "the tragedy of Elizabeth Hodgins" that didn't even mention George's name. That's how bad the erasure is here.

We needed a vigil, done by us, to have our deaths at least be about us rather than about how we inconvenience those around us.

It is not about you. If you feel attacked by the very existence of an event, one day a year, to remember people murdered by caregivers, dig deep and think about why that is. Do you relate to the killers a bit too much? Do you struggle to see disabled people as people rather than as appendages to those you can see as people? Really contemplate, rather than lashing out at people who are mourning.

Even if you won't mourn with us, allow us our grief. The people we remember on DDoM deserve to be cried for, and we deserve room for our pain. Let us have that. It's one day a year that isn't about your shoes. Let us have one day where we can be mournful about people ripped from our communities without making it about someone else's goddamn shoes.