Feeling Tongue-Tied

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I’ve loved reading books and articles aloud since grade school, where my teachers were impressed by how impeccable my reading and speech patterns were compared to those of my classmates. For the past couple months, however, my reading and speech patterns have been anything but infallible.

It’s one thing for a stroke patient or someone born with a speech impediment to stumble over words or lose their train of thought while reading aloud or engaging in conversation, but I’ve never heard of someone with no speech difficulties at all as a kid suddenly starting to experience them as a young adult–especially someone like me who loves to read and talk about interesting subjects with others. Every time I would read something out loud, I would do so without any issues. My reading pattern was so perfect, I could see myself recording audiobooks! Now, when I read my textbooks for school–even stories for American Lit class!–I find myself either stumbling over my words or saying something completely different. Take this paragraph from James Purdy’s short story “Reaching Rose.”

“Richard was one of the few persons whom Mr. Sendel actually knew any more. Everyone else, somehow, was somebody you talked generalities with, but occasionally he and Richard managed to say some particularity that made up the little there was of meaning.”

Now, take a look at how I read this paragraph.

“Richard was one of the few persons whom Mr. Sendel actually knew any more. Everyone else, somehow, was somebody you talked generalities with, but occasionally he and Richard managed to say some particul- particularity that made up the little there was of meaning.”

Notice that I started reading this paragraph perfectly fine. When I reached the word “particularity,” I unconsciously paused before I could even finish saying the word.

Allow me to move on to a paragraph or two from a 2015 op-ed article from the Sun Sentinel in which the author implores Marco Rubio to resign from the U.S. Senate, since I have to read it for my News and News Reporting class on Tuesday anyhow.

“Rubio has missed more votes than any other senator this year. His seat is regularly empty for floor votes, committee meetings and intelligence briefings. He says he’s MIA from his J-O-B because he finds it frustrating and wants to be president, instead.”

Here’s how I read it.

“Rubio has missed more votes than any other senator this year. His seat is regularly empty for floor votes, committee meetings and intel- intelligence briefings. He says he’s MIA from his G-O-B because he finds it frustrating and wants to be president, instead.”

Again, I paused on the word “intelligence.” And I misspelled “JOB” by replacing “J” with “G,” which was extremely embarrassing because someone who’s so good at spelling even though she never participated in a spelling bee, let alone auditioned for one in 7th Grade, shouldn’t make such a big mistake as misspelling one simple three-letter word.

My anxiety has been somewhat diminished, but the fact I’ve been making speech errors more frequently than I like to seems to be telling me otherwise. It’s making me feel like I should either visit a neurologist to see if my anxiety has caused some damage in the Broca’s area of my brain or undergo speech and language therapy again. But then, my school putting me through speech and language therapy from pre-K to 8th Grade was less about correcting a speech impediment (because I didn’t have one to begin with) and more about improving my social skills.

I believe that this speech problem can be fixed either by myself or with some psychological help, but I’m scared that I’ll talk like Porky Pig for the rest of my life. That wouldn’t sound good for audiobooks, now  would it?

 

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Driven to Anxiety

Driven to Anxiety

I thought I would be happy to get back into the groove of academic life after my eight-month break from school, but unfortunately I’ve transferred to Florida Atlantic University in worse emotional shape than when I left Broward College with my AA degree in hand. Why? Although I’ve become more socially engaged, my anxiety has somehow managed to come back to ruin me–not just in mind, but in body and soul as well. For over two months, I’ve had heart palpitations, headaches, upset stomach, muscular spasms, and more recently pins and needles. I can still function just fine, but my body would still be in optimal condition if not for the following issues looming over my head.

  1. My incomplete novel
    • I’m just one hair strand close to done with writing my first novel, but I just needed some inspiration from Law & Order: SVU to finish the last chapter or two. I promised myself I would finish the book by the time I got back to school, but it seems I kind of let myself down. If I had signed my soul over to a publisher, then I would’ve had it finished, edited if need be, and placed it on  the shelves of Barnes & Noble a lot faster.
  2.  Driving
    • On Friday, September 9th, I passed my driving test and acquired my driver’s license. While I am grateful that I worked so hard to get the ultimate ticket to social freedom, I should’ve done this a lot sooner. Right now, I’m driving to and from school with my mom in her mini-van, and so far I’m doing remarkably well. My parents got me a new car on Halloween, but I have to put off driving it by myself for a few days.
  3. The possibility of someone ending my new relationship
    • Kristoff is just the most amazing man to ever come into my life. He’s smart, funny, affectionate–and he was in my church’s youth group back in high school (even though I don’t remember talking to him much). Unfortunately, someone on Facebook wasn’t too happy about the fact that I found love during the summer and he didn’t. That someone was my college acquaintance, who I’ll call Juan. About a week into the Olympics, Juan messaged me on Facebook asking me what I did this past summer. My answer was very simple–“I went to Vegas, went to SuperCon, and I found love.” The last part pissed Juan off to the point where he bitched at me for spending so much of my time with Kristoff and not him, to which I responded, “He’s a good guy! I even practiced some of my driving with him!” (Okay, I probably didn’t type that last sentence, even though it was true. Either way, that conversation has been long since deleted.) Juan got pissed off even more, saying that I sat our friendship on the sidelines as was the case with all of his other friends when they got into relationships. I decided he went too far, so I blocked him immediately. A few weeks later, I talked to Juan over the phone and told him that me having a new boyfriend doesn’t give him the right to yell at me. I assured him that he’ll find somebody to share his life with someday, but he has to do some growing up first. Juan apologized, and I never spoke to him again since. What Kristoff and I have is beautiful, but I’m scared that someone will do something that will bring our relationship to a screeching end.
  4. School
    • Attending university may cost a lot of money–and thank God for financial aid–but it shouldn’t have to cost me my mental health. In Broward College, I was able to focus in class and complete my assignments without any issues. Now at Florida Atlantic University, because I’m now a junior, the workload has become a little unbearable, especially because I’m taking one class that’s not exactly required for my major. On top of that, the majority of the journalism classes I need to take are held at the main campus 45 minutes from home, and my mom isn’t exactly ready for me to attend classes at that campus next semester, which means I will be forced to take two classes next semester and two classes during the summer (if my financial aid will even cover that), or I’ll have to take two online classes (which I don’t want to do, not after what happened with Intro to Ethics). If my brother is able to go to a medical school far from home, why can’t I attend a campus that has all the classes I need for my major? This brings me to my final point.
  5. Double standards
    • This practice is highly prevalent in Hispanic families: sons have more social rights, whereas daughters need to be overprotected regardless of their maturity level. Even though I’m autistic, I’m quite mature for my age, yet my mother insists that I shouldn’t participate in the some of the same activities as my brother based on the simple fact that I’m a girl.
      • My brother can go on trips to Orlando, New York, Vegas, and pretty much all the other 50 states with his friends and his girlfriend; I can only do so with my family.
      • He can work while he’s in school (although he’s unemployed now because most schools forbid Master’s students to hold a job); I cannot.
      • He can go sleep over at his girlfriend’s house if he so chooses; I cannot do the same with my boyfriend, even though his apartment has a guest room available.

These problems have been causing me great anxiety for over two months already, and I’m afraid I won’t relax until I take care of most of these issues. Why anxiety chooses to afflict the smartest people on the planet, especially autistic people, is something I cannot fathom. It’s a bitch, but I have to fight it so I can be fully happy again.

Letter to Toni Braxton Regarding Diezel’s Autism Status

Letter to Toni Braxton Regarding Diezel’s Autism Status
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Toni Braxton with Diezel at the premiere of “Motown: The Musical.” Courtesy: Essence

Dear Toni Braxton,

Recently, you have announced in an interview with Access Hollywood that your youngest son, Diezel, “is no longer autistic,” giving credit to Suzanne Wright–in light of her death from pancreatic cancer–for his ability to “overcome his diagnosis.” I’m sorry to have to say this as a fan of your music, but…

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Wave the Swallow resting on her hoverboard in issue #22 of “Sonic Universe.” The original speech caption, “LOOKS LIKE MY SENSORS WERE RIGHT AFTER ALL!” has been edited to be replaced with, “LET ME EXPLAIN TO YOU WHY THAT IS BULLSHIT.” Courtesy: Archie Comics

To say that your son is “showing no signs of autism” is to say that he has been taught to mask every trait that comprises his neurology in order to pass as a normal, average person. In other words, you and the therapists Wright referred him to have taught him that being autistic is frowned upon by society–and it shouldn’t be. Diezel may be a social butterfly now thanks to the speech and language therapy he received in school, assuming he wasn’t referred to a therapist outside of an academic facility, but that does not stipulate that he’s transformed into a neurotypical person.
Oh, and the “my son Diezel suffered from autism” line? The word “suffered” should only apply to cancer patients, NEVER autistic kids. God only gifted Diezel with the ability to think differently from everyone else.

I know all of this from my experience as an autistic woman–or an Aspie, as I like to address myself. At 18 months old, I was diagnosed with PDD-NOS. Translation: Autistic. Most boys are given a specific autism diagnosis, like Asperger’s syndrome or severe autism. Since I was a girl, the doctors didn’t know which end of the spectrum to place me, so they slapped PDD-NOS on my psychological record. I was enrolled in special education classes and mainstreamed from kindergarten until 3rd Grade, when the powers that be decided that I was intelligent enough to attend regular classes. However, I walked back and forth between my regular class and a special ed class for extra help in math until the 5th Grade. I maintained average to above-average grades, but I was forced to repeat the 3rd Grade based on my low scores on the standardized test formerly known as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). I even had to go to a speech and language therapist until the 8th Grade, although I didn’t attend a lot of sessions in 6th Grade. My teachers treated me with the utmost respect, but how my peers treated me was a different matter. While some kids were friendly with me, others just bullied and teased me for exhibiting some of the traits that came with my autistic brain, such as taking their jokes too literal, expressing interest in things that either everyone else has supposedly outgrown by the 5th Grade or earlier is strange to them, and attaining a higher GPA than most students in my class. To put it lightly, I was a glutton for verbal punishment. I even thought of being autistic as a curse because of everything I did–singing and listening to J-Pop songs, whispering to myself (both privately and publicly), expressing my love for the Sonic the Hedgehog video game franchise despite all the production problems some its games endured, and avoiding school dances (even prom, but that’s another story). Eventually, I learned that if other people don’t respect my interests, then that’s their loss.

I may have received help in learning to be sociable, but that doesn’t mean I’m “cured of autism.” Absolutely not. Society shouldn’t expect me to be less autistic, nor should they punish me for living my life differently. Just because I show some of the aforementioned quirks, doesn’t make me a bad person. My family and friends love me unconditionally for who I am. I expect you do the same for Diezel.

And for the love of God, stop supporting and working for Autism Speaks. Suzanne Wright may be gone, but the organization’s mission is still a gargantuan farce.

 

Your fan,

Cristina Alexander

Eulogy for the Ableist

I know all of you religious folk are expecting me to read a verse from the Bible. As much as I would love to read such words of inspiration written by the hands of God, today I would like read a quote from a whole different source and explain why I chose such a quote for your dearly departed Suzanne as theologically as possible.

“Darkness sleeps in every heart, no matter how pure. Given the chance, the smallest drop can spread and swallow the heart.”
Anybody wanna guess where this quote came from? Anyone?
Since no one has the slightest clue who said this, I will tell you that the philosopher who wrote this originated from a work of fiction. Not a novel, but rather a video game produced by none other than Disney and Square Enix, called Kingdom Hearts. One of the main characters, Ansem, is the fictional philosopher in question who wrote the same words I recited to you earlier in one of his reports regarding his studies of the darkness of the heart.

Suzanne Werner-Wright, like most people, was born with a pure heart–a heart that saw no imperfections in anyone, even if they saw themselves or others as imperfect in any way. But as soon as one of her grandchildren became autistic, Wright struggled to prevent darkness from unleashing itself inside her heart. The more imperfections she saw in her grandson, the more darkness had taken hold of her heart and drove her to stomp out people with the neurology under the guise of charity.

Instead of providing us autistic people the supports and accommodations we felt were appropriate, Suzanne did us a grave disservice by stigmatizing our neurology through advertisements claiming that autism is a disease that spreads faster than cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined; that we contribute to the 50% divorce rate in this country; and that our behaviors, intentional or otherwise, bring shame and embarrassment to our families in public places.

Instead of focusing on the positive aspects of autism–high IQs, intense focus on fields interesting to us (be it STEM, arts and literature, video games, music, or even history), enhanced vocabularies–Suzanne scrutinized the complications autism brings–anxiety, meltdowns, and speech impairments–and referred our families to mental facilities notorious for abusive practices, like applied behavioral analysis (ABA) and electric shock therapy, she believes are designed to eliminate our behaviors and, ultimately, cure autism.

Despite her best intentions, Suzanne NEVER advocated for the acceptance of autistic people. All she’s done in her last 11 years of life was encourage the wider society to tell us over and over again that being autistic is not okay, therefore we should be punished, or even killed if need be.

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Black and red grunge texture wallpaper bearing the sentence, “Suzanne did us a grave disservice by stigmatizing our neurology through advertisements claiming that autism is a disease that spreads faster than cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined; that we contribute to the 50% divorce rate in this country; and that our behaviors, intentional or otherwise, bring shame and embarrassment to our families in public places.”

Take a look at me. I’ve been autistic for most of my 22 years on this earth, and I know a lot about the life of an autistic person ten times better than Suzanne has. Did I cause my parents’ divorce when I was almost 2? No. Have I ever embarrassed my family in public in any way? Maybe, but I don’t remember exactly what I did to embarrass them. Does the fact that I received speech and language therapy and acquired social skills from pre-K to 8th Grade mean that I’m no longer autistic? ABSOLUTELY NOT. I only attended one Autism Speaks walk in my sophomore year of high school, and I never went back. Suzanne’s “Call to Action” speech in Washington, D.C. two years later confirmed my decision to not walk for the organization since she deemed us and our families “not living.” Upon hearing this from John Elder Robison, who resigned from the Autism Speaks Board of Science, I plucked the two puzzle piece bracelets I got from the Autism Speaks walk out of my purse and threw them in the trash, ultimately renouncing my support for the organization.

I’m proud to be autistic, and I’m glad that I’ve met people who are on the same boat as me. Together, we are working and/or have worked to defeat every demeaning autism stereotype in Suzanne’s book. She said that we will never attend college and graduate with a degree; we are, and we have–because we have every right to an education. She said we will never leave our parents’ homes and find jobs we’ll be successful in; we are, and we have–because we have every right to live independently. She said we’ll never find love, get married, and raise children (if we so choose); we are, and we have–because we have every right to be in loving relationships.

About Suzanne’s claim that autism is like cancer–the joke’s on her. Darkness had spread everywhere in her body and consumed her before she even had the slightest decency to apologize to all of us for saying such lies about us. I understand that where she will go from here depends on the Lord’s judgment, but because she has promoted ableism against us all these years, I believe she does not deserve to spend eternity in Heaven.

If I ever have children and any of them turn out to be autistic–which is likely due to genetics–I will treat them with bountiful love and respect, and raise them to advocate for their human rights if anyone ever tells them their lives and their contributions to society don’t matter. I will never subject them to any abusive therapies and treatments Suzanne and other so-called “autism warrior parents” swear by to change them. Don’t agree with me? Then I have a special guest here to sing a song dedicated to you and all those who have supported Suzanne’s ableist endeavors.

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Disturbed performing “Who Taught You How to Hate” from their latest album, Immortalized.

Good night, everybody.

 

GameStop and Autism Speaks: An Unholy Union 2.0

It’s times like this when I wish I didn’t have to go on the Internet on my phone every ten minutes, with or without Wi-Fi, like everybody else.

GameStop has become the second video game company after Activision to form an alliance with Autism Speaks to raise funds for their Light It Up Blue campaign during Autism Awareness Month. At point-of-sale, employees at GameStop and it’s subsidiaries Think Geek, Spring Mobile, Cricket Wireless, and Simply Mac will ask customers if they wish to donate $1 to the organization, most specifically their Family Services iPad Grant program, in which autistic children and adults living in poverty receive iPads. Only 4,000 iPads have been donated throughout the U.S. since 2012. (Really?)

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Courtesy: Gamespot

Upon hearing this news on Twitter yesterday, my anxiety levels shot through the roof. My stomach was in flames, and I felt like my heart and brain were gonna explode on me. I was too pissed off to even write about it.

I’ve been shopping in GameStop for as long as I can remember–playing demos, reading Game Informer, even talking to some employees about the latest games (mostly Sonic the Hedgehog, Kingdom Hearts, and recently Pokémon). Funny enough, I wanted to talk to some of the GameStop employees I know at the mall about this damning partnership, but they were either off or too busy stocking up on the new games that came out this week, so I left them to their devices until next time.

Aside from books, video games have always been a safe haven for me to run away from all the bullying I was subjected to in both elementary and middle school (and at some points in high school). The characters from every game I have played assured me that I can accomplish anything I want regardless of what offensive bullshit other people say to me, even if I take such bullshit to heart. Playing in the worlds of both Sonic and Sora (since Kingdom Hearts II) made me feel loved, accepted, and that I could beat all the odds. GameStop and other retailers, i.e. Walmart, Target and Best Buy, provided all that. Now, to have my favorite video game retailer associate themselves with an organization that dehumanizes the very group of people who call the virtual world a safe haven [without even so much as to conduct research on them and their cruel objective]…

I just want to scream loud enough to rip a hole in the space-time continuum. I’m heartbroken times ten.

Autism Speaks has hit WAAYYY TOO CLOSE to home this time. I won’t have it.

 

Zootopia Roars Powerful Message on Inclusion

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Officer Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde talk to Flash the Sloth at the Zootopia DMV.

Disney, you have proved once again that the storytelling in your animated films can worm their way into an Aspie girl’s heart and mind, especially with your recent story Zootopia.

Zootopia (or Zootropolis for most of Europe) tells the story of Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin), a small-town rabbit who dreams of becoming the first rabbit police officer in the big titular city where prey and predator animals of every breed and species live together in peace and harmony. Judy trains very hard to achieve this goal, and thanks to the Mammal Inclusion Initiative, she is awarded her badge and enlisted in the police force. Unfortunately, Judy’s small-minded boss, the cape buffalo Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), assigns her the task of writing up parking tickets as he does not believe that the small rabbit could catch up with the big guys in the missing animals case. During her first time out on the job, Judy encounters con artist fox Nick Wilde (the lovable and incomparable Jason Bateman), and they find themselves on a wild goose chase to crack a missing animals case and, in the process, uncover a conspiracy that could upset the social balance of Zootopia.

Just as Frozen promoted feminism in the most unorthodox way possible, Zootopia promotes, through the allegorical use of the new anthropomorphic animal characters they have created, the acceptance of diversity and the avoidance of prejudice–a topical message that the entire world needs to hear and take to heart right now, especially in the United States. We all need to learn that the minority groups we’ve been taught to fear from early on mean absolutely no harm to anyone and that they deserve just as much human rights as everyone else.

Especially people in the autism community.

Even before the word “autism” was coined by psychiatrists in the early 20th century, people were afraid of us, our neurology, and our way of viewing the world. I mean, just because we autistic people have a little bit of trouble with verbal communication doesn’t mean we don’t have a voice at all. While some of us on the spectrum are verbal, such as myself, there are others who find other ways to get their messages across to people. We may use an iPad, a computer, or even sign language to communicate our wants and needs to others, and that shouldn’t prevent us from getting the jobs of our interests.

Just because we see and think about the world–or some aspects of it–differently, don’t punish us for sharing such views with you. While you may say that a college degree is the key to lifelong success on the financial front, I may say that there are people in this world who are successful even without a college degree, proving that there are others to make achievements that doesn’t have to include college because it’s not for everybody anyway. Should I be punished in any way, shape or form for saying that? No. I will respect your opinion and way of life as long as you respect mine.

Just because we’re exhibit obsessive interests in areas of art, literature, science and technology, don’t punish us for that either. I have a great taste for anime and video games, and would like to write about my experiences in the anime/video game community someday. I also wear shirts that display my favorite anime/video game characters sometimes. Should I be punished in any way, shape or form for exhibiting my inner child and my interests in those art fields by wearing such attire? Absolutely not. If I want to wear a T-shirt with Sonic or Hello Kitty printed on it, don’t tell me that I’m a woman-child for doing so.

And just because we’re introverts doesn’t mean we’re incapable of making friends and maintaining friendships. We may like to spend time by ourselves or with our families, but we still have the desire to spend time with people we played and went to school with. I know I do, and I’m trying my best to be with them every chance I get. [Thanks to Facebook,] I recently made four new friends from my high school, two of whom I went to see Zootopia with last Friday night. They’re all really nice, and I’m happy to be a part of their group.

Zootopia has done a fantastic job advocating for diversity and the inclusion of people from different walks of life, and I applaud them for shining a spotlight on the issue. I hope this movie put Autism Speaks in their place.

And may I just say that Shakira’s new song “Try Everything” is sublime? It’s my new anthem.

 

P.S. You may have noticed that there were no birds flying or walking around the city of Zootopia. The producers did talk about placing avian species in the movie, but cut them out completely due to time constraints.

 

 

 

 

Skylanders and Autism Speaks: An Unholy Union

Looks like I’m not gonna be playing Skylanders, or any game from Activision, anytime soon.

I found out yesterday–on Leap Day, no less–that the Activision brand has teamed up with Autism Speaks for the Light It Up Blue campaign during Autism Awareness Month in April by painting a new set of Skylanders SuperChargers toys in white and blue, the official colors of the infamous autism organization. The Light It Up Blue editions of Splat and Trigger Happy, along their respective vehicles, Splatter Splasher and Gold Rusher, are now available wherever Skylanders toys are sold as part of the campaign.

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A screenshot of the Autism Speaks: Light It Up Blue edition of Splat in Skylanders SuperChargers. Courtesy: IGN

I could care less about the Skylanders franchise because I do not have the console system on which to play the game, but to hear of an alliance between one of the most popular video game companies and an organization that does not support autistic gamers makes me feel like I got stabbed in the chest just inches close to the heart.

Josh Taub, senior vice president of product management at Activision, contradicted himself when announcing the company’s partnership with Autism Speaks on the controversial Light It Up Blue campaign. Taub called autistics superheroes in Activision’s blog post, writing, “Like so many superheroes before them, they are often misunderstood or teased because of their particular abilities. They see the world differently, and even though their surroundings can feel outright hostile to them at times, their very presence makes the world a better place to those special enough to know them and support them.” It’s true, we autistic people do make the world a better place by using the abilities autism gave us to our advantage, but to say something positive about us and then turn around and join a fear-mongering organization in their efforts to further raise awareness and enhance the stigma about our neurology and eliminate us from the face of the earth through eugenics, ABA, and propaganda by painting your Skylanders products in their hospital-esque colors and selling them is beyond my comprehension. I suggest you disassociate your company from Autism Speaks and work with other autism organizations that actually support and work for us.

Autism Speaks, how fucking dare you extend your toxic stronghold of discrimination to the gaming community? There are at least 50% of gamers who are autistic, if not more, and I am one of them. Activision may not be one of the companies I purchase games from, but you still had the audacity to force a gaming company to support your prejudicial campaign by creating “special edition” products in your name. God forbid you do this to SEGA, Square Enix or Nintendo–three major video game companies I love–if you have not done so already. I will raise a lot of hell if you implore them to discriminate against their autistic fans, such as myself, by working with you.

That is a gamer’s promise.