Nathan McConnell Creates 'Growing Up Aspie,' a Comic About Life on the Autism Spectrum


Nathan McConnell creates comics for people like him, and if you grew up on the autism spectrum, you might find his “Growing Up Aspie” illustrations relatable.

“I was diagnosed as a child with Asperger’s syndrome but due to lack of understanding, it was quickly forgotten,” McConnell told The Mighty. “So growing up, I went through years of extreme bullying, relationship issues with friends and others that often ended in catastrophic falling outs… This continued into adulthood and it wasn’t until my mother reminded me of my childhood diagnosis that I was finally able to look back on my experiences with that added filter and the years of frustration all just made sense.”

After getting a job as a Samsung representative, McConnell bought himself a Note 3 phone and began sketching. Through his sketches, McConnell got the idea for “Growing Up Aspie” and decided to tell his story in comic form.

While many illustrations in this series focus on McConnell’s experience, he also uses feedback from other people on the spectrum to inform his work. “Often times, I will read the autism message boards on Facebook for something that is a mutual experience to a lot of us or that desperately needs to be addressed for autistics who haven’t been through it yet,” he said of his work.

In the three years, he has created hundreds of drawings, which he recently compiled for his debut book “Growing Up Aspie: Year One.” “This book is a collection of my first year of comics and the deeper meanings originally posted with them,” McConnell said. “In this first year of comics, you follow me losing my last job, struggling to find a new one and finally fighting my way into a full-time position in my field after almost 10 years of trying and failing.”

Of his illustrations, McConnell has a few favorites, including “360 No Scope,” about how autistic people often see everything at once — something McConnell describes as “a blessing and a curse.” He is also fond of the very first comic he made, “Making Friends in Middle School,” which he wrote based on a memory from his teenage years when he says he realized he wasn’t quite like other kids.

The response to his work, McConnell said, has been amazing. “I’ve had girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives, moms and dads all write me thanking me for helping them understand the autistic person in their life,” he said. “I’ve also had autistic men, women, and children write me crying and thanking me for letting them know that they are not the only ones who have experienced what they have.”

While McConnell hopes his illustrations will help bridge the gap between neurotypical people and autistic people, one thing he wants the former to do is listen. “Listen to what we are trying to say and not what you think we are saying,” he said. “Many of us have had so many people listen to half a sentence and feel like they had our full meaning figured out. It’s a recipe for invalidation and misunderstandings.”

For more of McConnell’s work, visit the “Growing Up Aspie” Facebook page.

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Spending Most of My Time Alone as an Autistic Person Doesn’t Mean I’m Antisocial


I was diagnosed with autism in my early adulthood by specialists in the field. And then I participated in a series of experiments that my local university was running that led to my diagnosis being confirmed. I have autism. No matter how outgoing I sometimes appear on the outside, I have some very well-hidden coping mechanisms related to my autism.

I’m an adult now, and I’ve finished school. I learned something while I was in school. I learned that most conventional university experiences are full of noise, full of people and full of a crowd of young people who seem to me to move as one in their perhaps instinctual understanding of what a party is, or what a get-together is. I would be perfectly content if it was acceptable to sit at the edge of a party or just outside it, far enough from the noise, and be part of it by solitarily enjoying the proximity. I love to listen. So many autistic people I talk to want to be part of it, but just because we enjoy the fringes doesn’t mean we’re not enjoying it at all. I enjoy the fringes the most.

Now that I’m not required to sit in rooms with hundreds of people talking — listening to things my auditory processing issues can’t make sense of because the words can’t compete if the air conditioning is too loud, or someone is eating potato chips two seats down — I’ve found that I relate to the world in a different way.

I spend almost all of my time alone. Someone might assume I’m sick or maybe depressed. And I do have bipolar disorder as a comorbid diagnosis, which adds a new flavor to this, but frankly, I just like to be alone. For me, in these years since graduating school where I’m no longer required to be part of a crowd constantly, I’ve learned I am much healthier when it’s just me. I can keep my emotions regulated. I can recover from a meltdown — not only that, there are fewer meltdowns because I’m dealing with less at a time. This does not equal antisocial.

I’d also like to break down the stereotype that autistics can’t be charming. People like me who have spent a life writing scripts and watching how those scripts impact the people I say them to have developed quite a social lexicon — but it uses a fuel we don’t have, and the more we have to do it, the closer we can get to burning out.

When I was a kid, the way I’m living now would have seemed like a catastrophe to me. I wanted to be conventionally beautiful, be absolute “normal.” Not this balding 33-year-old semi-dude (nonbinary, but that’s another blog post) who spends at least 85 percent of his time alone. I used to dream of the day I would like going out dancing, going to parties, hanging out in large groups. The older I got, the less I wanted that. The older I get, the more content I am with myself.

I’m not someone who avoids social interaction at all cost. Theatre has always been my deepest interest, right from childhood when I couldn’t talk to people and it caused me so much stress and anguish that my dad started writing me scripts. They worked so well that I started writing my own scripts. I have this whole script system laid out in my head like a library of flowcharts. All the easier stuff, like pleasantries, are there. Conversations with cashiers about the weather or what holiday is coming up are there. And then there are the specific situations like an outing with a friend or a volunteer job. Those take time to create and are more involved. There are more variables and I write scripts for every variable I can think of. Once I’ve got scripts, I play the interaction in my head. Visually. This comes from theatre training too. How close will I stand? What will my hands do? What door will we enter? Walking, or standing still? What are the escape exits just in case? If I’m lucky enough to have been there before to have a visual picture of the place in my mind, it’s like playing Barbies in my imagination.

At the same time, no one is aware that I use so much mammoth preparation for something as small as a coffee chat. So when I get tired easily, or upset, or I need to step outside and collect myself before continuing, I’m always afraid they will smell the different on me. It’s reaching that point where pretending for so long has eaten away every last bit of fuel I’ve been putting into performing.

I fly under the radar easily. I have learned to socialize well, and as part of that I’ve developed an attitude of “I don’t care what they think,” which leads to genuine reactions on my part. Usually only people who know autism can see it in me at first glance. But just because I can mask the problems I have for short times doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared.

I’m going to write a part two about what I’ve learned about working and living as an autistic adult as safely as possible, as openly as possible. Because experiencing burnouts can change my life drastically.

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Why It's Hard for Me to Say 'I Am Autistic'


As an Autistic individual, I find it hard to tell people I am Autistic. Most of the time, I keep it a secret because some people are not very supportive when I reveal I am Autistic. In my last singing concert, I revealed to the audience I am Autistic. It was really hard for me. I was afraid I would be judged or shunned. To my surprise, people complimented me on my song, and I felt less anxious.

In my experience, telling someone I am Autistic can have both risks and benefits. If I tell someone I am Autistic, they might criticize or misinterpret me. They might not understand that loud noises are hard to deal with and that certain foods taste really bad in my mouth. But there can also be benefits, such as people being more aware of why I do certain things like cover my ears, eat certain foods, stim, etc. It’s also hard for me to say I am Autistic because of stereotyping and labels: “Oh, but I know an Autistic person and he never does that, you must not be Autistic.” Every Autistic person is different; each of us is unique and has challenges in our own way. We each have our own talents and special interests. In public, if I cover my ears, I worry, Will people stare at me? Will I be judged?

 

During sensory overload, I try to look OK, but on the inside, I am screaming. If there is loud noise and I cannot cover my ears, I will wince and have an upset facial expression. I cannot help it, it’s part of me being Autistic. I also sometimes will jump if startled, and this is also a part of me being Autistic. So if I say to someone, “I am Autistic,” I am being really brave. It is not something I reveal often, and it is hard for me to try to explain what it is like.

This is why it is hard for me to say “I am Autistic,” because the world can sometimes not be understanding of Autistic people.

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I Am a Strong, Autistic Woman. My Feelings Are Valid.


Is there something about being autistic (Aspie, as I identify) that tells certain people I don’t have solid feelings or thoughts of my own? It sure seems that way. I would like them to know it is quite the opposite. While I might seem more child-like at times, it does not mean I am a child who needs someone else to dictate my thoughts or emotions. And I certainly do not need my own feelings invalidated. No one does. It is, in fact, a very dangerous thing to do. Especially to young children!

Where does this idea come from, I wonder? Our differences as autistics do not make us “wrong.” No, they don’t; they mean we are in the minority, which is not wrong.

I would like more people, in general, to be aware of the fact that autism is a “different operating system” and not a defective one. It is not a disease. I have no business telling someone else how to form their morals and values, and I do not need them to tell me how to form mine. They are formed, and it is my business. I am a strong, autistic woman.

The next time anyone thinks it is their business to tell an autistic person how they should think or feel (or anyone, for that matter), think again. Is it your business? Why is it your business? Might you have something to learn from the person you are trying to change? Think about it.

 

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Dad With Autism Creates Autcraft, a Safe Minecraft Server for Those on the Spectrum


With over 8,200 members, Autcraft lets children and adults on the autism spectrum play Minecraft in a judgment- and troll-free space.

Read the full version of Dad With Autism Creates Autcraft, a Safe Minecraft Server for Those on the Spectrum.

Read the full transcript:

Autcraft Is a Safe Minecraft Server for Those on the Spectrum

In 2013, Stuart Duncan, a dad with autism, founded Autcraft.

Autcraft lets children and adults on the autism spectrum play Minecraft in a judgment- and troll-free space.

Today, Autcraft has more than 8,200 members.

Duncan noticed parents of children on the spectrum were looking for safe spaces where their children could play the game.

“Their children were being bullied on public servers because they behaved a little differently and were easily angered.” -Duncan, username AutismFather.

Users must submit an application to join and are required to follow a set of community rules.

“I feel very successful in what i’ve accomplished because i’ve seen children go from being shy and quiet to making friends…”

“And then off to making friends in the real world and finally to getting their first job.”

“The players are the community. It’s not just me or any other single person.”

“It’s everyone, and we’ve all grown to support and encourage and even celebrate each other.”

Duncan says he’d never leave the community behind and hopes to add more game types and servers.

“What I’d hope is simply to inspire other people to do as much as I have or more.”

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What My Sons on the Autism Spectrum Have Taught Me


As I sit down to write about what my sons have taught me through their struggles and triumphs living with a disability that they might not fully understand yet, I realize it’s going to be difficult. It would take far less time to list what they haven’t taught me. I just celebrated my seventh Mother’s Day. I was 25 and naive when my first child was born. Go ahead and do the math. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I mean, I did a lot of babysitting growing up and I was a nanny for twin toddlers in college, so obviously I was qualified to be a mother, right?

I didn’t know that the only food I’d be able to keep down for the first four months of pregnancy was Kraft macaroni and cheese. I didn’t know I would call my pediatrician’s emergency line at ridiculous hours for ridiculous reasons (“Why is he sleeping so much?” “Is green poop normal? Google told me it could indicate too much iron.”) terrified that I’d miss something. I didn’t know I would miss something. I would pass off my sweet, docile toddler’s dramatic and overnight behavior change just before his 3rd birthday as acting out because of the new baby coming. I would blame his meltdowns on attention-seeking while I was consumed with caring for a baby and his father traveled. I would tell myself the appearance of phobias were just things he’d grow out of and that all kids were sensitive to the shrieking of baby brother. I let people tell me he would adjust to kindergarten when he was 5. That was one of the most crucial lessons my eldest son taught me. He taught me not only to listen to him but to also listen to myself and trust my mom instincts. I believe God gives us those instincts for a reason. No one knows your child like you.

I pulled him out of school under the wagging fingers of the school social worker, principal and teacher, who believed the problem was me. I was being too soft. That his hands clamped over his ears in the lunchroom, the tears rolling down his 5-year-old face, and the gagging at hot lunch day were not indicative of something more but a deliberate act put on by a child who simply didn’t want to go to school. But I had swallowed and indeed fed myself the “kids do this” line too many times. I have always gone far beyond being a people-pleaser, struggling most of my life with anxiety over what people think of me. While counseling was a huge tool in my overcoming this, it was my son A who taught me that what people believe about me is not nearly as important as what I believe about myself, and others’ opinions can’t hold a candle to what’s best for my child. A taught me that I can’t control what people believe, and just because someone believes something doesn’t make it true. When A was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at 6 years old, he taught me about self-forgiveness. I had to forgive myself for what I didn’t know. It had been wrong of me to punish him for meltdowns he couldn’t control. He was teaching me how to parent him and he was teaching me how to be kind to myself.

 

When I began homeschooling A, it was truly my job to teach him, and it was daunting at first. Once again, he’s taught me so much more. Some days would make me question myself again. Maybe everyone’s right; maybe I can’t do this. He’ll fall behind. But they weren’t and I can and he didn’t. A year of intensive therapy, an amazing hybrid school where homeschooled kids attend small classes twice a week, and a lot of learning later, A has blossomed in a way I could have only hoped and prayed for. Homeschooling is absolutely the right decision for him, despite the well-meaning advice from naysayers, including therapists. A taught me to have confidence in myself, and in him. A taught me that the toughest situations can get better with a lot of faith, hard work and patience. A taught me that the autism diagnosis I was so afraid of is not a prison sentence but merely a roadmap, a tool. The autism that makes it difficult for A to participate in large groups, the anxiety that makes sounds, textures and smells hard for him, also makes him understand others’ differences. When A sees a child throwing himself on the floor in the grocery store, he will be the first to say, “I feel bad for him and his mom. It seems like he’s having a really hard time.” He has compassion for a situation that many adults sadly approach with scorn and assume to be “bad parenting.”

I can’t leave my precocious son E out of this conversation. E was spitfire before he was born. He was so active, his little feet knocked one of my ribs out of place! Little did I know this little boy would change my flat screen world to three-dimensional HD color. E started teaching me when he was an infant. When I say he never slept, I am not exaggerating. The first time he ever slept more than 90 minutes at a stretch, he was 15 months old. The well-meaning advice-givers told me to let him cry it out and that I was spoiling him. Now, I am not against the cry-it-out method itself, but E needed to be held. He needed to rub/pinch my arm and comfort nurse. He needed touch and motion to feel calm and secure. Since he was conceived, E and I have had an almost uncanny connection. I knew I was pregnant with him even when test after test showed one line. You can’t not know E is there. If you know him, you know what I mean!

E has always taught me what he needs. To this day, E still needs touch to fall asleep or to calm down. E taught me that it is possible to do whatever you need to do for your children, even function on an hour’s sleep. Moms are superheroes, whether your child is “typical” or has a disability. When E started preschool at the same school A attended, he taught me to be flexible. We loved (and still love) the school, but it became apparent that E needed more than the school could provide. Due to his difficulty following verbal instruction, E was not able to complete our school district’s evaluation process accurately. He did not qualify for special education that spring, at 2 and a half. In the fall of his second year of preschool, I returned to the district’s early childhood center armed with the results of a private evaluation completed by an occupation therapist. The results showed that E had dyspraxia and sensory processing disorder. He was reevaluated at the early childhood center and this time he qualified for special education placement, a full IEP, and bus service. E has been obsessed with school buses forever, so this was and still is thrilling for him. The child who struggles with transitions runs out to that bus every day like it is a flying carpet arriving to take him to Disney World.

E taught me persistence. E taught me advocacy. E taught me that one person’s school bus is another person’s golden chariot. E teaches me courage every day. The first day that bus arrived to take him to a brand new school, he jumped on and bravely waved to Mommy from the window, headed for the unknown. E teaches me that life is an adventure. When I mention in conversations that E receives special education services, I’ve been met with an, “I’m sorry.” Please don’t be. I’m not. E is thriving. His speech has really taken off.

When E received his official autism diagnosis at 4, it wasn’t a surprise to me. Applied behavior analysis therapy was recommended. I was nervous and overwhelmed. A lot of hours, a lot of therapists coming and going through our home, and varying opinions in the autism community left me unsure. Still, we tried. The benefits are already apparent to me. E has taught me patience.

E teaches me tolerance and compassion. Public outings can be a challenge. He jumps first, asks questions later. If you’ve seen me out and about with E, you may have seen him elope and me running after him. E does not do this to be naughty. He does it because the world is his playground and when he sees something interesting, he runs straight for it. His expressive language is delayed, and verbal communication is a challenge for him. It is difficult for him to stop and say, “Mom I want to go see that.” Conversely, E is prone to sensory overload. When he needs to escape a crowded, noisy, bright place, he will simply take off. He may also seek sensory input by touching things, repeating phrases or making loud noises/speaking loudly. Sadly, people gawk at E when he does these things. You can’t look at E and see that he has a disability. E has taught me to have a thick skin. Yes, public outings can be exhausting sometimes, but I will not deprive him of going to fun places like the museum or Rainforest Café.

E has taught me that there’s often more to behavior than meets the eye, and I’m not just referring to autism. I feel like I have become a more accepting, less judgmental person all around. I still have a lot to learn, but I would like to think I’ve learned to choose kindness over judgment more often. My child on the floor of the Lego store is not being a “brat.” He is experiencing sensory overload due to a lot of people, fluorescent lights and colorful displays. Likewise, the mom on her phone at the park may be burned out. This might be the first time her kids have entertained themselves all week and she’s finally sitting and catching up with friends or reading an eBook. The person with the bad temper who seems angry at the world may really just be sad. I’m not saying behavior should be excused, but there’s usually an explanation. E has taught me that the world still has a long way to go when it comes to acceptance.

I believe my boys have taught me more than I could ever teach them. Seeing them try, struggle and try again teaches me strength. Being in tune to their needs has helped me to be in tune with my own. When A goes up to his room with noise-canceling headphones, his blanket and his Iron Golem stuffed animal, he teaches me it’s not only OK but important to take a break when it’s needed. When E runs like the Energizer Bunny, he teaches me to never apologize for uniqueness. My boys have taught me that some people will never understand, never try to understand, and that’s OK. We won’t hide away to make them comfortable. My boys have taught me love beyond measure, patience I didn’t know I was capable of, self-care, grace, and that the world is a better place with them in it.

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