‘Atypical’ looks pretty typical

Netflix Instant is basically my cable TV, and they emailed me a trailer for their show that’s being added next week, “Atypical.” It has an autistic main character, which immediately gets my interest because I have an autistic child and I’m working on accepting that I’m autistic (which I’ve sort of known since college but then I was in denial but then my therapist told me for the second time that she thinks I am and then my son got diagnosed, it’s a long story) as well as crazy (which I’ve accepted for years).

So anyway, I watched the trailer. I’m not excited.

Is it just me, or is every single autism story-line on TV exactly the same? Let’s see …

White male? Check.

Needs minimal supports? Check.

Played by non-autistic actor? Check.

Parents having trouble coping? Check.

Show has compulsive need to educate audience about stereotypical traits of autism? Check.

Seriously, folks. IT’S BORING.

Show me a female character who’s autistic. Show me an autistic character from a racial or ethnic minority. Show me an autistic character being raised by a single mom working low wage jobs, or a mom with a history of mental illness (which is statistically common since there’s a genetic link), or for that matter, a mom who’s single and working low wage jobs because she has a history of mental illness. Show me an autistic character who has comorbid conditions – epilepsy, OCD, intellectual disability, Tourette Syndrome, a vision impairment, a hearing impairment, impaired mobility, selective mutism, anything. Show me an autistic character who’s gay or bisexual or asexual or transgender or gender nonconforming. Show me an autistic character who challenges functioning labels. Show me a plot that isn’t all about the character’s social awkwardness.

Somebody needs to do for autism what Margarita with a Straw and Speechless have begun to do, in different ways, for cerebral palsy. It’s not about political correctness; it’s about reflecting reality.

 

Why poor people have iPhones

This post is dedicated to the asshole doctor who said on the radio this morning that Medicaid patients can afford copays because he sees them using iPhones in the waiting room.

Full disclosure: I don’t have an iPhone. I have a cell phone from the Paleolithic era which has never heard of the internet, takes smeary pictures that may or may not be images of human beings, and has absolutely no clue what to do with an emoticon. This is because I love-hate technology. I do have an iPad, sort of. The iPad, which was given to me by a relative, who bought it used, appears to be one of the first iPads ever made. Half the apps don’t work on it. I use it to entertain my autistic son during doctor’s appointments (it has some of his favorite videos downloaded) and to access the internet during his surgeries/hospital stays. It also serves as our family’s camera. My laptop is only a little bit broken; as long as the screen is at a certain angle, it works just fine.

I have, however, worked alongside other poor people who do have iPhones and I think I may be able to offer some explanation to those who are confused by this phenomenon. (Not that I’m the first person to explain it, but whatever. Obviously it needs to be said over and over.)

First of all, some people buy themselves an iPhone while employed and then lose their job and have to apply for Medicaid. The organization that instantly confiscates iPhones from people who’ve just lost their jobs or otherwise encountered hardship has not yet been invented, although I’m sure someone somewhere is working on it.

Other people, like my former coworkers, still have their jobs; their jobs just don’t pay them much of anything. Often, they are single moms (for a variety of extremely legitimate reasons). Sometimes they’re also supporting grandchildren or extended family. They are putting food on the table (possibly with help from SNAP or WIC), they are paying rent (possibly with help from Section 8), they are (mostly) paying the utilities, but paying for medical care is just beyond them. They are stretched to the financial breaking point. At any given time they are likely to have all of $3 in their checking account – if they have a checking account.

So what are these people doing with iPhones?

For many people, an iPhone serves as a cell phone AND a land line AND a computer AND a camera. Phone and internet are basically essential to maintaining a job in our society, and it’s actually cheaper to have an iPhone than to buy all of those things separately. The iPhone might be a gift or a hand-me-down from a relative, they may have bought it used from a friend, or it might be something that they thought about and decided was a good investment for their family. The iPhone might be the thing that helps them stay awake during 12 hour night shifts, or allows them to communicate via FaceTime with their teenage kids when they have 36 hours of back-to-back shifts at different jobs. (Yes, people do that. It’s insane, it’s probably dangerous, but they do, because they’re trying to survive and take care of their families.) And finally, handing that iPhone to their child might be the thing that saves their sanity on days when they feel utterly, utterly exhausted, and yet they still have to drag their children to an appointment with a shit doctor who is judging them from the moment they step into the waiting room.

Blargh

I have things to say, I just can’t access them past all the rage. So, all I can really say is that with regard to myself, my son, and various other people that I love – I feel that our right to exist, to live, our worth as human beings is under attack by the government right now.

Shocker? Maybe, maybe not. I’ve just never felt it so keenly. I guess that says something about my own privilege.

Dear medical staff: can we have the stickers without the gendered assumptions, please?

Monkey’s favorite show right now is “Sofia the First.” He loves the flying horses and the woolly wombeast. He particularly loves Cedric the evil sorcerer, and the dude with the magic show who kidnaps Clover and renames him Mr. Cuddles. (Monkey’s stuffed bunny is now named “Mr Cuddles” and is forced into servitude multiple times a day.) He got really excited a few days ago when he saw Sofia in her purple dress on a puzzle at the library. He also loves to watch the songs from the movie “Moana” (he has a name for each song: “How Far I’ll Go” is “the pig”; “You’re Welcome” is “the big rock”).

So it bugs me when, as this morning, we are at a doctor’s appointment and the doctor or nurse, who is kindly fanning out a handful of stickers for Monkey to choose from, shuffles rapidly past the Sofia and Moana stickers and go straight to Ninja Turtles and Spiderman.

OK, maybe it’s not a big deal. They’re just stickers, right? But you know what, screw that, it IS a big deal. My 3 year old just went through an uncomfortable and scary procedure (which happens to him A LOT) and he should get to pick a sticker that he really wants, not what YOU (well meaning adult) think he should want. I mean, at least let him LOOK at the stickers you would show if he were a girl. Just show all the kids the same stickers! I’m sure there’s a little girl out there somewhere who loves Ninja Turtles and would be thrilled to have the sticker Monkey somewhat reluctantly took for lack of options.

I’m trying to come up with a quick, polite way of letting these medical professionals know that they need to show him the “girl” stickers too. I’m just not sure how to phrase it. I did speak up once, and Monkey delightedly chose, from a full drawer of stickers, one with Dora on it, which was his favorite show at the time.

This is 2017, folks. It’s not even about gender identity or sexuality at this point, it’s about acknowledging that human taste doesn’t fall into neat stereotypical boxes along arbitrary gender lines.

When I was little, I loved dinosaurs (still do). I put bows on my dinosaurs and made them marry each other. I played with a “boy” thing (dinosaurs) in a “girl” kind of way (weddings), just like Monkey enjoys a “girl” thing (Sofia) in a “boy” kind of way (evil magician). (Even these designations are arbitrary; I love a good evil magician as much as the next person.) But it doesn’t occur to companies to sell shirts with dinosaurs wearing bows in the girls’ section of the store, or with Cedric and his evil crow in the boys’. I can’t decide if this is prejudice, or capitalism, or a lack of imagination. Maybe all of the above.

Circles

Parents of children with disabilities/special needs/whatever will often relate their experience to the well-known five stages of grief. Personally, I don’t find that these stages express my own experience well. I’ve never gone through denial or bargaining with regard to Monkey’s challenges. As for the other three – anger, depression, and acceptance – I go through all of those, but not in any kind of orderly sequence. They are all sort of jumbled up together. One will predominate for a while, then another for a while, and they move in circles, overlapping, mingling.

I don’t grieve for “the child I expected to have” or “the parent I thought I would be” or any of those things that people often mention. I’m not neurotypical, I never expected to have a neurotypical child, and if anything I’m probably a better parent than I thought I would be (I had low expectations). Monkey is so much awesomer than any child I could possibly have conjured up in my imagination. In my darkest moments I don’t wish for a different child.

No, what I wish for is a different world.

It’s the world that I grieve over. Sometimes – often – Monkey is the catalyst for that grief.

For instance, while we were on vacation, we took Monkey to the park. There was a little boy there who was the same age as him – their birthdays were a week apart. The boy was zipping around on a little scooter thing; he offered Monkey a turn. Monkey tried, but couldn’t figure it out. The boy kept talking, and Monkey couldn’t keep up with him verbally. Then the boy started literally riding in circles around Monkey, who stood in the middle, bewildered, still, uncertain.

I grieved over this incident for the rest of the day. It was just too perfectly symbolic of what I see so often, and what I know will often happen in Monkey’s life – that others will run circles around him.

I had a two hour meeting with therapists and school officials earlier this week in which we all talked about all the things he isn’t doing, all the things he struggles with and needs. He will be in a special needs preschool classroom. He will get physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy. He is behind his peers. He is developmentally delayed.

But that’s not how I see it. That is, I see the difference from his peers, and I see his struggles, but I don’t see those things in light of the value judgments that the world makes. I grieve because the world values people who are FAST, and people who are STRONG. People who are loud and flashy and attractive, who know how to lie and manipulate others. Those who can run circles. Meanwhile, the world overlooks, or disdains, those who are standing in the middle of the circle – quiet, thoughtful, slow, observant – the center, the gravity that makes the orbit.

Things that go bump in the night (weighted lap pads, health care bills)

Well, I’m back. Back from a refreshing, wonderful, not-long-enough vacation to – whatever this is. “Real life”?

Monkey did much better on this trip than the last one we took (which involved self-injurious meltdowns, regression and dehydration). This time, we were prepared. We brought a binder full of visual supports, headphones, an iPad with his favorite games and videos, fidgets, a weighted lap pad with farm animals on it.

The lap pad was very calming for him on the plane. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect on the TSA agents. On our flight out, they searched my carry on, questioned me about it and then tested the lap pad for explosives. On our flight back, I removed it from the carry on before sending it through the scanner. They still questioned me and tested it for explosives. (Behold the terrifying object: Find Me Lap Pads) Despite the hassle, I will definitely bring it the next time we fly, because aside from lowering his stress level, it’s the ONLY thing that keeps Monkey from continually kicking the seat of the person in front of him.

I tried hard to avoid thinking about Monkey’s doctor’s appointments, therapies, etc, while on my vacation. However, I have been following the progress of the AHCA in the Senate and have been continuing my healthcare advocacy on and offline, contacting legislators, speaking with human rights organizations. I saw the footage of protestors being dragged out of their wheelchairs and carried away by police. That’s our future if we don’t fight back – except that, eventually, the cameras won’t be there. So, once again …

CALL YOUR SENATORS! Especially if they are Republicans. Tell them to vote NO on the AHCA.

I need a vacation.

Like, really really bad.

I’m beyond burned out. It feels kind of like depression, but it’s not, because if I spend a whole day sleeping I actually feel better afterwards. I keep starting things and then stopping them because I don’t have the energy to see them through. I don’t even have the energy to be effectively angry about the AHCA and all the other garbage the GOP is inflicting, or trying to inflict, on us.

Half the time I can’t remember what I’m doing. I know I’ve done some hilariously silly things lately – of the putting your keys in the refrigerator variety – but I can’t remember the specifics of what I did. So that’s not very funny.

What I know I’ve been doing – taking Monkey to doctor’s appointments and therapy and school evaluations, making complaints to the school district, scheduling more appointments, rescheduling them, grocery shopping and cooking (why do our bodies require so food so frequently? WHY???), deep cleaning the apartment (I seriously need a maid – I can pay exactly $0 per hour, anyone interested?) and of course making sure Monkey is washed, fed, medicated, clothed, intellectually stimulated etc. He just got his first pair of eye glasses, which look incredibly cute on him. We had a last-minute trip to the pediatrician today to try to decipher this cough he’s had for a while – to figure out which of his conditions might be causing it and whether it’s a serious one or not so much. He’s got a sedated MRI coming up. I can do all that stuff, I just have nothing left over. I’ve been dealing with my own health issues as well.

Fortunately, Monkey and his dad and I are going on a trip, very soon, to visit family. This means that for a while someone else will prepare my food and play with my child. It’s going to be fantastic. Maybe when I get back, I’ll have the mental energy to write a blog post about something other than how tired I am.

In the meantime, if you’re reading this and you DO have energy, PLEASE tell everyone you know how horrible the AHCA is. I’m not sure why the GOP is so determined to deprive kids like my son of decent medical care by segregating them into under-funded “high risk” pools; I suspect it has something to do with those big corporate tax cuts they’re handing out. Whatever the motivation, it’s not OK. It’s evil, actually.

So tell your senators, especially if they’re moderate Republicans. Yell at them for me, because I’m too tired right now to yell.