Miranda Lee

@randapanda50 | contributor
Miranda is a disability advocate, writer, and creative consultant in the arts/cultural field. As a contributor for The Mighty, she hopes the stories that she shares can connect with disabled and non-disabled audiences alike. Learn more about Miranda's work in her LinkedIn bio below. https://www.linkedin.com/in/miranda-lee-6b3896158/
Miranda Lee

How Peridot From 'Steven Universe' Reflects My Autistic Journey

1. Introduction The first character I ever related to as an autistic person was Peridot from the cartoon series “Steven Universe.” A former antagonist stranded on earth, the green “Dorito-head” alien (as the fandom affectionately calls her) is forced to rely on the protagonists, Steven and the Crystal Gems, to assist her in her new environment. The ways Peridot learns about the people around her, the insecurities she faces, and the strengths she discovers have felt representative of my own experiences as an autistic person. 2. Learning to Make Friends Initially, Peridot wants nothing to do with others and is only helping the Crystal Gems so she can get back home. Eventually, she starts to want to make connections and begins navigating through social situations that might be simple to some yet are complex to her. Peridot’s journey reminds me of how I fumbled my way through the complicated maze that is socialization. Steven serves as Peridot’s guide. In the episode “Too Far,” Peridot learns she can connect with the jokester Amethyst through humor and is confused when her insensitive jokes cause her to receive the cold shoulder. Steven is the one who tells Peridot that she was being mean and that she should apologize. “Barn Mates” shows Steven trying to help Peridot befriend Lapis Lazuli, a former adversary, through various methods, like making a small swimming pool for the water gem. It takes effort, trial, and error, but with Steven’s help, Peridot makes lifelong companions she never knew she needed. Just as Steven helped Peridot learn her way through the world, my therapist helped me learn how to make friends. She taught me how my words could impact others, as it never occurred to me how something I could say or do could make someone else feel. She taught me ways to make connections, like showing you are paying attention to what someone cares about (ex. I like to text my friends anything that relates to their interests). Through therapy, I learned about the complexities of people and started to make meaningful relationships. 3. Insecurities “Too Short to Ride” reveals that Peridot is insecure about her assumed lack of powers. While Steven and Amethyst enjoy their time at an amusement park with their shape-shifting abilities, Peridot grows increasingly frustrated. This insecurity does not simply stem from a personal struggle, but because Peridot grew up on a judgmental, caste-based planet that deems anyone outside the norm defective and unworthy of life. I also often compare myself to others, even to loved ones. I have achieved many goals I am proud of in my professional and personal spheres, and I care about the growth of the people in my life. Yet when someone I know achieves something in their life that I haven’t yet or manages a task that I find difficult, I can’t help but feel jealous and like I am “lesser.” Part of this insecurity stems from how I have grown up as an autistic person in an ableist, competitive society. When I learned I was autistic in elementary school, I fell into self-loathing. I developed a hard-working persona with my work and in my interactions to gain approval, and to show I was useful. Now, if I make any mistake or struggle with any new activity at both work and in my leisure time, I worry I will forever lose my productivity — that I am a “failed” autistic person. Even with the rise of Autism Acceptance and people telling me I am doing well or have nothing to prove, I still carry doubt and anger. 4. The Desire for Grounding Amethyst tries to help Peridot understand that she doesn’t need to be perfect, yet Peridot retreats into her tablet to vent her trademark “CLODS” on social media. This moment always stuck out to me because of my negative habit of vent texting, which I am committing to breaking. It now also reminds me of how I rely on technology for control. Before joining the Crystal Gems, Peridot used to have limb enhancers. When she loses these, Steven later gifts her with a tablet. She dives into it as she struggles with her emotions, the tablet becoming a security blanket she can’t let go of. Peridot even shouts when Amethyst tries to pry the tablet away from her, “It’s all that I am.” Technology has also been a source of pleasure and identity for me, containing a grounding environment and place to delve into my special interests. Yet there are times when I engage in technology to embrace my identity and retreat from negative thoughts — and still carry them. I interact with those thoughts, play them on loop as I watch a video or movie, or try to enjoy a video game. And by the time the distraction ends, I feel defeated in the real world. I want to learn how to step back from technology and then return to it as a meaningful source, like how technology later becomes a more positive extension of Peridot’s personality. But before that happens, she has to learn (and I have to remember) a very meaningful lesson… (On a related note, click here to learn about my evolving relationship with technology.) 5. Strength From Within As previously mentioned, Amethyst tries to break Peridot out of her shell by grabbing her tablet — and tossing it into the ocean (… maybe not the best decision). In an act of desperation, Peridot reaches her hands out… And the tablet freezes in mid-air. It turns out Peridot can control metal! The meaningful lesson: Peridot may not have shape-shifting abilities like her friends, but it turns out she had something unique all along. Just as Peridot discovers her powers, I am discovering parts of my autistic identity that I enjoy. As I discussed earlier, it was difficult for me to learn to understand and build relationships with others. At the same time, this has made me a “special agent” in a neurotypical world. Therapy sessions, combined with studies in writing and theater, have led me to understand people through an exciting character-based lens. There are conversations where I use both neurotypical and neurodiverse approaches. Sometimes, I will take the neurotypical approach and ask people to tell me more about their lives and interests because that is what I was taught to do. Sometimes, I will take the neurodiverse approach with my friends and we will info dump about (go into tangents on) our interests and lives, or add extraneous detail, while still lovingly sharing and learning from each other. Most importantly, just as Peridot has had to stop and consider what her friends need, so have I. Kindness and empathy, I have grown to believe, and not innate, but learned. Being autistic, I have had to especially work hard to learn to relate to and understand others. I am extremely proud of that because it means when I am considering the people in my life, I am putting in effort and genuinely care. 6. Conclusion Peridot has given me much-needed indirect autistic representation. While she may not be autistic in the show, I love that there is a character whose struggles and triumphs can so perfectly reflect my own. Autistic representation is, fortunately, growing in media, although it is taking its time in the realm of animation, fantasy, and/or science fiction. So far, there are only two autistic characters within that niche that I can relate to: Entrapta from “She-Ra” (a piece of media I don’t really engage with) and Ayda from Dimension 20’s “Fantasy High” (who I absolutely adore). While the tree of autistic representation grows, I am happy that, in the meantime, I can find empowerment in relating to Peridot (and other characters not yet mentioned!).

Miranda Lee

How Peridot From 'Steven Universe' Reflects My Autistic Journey

1. Introduction The first character I ever related to as an autistic person was Peridot from the cartoon series “Steven Universe.” A former antagonist stranded on earth, the green “Dorito-head” alien (as the fandom affectionately calls her) is forced to rely on the protagonists, Steven and the Crystal Gems, to assist her in her new environment. The ways Peridot learns about the people around her, the insecurities she faces, and the strengths she discovers have felt representative of my own experiences as an autistic person. 2. Learning to Make Friends Initially, Peridot wants nothing to do with others and is only helping the Crystal Gems so she can get back home. Eventually, she starts to want to make connections and begins navigating through social situations that might be simple to some yet are complex to her. Peridot’s journey reminds me of how I fumbled my way through the complicated maze that is socialization. Steven serves as Peridot’s guide. In the episode “Too Far,” Peridot learns she can connect with the jokester Amethyst through humor and is confused when her insensitive jokes cause her to receive the cold shoulder. Steven is the one who tells Peridot that she was being mean and that she should apologize. “Barn Mates” shows Steven trying to help Peridot befriend Lapis Lazuli, a former adversary, through various methods, like making a small swimming pool for the water gem. It takes effort, trial, and error, but with Steven’s help, Peridot makes lifelong companions she never knew she needed. Just as Steven helped Peridot learn her way through the world, my therapist helped me learn how to make friends. She taught me how my words could impact others, as it never occurred to me how something I could say or do could make someone else feel. She taught me ways to make connections, like showing you are paying attention to what someone cares about (ex. I like to text my friends anything that relates to their interests). Through therapy, I learned about the complexities of people and started to make meaningful relationships. 3. Insecurities “Too Short to Ride” reveals that Peridot is insecure about her assumed lack of powers. While Steven and Amethyst enjoy their time at an amusement park with their shape-shifting abilities, Peridot grows increasingly frustrated. This insecurity does not simply stem from a personal struggle, but because Peridot grew up on a judgmental, caste-based planet that deems anyone outside the norm defective and unworthy of life. I also often compare myself to others, even to loved ones. I have achieved many goals I am proud of in my professional and personal spheres, and I care about the growth of the people in my life. Yet when someone I know achieves something in their life that I haven’t yet or manages a task that I find difficult, I can’t help but feel jealous and like I am “lesser.” Part of this insecurity stems from how I have grown up as an autistic person in an ableist, competitive society. When I learned I was autistic in elementary school, I fell into self-loathing. I developed a hard-working persona with my work and in my interactions to gain approval, and to show I was useful. Now, if I make any mistake or struggle with any new activity at both work and in my leisure time, I worry I will forever lose my productivity — that I am a “failed” autistic person. Even with the rise of Autism Acceptance and people telling me I am doing well or have nothing to prove, I still carry doubt and anger. 4. The Desire for Grounding Amethyst tries to help Peridot understand that she doesn’t need to be perfect, yet Peridot retreats into her tablet to vent her trademark “CLODS” on social media. This moment always stuck out to me because of my negative habit of vent texting, which I am committing to breaking. It now also reminds me of how I rely on technology for control. Before joining the Crystal Gems, Peridot used to have limb enhancers. When she loses these, Steven later gifts her with a tablet. She dives into it as she struggles with her emotions, the tablet becoming a security blanket she can’t let go of. Peridot even shouts when Amethyst tries to pry the tablet away from her, “It’s all that I am.” Technology has also been a source of pleasure and identity for me, containing a grounding environment and place to delve into my special interests. Yet there are times when I engage in technology to embrace my identity and retreat from negative thoughts — and still carry them. I interact with those thoughts, play them on loop as I watch a video or movie, or try to enjoy a video game. And by the time the distraction ends, I feel defeated in the real world. I want to learn how to step back from technology and then return to it as a meaningful source, like how technology later becomes a more positive extension of Peridot’s personality. But before that happens, she has to learn (and I have to remember) a very meaningful lesson… (On a related note, click here to learn about my evolving relationship with technology.) 5. Strength From Within As previously mentioned, Amethyst tries to break Peridot out of her shell by grabbing her tablet — and tossing it into the ocean (… maybe not the best decision). In an act of desperation, Peridot reaches her hands out… And the tablet freezes in mid-air. It turns out Peridot can control metal! The meaningful lesson: Peridot may not have shape-shifting abilities like her friends, but it turns out she had something unique all along. Just as Peridot discovers her powers, I am discovering parts of my autistic identity that I enjoy. As I discussed earlier, it was difficult for me to learn to understand and build relationships with others. At the same time, this has made me a “special agent” in a neurotypical world. Therapy sessions, combined with studies in writing and theater, have led me to understand people through an exciting character-based lens. There are conversations where I use both neurotypical and neurodiverse approaches. Sometimes, I will take the neurotypical approach and ask people to tell me more about their lives and interests because that is what I was taught to do. Sometimes, I will take the neurodiverse approach with my friends and we will info dump about (go into tangents on) our interests and lives, or add extraneous detail, while still lovingly sharing and learning from each other. Most importantly, just as Peridot has had to stop and consider what her friends need, so have I. Kindness and empathy, I have grown to believe, and not innate, but learned. Being autistic, I have had to especially work hard to learn to relate to and understand others. I am extremely proud of that because it means when I am considering the people in my life, I am putting in effort and genuinely care. 6. Conclusion Peridot has given me much-needed indirect autistic representation. While she may not be autistic in the show, I love that there is a character whose struggles and triumphs can so perfectly reflect my own. Autistic representation is, fortunately, growing in media, although it is taking its time in the realm of animation, fantasy, and/or science fiction. So far, there are only two autistic characters within that niche that I can relate to: Entrapta from “She-Ra” (a piece of media I don’t really engage with) and Ayda from Dimension 20’s “Fantasy High” (who I absolutely adore). While the tree of autistic representation grows, I am happy that, in the meantime, I can find empowerment in relating to Peridot (and other characters not yet mentioned!).

Community Voices

I am the friend who…

<p>I am the friend who…</p>
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Write down 3 things you like about yourself
#52SmallThings

<p>Write down 3 things you like about yourself<br><a class="tm-topic-link mighty-topic" title="#52SmallThings: A Weekly Self-Care Challenge" href="/topic/52-small-things/" data-id="5c01a326d148bc9a5d4aefd9" data-name="#52SmallThings: A Weekly Self-Care Challenge" aria-label="hashtag #52SmallThings: A Weekly Self-Care Challenge">#52SmallThings</a> </p>
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Miranda Lee

Finding Confidence as a Queer, Neurodivergent Woman

There are many meaningful lessons I have taken away from my experiences with dating and relationships as a queer, neurodivergent woman. As someone who learns and grows through conversation, I would like to impart one of those lessons here so that you may learn and grow alongside me. When I discovered I was queer in high school, I was obsessed with wanting to date another woman or non-binary person. Yet I was too scared to ask for kisses or dates. From high school to college, I longed, fantasized, yearned. I even performed an original song for a cabaret about how I would like “One Little Kiss.” But no matter what, it seemed I couldn’t find success. Some obstacles I faced are ones any queer person, neurodivergent or not, can relate to. I had many crushes who turned out to be straight or aromantic or not looking for relationships. I was also simply too nervous, backing away from confessions, deleting texts, at one point throwing a cute card I poured my heart into in the garbage. Then there were some obstacles I faced because of my neurodivergency. I didn’t attend gay bars since I worried about experiencing sensory overload in an unfamiliar environment with drinking and loud noise. I also worried that being autistic with an anxiety disorder, I would come across as childish to anyone I wanted to date or that my struggles with my emotions would drive people away. I did feel attraction to another neurodivergent person on my college campus — let’s call them Millie. Millie was a year younger than me, a sophomore when I was a junior. I grew attached to Millie as I watched them blossom from a nervous and reserved person to a proud awkward dork. You would think both of us being neurodivergent people learning to embrace ourselves would make asking them out easier — but my overactive imagination, which my neurodivergency contributes to, went to work. I thought because we had a one-year difference, if I asked Millie out, I would be taking advantage of them. I also began thinking that me asking someone out, in general, made me a creep, a fear I later discovered some queer people face because of internalized queerphobia. One night, Millie and I sat outside their dorm building, resting on rocks underneath the clear dark sky. As we spoke, they shared a similar fear I held. They wanted to know what it was like to date a girl but wondered if anyone would be able to handle their meltdowns and emotional shutdowns. I would date you, I wanted to say. My nervousness and internalized ableism and internalized queerphobia led me to say nothing. With me holding back so much, was I ever going to find anyone? Would I ever get that “One Little Kiss”? Flash forward to an LGBTQ+ Birthright trip, hours before the start of the New Year, at a gay bar in Tel Aviv. I tried the conventional method of approaching pretty women and striking up conversation, yet what I did was mumble awkwardly and stare at them. My close friend (let’s call them Ace) and I briefly left to decompress from the bar’s overwhelming noise. “You didn’t get the girl, but you did find someone else important,” Ace said as we stroked an adorable three-legged cat. When we returned to the bar, a friend I made on the trip was giving out New Year’s kisses. A chance! But should I take it? Ace started to nudge me forward. “Come on. Do it.” I went over to my friend and asked for a kiss. The experience was as magical as I thought it would be. When I returned to my college campus, I learned that Millie had gotten a rocking new short, androgynous haircut. Gazing at their profile picture on Facebook, I finally concluded: We’re both queer. We’re both neurodivergent. They’re a good friend of mine. Why not ask them out? With my new confidence boost, I texted Millie to ask if they would like to go on a date with me… And they said yes! They later told me they had considered asking me out, meaning they were attracted to me as well. We ended up dating for a few months and I am fortunate to still have them as a friend in my life. For the longest time, I thought my neurodivergency made me a non-kissable, non-datable person. Self-doubt and worries stemming from intersecting forms of prejudice that neurodivergent and queer people face held me back. Yet I did get my first kiss and eventually dated someone who was attracted to me like I was to them. Your neurodivergency does not make you unloveable. You deserve to find happiness with someone if you’re neurodivergent, queer, or both. And whether it’s a date or a relationship or just “One Little Kiss,” I bet you will find what your heart desires.

Miranda Lee

Enjoying Fitness on My Own Terms as an Autistic Adult

When I was little, instead of using tennis rackets for their proper use, I would turn them into a tool for drawing smiley faces in the dirt. I would also opt out of participating in matches to hold hands with a preschool friend. I did try to keep up with tennis in middle school and some of high school. Then one day I just… stopped. Found excuses to indulge on my laptop, phone, or play video games. I will admit that part of the reason I didn’t do any exercise was simply because I was lazy. But reflecting back on my past experiences, I do think there is another, more complex reason. I am neurodivergent. Specifically, I am autistic and have a generalized anxiety disorder. This means that my inner world functions differently from a neurotypical and allistic (non-autistic) person’s world. When undisturbed by the chaotic and unexpected, my inner world is a smooth, steady path. Technology used to fit well with that inner world: I could choose when to message people, decide what websites or apps to visit, and indulge in my special interests. With exercise, a part of the outside world, I felt overwhelmed by the constant movement and from spending time away from what was familiar to me. Not only was exercise an overwhelming factor in the outside world; it was also something that was forced on me. Growing up, I already felt pressure to blend into a seemingly dominant neurotypical society. Exercise, particularly in middle school gym, was another demand I had to meet. It was miserable having to run laps and come out in last behind my peers, everyone resting on the grass while I jotted down my run time as 12 minutes. Being self-conscious of my autistic traits and comparing my athletic abilities to others’ contributed to a heavy state of depression. When I started attending college, I realized there were times I actually couldn’t stand being in my inner world. Intrusive thoughts and anxieties boomed loudly even as I attached myself to the familiar. So, I decided to ask my parents if I could get a trainer. Initially, even though this was my choice, exercising with a trainer and on my own felt like an obligation. Transitions are difficult for me as an autistic person. I also faced societal pressure from the “healthy lifestyle” when I struggled to exercise on my own time. The “healthy lifestyle” does not take the nuances of wealth, class, accessibility, and disability into account. It determines that if you aren’t exercising a certain number of times, if you aren’t in the moment, then you aren’t a good person. This negative ideology overwhelmed my neurodivergent mind, which thinks in extremes, and discouraged me from self-exploration. One day, my current trainer, ever the imaginative person, asked if she could bring boxing mitts to a session. To my surprise, I discovered that I loved punching — the sound and feel of the mitt hitting the glove, how air seemed to seep out of my body when I drove my hand forward. She also started taking me to the gym and showing me how the machines worked. Exercise became more fun for me once I started playing around with what I enjoyed, my autistic self loving the new sensations and routine. Unfortunately, our story doesn’t end here. Change always snaps its jaws like a springing alligator. The familiarity of the boxing gloves and gym vanished when the pandemic struck. This disruption was greatly upsetting; thinking about it still causes my heart to crack. Fortunately, my trainer and I continued finding ways to make our routines work over FaceTime. When we were training twice a week, we decided to dedicate one day to core exercises and another to martial arts. When our sessions were recently cut down to once a week, my trainer encouraged me to write what I would like to focus on. These decisions provide me with autonomy I hadn’t experienced in the past. I have come very far. While I may not have big muscles to show off, I swell with pride when I hold a plank for nearly a minute, or achieve 15 push-ups, or curl up a weight. But I must admit, my anxieties are continuous. I feel extreme guilt that I struggle to build my own exercise time and stay in the moment. Still, I am proud that I made a choice to work with a trainer, a choice to exercise at all. And I realize as I write that when I place high expectations on myself, I am mimicking how society placed high expectations on me as a neurodivergent person. Perhaps I do not need a perfect routine. Maybe it is enough that I am learning to live healthy on my own terms.

Dr. Liz Matheis

Should You Say 'Special Needs' or 'Disability?'

When I was a student in school, students with disabilities were placed in a separate class, they traveled together around the school building, and everyone knew who “they” were. Terms such as “retarded,” “stupid,” or “handicapped” were used so often. As I type these highly derogatory terms, my skin crawls. Over the years, our terminology has changed and become more respectful and mindful of the connotations of the terms we use. We want to make sure that how we refer to our children and other people’s children in a way that is loving, respectful and demonstrates the awareness of our child’s strengths without being offensive or avoidant altogether. As a school and clinical psychologist, as well as a parent of children with disabilities, I have worked with children with all sorts of talents and skills. I have prepared Individualized Education Plans and written psychological reports that describe a child’s learning profile and the type of supports they will need to make gains academically, socially, emotionally and behaviorally. The way we refer to our children, teens and ultimately young adults is changing again. Let’s take a look at how the language has changed over time. Lawrence Carter-Long, director of communications for the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, prepared an article with the Disabled Spectator where he has been encouraging all people to #SayTheWord since 2016. That is, he argues that we should use the word “disability” rather than speaking around it, not talking about it at all, or by referencing another person as a person with “special needs.” He further argues that when parts of our daily life were changed to make them more accessible for people with a disability, all people benefited. For example, the curb cut was created which is a small ramp built into the curb of a sidewalk to make it easier for people in wheelchairs to pass from the sidewalk to the road. This further benefited moms using strollers.  Texting was created for people who are deaf. Now, everybody uses text. David Oliver wrote an article for USA Today in June 2021 in which he stated that the term “special needs” is offensive even though, over time, the term “disabled” and “special needs” became synonymous. The term came to be in 2016 when the special education law aimed to identify the child first and the need second.  In fact, the term has become a primary school term but not a term that carries into post-secondary education. At the college level, the “special need” is identified as a disability. “Unpacking Disability” written by Meriah Nichols argues that the term “special needs” refers to the school system where the special need can be visible or invisible, such as a learning disability, anxiety, autism, and behavioral struggles. The term disability suggests a physical limitation that can reduce quality of life, but not necessarily. As a school psychologist, it sounds like the term “special needs” came from a place of wanting to acknowledge that a child has an area of struggle and is in need of support services in school (academic, behavioral, social, or emotional) but is still a student and child because the term “disability” had taken on a negative stigma in which a person is perceived as “unable” rather than able with some accommodations. In fact, the term “special needs,” for many, has become a term that has negative implications.  David Oliver even likens it to using the term “looney bin” to refer to a mental institution. The National Center on Disability and Journalism (ncdj.org) recommends not using the term “special needs” and using the word “disabled” instead. Gregory Mansfield describes himself as a “Disabled Lawyer, Disability Rights and Disability Justice” on Twitter. In fact, he tweeted on April 24, 2021: “The term ‘special needs’ encumbers what are human needs with the burdens of ableism, segregation, devaluation and disability discrimination. The term of ‘special needs’ burdens disabled people in every aspect of life. Disabled people have human needs, not special needs.” In 2006, the National Youth Leadership Network (NYLN) prepared a helpful table: “Respectful Disability Language: Here’s What’s Up!” The debate stands as to whether we should use the term “special needs” or “disability.”  If you are not sure, ask your child or the person with whom you are interacting how they would like to be referenced. And always focus on using language that is respectful and considerate to another human being, regardless of ability or disability.

Community Voices

The Year The Lion King Impacted My Mental Health Journey

As the release of Disney’s The Lion King remake encroached in the Summer of 2019, commentary and uproar over the original 1994 film rose. Criticism of unfortunate messages of divine rule was magnified. A Kimba the White Lion fan club I was a member of were unionizing over what we believed (at the time) was a rip-off of a beloved obscure show. So, rewatching the original The Lion King that year, I was contained with feelings of unjustness and bitterness.

“Remember who you are: you are my son and the one true king.” Mufasa’s iconic words boomed from the cloud and I felt my blood boil. What did that mean? Why did Simba need to take responsibility for anything? He was experiencing childhood trauma for a murder he didn’t even commit. Why couldn’t Mufasa tell Simba the truth – that his uncle Scar was the murderer – and relinquish Simba from his guilt? Simba is no more than a pawn in a monarchal game, I concluded. I finished the movie with an empty hole in my heart.

My opinion had been predetermined by previous film interpretations and a bias toward another lion. Little did I know that I was also behaving like Simba. A recent college graduate clawing for an internship, I spent much of my free time ruminating on my past: ways I’d been hurt by ableism, ways loved ones unintentionally reinforced my insecurities, ways people I thought were my friends betrayed my trust. Like Simba, the world around me felt unfair and cruel. Instead of finding the energy to push through, I relished in the misery of my trauma.

A few months later, I realized I had been unfair in my judgment of The Lion King. I decided to rewatch it with a close friend and an open mind. “Remember who you are. You are my son and the one true king.” When Mufasa’s words rang out, I asked my friend what they meant. They explained it meant Simba was more than the traumatic event that had happened to him. Before discovering the truth of his father’s death, Simba first needed to discover himself. “The confrontation at Pride Rock is a confrontation of his past,” my friend said.

Through this conversation, I realized I had been projecting onto Simba. I did genuinely care about the critiques surrounding The Lion King and wished more people knew about Kimba. At the same time, I was using these factors as an outlet for a greater issue. The Lion King forced me to realize, on a subconscious and then conscious level, that I was stuck in my own past and that I, too, needed to define myself beyond moments of hurt.

Thanks to my friend’s analysis and this major self-discovery, The Lion King has become a powerful tale about mental health and growth for me. It is a story I can return to and cherish on my continuous journey towards recovery and self-love. There are still many times where I get stuck and want to shut away from reality. But like Simba, I am learning to move through this world and discover my full identity.

Miranda Lee

Learning the Value of Asking Questions at Work as an Autistic Person

I am a disability advocate who has encouraged others to be open about their needs, yet there are times where I have been hesitant to advocate for myself. Worrying if the assistance I need or questions I want to ask will hold others back or affect perceptions of me, I will keep my emotions tucked away. This is a struggle I am gradually learning to overcome. When I first started working as Program Administrator for the MMJCC Film Department, my two supervisors and I had weekly meetings to review current and upcoming tasks. These weekly meetings were put on hold when work for the ReelAbilities Film Festival started kicking up and my supervisors grew busier. I felt unease over losing this tool, which had aided me as an autistic person, yet wanted to prove my independence. A factor I struggled with was prioritization. Two supervisors were providing me different instructions for different responsibilities. I felt tossed around in a flurry of emails, names, discount codes and film requests. It seemed every time I thought I knew what I would do for the day, something new would pop up in my inbox. I would constantly discard previous plans to get to new tasks, feeling like I was coming across earthquakes eager to swallow me whole. Another factor I struggled with was knowing when to ask questions. The stigma surrounding autistic people and their capabilities led me to feel embarrassed about asking for clarification on tasks, especially if they were ones I had done before. What can I ask? I wondered. How many questions am I even allowed to ask? If I ask questions, won’t I just be slowing everyone down? Shouldn’t I just know what to do on my own? My struggles culminated when, in a half-conscious autopilot state, I sent a series of emails with incorrect information to filmmakers. As I panicked and made corrections, hot shame flooded my body. Had a mistake been made when I was hired? Would a non-disabled person have been better for this job? Hours later, I received a Google Invite for a Zoom call from my supervisor. This is my punishment, I thought. I am going to be reprimanded for what I’ve done. It turned out that the call was an update on new tasks. I hid the absolute relief I felt as my supervisor and I chatted. She did bring up what happened with the emails, but instead of lecturing me, she taught me the importance of taking my time with work. Grateful for her understanding, I felt comfort expressing a large struggle I previously hid: “Everything feels so important with the festival starting up. I don’t know what to prioritize.” My supervisor suggested we schedule a call between me, her, and my other supervisor to discuss this and get everyone on the same page. I worried if my capabilities would be put into question but agreed since it felt necessary. The call was super helpful. My supervisors instructed me on what tasks I should emphasize, how many business days I could wait to respond to newly-arrived emails, and other tips. During this conversation, I blurted out my other largest struggle: “I want to ask questions, but I don’t want to slow anyone down ‘cause everyone is so busy with their own work…” “Miranda,” my second supervisor said, “struggling with how to get something done on your own is going to take longer than asking for help.” It was blunt advice but said for my sake – and greatly needed. I have used my supervisors’ tips for prioritizing work since that meeting. I also created a new strategy for myself: before my work hours, I go through unread emails and label what type of task the email falls into. This has helped me immensely with knowing which tasks are imminent and which can wait. Communication-wise, weekly meetings have returned, which has been extremely helpful for both me and my supervisors. I have also been less hesitant in emailing questions and will practice patience when waiting for answers. While I still occasionally feel embarrassed by my questions, I know my supervisors appreciate them because of the messages they have sent me of “Thanks!” and “You rock!” The presumed closed-off nature of the workforce has been broken in favor of openness and support. Self-advocacy is not simple, but it is necessary. No one should “suck up” their emotions and work alone. We need to ask questions and communicate, gain allies and tools. It not only makes us better workers, it makes the workplace better.

Georgia Kidd

What It's Like to Live With Autism and Anxiety and They Clash

Because I have autism, certain noises and volumes of sound make me uncomfortable, and make it hard for me to focus on anything but said sound. Because I have anxiety , these noises make me terrified; I’m uneasy, the room around me spins and I fear I’ll physically throw up or faint… because of the noise from the boiling kettle. Because I’m autistic, I tend to lose my patience a little bit easier and quicker than my peers, for a few reasons. I become easily irritated if someone interrupts me while I’m speaking, and may snap and tell someone to “shut up” and have a bit of an attitude. Because I have anxiety, I can lose it. My anxiety can come out and be expressed as anger, without me realizing or having control in the matter. I’ll go on a “rampage” and start shouting at people, throwing my phone against walls or saying how much I hate my life because I fear you were all laughing at me, you were all thinking I’m not good enough, and what I was saying isn’t worth listening to. Because I lost my patience. Because I’m autistic, I overanalyze everything — the things you said, actions you took, the way you looked at me. I think back to the roots. Why did you say that? What did you mean? Have you said it to anyone else? You mean something else? I overanalyze a simple “hello” some days, and not always in a bad and negative way. Because I have anxiety, I fear the worst. You didn’t smile at me today like you did yesterday because you’ve been pretending to like me; you secretly hate me. You forgot to reply to my text last night, not because you were busy and simply forgot but because I’m annoying. I’m too irritating to hold a conversation with. Why do I think this? Because I overanalyzed your actions. But because I’m autistic, I am unique, I am different, not less, and I am proud. Being autistic can be difficult, but I consider it a gift, I see the world in ways some people can’t, I can see the true beauty of things that other people may find boring. I have a great memory when it comes to my likes and interests. I’ll hear a song today and I’ll know it word for word by tomorrow. Give me a subject and I’ll be able to learn everything I can possibly find out about it. Most importantly though, I care, I support and I love, with all my heart. So yes, there are struggles to being autistic, but I wouldn’t change my autism for the world. I get to see the world in my own special kind of way, and if that’s not something to be proud of, then I don’t know what is.