Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Today We Stand United

Today is a day I honestly never thought we'd see in our lifetimes. It's the day that hatred, bigotry, sexism, ableism, and homophobia have won a major victory in the western political landscape. Indeed, today is the day that Donald J Trump has won the Presidency of the United States of America...and I think I speak for all of those who are not straight, white, neurotypical males when I say that the world weeps.

Strictly speaking, this isn't a post entirely about neurodiversity, nor is Donald Trump my president since I'm a Canadian citizen. Nevertheless, this has the potential to affect us all. During his campaign, Donald Trump ridiculed women, gays, people of colour, the poor, and those who are disabled, either mentally or physically. He has shown no respect for anyone different from himself and his supporters. He employed the rhetoric of one of the most hateful, violent and dangerous ideologies ever conceived by a human mind (fascism) and...perhaps most terrifyingly of all, he won. Whether you're American, Canadian or from any other nation on this planet, this should terrify us all. A dark chapter in human history is about to unfold.

And yet I urge all of you to stay strong! Band together! Those of us who are part of marginalized groups are no strangers to struggle; indeed we've been defined by it in the past! Molded by it! Members of our communities have endured concentration camps, apartheid, eugenics, mental hospitals, police brutality and even run of the mill ableism, and yet through it all, we've always emerged stronger, more united than ever. Today marks another one of those days where we need to take such a stand.

The beauty of humanity has always rested in our diversity as a species. We've always been at our best when we've celebrated those differences (be they physical, mental, cultural, sexual, or spiritual) and used such celebration to unite us in our common humanity rather than divide us. Today, Donald Trump stands poised to tear down everything we've worked so hard to achieve in the western world. We can't let this happen. Let this be a rallying cry; today, Neurodiversity activists must stand tall, not just for our own needs and self-representation, but alongside our brothers and sisters in the feminist, LGBTQ, racial equality and other movements. Today, our resolve must not falter, nor must our hope waver.

If Donald Trump is going to attack the liberties of every American directly, and every human indirectly, then we need to make him and others like him pay for each bigoted step backwards they take.

As always, yours in diversity,

Adam Michael

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Photons (And Aspies) Be Free: What Star Trek: Voyager's EMH Can Teach Us About Neurodiversity

So I’ve been re-watching Star Trek: Voyager lately, and something occurred to me; I Identify with the Emergency Medical Hologram. Also known as the EMH, or “The Doctor” and played by the talented Robert Picardo, the Doctor’s character functioned primarily as ‘the other’: the one looking in, aspiring to be more than the sum of his programming, but struggling against everyone’s preconceived notions of what a hologram can and can’t do. He also dealt with his crewmates’ well-intentioned-yet-misguided attempts to “repair” anything they deemed wrong with his program…at least at first. As an Aspie, I'm sure I don't have to spell out how relateable this is on so many levels…something I never realized as a kid watching the show for the first time.

Much like those of us on the Autism Spectrum, the Doctor needed to fight for his right to exist as he was on numerous occasions. Once, for example, when his program encountered the digital version of a depressive episode after he failed to save a crew member, Captain Janeway thought nothing of erasing those memories from his database. Except she didn’t…not perfectly anyway. The Doctor spent the rest of the episode recovering his memories and making the argument that for good or ill, he had the right to his memories, his hurt, his feelings. On yet another episode, after encountering a group of fellow sentient holograms fighting for their rights, he disobeyed Janeway’s direct order that he not get involved and joined in their struggle when it became clear that no one truly valued their existence as individuals. Naturally, the parallels for us spectrum-dwellers are clear. After all, what is the desire to cure autism other than the complete erasure of who someone is and their replacement with someone deemed “more normal?” What right does anyone have to talk about how much we suffer when they don't walk in our shoes? How many of us face being underestimated on a daily basis simply due to our ASD diagnoses? In these ways, with that kind of pressure, it’s only natural that we identify with a character like The Doctor. After all, in many ways, we’ve each been in his shoes at some point.

Part of the brilliance of Star Trek has always been its exploration of what it means to be human, especially from the perspective of characters who aren’t a member of that group. While Voyager draws the ire of fans for many reasons, one thing the show did wonderfully was the growth of The Doctor as a character. Here was someone who was nothing more than a computer generated projection of light and photons on first glance, but who was actually far more than that. The Doctor was single-minded in his duty at first, and didn’t know how to relate politely and amicably with his crew. He was an arrogant genius lacking social graces, who through the understanding of his friends, was allowed to grow and develop in his own way. If this sounds familiar to any of you fellow Aspies it should; this is what a truly understanding society could do for us too if only it existed. Rather than trying to cure Autism and make people fit into neat little boxes, we all need to learn from the Doctor’s story; show kindness to those who are different and allow them to grow into the perfect versions of themselves.

Only then, in the words of Spock, will we all “live long and prosper.”

Yours in diversity,

Adam Michael

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Autism Speaks...for Change?? (Or Did We Somehow End Up In The Mirror Universe?)

About a week ago, something happened which, I believe, has the potential to rock the Autistic and Neurodiversity community to its core. No, society hasn't magically become a more accepting place, and no, people haven't magically become aware of the evils of ABA. What did happen, however, may be equally as big; Autism Speaks revoked their focus on cureism in their official mission statement.

For those who aren't aware, Autism Speaks is one of the biggest players in Autism advocacy. Unfortunately, they've also traditionally been one of the most damaging organizations in the public eye, promoting a dangerous vision of Autism as a defect and something to be both pitied and cured. They have run hurtful PR campaigns which have presented ASD as an epidemic and tragedy, and in so doing have alienated those of us on the spectrum in big ways. At best, many of us simply dislike AS for the things they have worst? Psychological damage has occurred. The average person has no real concept of how bad Autism Speaks is for Autistics, however, since they've basically become the de-facto Autism charity. Everything from "Lighting it up blue" to the puzzle piece have all been created by this organization...often without even consulting Autistics themselves.

And yet...last week things have shown signs of getting better. Autism Speaks reworked their mission statement and removed any trace of cureist language from it. Gone are messages promoting the elimination of autistics; in their place Autism Speaks has made a great fuss about providing the support Autistics need to live full lives. It's a really nice and inspiring thing to see, and I'm hopeful that this means real change is on the way.

Ultimately, do I trust that this organization will do the right thing? I'm sorry...but no. The damage has been done and all of us in the Neurodiversity community feel far too burned to ever give Autism Speaks an ounce of our trust. Even still, I do hope that this means clearer waters ahead for those of us who are Neurodivergent. Autism Speaks is made up of humans after all, (and neurotypical ones at that)...isn't change supposed to be something we are all capable of?

As always yours in diversity,

Adam Michael

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

“Unintentional Ignorance”: Why Society Doesn’t Seem To Understand Neurodivergence And How To Fix It.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how mainstream society treats those of us who are not neurotypical. It varies of course; condescending pity, genuine but misguided desire to help by doing things for us, assuming we aren’t capable of doing jobs simply due to the wiring of our minds, and so on. The one certain thing about all of it though, is that our modern world just doesn’t seem to know what to do with those of us who are different. It almost seems to baffle them that we exist at all! We’ve only very recently come to terms with the fact that it is perfectly okay for humans to have different skin colour, hair colour, eye colour, handedness, physical builds and many other variations, yet we still don’t understand that the same kind of diversity exists within the human brain itself. If we did, autism ‘treatments’ wouldn’t strive to normalize those on the spectrum nearly as much.

I know this is an old rant, and that I’ve had it countless times before, but I’ve had it driven home for me recently just how little people really know about autism, ADHD and a plethora of other conditions beyond the stereotypical propaganda. In my own experience, it has not been uncommon to find myself talking with someone at work or out in public whose heart is in the best of places but who also makes certain untrue and unfair assumptions about those who are neurodivergent. “Oh he socializes really well for someone with autism!” they might say, or “well you know, she can’t sit still because she has ADHD.” The crushing thing about such statements is that, while there is always an element of truth, they are overly simplistic and don’t give enough agency to the person they’re referring to. Not only that, but even more damning is that most people can’t help but have these assumptions because it’s the only side of this discussion they’ve been exposed to. Autism Speaks and a plethora of other organizations are to blame for that.

So how do we fight back against this rising tide of unintentional ignorance? Speak out, inform, educate. I’ve said it before, but for those of us fighting this battle, assuming that others should do their homework and inform themselves is a luxury we cannot afford to have. We need to be out there, talking about our own experiences as neurodivergent people, normalizing the existence of diverse permutations of human grey matter, and all around making it be okay for people to be true to who they are. I understand this isn’t always easy; some employers may not understand, nor might some close friends. Standing up might be difficult, but I would argue that if things weren’t worth doing they wouldn’t be a challenge. Only by doing this can we receive the assistance we need, while respecting our right to exist as people. In short, the only way to achieve the shift in public consciousness we seek is to lead by example and show people the way. They need us to SHOW them what to do with us...and that is to love and accept us for being exactly as we’re supposed to be.

After all, it was Mohandas Ghandi who said we “must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

As always, yours in diversity.

Adam Michael

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Cosplay and the Art of Empowerment

So I won't lie, I'm a huge nerd. Those of you who've followed this blog since the beginning should know this well by now, but basically when I'm not spending my time blogging about Aspergers, Autism and Neurodiversity, I spend it thoroughly immersing myself in nerd culture. This past weekend in particular was amazing for that: I got to spend the entire day on Saturday at FanExpo Canada in Toronto, Ontario! I got to meet some great people, take some great pictures and attend some amazing Q and A sessions (with John Barrowman and Kate Mulgrew respectively – each of them incredible and talented performers!). It wasn't until I was tackling the long, four hour drive home alone in my car that I got to thinking about just how much of a positive impact being a part of the nerd subculture has had on me. Specifically, I'm talking about cosplay.  

For those not in the know, cosplay is a hobby where nerds dress up in costumes dedicated to any one of the many fandoms we all tend to have. It's why geek conventions are filled with aliens, assassins, superheroes, soldiers and lots of other funky and cool characters, and why you can often see just what happens when a stormtrooper takes on a Star Trek redshirt (provided you can get two willing cosplayers to go along with it – remember, cosplay is not consent!). While the rest of the world sees a bunch of nerds flaunting their weirdness and dressing up, however, they're missing just how empowering and life-changing this hobby can be. I guarantee if you were to ask any given cosplayer at a convention about it, they'd all tell you how getting into the hobby has made them happier people. 

When I was a kid going through middle school, I got bullied relentlessly for being a nerd and having nerdy interests. In particular, the other students in my class thought it was hilarious that I was in to Star Trek and other science fiction properties since it apparently made me weird. After all of the teasing I endured because of being a Trekkie, I entered my first year of high school deathly terrified that anyone should ever learn that I enjoyed Gene Roddenberry's universe. People would ask me if I liked Star Trek and I would cringe in fear...possibly even deny that I did. If someone had told me back then that, in about 13 years, I'd be getting on public transit in Toronto dressed in a Starfleet uniform heading to a convention filled with fellow nerds and embracing all aspects of nerd culture? I might have laughed in disbelief. And yet, that's exactly what I did this past weekend. It felt amazing! 

For someone like myself, who is both an Aspie with difficulty in social situations and a lifelong nerd who's been ostracized for it, something like FanExpo can be extremely liberating. Dressing up in a far out costume and going to a place where I'm embraced by my fellow nerds and really allowed to express that side of myself has been empowering to me ever since I first started cosplaying and attending conventions years ago. It's allowed me to ramble passionately about my geek interests with others who are just as obsessive as I am on the subject, and to proudly and defiantly embrace a core part of who I am. More than anything, dressing up in cosplay and going to FanExpo (or any convention really) feels like going home and being with my own people. More so, it has allowed me to develop my confidence to the point that I can now walk down the streets of a big city like Toronto dressed in costume and not feel self-conscious. I can't begin to tell you how that has helped my self esteem and self worth. 

Beyond all the panels, Q and As, and memorabilia, this, to me, is the heart of fan conventions and of cosplay. It's a chance for a group of people who have usually been bullied or experienced hardship due to their interests to defiantly strut their stuff and embrace themselves. Because of conventions and cosplay, people like myself who had for the longest time lived in fear of being teased for their differences can stand strong and walk proudly on to a city bus dressed as Commander Riker.  Learning to be true to ourselves and stand proud is a difficult lesson to learn for anyone, but thanks to cosplay and nerd conventions, this has been made a little bit least if you're a nerd. 

Have your own stories of empowerment through cosplay or the nerd subculture as a whole? Let me know in the comments! 

As always, yours in diversity! 

Adam Michael 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

"Don't Judge Me On How I Talk": The Curse of Verbal Clumsiness

I had something happen to me the other day at work that I just knew had to be made into a blog post. I was in the washroom of all places, finishing up my business when I started making small talk with another gentleman who was washing his hands. After the usual "you're working late" and "another day, another dollar," cliches had been exchanged, I found myself suddenly feeling awkward and struggling to string together a logical sentence. It was as though my brain knew it wanted to be smooth and casual, but my words wouldn't co-operate. I rambled slightly, grinned awkwardly, washed my own hands and promptly escaped from the scene and back to my desk. 

From talking to some fellow Aspies and reading testimonials online, I know I'm not the only spectrum-dweller who experiences this. It's as though my thought processes move too fast for my speech to adequately explain them. When I try, I fumble, struggle or have to calm myself down and try again. My friend Nancy has taken to calling her ability to understand me in these situations "speaking Adam fluently," but as giggle-worthy as that is, it highlights a problem many of us Aspies and Autistics face. The fact is, verbal communication is often too sluggish and limited for the thoughts that go through our brains. 

I've often had the experience that I write far better than I speak. My old manager at Blockbuster Video (remember that place?) used to say that I was slightly awkward, and I certainly felt that way when speaking face to face with someone. When given either a pen and paper or a computer with a word processor, however, I've often amazed others with the eloquence of my communicative ability. I've built worlds, created entire species, argued for political change and expressed the deepest, darkest parts of myself through the written word in ways that I could only dream of doing with my mouth and verbal communication. In short, writing sets my mind free from the constraints of my physical body and its limited communication abilities. After all, words, gestures and the unconscious interpretation of pheromones and facial features (in non-autistics at least) are so limited compared to the soaring imagination of a mind freed from these things and allowed to explore. 

For this reason, I think it's silly that many psychological professionals judge the intelligence of Neurodiverse individuals on their ability to speak and their speaking patterns. There are, after all, countless tales of savants who can't speak a word but who are capable of great works of music, culture, art, and even philosophical insight. Speech is not the only means of communication available to humans, and on the flip side, to quote Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, "the ability to speak does not make one intelligent." We need to move beyond thinking of verbal speech as the only way people can talk to each other and express themselves when it simply isn't. Only a more open-minded approach to human communication will allow all those of us who are neurodiverse to participate fully in our society and truly share our gifts with the world. 

As always, yours in diversity. 

Adam Michael. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Adam vs Motivation: The Struggle is Real

My struggle with motivation is nothing new. In fact, if you go back far enough, it was the reason behind so many of my school-related arguments with my parents growing up. It always seemed as though I would rather be doing something, anything, else rather than what it was that I was supposed to do. This is, after all, the curse of being born with the specific combination of Aspergers and ADHD-Inattentive that I have, and it has made life interesting to say the least. Indeed, be it elementary school, or my graduate studies program, one thing has always been certain; it has been a constant war between Adam and his motivation.

It should come as no surprise that I’m sitting here writing this while coming off the tail end of a month-long lack-of-motivation streak. In fact, that’s exactly why I chose this particular topic to write about. In fairness, it has been a busy month; my grandmother has been in the hospital, I’ve had to focus my efforts on work, and so on. Even still, such excuses only go so far. They don’t justify my not taking even a moment to write a quick blog post. This is where being Neurodivergent definitely comes into play since all of this relates back to our good old friend Executive Functioning. EF is the brain function that controls regulation of actions and motivation, among others. In the minds of people with Aspergers and ADHD, this function is slightly impaired. I’m not using this as an excuse for my lack of work on this blog in the past month; I am firmly of the belief that one still needs to take responsibility for one’s own actions. Despite that, however, it helps to know how Executive Functioning impairments do make seemingly simple tasks more difficult to carry out in real life.

The Aspie brain has an interesting relationship with motivation. When there’s something we’re interested in, we can hyperfocus in on it to an incredible degree, and all other concerns (including time itself) seem to melt away while we work on our passions. On the other hand, doing hard work on something we aren’t so interested in can feel like pulling teeth. The problem is, life isn’t always filled with things we want to do and are super interested in doing. Often times, there are many daily tasks that we may not want to do and may try to avoid like the bubonic plague. This gets doubly as hard when you aren’t neurotypical, as despite all of the amazing gifts that come with being neurodivergent, I’ve long said that it’s a give and take...and this is definitely of the latter variety. The trick to coping with motivational difficulties is simply perseverence, in addition to finding other little tricks that encourage you to keep on keeping on with whatever project it is you’re working on. For me, that involves assigning myself daily goals and limits. I do what I set out to do that day and that’s it, no more, and certainly no less. It’s a trick I picked up in university, and I’ve sworn by it ever since.

Motivation is one of those things we all struggle with, whether we’re neurotypical or neurodivergent. No matter where you come from and from what angle you come at it, learning to cope with motivational challenges is never easy. When you’re on the spectrum, however, it can be even harder. The only advice I can give is, keep on striving. Endure, find tricks to cope, and most of all, believe in yourself. You are exactly who you need to be, and you can do it!

As always, yours in diversity,

Adam Michael

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations": Sulu's Sexuality and Why I Respectfully Disagree With George Takei (Only This Once!)

Before I begin this rant, I just want to say one thing; I dislike Star Trek 2009. It’s not that it’s a bad movie to be sure – it and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness were rollicking good times at the movies during which I thoroughly enjoyed myself. That being said, however, in my opinion they didn’t feel like Star Trek. For a series which has always been so focused on exploration, pushing boundaries, seeking new life and new civilizations, and understanding the human condition, the new movies felt so very action-y. Because of this, I was overjoyed to see that, just in time for Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, the team behind the upcoming Star Trek Beyond had chosen to embrace the true spirit of Star Trek in a very important way. The writers of the new movie, in a move meant to honour both Gene Roddenberry’s vision of equality for all and actor/LGBT activist George Takei, made U.S.S. Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu gay. And I for one couldn’t be happier!

Strangely, the loudest opposition to this has come not from the homophobes and their apologists, but from an unlikely source; George Takei himself! In a press release, he said that, while he is totally in favour of an LGBT character being introduced on Star Trek, he felt that making it one of the main cast threatens to undermine the thought Roddenberry put into each of his characters. Indeed, the debate got so intense that Simon Pegg, who both wrote the new movie and stars in it as Scotty, wrote his own rebuttal, in which he states that, for one, this is an alternate universe, and for two, it had to be an existing character so as not to embrace tokenism and reduce a new character to their sexuality. In essence, Pegg wanted to mirror on the big screen what is a common occurance for many in the real world; finding out a close friend or family member is gay, and not having it change one’s opinion of another in any way.

Frankly, I’m a big fan of Simon Pegg’s justification for choosing Sulu since it serves as an example of just how important it is to not reduce any human down to a label. In fact, this is an important message not just for the LGBT community but also for the Neurodiversity community as well. Mental health and neurological difference are both still so stigmatized in our world that, for every person who is evidently and obviously different, there are so many others of us who manage to fly beneath the radar. For those of us able to pass as neurotypical and, as Elsa says in Disney’s Frozen, “conceal, don’t feel,” there can be just as much of a feeling of living in the closet as for anyone who is gay. People come to know us a certain way, accept us a certain way, and may not be aware that there is anything different about us. This all, of course, comes crashing to a halt in many cases when the truth is revealed. All of a sudden, the label becomes all that many people can see, and they neglect any of the other strengths of character that may define us far more than a single diagnostic word. For this reason, I have to disagree with George Takei; Sulu is absolutely the perfect choice for an LGBT crew member, and Simon Pegg’s portrayal of it in script – that it’s no big deal and no one bats an eye or cares – is so critically important. It does what Star Trek does best; it shows us the best of humanity and what is possible when we embrace love and reject hate. This is why it is so important that this not simply be an aspect of the Kelvin Timeline Sulu and not also his prime originator; after all, it’s much more poignant for the audience to have gotten to know this character for 50 years before finding out about his sexual orientation, since it allows people to judge him on his merits as a character, not strictly on his sexuality. It does a great deal to enhance the character and convey an important point about labels not defining us as humans. While I’ve been lucky to have many accepting friends and family, I dream of the day when this is true for those of us who are neurodivergent as well.

Mr. Takei, don’t take this the wrong way; I have been, and always shall be, a big fan of yours. You defined the character of Hikaru Sulu and bravely stood against racism in the process at a time when the Japanese were still freshly coming off of being one of the United States’ biggest enemies. Your presence on the bridge of the starship Enterprise normalized people of all different races and ethnicities working together. With your hard work, Hikaru Sulu was able to boldly go where no one had gone before, and this is work you have continued in your real life struggle for LGBT equality. In many ways, sexual orientation is the new racism (even though the old racism has hardly gone away), and your former character is the perfect ambassador for not just those who are gay, but for all of us striving for greater acceptance and equality for who we truly are. Let Star Trek continue the work that you began all those years ago, and let Hikaru Sulu continue to point the way ahead both in terms of human rights and from the navigation console of the Enterprise’ bridge.

After all, to quote an ancient Vulcan proverb; infinite diversity in infinite combinations.  

As always, yours in said infinite diversity,

Adam Michael

Monday, July 4, 2016

Self Love: A Personal Journey

This entry isn't strictly about Neurodiversity, but I do feel that it is relevant on a larger scale. I know we've all felt it; the judgment of our peers, the social pressure to conform to an acceptable definition of normal. Indeed, we seem to thrive on shaming as a society, whether well-intentioned or otherwise. We seem to have a perception that shame is the only way we can improve ourselves and others, and this couldn't be more wrong. 

In addition to being an Aspie, I've always struggled with my weight. I've never been a small kid: I love food far too much for that to ever have been the case. When I reached my first year of university, things came to a head and, like most new college students, I lived off the cheap food available in the cafeteria. Needless to say, I gained a lot of weight that year.  

Something I'm only starting to admit to myself and to others now is that I flirted with an eating disorder that year. My step mom and my dad are wonderful people don't get me wrong, but they haven't always been the most accepting of the concept of body positivity. So thoroughly did I embrace this skewed vision of healthy where "thin is in" that it got to the point where I was afraid to eat a chocolate bar. I would also obsessively weigh myself every day and if I went a pound higher than where I wanted to be, I'd deprive myself of some morsel of food in order to compensate.  

Recently, I've come to the point where I no longer care about what people think. It wasn't an easy journey, and there are always moments where I'm weak, but I've been making a concerted effort to love and accept myself as I am. I'm easily far heavier now than I was back then, but I also feel far happier emotionally and spiritually than I did. As I realized this, it made me really consider what is important in life.  

Judgment and arbitrary definitions of normalcy are things that everyone faces at some point or another. Everyone and their dog has some idea of how others should be, and this leads to a high incidence of depression and suicide in our society, as people find that they ultimately can't compete. In this world, self love is a radical, much needed and yet little understood thing. There is something profoundly liberating about accepting oneself as one is, and yet society continues to encourage the opposite from all of us. 

It's taken me a long time to get to the point where I love myself fully, as a larger human, as an Aspie, and as anything else that may be a part of my makeup. Even still, self love will always be something I struggle with. It's high time we start promoting this concept. After all, we are all perfectly who we are meant to be…why shouldn't we love ourselves for it? 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Oh No! I Appear To Have Missed Autistic Pride Day: Why Every Day Should Be About Autism Acceptance

So it seems that I'm a bad Neurodiversity activist, at least momentarily. This past Saturday, my friends and I had a great camp, barbecue and swimming weekend a little bit out of North Bay, Ontario on beautiful Lake Nippissing. In my haste to pack the car, buy sunscreen, help with the food prep and drive the two hours there and back one important fact completely slipped my mind:
Saturday was Autistic Pride Day. 

Indeed, when I checked my social media accounts and saw them flooded with a slew of Autistic Pride posts, my heart sank a little. After all, what kind of Neurodiversity activist and cause fighter am I if I completely forget to post something special to Differently Wired on this of all days? I hastily re-shared a blog post by fellow Autistic blogger Alyssa Hubert and wrote a quick "Yay! Pride!" message between hamburgers and beers and called it a day. Duty done...even if it was a rather half-assed contribution.

Except it really wasn't duty done...not fully. If anything, this whole experience has gotten me thinking; should we keep this important sentiment limited to one day? When I say this, I feel like anyone who has ever said that "every day should be Christmas," because we should be kind to people all year round, but I really do feel its a shared sentiment. I'll never say that it isn't important for oppressed minorities to have a day of defiant pride and celebration - indeed, this is essential for any group in the fight for equality. All I'm saying is,  we really shouldn't only take one day in June to celebrate our pride as people on the Spectrum in being who we are. I know many of us also choose to defiantly mark April as Autism ACCEPTANCE Month or Neurodiversity Month, but even still this isn't enough. It's fantastic that we do, but we should be pushing for our voices to be heard every day of our lives. After all, the mainstream media doesn't take a holiday, and we need to be out there educating others and reaffirming our right to be different and exist in this world. Because being on the Autism spectrum doesn't make us broken; it makes us unique and equally deserving of dignity, respect and acceptance.

So this is my affirmation to all of you that I'll never stop fighting or wait for only one day or one month in order to campaign for the recognition of dignity and respect for every human on this planet who is differently wired. After all, if the average human lifespan is roughly 80 years, then every one of us has the right to be accepted, respected and loved every day of those eight or more decades. Anything other than that is just totally wrong.

As always yours in diversity, 

Adam Michael

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Tragedy in Orlando: Why Words And Ideas Carry Weight And Social Responsibility

Today's post isn't strictly about Neurodiversity, but it does relate to that theme in a more general sense. As I'm sure you've all heard by now, Orlando, Florida has played host to one of the most violent gun crimes in the history of the United States, if not North America as a whole. Fifty people were gunned down by an extremist with an assault rife at a gay club, all because they dared to be who they were and embrace it publicly. According to some unconfirmed reports, it all went down because the shooter found the sight of two gay men kissing to be "abhorrent."


I think it's safe to say that we're all outraged by this flagrant disregard for human life. In our haste to condemn it as a tragedy, however, let's not turn a blind eye to the toxic soup of social and religious factors that made this shooting a possibility to begin with. To paraphrase a wonderful Facebook post that has been making the rounds this morning, the physical bullets that were fired by the gunner at fifty innocent members of the LGBTQ community and their allies at the bar were made possible by the ideological and philosophical bullets that conservatives, religious fundamentalists, and other hate-filled extremists have been flinging at the gay, bi, transgendered, pansexual, intersex and related communities for years. Because you can't say bigoted things about those whose sexual orientation and gender identies are anything but straight and cisgendered on the one hand and condemn an act like this on the other. It doesn't work like that.

While the victims in this case were part of the LGBTQ community, this kind of tragedy has a very real possibility of occurring to any oppressed and marginalized group. Any time society pushes certain groups to the fringes, uses religion and social policy to diminish the value of their existences, pathologizes them, and otherwise perpetuates hate against them, we dehumanize people. And to use a rather extreme example, Nazi Germany taught us historically that, whenever others are dehumanized, it becomes that much easier to justify violence against them. This is never okay, and we need to realize that hate-filled political, religious, and social statements are no longer merely opinions; they are the currency by which we as a society purchase violent massacres and allow them to occur.

We here at Differently Wired stand with our brothers, sisters, and siblings of non-binary gender in the LBGTQ community in our opposition to hate and intolerance. We know as well as they the difficulties of living within socially defined boxes that don't suit us, the liberation of coming out in defiance of said boxes and smashing them with our efforts to feel pride and happiness with who we are, and the stigma we face when we encounter others in the world who just don't get it. Because far beyond the "Neuro" prefix, on a more fundamental level Differently Wired has, and always will, stand for "Diversity" in all its forms. We are none of us perfect, after all, but we are all perfectly who we are meant to be.

We stand in solidarity with anyone who is gay, bi, pansexual, transgendered, intersex and others, and with all the victims of this horrible tragedy. Let's work to ensure it never happens again.

As always, yours in Diversity,

Adam Michael

Monday, May 23, 2016

Workplace Bullying: Anxiety and Abuse

This is a topic that part of me thought I'd never write about on here. After all, it has to do with a company which, for the longest time, was my employer and source of income. As unhappy as I was with certain things, I also didn't want to shoot myself in the foot and blacklist myself from any possible career advancement. I am, of course, referring to my now-former job as a retail supervisor for a local telecommunications company in the town where I live. I've mentioned before how my regional manager was not my biggest fan, and how he bullied me for several years, but recently I've come face to face with just how much damage he did, and how much damage bullying can do to anyone who's subjected to it. Research into bullying shows that it results in permanent, negative changes to brain chemistry which causes things such as anxiety, depression and a propensity towards drug abuse. In essence, bullying changes the way your brain works, and the results can be felt every day. 

I recently started my new job in technical support at another local telecommunications company, and I've found it amazing just what an impact my former boss' abusive behaviour has had on me without my even realizing it. Take, for example, my new manager. She's a sweet lady who genuinely cares about all of us on the support staff, and I know that she only coaches with the intent of improving all of our performance at our jobs. Despite understanding this intellectually, however, I still find myself wincing and cringing in fear when I'm told I did something wrong. My former regional manager never provided me the proper training I needed to do my job properly, then would proceed to yell at and berate me when I didn't do what he expected me to do to begin with. It literally sent my brain for a loop when my new boss told me that there was no such thing as a stupid question. Again, I know this intellectually, but its a testament to the destructive power of bullying that even now, having escaped my former manager's clutches, I'm still struggling through the anxiety and wounded self esteem he gave me as a parting gift. 

I made the conscious choice not long ago to let go of the negativity I was carrying around from that old job, and the results have been very rewarding for me. I feel happier, more whole and more healthy emotionally than I have for a long time. Even still though, it often amazes me how much an effect abusive situations have on us. I still often have to remind myself that, when anxious feelings arise regarding my coworkers and managers, they are in fact in my head. Bullying negatively affects everyone, but we Aspies are prone to living in our own headspaces, and because of this it can often cause many difficulties. Ending bullying is each of our responsibilities, and we need to stop creating situations where bullying behaviour is excused and even encouraged. As an employee in a workplace, it is infinitely more difficult to stand up to an employer since they control whether you can put food on the table and pay bills. That is a dangerous amount of power for any bully to hold, but it happens every day.

Let's all work together to end bullying, both for our children, and for ourselves in the adult world.

As always yours in diversity,

Adam Michael

Friday, May 13, 2016

Depression and Aspergers: A Personal Journey

I had a humbling experience recently. As part of my writing process, both for this blog, and for my book, I took it upon myself to reach out to the psychiatrist who my parents saw for a second opinion on Aspergers as a kid…the one who eventually determined that in her opinion I have ADHD. Going in, I prepared myself for what it would be like, knowing that I’d have both an incredible source of wisdom and knowledge in her, and a window to an uncomfortable part of my past. Despite this, I still don’t think I was fully prepared for the things I learned about myself and my childhood in talking to her.

My former psychiatrist (we’ll call her ‘Dr. M’ for the purposes of this blog post) told me how getting a second opinion on the Aspergers diagnosis was not the only reason my parents took me to see her. Apparently, according to Dr. M., I was also going through a depressive episode at the time stemming from my feelings regarding my parents’ divorce, and was experiencing flashes of mood swings which were very intense. Such strong, volatile and quickly changing moods are all hallmarks of both ADHD and Aspergers’, and so I can’t say I found this all that surprising. No, for me, it was finding out about the depressive episode which really rocked me. Apparently, I had even mentioned thoughts of suicide at the time. I don’t remember any of this, but Dr. M. gave me the documentation to back it all up. Truthfully, I’ve had to take some time to process everything, which is why it’s taken me a while to write this blog post.

Having thought everything over in great detail, I’ve come to a few realizations. For one, I’ve had it driven home for me exactly why I’m the cheerful optimist that I am. I would of course go through another dark period years later in middle school and again stand on the razor’s edge. The fact that in both cases, I not only refused to jump off, but stood defiantly and chose life is proof of my brain’s choice of positivity over negativity any day, even if I didn’t realize at the time that I was even making it. Robin Williams said it right when he said that “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.” This screams of truth for me.

The second realization I came to is just how susceptible those of us on the Autism spectrum are to things like depression. I’ve mentioned before just how close to the surface the emotions of someone with ASD bubble, and this combined with something like a divorce situation was bound to wreak havoc on my young mind. Having all of these aggressive, angry, sad feelings and not having many healthy outlets made things difficult. Thank goodness my mom always let me rant. As someone with ADHD and Aspergers, I feel my emotions deeply and passionately, and react to things intensely since the volume on the whole world feels like it’s dialed up to 11. It’s only natural that I’d have hit such dark times.

In the end, I’m eternally grateful for the work Dr. M did with me as a child. While I disagree with her on a few things (she seemed to think I only had ADHD, while I definitely see both that and Aspergers in my makeup), she helped me work through a dark period in my history that I’d forgotten I even had, and in the process helped me learn a bit more about exactly who I am and how my brain works. I could tell as she and I spoke how proud she was to learn that I’d gone on to do well for myself in life, and I think my request for her help on the book flattered her to no end. Frankly, she deserved every bit of praise I gave her. Depression isn’t easy to work through when you’re a neurotypical adult; it’s even harder for a neurodivergent child. We need to give everyone living with it our unconditional support and love, not judgment and anger.

Thank you, Dr. M., both for your work with me as a child, and for teaching me just how far I’d come and how strong I have been my whole life. You rock!
As always, yours in diversity,

Adam Michael

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Importance of Educating Others: Making a Difference, One Brain At A Time

As you all know, I've spoken numerous times on this blog about the problems inherent in the mainstream media's understanding of Autism Awareness Month. The focus on curing, the pathologizing of personality types, and other such issues are just a few of the many facing those of us on the spectrum at this time of the year. What I haven't touched very much on, however, is simply how little real understanding there is among people. Indeed I've found that, despite everyone being so very terrified of Autism, many don't even really understand what it is and what the best ways of working with it are.

Recently, I was visiting my mom's side of my family in Kingston, Ontario and while I was there, I had an opportunity to talk to Kingston's M.P.P. (Member of Provincial Parliament for you non-Canadians out there)'s aide about my concerns over some of the provincial government's new Autism spending priorities. My cousin is also Autistic you see, and he felt the need to go provide a real human face to the whole thing. Naturally, I enthusiastically tagged along. While there, I took the opportunity to explain my concern over a recent image released by Ontario's provincial government in honour of Autism Month encouraging people to “light it up blue.” I talked about how Light It Up Blue is a propaganda campaign promoted by Autism Speaks, how it undermines the ability of those of us on the spectrum to speak and exist for ourselves, and how otherwise problematic the campaign is. I even suggested that the government use “Red Instead” and “Neurodiversity Month” in place of Light It Up Blue, since they are more respectful of the agency and rights of Autistics. Well, an amazing thing happened; the MPP's aide not only listened, she smiled in approval and understanding, as if a rainbow-coloured, infinity-shaped lightbulb had gone on upstairs. She thanked us both for the input and told me she had never considered what I had said before but that she'd get right on bringing it to Sophie (the MPP)'s attention.

I had made a difference; and it felt amazing!

The whole thing really drove home for me how little most people know about Autism. Granted, we've all heard the word, seen the propaganda, and probably all either know someone on the spectrum or are there ourselves. For most individuals, however, that's where it ends. The reason why most people think Autism Speaks is a great and charitable organization, for example, is that there is a precious lack of understanding. This is of course, not helped along by the fact that most information about Autism is presented by clinicians, politicians, parents and charity groups, with most of Autistics' actual stories being drowned out by these voices. It's a frustrating dilemma because most would probably turn wholesale against the mainstream understanding of Autism if only they knew better. This isn't meant as condescension; it's merely a fact.

There is a common idea among activists that it shouldn't be the responsibility of the oppressed group to explain themselves and educate others. While I understand the sentiment behind this, I don't find its fair nor applicable in the case of the Neurodiversity movement precisely because of this lack of information. While its true that we shouldn't HAVE to explain to others what its like living on the Autism Spectrum, the reality of the situation is that we often must. After all, if we don't, who will? If those of us who are neurodivergent don't speak up and contribute our human stories to the conversation, then the discourse will continue to be dominated by researchers, clinicians and parents' groups. The fact is, most people do want to help and meet us where we are, but we first need to help them know exactly where that is. Education is an essential part of improving the world for those with ASD and other neurodivergent conditions. It's the only way we can fight back against all the lack of understanding and actually build a world that is fair to everyone no matter the circumstances of their birth.

In the words of Peppy Hare from Star Fox (because it's kind of become my obsession right now), “Do a barrel roll,” educate others, and keep fighting the good fight!

Yours in Diversity,

Adam Michael

Monday, April 18, 2016

"Fearing the Wind": Change, Growth and Life

Change. It's a part of life. Merely the act of being alive on this earth brings with it the need to change and adapt to new surroundings and situations almost constantly. Even still, this is one of the hardest things for any of us on the Autism Spectrum to deal with. While humans in general tend to get comfortable and have difficulty with change, this is magnified a billion-fold when one has an ASD. I have not always realized this about myself, but events this year have conspired to bring me face-to-face with my own resistance to new things and new life situations.

As I've said before, I've worked for the same small telecommunications company for the last few years, ever since graduating from university. Early on, I saw potential for growth and career development with them, so I diligently stuck with it and worked at whatever my superiors requested from me. Things began to change in that department, however, when I was promoted to my current role. While this position enticed me (how could any salaried position with a pension and benefits not do so to someone freshly out of school?), I soon learned that things were more difficult than I expected them to be in a leadership position. Organization, time management, understanding the nuances of social interaction – all things which, while workable, do not always come as easily to an Aspie like myself – are essential skills in my managerial role. Naturally, I struggled through these things and made many mistakes, but through it all I worked hard, fought the good fight and dedicated myself to self-improvement. For her part, my immediate supervisor was supportive and willing to help me learn.

Our corporate manager on the other hand, was (and is) a different story. Almost from the beginning, he has apparently not liked me. I've consistently worked hard to demonstrate the immeasurable strengths which I bring to the table, but equally as consistently he's shot me down in favour of pointing out my difficulties. This came to a head recently, and after four years of his bullying, coupled with how hard I worked to improve myself, it stung. I hit my lowest point and I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I cried in front of my immediate supervisor. At the time, I felt embarrassed and oh so low.

The thing of it is though, in a weird way this conversation set me free.

Two weeks after having this interaction with my boss, I've experienced my life change for the better in so many ways. I've decided on a direction for my career, refocussed my energies on pursuing what I want out of life, and begun the process of cutting negative influences like my corporate boss out of my life. Most importantly, I found a new job more suited to my strengths! This whole thing has lead me to believe that life is too short to do anything other than play to your best qualities and seek out happiness. Ironically, none of this would have happened were it not for things hitting a negative point in my current work situation.

We Aspies are inherently creatures of routine and habit. We crave structure, repetition and comfort, and don't always like venturing forth to seek out new opportunities. While this may make us intensely loyal to a certain group, organization or place, it can also put the blinders on our vision and cover up the many signs that may be telling us that it's time to take the bull by the horns and embrace something new. The truth is, I've been hiding behind the creature comforts of a salaried position from the very real fact that I needed to look for something more suited to my abilities, and I have been for some time now. Finally reaching the point I'm at feels like a great weight lifted off my shoulders. I'm free, and for the first time in three years, my future feels filled with hope and optimism.

The point I'm trying to make in all of this is that, while its difficult, especially for anyone with an ASD, to accept change, sometimes it's what we need most in order to thrive. Change betters us, helps us grow, and teaches us valuable lessons about ourselves and the world. While it's not always easy, it is almost always beneficial since even the bad experiences bring with them positive wisdom and self-development.

After all, to quote Captain Jonathan Archer of the Enterprise NX-01, “you can't be afraid of the wind.”

As always, yours in diversity,

Adam Michael

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"Neurodiversity Month": Why "Autism Awareness" Just Doesn't Cut It Anymore

Ahh springtime. The sun is shining, the temperature is rising, and if you're Canadian like myself, you've probably just survived Second Winter (seriously, good on ya mate). It's the time of the year when everything seems to be waking up and things are beautiful. There is, however, another reason this part of the year is meaningful, especially to those of us on the Autism Spectrum and our allies. April is, after all, traditionally known as Autism Awareness Month, and it's that time during every orbit of the earth around the sun when all those who care about Autism choose to show solidarity. Sounds good, right?

The problem is, as both a yearly phenomenon and a movement in general, Autism Awareness doesn't really cut it. It is a cause that dates back to the first parents' movements centred around Autism, and it has the backing of big organizations like Autism Speaks, but the issue is that none of these groups really put Autistics first. Parents' groups are, understandably, focussed on navigating the challenges of raising a child with Autism, and Autism Speaks has a whole host of problems that would take an entire blog post to fully articulate. Despite having honourable intentions, both groups unintentionally (perhaps intentionally, in the case of Autism Speaks) perpetuate the same message; that Autism is a tragedy in need of eradication. Nothing could, of course, be further from the truth.

There is an important saying among Autistic self-advocates that there can be "nothing about us, without us," and it is the violation of this principle which is at the root of all of society's misunderstandings of Autism. People are inundated with clinical facts and statistics about various Autism Spectrum conditions that range from true-yet-overly-simplistic to flat out wrong, and yet not many organizations that claim to fight for the welfare of Autistics actually seem to care enough to consult those of us with first hand experience on the subject. If self representation is a key cornerstone of any civil rights struggle, then it is an opportunity many of us are denied in the mainstream Autism discussion.

Because of this, I'd like to propose something on this blog. Rather than calling this Autism Awareness Month, let's rechristen it "Neurodiversity Month" instead. We would of course still welcome all of the support and shows of solidarity put forth by our allies and friends, and we would still encourage the discussion of best practices regarding working with Autistics and living with Autism. The chief difference would be that, rather than let other organizations define our struggles and triumphs for us, we will do it ourselves. Neurodiversity Month represents us taking back the month and fighting for our own self-representation on this issue, and it's essential. There will be no talk of cures and eradication, only love, acceptance and support the way it should be anyway. Basically, much like June is LGBT Pride month, I propose we make April ours.

I invite anyone reading this blog to support this initiative. Let's retake the month together, and give all of those on the Spectrum a chance to advocate for and represent themselves. Our Facebook page will have custom banners and profile pictures available. I urge you to use them throughout April to show your solidarity and support, not just for Autistics, Aspies and other Neurodivergent folk, but also for our right to be ourselves and speak for ourselves, our struggles and our triumphs in this world.

As always Yours in Diversity

Adam Michael

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Why I Fight. (or why I'm Not Ready To Make Nice)

As I'm sure many of you are aware, next month is Autism Awareness Month. As such, I'm bracing myself for the flurry of Autism-related posts flooding my social media feeds over the next 60 days or so. In the past, I've been fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who have been very supportive of Neurodiversity and not thought less of me for having Aspergers. Sure, I've come across ableist comments (which as you can imagine I have quickly crushed), but in general, I've always been able to look at April and consider it “Neurodiversity Month” because of the positive humans I seem to have surrounded myself with.

Except it isn't Neurodiversity Month. Not really.

I came to this realization a few nights ago while talking to my friend, fellow Aspergian, and fellow Neurodiversity blogger Steph Diorio on Facebook (check out her awesome blog here at She had shared a video about how best to support the Aspies in one's life during a hard month such as April. It brought up the very real fact that Autism Awareness Month isn't about us; its an ableist attempt to talk about cures and eradication of the 'awful tragedy' that is Autism. Frankly, its insulting, and not long after watching this video, I experienced all of this myself first hand. I had to interview my aunt for my book, and while I gained lots of useful information, I also experienced ableist condescension in the process. During my conversation with her, she implied that I was too stubborn and immature for my age, commented on how far I had come and how well I had done (while conveniently leaving out “for someone with Aspergers”), and asked if I shouldn't maybe seek professional help to assist me in managing my “disorder” in adulthood. Nevermind the fact that I'm employed, have a social life, and have earned three university degrees. Needless to say, I was livid, and my temper flared. It took all my strength to keep it contained within until I followed the obligatory social protocols and promptly left her house.

The funny thing about this experience though, is that while yes, I was and am angry, it also led me to remember exactly why I bother with all of this Neurodiversity stuff to begin with. You see, in a way, organizations like Autism Speaks and people with attitudes like those expressed by my aunt are only symptoms of a larger problem; institutionalized ableism and discrimination against those deemed “disordered” by the rest of society. Until society itself changes its attitudes, we will always have ableist discrimination against those on the Autism Spectrum and anyone else who dares to be different from the norm. People like my aunt are part of the problem, and they are the very reason why I started this blog, why I'm writing my book and why myself and countless others continue to care about changing all of this. As with feminism's battle against patriarchy, however, opposing people individually would be akin to cutting off a tentacle, when what we need to do is take down the whole evil boss monster. (+1000 XP if we do!)

So this is why I fight. I fight to make the world a better place for those who are neurodivergent. I fight to end institutionalized ableism against those who are different. I fight to challenge the pathologizing of personality types and the medical model of psychiatry. I fight for those who are nonverbal and cannot fight for themselves. Most importantly, I fight for the right (for myself and others) to exist free of condescension, pity, judgment, and loathing by those who refuse to see our common humanity.

And until we have truly accomplished our goals and banished all of those things in favour of building a more compassionate world? I'm not, nor will I be, to quote the Dixie Chicks, “ready to make nice.”

As always, yours in diversity,

Adam Michael