I'm a Black, Autistic Woman and I'm Not Alone

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When you know the actual truth, it gives such a sense of relief. Growing up, I was what people called a “weird kid.” I lived in Detroit, MI as a child, and because of that, I had it rough. Now, if you know anything about autism, you’ll know that when women and girls have it, we tend to copy or mimic the social behavior around us. That’s how I survived school, all the way from elementary to high. I had to pretend I was like the other girls. When I was in middle school, that was the worst part of my life. Even then, I wasn’t diagnosed yet because my mother saw there was nothing wrong with me. Now that I’ve been diagnosed, I can see all the traits in me within her.

However, that’s not why I’m writing this story. I want to talk about how hard I feel it is to have anything that makes you different in the black community. As a black woman, a Detroiter, and a person on the autism spectrum, my life hasn’t been 100 percent easy. And I’ll tell you why. In my experience, a lot of Black people in America won’t admit it, but they try to act as if mental issues of any kind are not a big deal. They will talk about people deemed “crazy,” and they won’t get their children help for issues. Now, I’m not calling out my own mother — she had her own problems to deal with — but I’m talking about parents who have autistic sons being told to make their kid pass as “normal” if he can talk and communicate and assuming he won’t need help when he’s older.

To me that’s the worst thing a parent of any color can do to their child. Not getting them help can make adult life much more difficult.

Because I was always masking and pretending to be “normal” when I was growing up, it took me getting into a relationship to realize that I was different again. I don’t understand a lot of social things. I don’t view the world in a similar fashion to people who are not on the autism spectrum. I look at things in my own quirky way. I’m here writing this because I want people to know one thing: people on the autism spectrum come in different colors. In some Black communities, they go so far as to say only white people are autistic. They don’t know what it means to be autistic either. My significant other sees my autism as a personality thing and not a disorder or disability.

I wrote this for all the Black people out there, and people of color who are autistic but don’t get much help or support for it. You’re not alone. There are plenty of us out here. You are one in a million, and at the same time, you’re awesome. Keep on going, friends.

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Thinkstock photo by m-imagephotography.

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France to Require All Parents Vaccinate Their Children

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France will require all parents vaccinate their children, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced in a speech on Wednesday. The announcement follows a warning from the World Health Organization (WHO) that measles is spreading across Europe, despite vaccines which can prevent the virus, Independent reported.

France currently requires all children to be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and polio, and will add eight more required vaccinations — pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae bacteria, pneumococcus and meningococcus C — starting in 2018.

France is not the only country to have a rise in measles. In 2017, CNN reported 73 confirmed cases of measles in Minnesota, compared to 70 cases of measles in the entire U.S. in 2016, a majority of whom were unvaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is likely a result of antivaccination sentiments surrounding the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine.

“Measles is a dangerous and vaccine-preventable disease. There is no reason to decline MMR unless the individual is too young to be vaccinated or has a severe immunodeficiency and they cannot be vaccinated,” Patricia Stinchfield, director of infection prevention and control for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, told CNN. “The reason we vaccinate is because of the potential for infection of the brain or lungs that can cause permanent and lasting damage. Death from measles is one to two per 1,000 cases because there is no antiviral medicine against measles. All we can do is provide IV fluids, oxygen and support and hope they survive,” she said.

Many antivaxxers falsely claim the MMR vaccine causes autism spectrum disorder, a statement which has been repeatedly disproven. In 1998, the Lancet published a study which claimed autism was linked to the MMR vaccine. The publication then retracted the study in 2010 after scientists were unable to replicate its findings, and the study’s author, Andrew Wakefield, lost his medical license.

France now joins Italy in mandating vaccines. In Italy, to attend a state-sponsored school, all children must be vaccinated.

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Confronting My Sexuality as Someone With Autism

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I am asexual, which for me means that I do not view people in a sexual way, or think about sex. I’m also gray romantic, meaning that I lack romantic attraction to a certain extent. I could also be called bi or panromantic, because I could see myself in a semi-romantic relationship with someone of any gender. I’m overall more attracted to feminine-presenting people, but can be attracted to masculine-presenting people based on their personality. Some may call me a special snowflake for requiring an entire paragraph to explain my sexual orientation, but I like to think I’m simply acknowledging the complexities of my existence. Complexities I refused to deal with for years.

I had already had the label of autism attached to me in early childhood. Society doesn’t give disabled people permission to be anything other than straight. I spent the ages of 10 to 16 concealing my feelings for girls, and magnifying my feelings for boys in front of the world. I was 8 when I found out what being gay is, and wanting to have relationships with people of the same gender made sense to me. I told myself that I wasn’t old enough to feel that way about people, brushing aside the fluttering I got in my chest when I saw women and girls my mind decided were attractive. I was a “late bloomer” anyway, not having had intense feelings for someone of any gender beyond finding them physically attractive; I told myself that my life would sort out eventually. I’d meet a boy I liked and that would be that. It all had to be part of my autism and needing extra help.

As I hit puberty, I didn’t get the promised thoughts about sex. I thought it was something teenagers did to be cool, and not for pleasure. In middle school, I was bullied for my social awkwardness and lack of interest in boys. The popular girls bombarded me with questions of who I liked, and if I had ever liked anyone. A couple times, one of them even asked me to come to a party where there would be boys. I don’t want to think about the likelihood that they were actually trying to humiliate and overwhelm me. In ninth grade, I was playing a game with someone I was briefly friends with that involved listing off four boys I was remotely interested in. I was embarrassed by how long that part of the game took.

Along came 10th grade, when social justice work entered my radar. Such development brought me the knowledge of different sexual orientations. I attended an overnight camp run by the local chapter of a human relations organization in, in which a lot of the teenagers identified as LGBTQA+, and were proud to do so. Now that I can get past all the talk about sex that went on in the cabins at night, I can appreciate the benefits being in an intimate space with other people of such identities. But during the camp’s workshop on heterosexism, I silently repeated to myself that I was straight. The idea of loving other women or life without what society deems as true love fueled my anxiety.

That summer, I was on a long car ride to Nova Scotia with my family. We stayed overnight in St. John, the halfway point. But I was kept up with tormenting thoughts about who I am attracted to and how. As I ate my breakfast of eggs, fruit, and a muffin in hotel lobby, I tried to distract myself from the thoughts by looking at the view of some apartments outside. After we got in the car, it hit me. The anxiety of denial was stronger than the anxiety of accepting myself for who I was. I am someone with a marginalized sexual orientation as well as disabled. I’m both. That day in Atlantic Canada, I embraced the notion that a life not straight can be a beautiful, happy life. Even with autism in the mix.

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Thinkstock photo by Purestock.

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three paintings, one of pink trees, one of waterfall, one of the moon

Zenaviv Sells Work by Artists on the Autism Spectrum

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After Himal Bikmal was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, his parents began researching everything they could. What they learned about their son and autism turned into Zenaviv, a company which sells artwork created by people on the autism spectrum.

Because Himal is nonverbal, Harrish Bikmal and his wife Sandhya worked with a few researchers to help identify what their son’s strengths were. They attempted coaching him through sports such as basketball and baseball but found Himal could not get the hang of the game.

One day, when Sandhya was painting, something she did as a hobby, Himal grabbed her paintbrush and began dabbing at the canvas. From there, Bikmal and Sandhya decided to help Himal pursue painting. They approached an art teacher for guidance, and within about three months, Himal’s painting skills had improved.

“As parents, you constantly worry about a few things, both day-to-day life and also what your children will do with the future,” Bikmal told The Mighty. “We were pleasantly surprised with his paintings. It takes time and effort but he has continually grown since then.”

A couple of years after discovering Himal’s affinity for painting, the Bikmals found paying for their son’s therapies difficult. Realizing they had over 50 of Himal’s paintings, they decided to hold a fundraiser and sell them. They were thrilled when over 100 people donated their paintings to the fundraiser as well.

The Bikmals converted Himal’s paintings into 1500 greeting cards, which sold out within two hours. Within seven hours, all of the paintings were sold too.

Himal Bikmal with his painting of a forest

After the successful fundraiser, Bikmal spoke with other parents of children on the autism spectrum, and decided, along with his older son Saket, to launch Zenaviv.

“Since childhood, [Saket] has played a vital role in Himal’s life,” Bikmal said. “When me and my wife were in a depressed state of mind, Saket stepped up and has helped shape Himal’s life. He took it upon himself to be his brother’s best teacher and best friend.”

Together, Bikmal and Saket launched the Zenaviv site, featuring Himal’s work and illustrations from other talented autistic artists. The site currently features a half-dozen artists with their designs sold as original paintings, greeting cards, calendars and more. Each artist earns 60 percent of the profits from each sale.

Painting of a forest in winter at sunrise

Bikmal told The Mighty he hopes Zenaviv provides another way for those on the spectrum to live a productive and fulfilling life. Having helped foster his son’s love of art, Bikmal said he encourages other parents to help their children find their talents and creative outlets. “Look for clues from your child,” he said. “Look for clues from your child, and pursue them.”

According to Bikmal, Himal will look at the work of different artists sometimes and smile. Himal is also fond of his own work, his dad said, including a recent piece titled “Peaceful Forest.”

As for his dad, his favorite pieces are “Bright Winter Morning” and “Colorful Macaw.”

Bikmal hopes Zenaviv can help hundreds and thousands of individuals going forward, as well as change people’s perception of autism.

[People on the spectrum] are often perceived as people with deficiencies or problems and we can change that to a perception of people with talent. We need to nurture [that talent] and help to grow it.

In the long outcome hopefully we can have a world where people with autism, regardless of their abilities, can enjoy a better quality of life.

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To the McDonald’s Employee Who Double-Checked My Order: Thank You

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I was with a friend shopping late one afternoon, and we decided we were hungry, so we stopped by McDonald’s for a quick bite. As someone on the autism spectrum, I’ve always been sensitive to certain foods. Some might consider me to be a “picky” eater. I have tried new foods over the years, but this time, I settled for what I usually get.

When I was younger, ordering my food would have been difficult for me to do. But as an adult, I have very few issues with this part. I walked up to the cashier and told him what I wanted.

“I’d like a plain double cheeseburger, small fries, and a medium chocolate shake with no cherry.” I ordered like a pro.

“OK.” He began to punch in the information, and then stopped. “When you say you want a ‘plain’ double cheeseburger, does that mean you want only the burger and the cheese?” he asked me.

A huge smile grew across my face.

“I would like just the burger, the cheese, and the bun.” I explained.

“Got it.” He replied, and continued. “Sorry, I just know some people are really particular about their order, and wanted to check to make sure I had it right for you.”

“Oh, I understand completely!” I told him. “There are a lot of people who are like that for a reason, and I appreciate that you took the time to ask me.”

I ate my meal happily.

It may not seem like much, but for some folks, the wrong order can be devastating. Perhaps someone has a food allergy. Or maybe a child would have a meltdown. Imagine being so hungry, potentially unable to communicate exactly what you want or need, being overwhelmed by the environment, and then ending up with food you just can’t eat (whether due to allergies or sensory issues).

So to the McDonald’s employee who took the time to make sure my order was correct, thank you. Keep up the awesome work, because it really does make a difference.

 

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Photo source: McDonald’s Facebook page

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How I Encouraged My Autistic Son’s Interest in Numbers and Math

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When my son turned 3 years old, I noticed he was interested in numbers. He learned how to count one until 20 at the age of 4 and could count one to 100 at 5 years of age. He learned all these through self-teaching by watching a children’s educational show on TV.

I was amazed by the way he quickly learned how to count, so I bought him a number book and tested his ability to say the numbers. I was in great awe at how quickly he said the numbers. So I tested him again by pointing to the numbers I wanted him to tell me and he was able to say it correctly.

Through his interest in numbers, my son gradually learned how to communicate with me. He did not speak that much at that time because he just started to learn how to talk. His interest in numbers grew. I saw him counting the pages of our telephone directory until 1,000 all by himself. It was fascinating to see him fully engaged with his counting.

Teaching Time Conversions

When my son was about 9 to 10 years old, I taught him how to convert the time. I taught him how to convert hours to minutes, minutes to seconds and hours to seconds. I taught him using a visual aid (our wall clock) and explained to him that one hour is equivalent to 60 minutes which goes from one to 12. Number one is equivalent to five minutes. I also explained to him that the shorthand corresponded to seconds and that one minute is equivalent to 60 seconds. He was able to learn this quickly and could convert hours to minutes and minutes to seconds immediately in his mind alone.

 

Keeping Up With the Times Table

I was thrilled when I heard my son learning the times table by himself for the first time when he was 10 years old. He was able to memorize the times table from one up to 12 times table. I tested his ability by randomly asking him questions and as expected, he was able to give me the correct answers. A gifted child indeed when it comes to numbers!

Entry Level Three Maths Test

My son took his first Entry Level Three Test in Mathematics when he was in year 12. His teacher gave him practice test papers to take home to answer, and I was thrilled at the way he quickly answered the test. He was focused and eager to finish his math practice test on time. I told him not to rush and to understand what is being asked of him to do. It’s all word problems he needed to work out in order to get additional marks. I taught him some essential keywords he should try to learn so he will know right away what particular method to use. He passed his actual Entry Level Three Maths Test with very good marks. He got 19 correct answers out of 20. Almost a perfect score!

GCSE and Functional Maths Test

My son’s special interest in numbers has gone a long way and has further improved because after taking the Entry Level Three in Mathematics last year, he took his GCSE Maths Test. He also took his Functional Skills in Maths this June. Both examination results would be released this August. I’m hoping for the best to whatever the results would be!

Having a special interest in maths helped provide relaxation to my son and helped him understand the physical world. It gave him an outlet to overcome his anxiety. It gave him a sense of identity and self-esteem. This also gave him the opportunity to have social conversations with me and with others as well to exercise his intellectual ability.

My child’s special interest has been a way for him to communicate with me. Through play, I was able to build his trust and encouraged him to communicate to lessen his social anxiety.

His ability to concentrate and focus for long periods of time to his special interest is remarkable. All it took was for me to have patience, perseverance and positivity that my child could achieve whatever his mind is telling him to do. Every achievement is a milestone we always celebrate.

Enhancing his special interest through encouragement and constant practice has helped my son improve his numerical ability. I taught him in a way that is stimulating and fun by making each experience an enjoyable one!

I believe his special interest in mathematics will be his stepping stone for a better future and contribution in today’s busy world. Who knows, perhaps he could be next Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton? Besides math, my son also has a special interest in learning languages specifically Spanish, French and German.

How about you? What is your child’s special interest? Are there things you do to help enhance or encourage your child’s special interest?

A version of this story originally appeared on Del’s blog.

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Thinkstock image by Digital Vision.

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