Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An Activist's Wish List For Yearlong Gift Giving

On New Year's Day 2014, I wondered if I could make some changes to how I lived my life that would benefit others while adding knowledge, joy and beauty to our lives. I decided to make a conscious decision to assess my buying needs well and shop  through neurodivergent vendors whenever possible.  I called it my Buy Neurodivergent challenge. I saw it as a new step in the Amplify project.

 In this effort to support micro businesses run by neurodivergent people and their allies, I thought it best to go beyond the term "buy autistic" and include everyone who has divergent neurology. I tried to live as frugally as possible and saved up for a series of lovely purchases. Books, photographs, art, and artwork on customized t-shirts, in short all things that were created by neurodivergent artists, photographers and authors, seemed a great place to start.

During this process, I wanted to get something amazing for my husband, but I wanted to follow my own commitment to making this a buy neurodivergent purchase. I reached out to Alyssa at Because Patterns and asked if she could create a poster of her now famous Autism Acceptance pattern. This is the result:
Image of a large poster with fractal pattern in the shape of a globe with stylized humans
colored navy blue standing on it circumventing it and in the upper right hand corner a larger human
figure in orange with flapping hands on a sky blue field with stylized clouds  all framed in silver art
©Alyssa Hillary

When the theatre ad sized poster was hung it could be seen by anyone walking past his office door.
same poster is hanging in an open office. A bookshelf, teal office chair, tan desk and
charcoal chair can be seen as wellas a partial view of two black flat screen computer monitors. 
What one can't see from the photograph is that the colors are so vibrant that people stop to stare and as a result read the inscription on the bottom of the pattern:

“Much like the bright orange Autistic person flapping here, Autistic people stand out. We’re completely distinguishable from our peers, as we’re meant to be. We don’t need to be just like everyone else, but be accepted as the unique people we are. Accept Autistics”  -- Alyssa Hillary

The size, colors, quote and overall beauty of the piece is having a greater impact on those who see it than any action I could take as an activist could. Viewers are engaged, informed, and also mesmerized by an arresting pattern. My husband loved this the first time he saw it and I had been wanting to purchase it ever since. We are now wishing we had commissioned one for the house as well. It is that arrestingly beautiful.

I have some other wonderful purchases I'll probably speak about as well in time. But the thing that struck me the most about what happened this year, is the reaction to what my family purchased. More people asked me what "Autistic Giraffe Party" and "Neurodiversity" meant than have read my blog posts. I realized books laid out on a coffee table or bookshelf grab the eye and cause curious people to flip through pages. What people wear does say a great deal. So I thought I would take things up a notch.

Beginning with this holiday season and hopefully for all of 2015, I want to encourage everyone to share my final wish, that we all try to buy and promote neurodivergent goods and services as much as we are able to afford it. This is a positive act of activism that helps our community and reaches out to those seeking knowledge and understanding.  It grabs their attention, their hearts and minds.

For anyone who wishes to do some last minute holiday shopping, as well as those who want to give my activist's Buy Neurodivergent Challenge a try in 2015, PACLA (Parenting Autistic Children With Love and Acceptance) has made a holiday shopping guide.
To view it, click here.

I think the guide could be expanded and include more books, gifts and services for parents as well as things like gifting say a few lessons at  Aikido Shusekai, from Nick Walker Sensei and Azzia Walker Sensei  , or gifting a sensory friendly concert from The Musical Autist. I would have loved to see music from KripHop Nation. Michael Scott Monje, jr's books were great to see there. More diversity in offerings would have been welcome. It is good to see start ups like Stimtastic listed. Music producer Mike Buckholtz has both a book and a nonprofit, I would have liked to have seen a way to include this as well.

Author and photographer Jane Strauss's (Jane's photography site, Jane's Prints is feature in PACLA's shopping guide)  effort, Buy Autistic, can be found here. Whatever list is built, I hope that spoken word poetry, baked goods, and neurodivergent speakers services are included.

I will be updating this to add more to the listing and eventually consolidate this all into a year long list of places where art, books, crafts, clothes, other goods and services can be bought for our own enjoyment that can also send a powerful educational message to those around us while helping our community prosper. Happy Holidays, blessings and peace to all.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Moment in Self Advocacy by Ondrea Marisa Robinson

This is an update to Ondrea's guest post on The Autism Wars about her fight for accessible transportation and the eventual positive outcome. Amplify Autistic Voices allows the publication of unfiltered, unedited, autistics speaking.  To read her first post on this topic click here.

Image description: RIPTA RIde vehicle #0141 in downtown Providence

I really didn't want to sign another RIde application to get on the paratransit service, because I felt like it wasn't worth fighting for, and at first, I felt like I was being forced against my own will by Monica, the Business Relations Supervisor, and Joe, my case manager, at the Office of Rehabilitation Services. But I did sign my name where I needed to sign.

 A day later after signing the application at the meeting, Monica called me and asked me who would be my emergency contact, and I told her that it was my mother Martha. That was fine. However, the next question she proposed to me was not appropriate, and that was if I was overweight. I asked if the question was on the application, and she said it wasn't, but she wanted to know if I was able to get on the bus. I answered that I wasn't overweight, but it was a personal question, didn't she think? (I took it personally, because I'm a curvy girl, and I'm very sensitive when it comes to people questioning my weight.)

 I addressed the overweight issue with her supervisor Ron, who did speak with her. He told me that her intentions were good, but they were inappropriate. And then on top of that, I wrote a letter to Ron to address the situation in full, along with sending Monica an e-mail about what she did. Did I receive a reply from the letter and/or the e-mail? No, I didn't. I am not going to force an apology from either one of them. And I hope that someone else doesn't get asked if he or she is overweight, because he or she might be devastated (or maybe not). A couple of weeks later, I opened my mailbox to see that I received a letter from RIPTA, regarding the RIde Program. I was thinking it was another rejection letter, saying that I was not approved. But when I opened it up, I felt a sigh of relief. I was shocked. I was glad to be approved for paratransit services. I did understand why Monica asked what she asked, but it could have been put in a different context. And I thanked her for doing her best to get me on the program, but she said there was no need to thank her.

 I tell you, God is good all the time, and He's worthy to be praised, because sometimes you have to speak up in order to be heard. And even if some people may not like it, oh well. You're doing your best.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Seven Questions: Because Patterns

Alyssa Hillary is an Autistic college student who blogs at Yes, That Too and runs Because Patterns. This is all the biography she would allow and is entirely too modest.  Amplify is beginning a series of interviews of really amazing people. Alyssa's is the first in the series. All artwork appears with permission of Alyssa @ Because Patterns. Enjoy!

1. Thank you for doing this interview! It is a very brief one. My husband and I have fallen in love with Because Patterns. There is something fractalicious about them.

What is your creative process when coming up with a design idea?

image of a mirror image pattern shapes
in black, and ice blue and purple on a green
 field flanked in light green all on a turquoise
background. Atop the apex of the pattern stands
a stylized neurodivergent human figure in orange,
apparent because the stylized hands are flapping
© Alyssa Hillary
*Big smile*

So my process is actually pretty simple. I grab a sheet of graph paper- I've got a few pads of 50ish sheets that are 10 squares per inch, so I generally have plenty of paper around. Then I decide how big a design I want to make. When I first started in 7th grade, designs were usually 8x8, 16x16, or 32x32 squares, and I only did lines at 45 degree angles. Now I do more than just squares in power of two sizes, and I do a lot more different angles, though it's still straight lines from one intersection of graph lines to another. Then I just make symmetry- there's generally either two or four axes of symetry: four for a square, the diagonals and then the midsegments, while for a rectangular one it's just the midsegments.

I don't usually go in with a specific thought in mind, but sometimes I'll grab elements I liked from older patterns and build something new around them.

2. Your Autism Acceptance design blew us away. The flapping hands and the color choice was spot on. Did you see the end concept as a whole completed work or did you build on a thought?


Um, the Autism Acceptance design was at least partially an accident. I was trying to fill a funny-shaped space in a completely different design and realized that it looked kind of like a person with hands raised. This happened last March or February (no I don't remember), so Autism Acceptance Month was coming up and I realized I could try to make it flap. Then I made an octagonal world to put 8 people on and looked around in my piles of patterns I hadn't done anything with yet to see if I had anything good for an octagon of that size. Which I did! So I drew that in.  

After I had all the lines done, I started thinking about colors. The first color I decided was orange for the Autistic person, because that's the opposite color of blue and light it up blue is run by a pretty terrible organization. Then I decided that the world should be in greens mostly with maybe some blues because that's what it tends to look like from space, greens and blues. Different blue for the sky and a really, really light blue-gray for clouds was also meant to be semi-realistic. I made the allistic people (those lacking autism) purple because it didn't stand out too much and I really like the color purple. It's my favorite color, but I didn't want to make the Autistic people that color because it's adjacent to blue.

3. If the world could could be described in single colors, what color was the world the day you were born?

I don't really think that way so I'm just going to say purple. It's my favorite color, anyways, so I'd like it if it were purple just for me!

4. What music runs in the background of your creative life?

That varies hugely, but there is generally music stuck in my head. Amy MacDonald's “Poison Prince,” State Radio's “Knights of Bostonia,” and The Saturday Nights “People of the Sun” seem to wind up on repeat in my head pretty often.

5. If you could have an art show of your patterns, and you could have a light scent piped through the gallery as each exhibit was viewed, what scent or scents, if any, would you choose?

My first thought is “I want to be sensory-friendly, no scents!” My second thought is “Um scents?
Image of a fractal like repeating pattern in purple,
leaf green, & yellow-green with a sky blue background © Alyssa Hillary

How do I scents?” Because I don't think that way, really. I don't know if it's a sensory processing thing or if it's because my nose was always stuffy when I was a kid, but my sense of smell isn't that great and I tend not to notice or think in terms of scent. I guess I might do an ocean scent for the Autism Acceptance one because it's of the world and most of the world is ocean?

6. You find yourself standing in an elevator with Joss Whedon, who says hi and smiles at you. You realize you have the chance to say something about neurodivergence and self advocacy. What would be your elevator pitch to him about what autism is and how he could help how neurodivergence is viewed? Who would you want listening in that elevator to your statement?

I kind of wish I knew the name of some of the folks who wrote for Eureka, because oh my goodness did they mess up with the one (temporarily) autistic character they had. Yes, I might have blocked his name from my head over that. (They had him repair a time machine and send a few other people back in time, and then when they got back to the present day kid was magically not autistic!)
So I think my pitch would be something along the lines of “So... the kinds of specific and intense interests that everyone in Eureka has? Totally a common thing in autistic people. We're not always the world expert in our field, who always is, but some of us will be that level of good and if Eureka really existed there'd be a decent pile of autistic people around. And maybe an ASAN or AWN chapter that totally lies about all it's activities because it clearly can't reveal classified stuff to the national level group.”

7. If you were given the chance to write for a television series and take any character in a that series and reinvent it as a neurodivergent person who would it be and how would you do it? Feel free to expand on the presentation of autistic characters in entertainment and print

image of a magazine cover with the title
Parenting Autistic Children With Love &
Acceptance. Supporting and accommodating
Autistic children respectfully, advocating for
neurodiversity & learning from Autistic voices.
Cover art © Alyssa Hillary
If I'm not required to stick to current shows, I'd grab the temporarily autistic kid from Eureka whose name I kinda blocked over that and make him stay autistic. Because for real, he would have been great representation. He's Black, he's being raised by a Black single mother who is very good at what she does (which varies some by continuity, see also: time travel.) As he gets older, he becomes friends with Officer Carter, who is the main character (average guy trying to be the police officer in a town full of geniuses who might not intentionally break the law much but goodness does chaos ensue anyways.) Imagine if we'd gotten to see a teenage Black Autistic boy growing up and being friends with the main characters and learning to hunt with them and it being treated like a normal thing!

If it had to be a show that was still running, I'd probably grab Sherlock from, well, Sherlock, because I just don't know that many current shows and the questionably autistic super-detective who never or rarely shows the difficulties that come with being autistic is a really icky trend. So I'd rewrite him to actually show autistic traits even when they aren't convenient for the plot. Disabled characters should be disabled always, not just when it's convenient for the plot.

Which is kind of a thing I see a lot. They're disabled when we need them, and then they either pass or they get shoved off to the side. There's a reason that a lot of Autistic people identify more with the characters who are never explicitly identified as neurodivergent: for me, it's Alanna of Trebond from Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness and Trisanna Chandler from Tamora Pierce's Emelan universe I tend to go to first, though Hermione from Harry Potter, Dina from Dumbing of Age, and Emily from Questionable Content are all on my list of characters I read as autistic. What do all of these characters have in common? None of them are identified as autistic in canon. (Dina has no diagnosed anything per word of author, but the statement was not diagnosed neurodivergent as opposed to not being neurodivergent and as of my freshman year of college I wasn't diagnosed either so...) There should be enough good characters that we don't need to ignore or stretch canon to get representation. But there isn't.

image description: Avatar for
This Is Autism twitter and tumblr sites:
three orange stylized autistic people
atop a purple white green and black
fractal patterned world surface against a
turquoise blue background.
©Alyssa Hillary

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Autistic Writer and Activist Puts Representation Ahead of Awareness, Acceptance

The right thing to do during a month designated for autism is to support talented neurodivergent authors, artists, and people who create change by producing works that transform attitudes and perceptions about autism. Outstanding author and activist Michael Scott Monje, Jr. has just launched a funding campaign for his newest project, Imaginary Friends, a web serial. I'll let him tell you about it! Remember to  click on the link below the video for information on perks for donations.

I've posted the press release verbatim with attribution because during the discussion the author states why he places representation ahead of awareness and acceptance. We throw these words around and don't really consider that attitudinal change is only achieved in a society through valid representation. The whole purpose of Amplify Autistics to let the voice of the neurodivergent change maker speak without filtering directly to the world. So without any more commentary here is Michael Scott Monje, Jr. :


"Autistic Writer and Activist Puts Representation Ahead of Awareness, Acceptance


 PRLog (Press Release) - Apr. 1, 2014 - KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- Local writer and disability activist Michael Scott Monje, Jr. has announced a funding campaign for Imaginary Friends, a web serial that is to be distributed freely as it is written this summer.

The new series will feature Clay Dillon, the protagonist from Michael's first novel, Nothing is Right, and it will focus on the relationship between Clay and his mother as she attempts to push him through catechism in an attempt to make sure that he receives his first Holy Communion “on time.”

“I'm writing about a lot of the things I experienced as a kid,” Michael said when asked about his recurring character. “I wasn't diagnosed as autistic until my adulthood. So that part of Clay's character is about me. And I was raised Catholic.”

“It's not all about me, though. Clay is a parable about the problems people in our community have when they try to participate in the everyday institutions of our society. Church, school, the workplace... the stories about him are not just about me. They're about the way the world looks to people like me. I do my best to be widely representative.”

The launch of Michael's project this week coincides with Autism Awareness month, which is sponsored by large organizations like Autism Speaks. The event has become controversial in recent years, with autistic activists campaigning for Autism Acceptance month and calling attention to Autism Speaks' lack of autistic representation in its leadership. Recently, this has been highlighted by the resignation of its sole autistic spokesperson.

“Awareness isn't enough,” according to Michael. “Neither is acceptance. We need representation. We need to be the heart of stories, not just the quirky friend, the family's problem child, or some parent's burden. We're not all super detectives. Some of us are just trying to build relationships and keep our families together, and doing it in a world that seems like it was built to frustrate our brains is challenging.”

More information about funding the campaign can be accessed through Michael's blog, Shaping Clay, at http://www.mmonjejr.com. The blog also contains his last book about Clay Dillon, Defiant, which dealt with workplace and healthcare access issues, as well as poetry and essays about neurodiversity.

Michael Scott Monje, Jr."