Friday, September 08, 2017

Advice Is Usually A Trap

In my experience, as an autistic person with PTSD, a lot of the time, when someone gives me advice about how to handle a problem related to my disabilities, I get defensive. I've had people call me out on this and tell me that I'm just 'shooting down all of their suggestions'. People see giving advice as helpful and well-intentioned, and I should be happy about it

But if you understand the reason behind this behaviour, it makes perfect sense.

The thing is, for the vast majority of people, my problems aren't seen as real. Or else they're seen as the closest NT equivalent, which is very different and much easier to solve.

Throughout my childhood, over and over, I've had this experience:

Adult notices I'm struggling with something, or I tell them I am.

Adult offers The Solution(TM) which is supposed to Solve Everything.

I try their suggestion and it utterly fails, or works for awhile and then falls apart, or works but doesn't completely solve the problem.

Adult gets mad at me because clearly now the problem must be My Fault because I'm not using The Solution properly.

As I got wise to this, I started refusing any solution that I wasn't 100% sure would work, as long as there was any chance the person could blame me for it not working. And I started to automatically mistrust anyone who tries too hard to solve my problems for me.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Pedophilia, Age-Specific Attraction and the Split Attraction Model

I've been thinking about how pedophilia relates to the split-attraction model, particularly since some pedophiles feel romantic attraction to children as well. Specifically, which types of attraction should be age-specific, and which ones are fine being directed towards any age?

This is a personal question for me. I'm aromantic and asexual, but before I figured that out, I was briefly afraid I might be a pedophile, because the feelings I'd inaccurately labelled as 'sexual' (aesthetic, sensual and emotional attraction) were just as likely to be directed towards younger children as towards my peers. (In fact, my first ever squish that I can remember was towards my 2 year old brother, when I was 10.)

I know that most people don't feel sexual attraction until puberty, and are attracted exclusively to people of broadly similar age. Romantic attraction seems to have an onset around the same time in many people, though I've heard some people claim to have 'crushes' well before puberty. And if anything romantic attraction seems to be more age-specific than sexual attraction - judging from the many older adults I've seen who admit to being sexually attracted to young adults but don't seem to feel limerence for them.

I have no idea what is normative for other forms of attraction, though. I had my first squish at the same age as sexual attraction usually starts, but was that because I'd entered puberty, or because my brother had finally gotten old enough to start expressing his wonderful personality? Who knows?

But really, does it matter what's normal? No. It matters what's healthy.

Being sexually attracted to children is considered unhealthy for one simple reason - it motivates you to do something that would harm someone else. The negative impact on children of having an adult do sexual things with them is very well documented. It's been linked to a wide range of mental health problems, including depression, suicidal ideation, self-injury, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, eating disorders, dissociation, somatization, and personality disorders. Obviously I know this from personal experience, and my own abuse has resulted in me experiencing many of those issues myself.

Romantic attraction is probably also a problem, for similar reasons. Although it's less widely studied, there is evidence that non-sexual adult-child relationships that involve many typical markers of romantic relationships are often unhealthy for the child. There's a book, The Emotional Incest Syndrome, that discusses parents using their children to meet the same needs that a romantic partner typically would. This is reported as causing emotional problems, primarily because the parent is expecting a level of emotional maturity that isn't appropriate to the child's developmental level. A couple of research studies have discussed the same phenomenon as a subtype of generational boundary dissolution, linked with psychological problems, such as depression.

But what about other types of attraction? What are the implications of aesthetic, sensual, emotional or intellectual attraction when felt by an adult towards a child?

Aesthetic attraction doesn't seem to involve a desire to really do anything about the attraction, other than admire the person's appearance, or if you're artistic, presumably making art inspired by them. Neither of those things seem particularly harmful for a child target. I doubt any children will be harmed by having an adult enjoy looking at them or drawing pictures of them.

Sensual attraction is the desire to engage in non-sexual, non-romantic touch, such as hugging or cuddling them. Not only is this a normal healthy part of interaction between children and the adults close to them, but it's actually essential to a child's emotional well-being. From observation, I strongly suspect that the vast majority of parents feel sensual attraction to their children, particularly right after birth, feeling drawn to hold and stroke their newborn. And not just parents do it - think of the ritualistic 'passing around the baby' that many new parents do with people they trust. Obviously, as in any relationship, consent is important, and even hugging and cuddling can be intrusive if the child doesn't want it at that moment. But because children have an innate need and craving for touch, it's quite possible for an adult to act upon sensual attraction towards a child in a way that the child experiences as unambiguously positive and beneficial - especially if you're the child's parent.

Emotional attraction is the desire to get to know someone better, and to be their friend. Although most children prefer same-age friendships, intergenerational friendships don't seem to be harmful. I, personally, was friends with several adults as a child, and I found most of those relationships beneficial. Research, similarly, suggests a positive impact of intergenerational friendships - this study reported that children who were sent on visits to elderly care homes described feeling worthwhile, having fun and enjoying the elderly people's company, while their parents described them as having increased empathy, understanding the cycle of life better, and being better at communicating with elderly people. Based on this, I'd say it's fine to feel drawn to befriend a child.

Intellectual attraction is feeling interested in how someone thinks, and wanting to engage in intellectual discussion with them. I'd argue that many child psychologists, including Piaget, probably have felt intellectually attracted to children. On the child's side, I see no harm in asking a child interesting questions and exploring how they think. Indeed, that probably provides beneficial intellectual stimulation. And as a gifted kid with intense interests, I've certainly had older people 'pick my brain' regarding topics of interest to me, which has pretty much always been a fun experience for me.

So, in conclusion, sexual and romantic attraction to children have the potential to lead you to harm the child they're directed at, and so feeling those types of attraction is a problem you should learn to manage in some way. However, other types of attraction lead you towards activities that are typically harmless or beneficial to children, and so are probably fine. Even if your interest in children might be unusual, if it's limited to non-sexual and non-romantic forms, feel free to seek out that kind of contact, provided that neither the child nor their caregiver (if they're not your child) objects.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Are Autistics More Often Bisexual?

I've cited this study several times in saying that autistics (at least AFAB autistics) are more likely to be asexual, but today, I'm focusing on another finding of theirs. In addition to finding that 17% of their sample was asexual, they also found 13.2% were bisexual.

So, is this borne out by other studies? Are autistics more likely to be bisexual?

This study compared autistic people of both AGABs with matched NTs, and found that autistic and NT AMAB participants didn't differ in sexual orientation, but AFAB autistics were significantly more likely than AFAB NTs to experience attraction to women. In fact, 64% of AFAB autistics were attracted to women, with all but one of them identifying as bisexual. (Note also that 33% of AFAB autistics in this sample had a gender identity other than female.)

This study looked at institutionalized AMAB autistic participants. Their methods are questionable, depending far too much on caregiver report and including what sounds like very subjective 'impressions' caregivers had of their charges' sexuality, but they did find that 13% of the sample were thought to be bisexual. Also, 25% were considered 'unclear', probably including a mix of asexual participants, those whose caregivers just didn't have any real information, and those who hadn't gotten enough sex ed to really consider whether/who they were attracted to. If that group is excluded, bisexual participants jump to 17%. (They also found two possible hetero-pedophiles and several who may have had fetishes.)

This study, which focused on romantic relationships in autistic adults (both sexes), found that 10% were bisexual, 7% homosexual and 14% couldn't label their orientation with the options given. (I'm guessing probably most were ace-spectrum, but some may have been multi-spec.) This was described as significantly higher than population norms.

This study screened binary trans individuals for autistic traits, finding elevation in autistic traits among both trans men and trans women. In addition, non-straight trans people (who they transphobically describe as 'non-homosexual') were more likely to be autistic than straight trans people.

This study assessed relationship functioning in a community sample of autistic people, and reported that 42% of their sample identified as sexual minorities, with 15% gay/lesbian, 9% bisexual, 12% unlabeled and 5% unsure.

This qualitative study of relationships in autistics of all genders found that in their sample, 25% identified as asexual, 17% as bisexual and 12.5% as gay or lesbian. They also commented on how many individuals identified with multiple labels, with the asexual and bisexual groups overlapping. Only 37.5% identified solely as heterosexual.

Overall, it seems that autistic people, especially AFAB autistic people, are significantly less likely to be straight. But, despite desexualizing stereotypes, bisexuality and possibly homosexuality are elevated too, not just asexuality.

There are a lot of possible implications for this. But one that immediately springs to mind is this: it's especially important for autistic kids to have LGBA-inclusive sex education, even more so than for NT kids. And yet, my impression is that sex ed for disabled kids, when it's offered at all, tends to be more conservative.

It's also important to remember that sexual identities shaped by autism are just as valid as sexual identities held by neurotypical people.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Asexuality Research - What I Want to See

This month, the asexuality blog carnival topic is Asexuality and Academia. I'm just going to list things I want to see more researchers doing in their asexuality research:

  • using the split-attraction model
  • studying squishes and platonic attraction
  • studying sex-repulsion
  • studying libido and determining how aces with average libidos differ from aces without libidos
  • studying the needs of ace children in sex education
  • studying features of allosexuals that make them more or less likely to make an ace/allo relationship work
  • studying asexual autistic people, especially AMAB autistic aces, without approaching the question of sexuality in autism from a deficit framework or especially from the 'extreme male brain' theory
  • studying asexuality in an fMRI
  • studying asexual nonbinary people
So that's that. A short post, I suppose.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Is Baby Signing Good for the Deaf Community?

There seems to be some controversy in the Deaf community about the Baby Signing movement - a movement by hearing parents of hearing preverbal children, teaching their children to sign in an attempt to boost cognition and early language ability.

As a hearing person who plans to sign with my children, I've looked at the controversy and arguments, and here are my thoughts.

First, it's important to remember that sign languages aren't just languages - they're also assistive technology. There are people for whom learning a sign language has benefits well beyond those accrued by learning a second spoken language. Deaf people, obviously, fall into this category, but so do many hearing people, especially those with complex communication needs and kids who are strongly visual-kinesthetic learners.

It's also important to remember that unlike a physical piece of technology, signs are not a limited commodity. Many Deaf people have complained that, in a time when Deaf babies still don't have guaranteed access to signs, hearing babies are being signed to. But while that is ironic, signing to a hearing child doesn't take away access to signs for a Deaf child. In fact, quite the opposite.

Hillary Wittington, in her book Raising Ryland, describes how when her son Ryland was 8 months old, a fellow mother told her that she'd enrolled herself and her hearing son into a sign language class, extolling the benefits of the class. When Ryland was almost 14 months, another friend, Jenn, said that she's enrolled her hearing daughter into sign language classes, and convinced Hillary to go to an intro to check it out. Two days before the intro, her father-in-law told her that he was concerned about his granddaughter's hearing. She gets assessed by an audiologist several months later and is diagnosed as profoundly deaf.

Because of her friend's involvement in baby signing, Hillary and Ryland began baby signing classes before he was even diagnosed as deaf. Ryland's grandmother and uncle both study signing with her. Despite choosing to get Ryland a cochlear implant, Hillary insists on continuing to sign, both to allow Ryland to communicate before he can speak, and for those times that Ryland will need to remove the external processor. By the time Ryland has his implant activated at 20 months, he knows more than 200 signs, and he continues to use signs throughout the book whenever he is not wearing his external processor.

Besides those Deaf children whose hearing parents get coincidentally involved in baby signs before their diagnosis - or possibly even before they are born, if they have older siblings - the increasing awareness and normalization of baby signing is likely to reduce the fear of signing for many hearing parents.

One of the biggest fears for many hearing parents is that if they sign, their child will never learn to speak. While we should also challenge the prejudice that leads to parents valuing speech over alternate communication modes, the central tenet of baby signing is that signing helps speech. So even if parents value speech over sign, this need not stop them from signing.

And it's not just Deaf people who need to sign. Parents of children with complex communication needs often don't feel welcome in the Deaf community, and their children, who generally understand speech far better than they can speak, don't have the same needs. Many of the stylistic traits that hearing signers gravitate to and Deaf people label as bad signing, such as PSE and signing while speaking, actually suit the needs of hearing people with CCN better than ASL does.

Many CCNs are also harder to diagnose accurately than profound deafness, and can't be diagnosed in newborns. Which means that the only way most children with CCN will be exposed to sign before their speech falls behind is if their parents are signing when they believe their child is an NT hearing child (this happened to Maya from Uncommon Sense).

Friday, August 04, 2017

Cassandra Syndrome and the Denial of Disability

In an old post of mine, the comment section has exploded with 'Cassandra Syndrome' women. The rampant ableism is disgusting, and it has given me new insights into this group.

One woman responds to my statement:

"Very often, the AS person is already exerting much more effort to accommodate their NT partner than vice versa."

Whew, where shall I start. It may feel that way to you, but being Aspie partners are exhausted after mowing the lawn all day as it takes all day and have an incredible lack of empathy and understanding, I can see where you may think that is true.
Where to start?

If the AS person has spent all day struggling to do a task to the point of exhaustion, that still doesn't count as 'exerting effort' in her eyes, because that task shouldn't be that difficult?

Well, guess what? Autism is a disability! The very definition of disability is that it makes tasks which are simple for most people difficult or impossible for the disabled person. This is like getting mad that it took several hours for a wheelchair-using partner to fetch something from the top shelf, when it's amazing that they figured out a way to get it at all.

Specifically, with the task of mowing the lawn, that's something I would find difficult too, and I know others find it harder than I do. Fortunately, I don't tend to mow the lawn, which I'll get to later.

I don't know this man, but I know for me, the biggest challenge for lawn-mowing would be the noise. The sound of a lawn-mower is typically a loud continuous monotone buzzing, and monotones are the worst for my auditory sensitivities. (It would be even worse if it was a high-pitched monotone, like a vacuum cleaner.) I generally can't even go outside for more than a few moments while someone's mowing, or else my head aches and I need some quiet to recover. And I know many autistic people with a lot more sensitive hearing than I have.

When I try to do a task that is extremely sensorally distressing, I need much more frequent breaks. I could wind up doing 5 minutes of work at a time, punctuated by 10 minutes breaks, because that's literally the only way I can do it. I could easily see a process like that stretching out a task to take all day. And since those breaks won't be enough to fully recover - that could take 24 hours or more - the person would absolutely be exhausted by the end of it, and not in any state to do even more work.

And this isn't even getting into executive dysfunction. Sometimes, it can take all day and lots of effort for me to even get myself started on a task, because I have an urge to avoid it that is very tough to fight. If you've ever procrastinated on an assignment, you have an idea what this feels like. Only it's stronger, and triggered by different things. This process is why, for example, ADHD children can wind up spending several hours trying to do a piece of homework that took 5 minutes of actual work to finish. And you can bet that those ADHD kids are exhausted and need a break after all of that, even if it seemed unnecessarily difficult to an NT person.

My biggest question here is why was he doing the lawn? I can bet that this NT woman can do it way easier than most AS people could, and meanwhile, he could have been doing other things that aren't extraordinarily difficult ordeals for him.

In my family, we have four people who all have some sort of disability that makes some household tasks difficult. My father and I are both on the autism spectrum, but with different flavours of autism. My father also has some sort of recently-developed shoulder pain, and a much longer-term knee problem that I think has mostly resolved. And diabetes, which means he needs to take time to test his blood sugar and can't think very well when he's hungry. I have hypermobility and asthma, and also milder blood sugar issues. My mother has asthma too. and arthritis in her knees. And my brother is chronically depressed, with features of social anxiety and agoraphobia. (And my brother is the person who finds it hardest, of all of us, to do housework. Just because depression is invisible doesn't make it any less crippling.)

The rule I follow is that I do tasks that are difficult for me only if: a) the task is vitally important and urgent (or has become urgent from neglect), and b) other people can't do it more easily than I can. This is why I basically never mow - my Dad, who has milder auditory sensitivities than I do, can mow fairly easily; and I honestly have never seen a situation where mowing was vitally important and urgent.

In contrast, cleaning up dog diarrhea, a task I find as difficult if not more than mowing, is something I've done several times. My mother's knees make bending over painful, my father has a sensitive gag reflex, and my brother rarely has the energy to do something like that (and is usually not awake, because the dog usually has diarrhea at night or in the morning, and he usually sleeps in until noon). And cleaning up dog diarrhea is definitely urgent, because it stinks up the whole room, and if it's left alone it'll make a bigger mess over time. So even though cleaning up dog diarrhea is extremely unpleasant for me, and makes me gag, wash my hands excessively, and shudder from sheer disgust (and yes, need a break afterwards to calm down), I'm probably either the most likely person or second most likely person to actually do that particular task. (And I'm really glad my dog's digestive tract seems to have settled down with maturity.)

But the bulk of the work I do for my family is stuff that doesn't take nearly so much effort for me. Laundry is a bit difficult because the cat box is in the laundry room, but otherwise fairly simple, so I do a load whenever I go in that room for any reason. (Usually because I'm out of clothes in my room, so that works out well.) I also do the dishes semi-regularly, as long as the bung isn't in, because reaching through dirty water to pull out the bung is way harder for me than doing dishes in general. I do the majority of dog feeding and dog walking, because I'm usually home a lot more and it's often harder for me to ignore the dog's pleas than to walk her.

When someone is sick, if I actually know that a) they're sick, and b) that affects their ability to do X, I'll often pitch in to go above and beyond for them. Of course, these women would probably not agree, because they don't seem to get that there's a difference between not understanding a situation and not caring, and sometimes I don't get what would seem obvious to most people. My parents have sometimes told me they're sick, then asked me to do a task, and then had to explicitly explain that they can't do that task because they're sick, because I didn't connect those two pieces of information.

I get that it's frustrating when someone isn't doing the same amount of housework as you. I especially get it since my brother developed depression, because boy is he ever frustrating sometimes! But I've also very often been the person who tries the hardest and sees the least result from it, and ends up doing less than other people who can do it so much more easily than I can.

It's important to remember that AS adults have a much higher rate of homelessness than NTs, and a lot of that is due to disability reasons. You might be wondering 'how would this turn out if I wasn't here to do this task for him?' Most likely,  the task would not get done, or not enough. There are AS people who have had their homes condemned because it's literally not suitable for human habitation anymore. This isn't being lazy or uncaring, this is a disability, and not primarily one of 'lack of empathy' either. Others have stayed in abusive homes simply because the alternative is homelessness or institutionalization. And no doubt many have tried to find a partner to act as a caregiver, even if the relationship doesn't work on basic level. Trading sex for survival isn't just something that women do.

And that's the big lie autism 'experts' spout, that the only major issue affecting high functioning autistic adults is social difficulties. About half of all autistics with average or above average IQ have significant impairments in daily living skills. Often, our ability to care for ourselves and our homes is on par with someone with mild to moderate cognitive disability - I've met people with Down Syndrome who have better independent living skills than I do.

And on the subject of social skills. If you talked to your Deaf partner's back, they wouldn't know how you were feeling. It's not a lack of caring to not realize something that hasn't been communicated in a way you are capable of understanding. Autistic people are expected to do all the work to figure out how NTs communicate, to learn how to read nonverbal cues, to guess at the unsaid messages communicated only through sighs and glances, to connect the dots between what they said and what it actually means. And when it's time for the NT person to read the autistic person's feelings? Once again, the autistic person is expected to put in all the work, forcing appropriate facial expressions and tone, putting themselves through sensory discomfort to give off signals the NT will expect, and learning not to say what they need outright because that's considered rude.

If you're NT, you are privileged to live in a world where everything is made easier for you. I won't say it's easy, because life never is, but an NT goes through life with so many invisible accommodations made for them without questioning. You can expect that most people will understand what you're trying to communicate, and will express themselves in a way that you can understand virtually effortlessly. You can expect that if something is extraordinarily difficult for you to do yourself, there'll be someone you can hire to do it for you, or else your life will be designed to make doing that thing unnecessary.

To fail to recognize that being NT makes your life easier in so many ways, and that the same amount of apparent work might take twice or ten times the effort for someone else than it does for you, is showing a lack of empathy.

But there's something else going on. Autistic women and perceived-to-be women, such as Alyssa, Neurodivergent K, and Dani Alexis, have all commented on a trend of autistic men or their mothers trying to hook them up with autistic girlfriends who can act as unpaid caregivers. And I have no doubt that even more are doing this with NT women, who are more likely to a) be straight and cisgender, and b) actually capable of acting as a caregiver to an autistic person.

It's an icky dynamic. Let me be clear: helping your disabled partner with activities of daily living isn't icky. What's icky is when that's the primary basis for the relationship.

I don't know why I'm not seeing more autistic women and NT men in this dynamic, but I'm guessing it ties back in some way to sexism. Yes, autistic people are more often men, and yes, autistic women seem less likely to be straight, but the difference is too dramatic to be chalked up to those two factors. I doubt it's coincidence that the 'Cassandra Syndrome' suffererers are disproportionately members of a gender expected to be nurturing homemakers paired with members of a gender expected to be entitled receivers of care.

But at the same time, part of me really can't blame the men (or their mothers) for wanting to find a datemate who will take care of them. Because honestly, if you're an autistic adult who can't live independently, and especially if you're perceived as high functioning, your options are not that good. If parents of autistic children think that they don't have enough services? That's nothing compared to the struggles for autistic adults who need services.

And when survival hangs in the balance, sometimes you have to make hard choices. Even if it means using someone else. It sucks, it's not fair, but the real problem is the society that forces people into that situation.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Comparing You to Your Oppressors

I was told once that comparing a trans aphobe to TERFs (based on their similar gatekeeping arguments focused around 'safe spaces' and their claims that oppressors want to infiltrate 'safe spaces' by claiming a related identity) was transphobic.

Personally, I don't think so. But I'm not trans. How would I feel if a similar comparison was made involving an identity I experience?

Well, if I ever start:

  • claiming that being a parent of a member of a minority group gives me more authority to speak about that group than actual members of that minority,
  • asking members of an oppressed minority to offer me 'proof' that they really are part of that group before I'll listen to their arguments, and refusing to believe said proof if it is offered,
  • claiming that my child is 'more' of a member of that minority than the members of that minority group that disagree with me, and using their disagreement alone as evidence,
  • claiming that I love my child but hate a core aspect of their identity,
  • claiming that my child has ruined my life because of something they can't control,
  • claiming that it's a loving act to put my child through dangerous and/or abusive 'treatments' to change a core aspect of their identity
  • pretending that I can read my child's mind, while adamantly insisting that my child's thoughts are really not very complex
  • and so forth,
then go ahead and compare me to a curebie! It's not ableist to say that I'm acting like a curebie if I start pulling those kinds of arguments out!

And similarly, if you start gatekeeping who belongs in an oppressed category based on the argument that the majority wants to infiltrate your 'safe spaces' by pretending to be oppressed, then you are acting like a TERF, and it's warranted to call you out on that.