Saturday, April 15, 2017

Interview with Katherine Lawrence- Autism Acceptance Day 2017

This interview is with Katherine Lawrence. Katherine is 32, and blogs at Autistic on Wheels.

Katherine has an Asperger’s diagnosis age 28. British, wheelchair user due to other conditions. BA in English Literature, MA in Creative Writing. Life goals include becoming a published author and English-British Sign Language interpreter. Married. Catholic.

What is your life like as an Autistic person?

My life is very visual, and that’s got a lot to do with my Autistic neurology. I’ve discovered that my neurology has enabled me to pick up sign language very quickly and easily; through this I have made some fantastic friends and found a career path towards which I am working (dependent on my physical health, which is challenging). I’ve also discovered that although English is my native language, BSL is my default language – when I’m too tired/stressed/in too much pain/suffering sensory overload, I can’t communicate in English but I can in BSL.

Communication can be challenging, as autistic and neurotypical brains work very differently, so we interpret things in different ways. We tend to be very blunt and don’t see a problem with that; I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve inadvertently upset or offended someone by being “too blunt” and had to have it explained to me how I’ve upset them.

Unwritten social rules are a nightmare, because we’re expected to pick up on them and we simply can’t, so many a time I’ve made a social blunder because I’ve been unaware of the rule I haven’t explicitly been told about.

There’s so much I could say on this subject!

What is the most joyful, fun, exciting thing about being Autistic?

Finding someone with the same “special interest” as you can be SO MUCH FUN! I’ve got an Aspie friend who’s a massive Harry Potter fan like me, and we can spend hours and hours and HOURS geeking out about minutiae, discussing fan stuff, working on costumes, fanfiction, etc. I’ve made some amazing friends through special interests; the Harry Potter-loving friend I just mentioned is someone I originally met about 14 years ago through Harry Potter fanfiction, when we were living in different countries, and then we ended up at the same university, then housemates, and she was my maid of honour when I got married. I’m an only child and she’s one of the two women in my life I see as a surrogate sister.

What is the most difficult about being Autistic, for you?

Sensory overload is horrendous, and it can be really difficult to get out of situations in time to prevent a full meltdown occurring. It’s unbearable – everything is too loud, too bright, too intense, too overwhelming. I can’t think, I can’t speak, I can only rock and screech until I’m out of the situation (usually by someone else grabbing my wheelchair and hauling me out of there).

How has the Autism Acceptance Day/Month effort over the past seven years affected you personally? If you were not aware of it until recently, what meaning does Autism Acceptance Day/Month have to you now?

I’ve only become aware of Autism Acceptance in the last couple of years or so and I absolutely love it. It’s enabled me to become much more comfortable with and accepting of my identity as an Autistic, and proud to be Autistic. If ever anyone were to come up with a “cure” for autism, there is absolutely no way I would take it. I’m here, I’m me, this I who and how I am, and I’m not changing that!

What does “moving beyond awareness” mean to you?

To me, “awareness” alone means little more than tokenism and is often heavily linked with finding a cure for whatever condition people are raising “awareness” of, so for me “autism awareness” is heavily linked with curing it and treating autism like a disease, separate and separable from the person, rather than the neurological difference it is. It’s a pat on the back for people and it makes them feel good that they are “raising awareness” about a condition. You see it all the time when people put overlays on their Facebook profile – they say they’re showing their “awareness” for something but rarely do much more than that and it’s very much about making them look good rather than doing any actual good. And that isn’t good enough; it shouldn’t be altruistic and self-congratulatory.

“Moving beyond awareness”, especially when it is towards acceptance, is much better and long overdue. It shows that people are finally listening to, respecting and heeding autistic voices; awareness by itself tends to be non-autistics presuming that they know best even when they don’t, speaking for us, speaking about us without us, and shutting us down and silencing us when we disagree with them. I’ve actually had this happen to me on a page of a certain infamous US autism organisation, and ultimately I was kicked off the page for using the identity-first language that most of us autistics prefer and for questioning and disagreeing with the ableism and attitudes of the non-autistic people who didn’t want to hear autistic voices. “Moving beyond awareness”, towards acceptance, means that we will hopefully, finally, been seen as equal to non-autistics. Awareness does not equal acceptance, as we see so frequently. Awareness is not enough; we need acceptance.

Like the Bible verse “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20, 26), awareness without acceptance is also dead.

What is one thing about acceptance that would make a difference in the world?

It would mean we wouldn’t have to be constantly fighting for our rights and for the access we need. Places would be more accessible in terms of sounds, lighting, etc; if we ask for an adjustment we would just need to say “because I’m autistic” and people would understand, rather than questioning it, asking us a hundred questions about specifics, etc.

It would also mean people wouldn’t be ashamed of their/their family member’s autism diagnosis, that the autistic person would be as equally valued in society as a non-autistic person, that we would be considered just as human as non-autistics. In a world where autistics are truly accepted, being autistic would be seen as no bigger an issue than being short-sighted.

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