Julianne Vallera

@jmvallera | contributor
Website: www.jmvallera.com Email: vallerawriter@gmail.com I’m a writer based in San Diego, California. I have a few disabilities and prefer identity first language when discussing my autism.
Community Voices
Community Voices

One of the hardest words for me to understand #Autism #Communication

As a heterosexual woman, I find it somewhat confusing when someone asked me, "Do you think he (referring to a male peer of a similar age) is cute? Like are they asking if I think
1. Does the guy fits society's standards of attractiveness?
2. Is he not ugly?
3. Is he my type?
4. Would I consider dating the guy?
5. Does he make me laugh and smile?
6. Do I have a crush on him?
7. Is he the type of person who I'd want to impress?
Or is it something totally different?

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Community Voices

Here is something to think about

<p>Here is something to think about</p>
Community Voices

Are there downsides to therapy #ABA

I studied child development for a while and for a school essay I was asked to respond to an article arguing that modernized therapy could be considered abusive and one of my afterthoughts was, “If a child can’t participate in after school activities and go to their classmate’s birthday parties because of their therapy schedule, then they are missing out on critical socialization.”
To put it into perspective, if the school schedules rehearsals for their upcoming play on Tuesday afternoons and you have an hour-long therapy session on each Tuesday afternoon, taking into account transportation time, you would arrive at rehearsal at the same time everyone was packing up. (This would be in the context of school ending at 3:00 pm, arriving at the therapist’s office at 3:30 pm, finishing therapy at 4:30 pm, and then at 5:00 pm you would return to school at the same time the rehearsal was wrapping up.)
I’m fully aware that parents can’t change the availability of the therapist and that some parents can only do therapy during the times when the local Boy/Girl Scouts meet (or on the weekends during the hours when soccer/football games take place), but if the therapy that’s supposed to help the children improve their weaknesses prevents them from actively exercising their underdeveloped muscles and/or socializing with their peers, could it be actually be causing an unintended deficit?
The disabled people I’ve met said there’s a huge difference between sending a developmentally disabled person to therapy as a means to teach the person to not stalk their crush and sending a developmentally disabled person to therapy just because the parents want their child to not act quirky.
I think that most types of therapy should be integrated into everyday activities instead of putting children in a room that is isolated from their able-bodied peers: as activities like group sports (like I mentioned above) force you to stretch, use a wide variety of muscles, and communicate with your peers all at the same time.
Even though most therapists have no ill intent, you need to look around and find one that your child both connects with and also understands that having a work/life balance means not having therapy during times when the child’s unproblematic peers are hanging out and, in addition, lets the child have some say in what their goals should include.

Community Voices

The controversial phrase “disability privilege”

When we hear the phrase “disability privilege” we commonly think of two things 1) fast passes at Disneyland and 2) that is some made up idea and it doesn’t even exist. One thing I noticed since getting an autism diagnosis is that people will give you discounts out of pity (as some of those discounts were never offered to me before my diagnosis). While 30% off Spider-Man tickets is nothing to complain about, it makes me question the social construct and stigmas around some disabilities.

Community Voices

Improving Upon Accommodations At School

The one accommodation no one talks about in the school setting is the ability to be in classes with people who have agreeable personalities. While being in classes that you can get to without climbing two flights of stairs may be physically convenient, it isn’t a guarantee that the classes will be the right fit for you. I remember that when I was younger I was sometimes upset because being in conveniently placed classes came at the cost of not being able to have classes with the cool teachers and students with agreeable personalities. Therefore, whenever you enter a new school, I’d strongly suggest that you ask to sit in on any individual enrollment meetings or beginning of the year IEP/IPP meetings so you can have input in what accommodations you have control over.

One thing I’d also suggest is that when you get older and move on into the university dorms, when given questionnaires to help pair you with an ideal roommate, upon seeing questions like, “What qualities do you look for in a roommate?,” respond by saying, “I’d rather live in [insert ideal dorm] instead of the one that is the shortest walking distance from my classes,” if you aren’t asked what dorm you want to live in on the questionnaire: as it is so much easier to switch classes or dorms during the first few weeks as opposed to half through the semester.

While I’m aware that people with mobility aids may not have the privilege to live on the fourth floor of their desired dorm, when you are capable of doing things that able bodied people do yet let someone else dictate your class schedule, to some extent, you are giving up autonomy. We commonly use the phrase, “My body my choice,” in the abortion argument, but it should also apply to having your body physically being in a emotionally safe place: as you should have the ability to choose mental health over being in conveniently placed classes.

Community Voices

Do Braces Affect Mental Health

As a millennial, braces were a right of passage for those born at about the same time as me, and like most adolescents in the early through mid 2000s, I had them. However, unlike my peers who had them for roughly around two years, I had them from the ages of 11 through 16.

Never seeing protagonists or love interests with braces made me question my prettiness, so to say. Whenever I saw characters with braces, they were the butt of the joke like Betty Suarez from Ugly Betty. I remember hearing classmates say stuff like, “You can tell who has braces just based on who doesn’t smile in their yearbook photos.”

One type of trauma that hardly ever gets addressed is when doctors make their patients feel ugly. We were first told that keeping up with magazine trends isn’t enough, and then the orthodontists persuaded our parents to pay for a grey smile, which then made us feel uglier.

I remember the orthodontist said, “You’ll be just like all of your friends,” in order to get preteens to stay still during their first few appointments. Within three months of realizing that stars like Hilary Duff weren’t wearing braces, me and my peers were counting down the years, months, and days until the orthodontist took them off.

While invisalign wasn’t widely available until after I got my braces off and cosmetic dental surgery is unreasonable to perform on a minor, it seemed as if the orthodontists wanted perfection instead of attainability. In fact, more than a few people I know of tried to get their brackets off with nail clippers the second their snaggletooth stopped showing because they hated their grey smile.

As my peers got their braces off before me, I started harboring feelings of otherness. While I didn’t develop PTSD as a result of braces, I noticed my friends with white smiles were treated better. Seeing them being treated better made me feel horrible, especially due to the fact that I couldn't do anything about it, as it is 10 times harder to get your braces off than to do things such as change your wardrobe.

For those pesky years, braces became part of my identity. As I briefly touched on earlier, most teenagers realize that you don’t have to have the perfect smile in order to be hot, as people like Madonna have imperfect teeth yet are considered attractive.

I do believe orthodontic intervention can be beneficial in most cases, but we need to look at what point do the downsides outweigh the benefits--as repositioning a snaggletooth is totally different than trying to recreate Julia Roberts’s smile.

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Does Lent Contribute to Eating Disorders

I was randomly scrolling through articles last year, and in a post, someone mentioned that #EatingDisorders Awareness Week and #EatingDisorders Awareness Month. Both coincide at about the same time as Lent. (February and March). We constantly hear people giving up guilty pleasure foods during this time, without giving a thought that clean eating can turn into unhealthy patterns such as #AnorexiaNervosa and #Orthorexia; and kids hearing that french fries are bad may lead to them cutting calories, thus, not having enough energy to participate in PE, especially if french fries are one of the few options available at the school cafeteria.While adults give up some food to avoid the early onset of some health problems that come alongside aging, we need to be aware that when adults label some food as “safe” and others as “bad”, children develop an idea of what a healthy diet should look like when adults don’t put their “fear” foods on the table. They then pass on what their definition of healthy looks like. What I would like those changing diets to do is, instead of throwing chocolate away, is to eat your recommended 2,000 calories and speak with a dietitian before you consider any dietary changes. Some other stuff in magazines can contribute to disordered eating around this time period, such as articles about how to burn off all the pounds you gained from eating one too many Christmas cookies published in the first issue of their magazine each year. There are also advertising brands that don’t go above a pant size 10 (United States size) a few pages later. Outside of lent. We also need to get rid of the idea of revenge bodies. It gives the idea that losing weight will make assholes turn nice to us overnight; when in reality, their behavior may never change unless they get a major wake up call. This leaves vulnerable people to the belief that dropping five or more pounds below a healthy BMI will lead them to being treated better.While I don’t believe in the idea of Health at Every Size, I want to send the message that going on special diets without the supervision of a dietitian can lead to unhealthy behaviors. We all already have enough Blonde versus Brunette rivalries to pit women against each other and we shouldn’t be looking for more ways to see each other as rivals.

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Julianne Vallera

Disability Is Not a Costume

Dear abled people, Before you even think of dressing up as a disabled person or disabled character for Halloween, ask yourself the following questions: Does this person’s/character’s disability play a role in their identity? How often is identity-first language used to describe this person/character i.e. deaf man instead of a man with deafness? Would this person/character still be considered inspirational if they didn’t have a disability? If a non-disabled person had the same accomplishments as this person/character, would they be getting the same amount of media attention as the person with a disability? Think of people like Helen Keller, Ray Charles, Greta Thunberg. Each of these people has done stuff non-disabled people do on a daily basis, and they are recognized for their skills and talent apart from their disability. Has the person been so successful that abled people say stuff like “If they can succeed, why can’t you succeed?” to other disabled people? Is adaptive equipment an essential part of the costume? Does your costume in any way marginalize the person’s/character’s struggles related to their disability to the point where some people see adaptive equipment as merely a prop instead of a necessity? When a trio dresses up as “three blind mice,” people see white canes as a joke or something that can be put away in a closet, as opposed to something that someone may need to survive. Does dressing up as this person/character contribute to people thinking that others fake their disability for attention? I.e. people dressing up as Gypsy Rose Blanchard. Are you dressing up as a character who wouldn’t have met their love if they weren’t disabled? The “sick lit” books and movies I’ve read and seen gloss over milestones like the ability to get a driver’s license in order for the medical conditions the couple faces to take center stage. Does this costume contribute to the trope of disabled people being villainous/out for revenge/ugly? I.e. Captain Hook, the Grinch, Two-Face. In conclusion, if you said yes to any of these, you should rethink your costume.

Community Voices

The problem with second chance proms

Growing up we are taught that prom is the pinnacle of the high school experience, which is why schools canceling prom or limiting who can come to school dances can create such an uproar. In order to combat these types of incidents, there have been a growing number of second chance proms that I have encountered over Facebook; all of which are created by those with the best intentions.

While I do believe the class of 2020 should get the opportunity to experience prom if they haven’t already experienced prom, these second chance prom companies normally make a profit off of marginalized groups like the disabled and lgbt as opposed to those whose schools cancelled prom for a reasonable reason.

From what I’ve seen, the creators of second chance prom companies generally don’t take into account that the attendees can’t unfeel the feelings of exclusion they felt at the age of 17 when they didn’t get a date or experience a medical problem the night of—meaning that going to a second chance prom at the age of 20 won’t make the past disappear and erase those types of experiences their target demographic group experienced on the night of their high school prom. As an adult it’s sad to realize that companies like these can make a profit off of people’s misfortune, unintentionally exploiting the vulnerable instead of being a real charity.

These companies should instead be creating ways for marginalized groups to have better to use their high school dances to begin with. One step they could take is to set up a compatibility questionnaire on a website like survey monkey and have those high school students interested fill it out and submit it online so the company can take a list of people who don’t have “school approved” dates and pair them up with acquaintances/classmates to ensure that loners, the disabled, lgbt people, homeschoolers, etc can gain entry into formal “dates only” school dances.

These companies could easily “pair up” a lesbian couple with two of their loner male classmates and then have them separate after the checkin process is done: which would solve the dilemma of the girls wanting to have a good time with each other and the boys wanting to go for the sake of experiencing the dance itself but without the pressure or expectation of an over the top after party.

While we see numerous videos on social media of disabled people receiving epic promposals by their able bodied classmates, every disabled person I know hasn’t had something like that happen to them. And the disabled people I know who were able to go to high school dances with a group of friends had the opportunity to because they had a history with that group that dates back to elementary school as opposed to those disabled people who develop a friend group during their freshman year of high school.

Just like homeschoolers, loners, and lgbt people who can’t find dates, those with disabilities also deserve the chance to have a good time at school dances when their able bodied peers choose able bodied dates over them.

Disabled people are not too fragile to attend their own school’s dances and creating a separate prom for them re-emphasizes that they are not normal. Thus, another additional step these second chance prom companies could take to support those with disabilities would be to collaborate with the local high schools and provide adaptive equipment (like noise reduction headphones and a “cool down corner”) to make their high school dances more enjoyable.

I’m not asking second chance prom companies to shut down, I’m just asking them to rework their business model so they can prevent problems early on instead of trying to undo any repercussions after stuff has already happened

While I can’t go back in time here are pieces of advice I would give to high schoolers now

-If you don’t want your ticketless classmate to feel excluded yet don’t want there to be any high expectations, You can always say something like, “I got an extra ticket that I know I won’t use so I’m wondering if you would like to use it” instead of creating some elaborate banner

-Looking back, you will only remember your outfit and your emotions, so don’t worry about not having the perfect jewelry or red carpet hair. It is better to go without jewelry and fancy hair than lose an earring or have your perfect hair unraveling after your Bobby pins fall out

-That being said if you have body image issues feel free to wear a flowy dress that hides the parts of your body that you are insecure about instead of getting pressured into a skin-tight dress.

-For those of you who find a date, make sure to let your single friends who are open to going with an acquaintance know that most people who want to go do so for the sake of not experiencing social isolation as opposed to wanting a Disney-esque experience. (I remember that never getting asked to a dance during high school left me with feelings of social isolation when all I wanted to do was dance to music while wearing a pretty dress.)

-If you are going to ask a disabled person, don’t do it to create a foundation for a good college admissions essay and treat them as a friend rather than an accessory; especially after the event is over.

-Pack a few toiletries in your purse. Even if you won’t need it, you may run into someone who would have spent their whole night in the bathroom if they never got a tampon.

-Come up with a list of expectations and boundaries, regardless of if your date is close friend or just an acquaintances

-Finally, if you mess up and hurt someone’s feelings, don’t be afraid to apologize