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."