Nina Simone: Black Activist, Bipolar Savant

I've been on this journey to bring disabled African American history into the light by reclaiming the disabled identities of history makers. There is a hidden rule that unless such revelations are unavoidable, a person's disabled identity is best ignored. When such disability is so inseparable from the arc of the figure's life it cannot be erased, then disability is made the scapegoat for anything negative befalling such a person. Nina Simone was what I'll call a bipolar savant.  She was neurodivergent and did her best work as an activist completely unaware she was bipolar and suffering from PTSD. As such, the disability community should embrace her as a savant in the wider sphere of neurodivergent people who demonstrate talent usually limited to the label autistic savant. The recent purchase of Nina Simone’s birthplace by four African American artists who are now restoring it has brought media spotlight back on Ms. Simone and her legacy. This gives … Continue Reading ››

It Shouldn’t Be Legal for So-called Care Workers to Kill Your Cat

William Dean died on October 16, 2016, from natural causes. A lawsuit on his behalf was still being brought against the state of Maine. In March 2017, I found the article “State can’t be sued for selling property, euthanizing cat of man in its care, Maine’s top court rules,” and remembered the case at once. The Supreme Court of Maine ruled that lawyers suing on behalf of Dean’s estate could not sue the Maine Department of Health and Human Services for selling his properties and euthanizing his cat. In May 2012, Dean, a man with an autism spectrum diagnosis and mental health needs, was institutionalized in Dorothea Dix Hospital in Bangor, Maine. He had entered a mental health crisis following the death of his mother. Sometime subsequently, the state of Maine euthanized a 10-year-old Himalayan cat named Caterpillar. She had been Dean’s companion for some time. The state had successfully … Continue Reading ››

Trump Department of Labor Pick Will Not Oppose Subminimum Wage

For disability rights activists concerned with the subminimum wage, a critical moment happened during the March 22 confirmation hearing for R. Alexander Acosta, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) questioned Acosta about the subminimum wage. According to Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers can pay employees with disabilities an hourly wage that is well below the national minimum wage. These work arrangements are commonly referred to as sheltered workshops. While Hassan’s question was encouraging, Acosta’s response was decidedly less so. Acosta stated that he supports the right of individual states (such as New Hampshire, where Hassan served as governor from 2013 to 2016) to implement measures that eliminate the subminimum wage. However, Acosta indicated that he will not steps to eliminate the subminimum wage on a national scale. Acosta defended the subminimum wage. He stated, “I think this is a very … Continue Reading ››

This Week in Neurodiversity

Each Friday at NOSmag, I’m going to post some links relevant to neurodiversity news and culture criticism around the web. This is what I’ve been reading and that I think you should be reading too. Feel free to add links of your own in the comments and email suggestions for future link roundups to nos.editorial@gmail.com or Tweet us @NOSeditorial.

Chiron, James Baldwin, and Autistic Experience

Two days after an Academy Awards where Moonlight won ‘Best Picture’, a line of over 1,000 people wrapped three city blocks awaiting to see its showing at the palatial Castro Theatre in San Francisco. As the first winner to feature a queer storyline as well as an entirely black cast, that enthusiastic turnout was understandable - especially among populations that saw themselves reflected for the first time in a Best Picture winner. Great art, and Moonlight is certainly great art, has the ability to not only offer a cultural critique but to pull out from the viewer an intimate connection to the work presented before them. Great art can draw that connection even if the viewer’s own life and story only passively relate to the subject they are engaging with (plenty of people have seemed to passionately connect with the themes of the hit Broadway musical ‘Hamilton’ despite never having lived … Continue Reading ››

In Defense of Effective Altruism

When I saw the recent protests by disability rights advocates of Peter Singer’s talk at an effective altruism club, I cringed. I support disability rights because I am a disabled person and I do, in fact, have a sense of self-interest. I support effective altruism because I was aware of all the suffering there was in the world and I felt powerless to actually do anything about it. Through evidence and reason, effective altruists try to figure out how ordinary people can best improve the world. We ask questions like “if you want people in the developing world to be better off economically, is it better to pay for deworming treatments because children without worms grow up to earn more money, or just to give them cash?” And “if you’re trying to do good, is it better to get a high-earning job so you can donate lots of … Continue Reading ››

This Week in Neurodiversity

Each Friday at NOSmag, I’m going to post some links relevant to neurodiversity news and culture criticism around the web. This is what I’ve been reading and that I think you should be reading too. Feel free to add links of your own in the comments and email suggestions for future link roundups to nos.editorial@gmail.com or Tweet us @NOSeditorial.

Farms for Disabled People aren’t a New Idea

Every few weeks, or at least with mind-boggling rapidity, a publication decides it has hit upon a great new idea to solve housing support issues for disabled adults, including those with mental health disabilities. They run a piece about nature-based farmstead “communities” of disabled people and staff who support them, and the “therapeutic” values of said farmsteads. They describe them often as a positive alternative to institutions, but these settings fail to qualify as alternatives to institutions. They are institutions. The idea that nature-based, isolated settings benefit mental health is popular today. For context, I define nature-based care  as “sending disabled people off to rural areas to be in the quiet aura of the country so that their mental health and/or other disabilities heal,” also historically known as “institutionalization,” regardless of whether the people wanted to go there.The articles and their authors fail to mention that these farmsteads are institutions that segregate … Continue Reading ››

Medicaid Block Granting is Going to Kill Us

Congressional Republicans recently introduced the American Health Care Act, or “TrumpCare,” a potential replacement for the ACA. This bill has the backing of Trump, Ryan, and other Republican leaders. The AHCA includes a proposal to convert Medicaid into a series of block grants as a way to save the government money on health coverage. Block grants are a type of federal funding that allocates a set amount to state governments to run programs like Medicaid. According to the Republicans, block grants will give more freedom to the states and allow more flexibility to be innovative. In theory, devolving more control to the states will allow local governments to more adequately identify which citizens need specific kinds of care. Unfortunately, these promises from the GOP don’t match the reality of what Medicaid block grants mean, especially for the low-income and disabled people who are dependent on Medicaid coverage to stay alive. … Continue Reading ››

How Kellyanne Conway Sits Doesn’t Matter

Recently, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway was photographed kneeling on the couch in the Oval Office, staring intently at her phone, as a crowd of dignified African American educational leaders in suits posed for a photo with President Trump. Some of the social media responses were genuinely funny, some were cruel, some posed serious concerns, and some were just plain ridiculous. But the overall picture they form is, not surprisingly, an unfairly judgmental one. Many commenters accused Conway of uncouthness and unladylike behavior. Many faulted Conway's upbringing. For example, one  comment I saw asked if she “even had a mother,” implying that anyone with parents would know better than to put their feet on the sofa. This is part of a much larger trend of judging human beings, particularly women, by their appearance and behavior at every moment. It's remarkable how much we believe we can tell about a person … Continue Reading ››

Speechless O-S-Oscar P-A-Party Reinforces a Dangerous Stereotype

I love ABC’s Speechless.  It is one of my favorite shows currently on the air. As someone with cerebral palsy, I’m beyond thrilled that someone like me is finally being shown on TV as just a regular character, not a “special” guest to teach the non-disabled characters the meaning of kindness. Micah Fowler, who plays JJ, actually has cerebral palsy, a fact that excites me to no end. Unfortunately,the show has a worrying trend of sort of sideways swiping a trope or stereotype about disability, but not directly subverting it.  It’s like after the first few episodes, the show lost its nerve.  And nowhere was that more obvious than the latest episode, O-S-Oscar P-A-Party. In it, Maya hosts an Oscars viewing party for her support group of “special needs” moms. The moms are your typical stereotype of a mom parenting a kid with a disability – Perpetually messy, sweatpants-wearing, warrior moms … Continue Reading ››

Keah Brown: Disabled, Cute and on a Mission

Keah Brown is a journalist and writer whose work has appeared in ESPNW, Teen Vogue, Lenny Letter and other publications. She also runs an amazing Twitter.  Recently, Keah launched the #DisabledAndCute hashtag declaring herself and anyone who cared to contribute their own selfies cute. It has since become a huge hashtag, with people from all around the world with many types of disabilities and with many different intersections contributing their own cuteness and self love. Magazines and content aggregator sites alike have posted galleries from the tag, and Keah was even interviewed for TV. I decided I wanted to interview Keah and talk about the tag, representation, intersectionality, and writing. Savannah: I loved the way that the hashtag uses the attractive rather than patronizing use of cute. Could you talk a little about how you landed on cute?   Keah: the word … Continue Reading ››

End Silence from National Organizations on Dietrich Assault

The Dietrich, Idaho locker room assault victim needs to matter to organizations in disability rights advocacy and mental health advocacy.  He needs to matter to human rights advocacy groups. He needs to matter to civil rights groups, and groups advocating against hate crimes.  He needs to matter to advocacy organizations that fight to help survivors of torture. The silence from national disability advocacy organizations makes it clear that when it comes to crimes against disabled victims, Black lives don’t matter. This silence is complete and familiar. This silence is a further indignity on this 18-year-old African American disabled victim. What happened to this innocent Black victim screaming in a cold storage closet of locker room at a public high school didn’t matter to the prosecutor. It didn’t matter to the town’s football team.  The victim’s lifelong trauma didn’t matter to the judge, who shouted insulting accusations at the victim’s parents in open … Continue Reading ››

My Disability Does Not Make Me Too Dangerous to Own a Gun

“Just 4.5 grains- right there.” I stood next to my stepfather in his father’s garage, watching the scale as I measured gunpowder for the bullet cartridge we were assembling. While 9mm bullets can take more, this is the amount his father taught him when he was a kid. He helped me through assembling the bullet, the cartridge, and finally the primer. “If there’s ever an issue getting parts, this part is the part that will be hardest to source. You can reuse other parts, or make your own gun powder, but the primers aren’t reusable.” I didn’t grow up in a militia. This isn’t some cautionary tale. This is one of the basic rites of passage in my area: To have a family member train you in gun safety and use. It’s part of what it means to be an adult in Appalachian Pennsylvania. The day … Continue Reading ››

President Trump, There is no Autism Epidemic

I understand if it is hard to keep up with the news coming out of this White House. I don’t envy newsroom editors nor the White House Communications Office. With so much breaking news, you may have missed the episode this week where the President expressed his alarm with the growing rate of autism diagnoses. The President should be alarmed by what we have learned from the growing rate of autism diagnoses. As a former White House Presidential Appointee with a background of knowledge on both autism and how epidemics grow, I can tell you that he absolutely should be. But, it’s not for the reason that he thinks. On Tuesday, the President held a Parent-Teacher Conference Listening Session at the White House attended by Vice President Pence, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Senior White House Advisor Kellyanne Conway, and teachers and school administrators from across the country. One particular exchange … Continue Reading ››

ACLU Report on TSA SPOT Program Overlooks Risks for Disabled Travelers

On February 8, 2016, the ACLU came out with a study of more than 13,000 documents they received from a lawsuit leveled against the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). What the ACLU discovered is that the TSA’s Screening Passengers By Observation Techniques (SPOT) program does not detect suspicious people or terrorists, is not based on any empirical scientific evidence, and is racially discriminatory. The SPOT program makes use of supposed Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs), which look at the nervous tics and behaviors of passengers making their way through crowded airports and try to find evidence of “stress, fear, and deception.” I read through the ACLU report and its associated lawsuit and had to agree: The TSA’s SPOT program was ineffectual at best and racially discriminatory at worst. There is one group of people that wasn’t mentioned in the ACLU’s report that is important for understanding how harmful the TSA’s program is: People … Continue Reading ››

DNC Holds Forum on Disability Issues for Chair Candidates

On Sunday evening, the National Association of Democratic Disability Caucuses held a virtual candidate forum with candidates for Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Marked by its hosts as a historic step in building a more inclusive party, the forum offered candidates the opportunity to directly engage disabled DNC members ahead of the DNC’s meeting in Atlanta on February 25. There, members of the Democratic National Committee from across the country will gather to elect the body’s next chair. “We have to understand as a community that platitudes and promises are not going to cut it,” chair candidate and former Rock the Vote president Jehmu Greene stated in her closing remarks. Greene was noting the need, in her opinion, for the next DNC Chair to focus less on politics and more on organizing. Reflecting Greene’s opinion and the … Continue Reading ››

5 Ways to Make Your Web Content More Neurodiversity Inclusive

When most people think about accessibility in technology, their first thought may be about accessibility for blind or D/deaf people: captioning, visual descriptions or Braille conversion. Blind and D/deaf people aren’t the only ones who benefit from inclusive technology, though. Autistic people, people with learning disabilities, people with ADHD and other neurodivergent people also have access needs that site designers and developers can meet. Here are five ways you can make your websites and apps more accessible for neurodivergent people. Use subtitles/captions. Subtitles and captions for online videos aren’t just for D/deaf people or people with hearing loss. Many autistic people and other people with disabilities can have auditory processing difficulties that make it hard to understand spoken, recorded language. Using subtitles helps people follow what they’re listening to. Subtitles can also help people retain what they’ve heard long after they’ve finished watching the video. Avoid flashing images and clashing palettes. Quickly … Continue Reading ››

This Week in Neurodiversity

Each Friday at NOSmag, I’m going to post some links relevant to neurodiversity news and culture criticism around the web. This is what I’ve been reading and that I think you should be reading too. Feel free to add links of your own in the comments and email suggestions for future link roundups to nos.editorial@gmail.com or Tweet us @NOSeditorial.

Jeff Sessions’ Praise of 1924 Johnson-Reed Act Recalls a Dark Past

As President Calvin Coolidge signed the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, he stated, "America must remain American." The Johnson-Reed Act, until 1965, restricted immigration of multiple racial and ethnic minorities into the United States before World War II, including Eastern European Jews. Many of these Jews later died in the Holocaust. The Act restricted these racial and ethnic groups in part due to eugenics “science” that said these groups were more likely to be “socially inadequate,” and become a “public burden.” Eugenicist Harry Laughlin, who managed the Eugenics Record Office, testified in 1920 about foreign-born groups in hospitals for the “insane.” His testimony included the remark, “the Italians, Russians, Austrians (largely Jews) constitute a large proportion of the insane.” Laughlin had been appointed around 1922 as the “Expert Eugenics Agent” to the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, and much of his research and testimonies provided the justification … Continue Reading ››

We Need Research on Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Note: This post contains medical language and discussion of early death. Are many young adults with autism dying preventable deaths because they and their families are unaware of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome? When I was a member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), I commented when representatives from Autistica UK presented on early death for adults with autism. They didn’t mention Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. I talked about Ehlers-Danlos, my son, and the fear that no one is researching or talking about this. I hadn’t heard anyone previously, and I haven’t seen anything on the topic since. That’s a problem. It’s especially a problem for me and my son. My son was a serious baby.  He was a bit floppy, delayed in crawling, sitting, and walking.  He learned to do all three before he was 14 months old. What he did not do was speak. After several rounds of diagnostic testing, he was diagnosed … Continue Reading ››

There are Bigger Threats to Autistics Than Autism Speaks

Autism Speaks is anti-autistic. Autism Speaks spends too much money on cause and cure research rather than things that are actually helpful.  Autism Speaks would like to ensure that future generations of autistic people are never born. All of those things are true. But you know what else is true? Autism Speaks is not the only threat to autistic people’s well-being and autonomy right now. In fact, in the era of Donald Trump’s presidency, it is hard to make the case that Autism Speaks is even close to the biggest threat. This is not a defense of Autism Speaks. Like most autistic people involved in the neurodiversity community, I am disgusted with Autism Speaks’ long history of ableism. However, I do question whether anti-Autism Speaks activism should be our number one priority as a community at this point. When we focus all of our energies on Autism Speaks, it becomes easy to forget … Continue Reading ››

This Week in Neurodiversity

Each Friday at NOSmag, I’m going to post some links relevant to neurodiversity news and culture criticism around the web. This is what I’ve been reading and that I think you should be reading too. Feel free to add links of your own in the comments and email suggestions for future link roundups to nos.editorial@gmail.com.

Remembering Stephon Watts is Essential to Neurodiversity

Note: The following piece contains graphic descriptions of police violence. February 1st is important for two reasons. It’s the first day of Black History Month. Figures like Harriet Tubman, Leroy Moore, Stephen Wiltshire, Vilissa Thompson, Blind Tom Wiggins and Brad Lomax are iconic in the African Diaspora. They are also Deaf, disabled, and/or neurodivergent. Disability is often erased and overlooked when discussing black history. It shouldn’t be. February 1st is also the day that shook Calumet City, IL and the black and disability communities as a whole. This year, February 1st marks the fifth anniversary of Stephon Watts’death. Stephon Watts was a 15-year-old African-American male teen on the autism spectrum. He was interested in computers and aspired to one day become a computer programmer. Five years ago, he was murdered by police. In 2012, the Calumet City police arrived at Stephon Watts’ home. They were there to … Continue Reading ››

Someone Should Help Disabled People Run for Office

In the wake of the 2016 election, voters across America disappointed with the November 8th results mobilized to express their desire for progress. From social media pledges and petitions to large-scale movements like the record-breaking Women’s March on Washington, Americans found creative ways to express their opinions on a divisive election. For more than a few citizens, the election mobilized them to push their civic participation to a new level: Running for office. Organizations devoted to supporting “average citizens” interested in running for office saw a spike in interest across the country. She Should Run, an organization and political incubator that offers nonpartisan training for women interested in running for office, saw 4,500 new sign-ups following the election. There are a large number of programs across the country that provide support similar to, and … Continue Reading ››

Autism Speaks: How Long Does It Take to Look into It?

Team pages for the Autism Speaks Walks are pretty standard fare. You can go to each page to learn a little bit about a team who is pledging to raise money and donate to them yourself. A quick search of participants shows a wide variety of folks including companies, families, and organizations, which made the “Soldiers of Odin Canada - Ontario South Division“ not particularly unique outside of the comparatively large roster (most team pages are for about 2 people, Soldiers’ page has 10). That is of course, unless you know who the Soldiers of Odin are. At first glance, one might assume they’re just a biker group. Both the name and their team picture, featuring a number of guy all wearing leathers and jean vests, suggest as much. Being a biker group is fine. Bikers have been making the headlines for … Continue Reading ››

Dissociative Identity Disorder is not a B-Movie Monster

Split is M. Night Shyamalan's latest film. Over the course of its story, teenage girls are brutally attacked, watch their friends die, and get both their entrails and strategically sexy parts of their clothing ripped to pieces by a monster. The characters are one-dimensional and unrealistic, nothing more than plot devices. It's basically your generic B-movie, except for one very crucial difference: The monster isn’t the result of a science experiment gone horribly wrong or a supernatural demon. The “monster” is a person with DID, or Dissociative Identity Disorder. Honestly, saying 'person' is a bit of a stretch as Shyamalan never treats Kevin, our monster, with any shred of humanity. In Shyamalan's vision of mental illness, Kevin doesn't get to be a person. Every other character, no matter how flat, has a life outside of the horror narrative. Kevin's entire existence, in contrast, is that of brutal violence and … Continue Reading ››

This Week in Neurodiversity

Each Friday at NOSmag, I'm going to post some links relevant to neurodiversity news and culture criticism around the web. This is what I've been reading and that I think you should be reading too. Feel free to add links of your own in the comments! Watch the Appointments: Ari Ne'eman discusses why White House appointments matter when it comes to figuring out the Trump Administration's priorities when it comes to disability. #AccessibleOrganizingMeans: Alice Wong of Disability Visibility Project made a Storify of an important post-Women's March discussion -- How can we make sure organizing is accessible to disabled people? Not Everyone Wants the Cures the Cures Act is After: Comedian Maysoon Zayid discusses the fact that some disabled people don't want to be cured. Autism and Infantilization in Video Games: Madeleine Slade discusses autistic representation in some contemporary video games, including the smash-hit Undertale. Congress Should Rescind … Continue Reading ››

We are Here: Being Disabled at the Women’s March on Washington

What started out as a small group of women coming together after the election turned into one of the largest demonstrations in American history. It was for women. It was peaceful. It was sassy. And importantly, it incorporated a population that is often excluded from progressive causes: The disabled community. But you might not have known that from media coverage or even the programming of the Women’s March itself. When you have a disability getting to and participating in  demonstrations involves detailed advance planning. In order to help out, the Women’s March had an ADA tent. I volunteered While working in the ADA tent, I heard from many people who had difficulty on buses and airlines, difficulty trying to rent or borrow mobility equipment, and difficulty asking friends and family to help support them during the march. I asked a friend to come, not only because I wanted her to be … Continue Reading ››

Can We All Stop Talking About The ‘Disabled Reporter’ Incident Now?

Serge F. Kovaleski is a Pulitzer-awarded investigative reporter at The New York Times.  He has been a journalist for more than 30 years and has worked for the New York Times since 2006. Kovaleski has been in the media quite a lot recently, but most times I see his image or hear him discussed, his name has been stripped away.  He has been re-shaped into the iconic “disabled reporter mocked by Donald Trump.” I am not defending Trump’s mockery.  It was childish and despicable.  That said, in the long litany of Trump’s offenses against human decency, it is not the worst thing Donald Trump has done during this election cycle.  But Kovaleski has been treated poorly now by both sides and it’s time to stop presenting him as a token in ongoing political battles. Trump is not the only one to assault Kovaleski’s humanity.  Since Trump’s ridicule , the story has been … Continue Reading ››

Disability is not an Asterisk: Eric Garcia Interviews Dylan Matthews

Vox.com’s evening newsletter Vox Sentences headlines are a mix of the serious, with a bit of gallows humor such as “Congratulations, President-elect Trump. Here’s the World You’re Inheriting” and “How to Keep Bears out of Schools, Explained for Trump’s Ed Secretary.” One half of that newsletter is Dylan Matthews, a correspondent at Vox.com since its founding. He is also on the autism spectrum. Dylan has been a fixture writing about politics for more than decade now, beginning to write blog about politics under the title of minipundit at the age of 14. He eventually wrote for Slate, Salon, the American Prospect and the New Republic before he cut his teeth as at his college newspaper, the Harvard Crimson. He eventually began writing for the Washington Post under Wonkblog, which was run by Ezra Klein. When Klein left the Washington Post to start Vox.com, Matthews joined him and to … Continue Reading ››

Why NOS Matters

What makes a people? For the last two decades, the Autistic community has struggled with that question. As a community first defined by doctors and researchers, portrayed to the public mainly by outsiders, and often born to non-autistic parents, it can be hard to sort out who we are and how we should relate to each other. Despite these difficulties, the last few years have found us starting to figure things out. Thanks to an active blogosphere, advocacy organizations like ASAN and AWN, and a strong coalition of leaders young and old working to build our grassroots, the Autistic culture, community and identity is stronger now than it has ever been. In the words of Jim Sinclair, the neurodiversity movement’s earliest leader, "Our community is still young, but a generation of autistic children has already grown up having experience and familiarity with autistic togetherness." The Autistic identity has grown … Continue Reading ››

Building the Plane While We’re Flying It

Note: A version of this piece was originally published at Thinking Person's Guide to Autism as a part of a series of post highlighting autism and accommodations during Autism Acceptance Month. Three books are in the corner of a cubicle. The titles are "Neurotribes," "Rosemary," and "Loud Hands." Beside them, a color communication badge is attached to the cubicle wall. A stim toy and Einstein sticky notes are holding the books in place. The statistics around autism and employment can be incredibly discouraging. Forty-two percent of autistic people in their twenties -- people like me -- are unemployed, even though only 26% of overall young disabled people are out of work. This might seem counter-intuitive. After all, if someone can do well in college or even graduate school, surely they should be able to do well once they join the workforce? Unfortunately, … Continue Reading ››

Autistic Enough?

Two people point at a number that is either a six or a nine on the floor. One is saying it is a six and one is saying it is a nine.
Pop quiz: Which cartoon drawing lacks Theory of Mind?
For the past few days, I’ve been working my way through In a Different Key, a new book about the history of autism. There are many things wrong with In a Different Key. The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism has been livetweeting a read-through, and I think they cover a lot of the ethical problems with the book – Justifying the murder of disabled kids and minimizing the problems with punishing autistic people with cattle prods and electric shocks is troubling, to say the least. I plan on writing more about that, and I encourage … Continue Reading ››

I Don’t Have Stories, I Have a Medical History

This is an image of Sara Luterman as a child. She is wearing a red sweater and leggings. She has brown hair and glasses. Sara is holding a basketball that is larger than her head. Four years ago, I was volunteering at the hydrocephalus center for a fairly famous hospital. I had been invited to sit in on an important meeting or procedure – I don’t actually remember which at this point. What I do remember is that I was going to be late. I remember the consuming sense of dread, rage and confusion increased with every passing minute I sat in my car. I couldn’t be late. I didn’t know how to be late. So I did the only thing that seemed sensible to me at the time: I turned the car around and went home. Then I didn’t speak … Continue Reading ››

Advice for Therapists from a Neurodiversity Advocate

Thanks to the success of Steve Silberman’s ‘Neurotribes,’ therapists and service providers have become aware of neurodiversity. On one hand, this is wonderful. A concept Autistic self-advocates have been celebrating for years has hit the mainstream. It seems that therapists and service providers are finally listening to autistic people speak. On the other hand, there seem to be many misunderstandings about what neurodiversity, and by extension allyship, entails. Therapy can only be enriched by neurodiversity, if therapists will let it.

A common misconception about neurodiversity is that we are pushing the idea that autism is not a disability. It's true that in general, neurodiversity advocates believe that autism is not a ‘disorder.’ You'd be hard pressed to find advocates who don't consider autism a disability, though. We know, through our lived experience, that autism is a disability. The world we live in was not built for us. Or at … Continue Reading ››

Autism Self-Diagnosis is not Special Snowflake Syndrome

Recently, 4chan-flavored trolls invaded the #autchat hashtag. For the uninitiated, Autchat is a bi-weekly discussion group for Autistic people. Past topics have included friendship, autistic representation in media and strategies for coping with executive dysfunction. The community is usually warm, welcoming and a great place to learn. Instead, participants were told to commit suicide or drink bleach to ‘cure’ autism. The source of their ire? An Autchat regular and middle-aged mother of two described herself as ‘informally diagnosed.’ Autism self-diagnosis is a topic that can evoke strong feelings in many people. It isn’t unusual for adults to self-diagnose. It also isn’t unusual to get a lot of push back or even violent threats for self-diagnosis. Why does self-diagnosis make people so angry? More importantly, why do people self-diagnose in the first place? The hostility directed at self-diagnosis is, fundamentally, based in ignorance of what factors lead to its existence: Healthcare … Continue Reading ››

I See Amazing Potential in Sesame Street

This week, Sesame Workshop launched a campaign, ‘See Amazing,’ to help educate their audience about autism. A new puppet, Julia, helps beloved characters Elmo and Abby Cadabby model how to interact positively with autistic children in a digital storybook. Parents and siblings of autistic children share their experiences and provide a glimpse into their lives. A new music video, The Amazing Song, stresses that people communicate differently and that’s OK. All children are amazing in their own way. The ‘See Amazing’ campaign is heartwarming and accepting. Full disclosure, I cried (in a good way) the first time I saw the video for The Amazing Song. Instead of asserting that alternative forms of communication and expression, like hand flapping, are wrong or pathological, they’re presented as simple difference. In videos that feature real people, autistic children communicate using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices … Continue Reading ››

Bernie Sanders is Wrong About Roseburg

This is a screencap of Bernie Sanders speaking about the campus shooting in Oregon on MSNBC This Tuesday, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders once again linked the recent mass shooting at Umqua Community College to mental illness. This wasn’t the first time Sanders has conflated the two issues and that makes me nervous. Mental health policy based on the assumption that mentally ill people are more likely to murder others is not only untrue, but heaps stigma onto an already vulnerable population. The day of the massacre, Bernie Sanders appeared on MSNBC. One of the first policy positions he took on the subject was that people who are mentally ill should not be able to own guns. Personally, I don’t have any desire to own a gun, but it’s utterly fallacious to lump disabled people and violent criminals together without even a pause. In the … Continue Reading ››

What It’s Like to Be David

This is an image of a person holding a sign. Their face and legs are out of the frame. The sign reads, "Nothing About Us Without Us."
This is your intrepid author.
Last weekend, I protested an Autism Speaks rally at the National Mall. A handful of us, mostly Autistic, stood and watched as thousands of people went to raise money for the biggest autism organization in the United States. Upbeat music blared from an enormous stage. Cheerful college students and families with young children packed the sidewalks, despite the dismal weather. Some people wore homemade t-shirts and hoodies with their autistic relatives’ smiling faces emblazoned across the front. These people are, for the most part, good people. They care about their families. They care about their communities. They love the autistic people in their lives and want to do … Continue Reading ››

Screen Backlash is a Disability Issue

A mother, a father and two children are looking at their cell phones and tablets while sitting together at the dinner table. It seems like hardly a week passes without some pearl-clutching thinkpiece bemoaning how social media is destroying meaningful human interaction. People are looking at their screens instead of making eye contact. We aren't using our mouths to talk to each other. Instead of telling each other how we feel in detail, we click the “like” button to express approval. We sit next to each other in cafes and don’t look up. This phenomenon has been described as the end of intimacy. However, it’s the exact opposite. As an Autistic person, I’ve never felt more understood or free. I’ve always felt more comfortable communicating in text. In high school, I had a lot of difficulty making friends. I was bullied. I’d happily expound … Continue Reading ››

Martin Shkreli is a Fool, Not a Supervillain

When Martin Shkreli’s company, Turing Pharma, purchased the rights to a drug, Daraprim, and hiked the price from $13.50 to $750 per pill, my first response was outrage, along with the rest of the internet. Unlike most of the internet, I also felt a distinctive jolt of fear. I am part of the small population of people who rely on Daraprim. Many articles describe Daraprim as a drug used to treat AIDS, but that’s not quite accurate. Daraprim treats toxoplasmosis. About a quarter of Americans are infected with toxoplasmosis, but for most, it’s not anything serious. Some people feel some minor flu-like symptoms for a few weeks, if they feel anything at all. For pregnant mothers and people who are immunocompromised however, toxoplasmosis is something much, much worse. Without the benefit of a healthy, developed immune system, toxoplasmosis causes ocular and neurological damage. Most of the people at serious risk are AIDS … Continue Reading ››

This is not the End

  Last September, I started thinking about an online magazine for the neurodiversity community, and what that would look like. I wanted a platform that would amplify our voices so that we could be better heard, in whatever language or communication suited us best. Together, our voices could be louder, bigger and brighter. I wanted to make a platform where the fact that we can and do speak for ourselves could not be ignored. This was the seed that would eventually grow into NOS Magazine. There were setbacks. I had a bout with cervical cancer (and won), but it slowed the project considerably. I kept going. I read everything I could about how to make crowdfunding work. I examined similar projects. Christine Paluch helped me build a web site while I refreshed my WordPress skills. Morénike Onaiwu and Mariyama Scott offered their services as editors. Ari Ne'eman introduced me to many of the … Continue Reading ››