tagging for relevance

Thoughts on doing right by nonspeaking people

Anonymous said to :

I thought your post about kids with autism was great… but tbh I feel like a lot of autism resources ignore autistic people who are less self aware? For example, my sister, who has autism and is unaware of it + cannot speak… where are the resources that apply to her?

How can I help and support her? I feel like people with autism like her are frequently ignored in these kinds of posts.

realsocialskills said:

Several things:

Remember how much you don’t know:

  • You can’t really say definitively that your sister isn’t aware of autism
  • There is no reliable way to assess receptive language in someone without reliable expressive communication
  • Ie: You know that your sister can’t talk; you don’t know what she understands
  • Some tests can show that someone *does* understand language, but they can never show definitively that they *don’t*
  • Your sister may understand language; she may not. There’s no reliable way to be sure
  • It’s important to keep both possibilities in mind
  • Dave Hingsburger wrote a couple of good posts about interacting with nonspeaking people who may or may not understand language here and here

Keeping in mind the possibility that she understands language (or that she might be able to learn how to use language):

  • Talk to her like she understands
  • Tell her about things you think she might want to know (including autism)
  • Tell her that you can what she thinks, and that you know she might understand you
  • When you make choices related to her, explain them to her
  • Tell her what’s going on and what’s going to happen, whether or not she demonstrates understanding
  • Have books around about things she might want to know about
  • Turn the TV or radio to things you think she might be interested in
  • If she’s a child, put her in educational settings in which she’s hearing lessons on grade-level material, whether or not she’s able to demonstrate comprehension
  • Keep trying for communication support

Regarding communication support:

  • There are a *lot* of different things to try
  • A month-long trial is not long enough to determine whether a communication strategy will work for someone
  • Some people can use a system right away; some people need months of being shown how it works and experimentation before they can use it
  • You don’t have to use simpler systems before you can do more complex things
  • One of the things you should try is a high-tech AAC system based on core vocabulary.
  • Speak For Yourself has some advantages over most other systems (including that they have good resources for people supporting family members without much professional support)
  • This is a good post on the importance of trying things, with some suggestions of things to try. (It’s written by a parent of a young child, but it’s also relevant for people supporting older children or adults).
  • Human-supported systems like a PODD book work better for some people
  • Signed languages like ASL work well for some people
  • The Rapid Prompting Method works for some people nothing else works for. (It’s particularly effective for people with severe apraxia or severe attention problems.)
  • Multi-sensory systems like Makaton also work for some people (but systems that allow for more open forms of communication are better)
  • tl;dr There are a *lot* of approaches to supporting communication, and it’s important to keep trying to find one that will work for her

Keep in mind the possibility that she does not understand language, or that she needs help understanding it:

  • She might not understand words
  • She might need pictures or symbols to help her understand words
  • She might need simplified language (but don’t make *everything* simplified, because that might not be what she needs. It’s a guess)
  • Whether or not she understands language, she does think, and her thoughts matter
  • She likes and dislikes things, and that matters too
  • (Self-awareness and language aren’t the same thing)

Make room for stuff she cares about:

  • If you think she likes, cares about, or is interested in something, find ways of making that thing available to her
  • Even if it’s things like watching the same clips on YouTube over and over, or spinning things.
  • If those things are important to her, then they’re important
  • Create opportunities for her to try new things. (Not forced. But like, offer her different kinds of food and books and stuff to watch on TV and places to go.)
  • Let it be an end in itself
  • Don’t make everything she likes into therapy
  • And *especially* don’t make everything she likes into a reinforcer to get her to do what you want
  • She has the right to like things, be interested in things, and have time that is her own

Help her to find a peer group:

  • If she doesn’t know any other autistic people, that’s a problem
  • If she doesn’t know any other nonspeaking people, that’s a problem
  • If the only time she spends with other disabled people is in tightly regimented special education or therapeutic settings, that’s also a problem
  • It’s important for disabled people to have the opportunity to meet and interact with other disabled people
  • This is particularly important for disabled people whose communication is thoroughly atypical.
  • Eg: there may be other autistic people who readily understand her body language
  • Not all disabled people will be friends, and it’s important not to force it
  • It’s also important to create opportunities
  • (And to make sure she’s seen pictures and videos of other people who look like her.)

Find ways of listening to her:

  • Whether or not she uses language, she’s communicating some things in some ways
  • Find ways of listening to her
  • Pay attention to what she does, and how she’s reacting to things, and what you think she might mean
  • (Do keep in mind that you’re guessing — it’s easy to misunderstand nonverbal communication when someone has no words or unambiguous symbolic gestures to correct you with).
  • Tell her, through words and actions, that you care about understanding what she’s telling you
  • Eg: Say explicitly things like “I think you are trying to tell me something. I’m not sure what you mean, but I’m trying to understand.”
  • Then when you think you know what she means, don’t ignore it; act on it
  • Whether or not she understands your words, it’s likely that saying them will help her to understand that you care. (It will also remind you to care).
  • The more you work on listening to her, the more often you will understand her communication

Creative arts therapists might be helpful:

  • Some creative arts therapists (particularly music therapists) do good work with nonspeaking people
  • They can often find expressive and receptive communication that others don’t find
  • They can also help to figure out what someone likes
  • (Make sure the person you go to isn’t also a behaviorist. Behavior therapists are not good at this and they tend to cause other problems).

Share what you know about her communication:

  • If others think she doesn’t communicate, tell them what you know or suspect about her communication
  • Sometimes they will use what you tell them to communicate with her
  • Even if they don’t believe you, the fact that you think she communicates will often make them treat her better

Don’t make decisions for her that she can make for herself:

  • eg: If she understands what clothing is and can pick a shirt, don’t decide for her which shirt to wear
  • If there are different kinds of food, don’t pick for her; ask her what she wants
  • If she’s in a social setting with other people; don’t prompt her into interacting with particular people. Being nonspeaking doesn’t make you the boss of her social life.
  • Just generally, don’t script everything. Respect her space and see what she initiates and chooses.
  • And if she needs help choosing, don’t take over; offer support
  • Eg: If she’s overwhelmed by the number of shirts she has, try picking up two and asking which one.

tl;dr If someone doesn’t speak, it’s important not to assume they’re unable to understand language — and also important not to assume that they do. In either case, it’s important to listen to them, speak to them respectfully, work on finding ways to support their communication, make room for their interests, and respect their decisions.

It's ok to watch the same clip over and over

I’ve seen a lot of parents express concern about their kid watching the same clips over and over on YouTube, or watching shows they’ve seen before over and over, or similar.

I think that a lot of people are under the impression that watching the same videos repeatedly is an inherently meaningless activity. It’s not.

Here are some purposes repeated video watching can serve:

Getting oriented:

  • Sometimes the world is very confusing
  • Going back to something familiar can make the world less confusing
  • It can also remind you of feelings that it is possible to have and ways that it is possible to express them
  • For some people, all of this is really important

Focusing or averting overload:

  • Noise can be really overloading or distracting for some people
  • So can silence
  • So can new things
  • Having a familiar video on can be a really effective way for some people to avert overload and/or stay focused
  • This is meaningful and important. It’s important to be able to be comfortable and think clearly.

Noticing new things

  • The video is the same every time, but the person watching it isn’t
  • When you watch it over and over, you see new things
  • It can be conceptual things like coming to interpret the story in a new way
  • Or sensory things like noticing sounds and colors that you never noticed before
  • This kind of repetition and examination is meaningful, and can be a great joy

Receptive and expressive language:

  • People who communicate by repeating words and phrases can get more words and phrases, and more meaning out of the phrases they have, by watching the same video over and over
  • Watching the same video over and over can also be really good for receptive language
  • It can be practice listening to things
  • The meaning stays the same, and watching it over and over can be a way, over time, come to understand the words in it better
  • This is also true of body language - in a video, you can watch the body language over and over and come to understand it
  • There’s also far less pressure to already understand. In interactions with people, you upset them if you don’t get it. Videos don’t need you to understand them – you can try as many times as you need to and take as much time as you need without anything bad happening.

tl;dr It’s not cause for concern if a kid watches the same videos over and over. Adults do it too, and it serves a purpose. Watching the same things over and over can be valuable and important.

autism is a disability

Anonymous said to :

You know, I follow this blog because I think it’s cool and although I don’t really read your advice posts, I can see they’re very respectful and well thought out. That aside, I want to ask: how do you feel about labeling autism as a disability?

realsocialskills said:

I feel very strongly that it is important to refer to autism as a disability. It’s not just a difference; it’s a particular kind of difference, and that kind of difference is called disability.

There are all kinds of things that most people take for granted that autistic people can’t do, or struggle with, or can only do intermittently. Autistic people face ableist discrimination in response to not being able to do those things, or being perceived as not being able to do those things.

We have all of that in common with people with any other kind of disability. Acknowledging that allows us to learn from and collaborate with one another. Denying that we’re disabled just isolates us.

I think that every single thing I’ve written about autism has been reblogged by someone with another kind of disability saying “I can relate to this too”. As a result, my writing has become increasingly cross-disability. We have a lot in common.

If we try to separate ourselves from other disabled people, we lose a lot. Overlapping disability communities have a lot in common, and a lot of built up tools for dealing with disability, dealing with discrimination, and supporting one another. If we admit that we’re disabled, we can be part of that. If we don’t, everything gets a lot harder.

tl;dr I think that autism is a disability and that admitting that makes life a lot better for autistic people.

Stress makes everything harder

Autistic people are autistic all the time. Sometimes some difficulties fade into the background, then come back out again when someone is particularly stressed out. This is true across the board for sensory issues, communication issues, movement, and all kinds of other things. (This is also true for people with any other kind of disability).

The intermittent nature of some apparent difficulties can sometimes lead to them being misinterpreted as psychosomatic. They’re not. Everyone, autistic or not, has more trouble doing things that are hard for them when they’re experiencing significant stress. Some things are particularly hard for autistic people, and those things also get harder with stress.

This is how it actually works:

  • Doing the thing always takes a lot of effort
  • Putting in all that effort has become second nature
  • When you’re not exceptionally stressed, you might not notice the effort it takes consciously
  • When you *are* really stressed, you don’t have energy to do the thing in the ways you normally can
  • So you end up having more trouble than usual, and probably looking a lot more conspicuously disabled than usual

For instance, with motor issues:

  • For those of us with motor difficulties, moving smoothly and accurately takes more effort than it does for most people
  • This can become second nature, to the point that we don’t consciously notice how difficult it is
  • But it’s still there
  • And when you’re really stressed or overwhelmed, you may not have the energy to make yourself move accurately
  • So things you can normally do (eg: handwriting, not walking into walls, picking up objects, pouring water) might become awkward or impossible
  • That doesn’t mean you’re faking or somehow doing it on purpose
  • It just means that things are harder when you’re stressed

Or with sensory issues:

  • Living with sensory sensitivities means that a lot of things hurt
  • For the sake of doing things anyway, a lot of us build up a high pain tolerance
  • To the point that we may no longer consciously process things as pain even though they hurt
  • Ignoring pain takes a lot of energy
  • When we’re really stressed, we may not have the energy to ignore pain
  • And things we normally tolerate can be experienced as overloading or intolerably painful
  • That doesn’t mean we’re faking the pain to avoid something stressful, or that we’re somehow bringing it on ourselves.
  • It just means that everything is harder under stress, including tolerating pain

Or with communication:

  • Communication can be hard for a lot of us in varying ways
  • For some of us, being able to speak requires juggling a lot of things that are automatic for most people
  • Or being able to use words at all, including typing
  • For some of us, that’s true of understanding people when they talk to us
  • Or of knowing what words are at all
  • If someone can’t talk, understand or use words under stress, it doesn’t mean that they’re somehow faking it to avoid a difficult situation
  • It means that communication is hard, and stress makes everything harder

tl;dr Stress makes everything harder. For people with disabilities, that includes disability-related things, including things that we don’t normally seem to have trouble with. Sometimes we’re wrongly assumed to be doing on purpose or faking to avoid a difficult situation; it should actually be seen as an involuntary, normal, and expected physiological response to stress.

respectful autism language for people who aren't autistic

Anonymous said to :

Regarding your post about language politics and history, Do you recommend NT people use autistic or person first language as a default?

Of course I would change what I’m using based on the preferences of the autistic person I’m talking to, but if I don’t know preferences or if I’m talking to NT people?

I realize you can’t speak for everybody, I’m just looking for some guidance.

realsocialskills said:

I think the principle to keep in mind is that your language choices should always reflect respect for the people you’re talking about. The best way to do that is somewhat context-dependent.

I think usually the best thing to do is to alternate between “autistic” and “person with autism”, and explain why you’re doing that. Here’s an example of an article written by a speech language pathologist that does that well.

In certain contexts, it might be better to use one or the other. If you’re speaking at a developmental disabilities conference, it’s probably better to use person first language because that’s what most people present are likely to feel respected by.

If you’re speaking to a group of people who identify as autistic self advocates, you should say autistic. If you’re writing stuff on Tumblr or in social justice circles, you’re more likely to encounter a lot of autistic people who are offended by person first language, so “autistic” is probably a good default.

If you’re speaking at an autism conference dominated by parents and providers, it gets more complicated because they are likely to get very offended if you don’t use person first language, and spend a lot of time arguing with you about it. Sometimes it’s a fight worth having for the sake of expressing solidarity with autistic people who tend to be silenced in those spaces; sometimes the best thing is to say “autistic,” explain why, and let them be offended.

Sometimes it’s better to let it go and use the language they prefer so that they will listen to the other things you’re saying and not get hung up on words. That’s a complicated choice and there aren’t always right or wrong answers. (If there are autistic speakers at the conference as well, it’s worth checking in with them about what they would prefer that you do. If you want to express solidarity, it’s best to have people who are directly affected take the lead on issues like this.)

Also, most people are not offended by “on the spectrum” or “people on the autism spectrum”. It’s not associated with silencing autistic people in the way that professional use of “people with autism” is. When you’re in a group of people who have very strong views in opposite directions about “people with autism”, “on the spectrum” is often a good option.

tl;dr “Autistic” and “person with autism” are both personal berserk buttons for a lot of people those phrases describe. If you’re writing/speaking for an audience of people who have an emphatic preference for how they describe themselves, use that word. If you’re writing for a general audience, alternate between the two and explain why you’re doing so.

"Attention seeking behaviors"

Autistic people and other people with cognitive disabilities are often interpreted as doing things for attention, whether or not that explanation is plausible.

For example:

  • Alice is autistic. She flaps her hands.
  • Hand flapping is part of Alice’s body language. She moves her hands to express a large range of thoughts and feelings, just like some people move their facial muscles to express a broad range of thoughts and feelings
  • Alice also sometimes flaps her hands to calm down when she is overloaded
  • Bernice is a behaviorist. She is distressed about the fact that Alice flaps her hands.
  • Whenever Alice flaps her hands, Bernice stares at her, and pays intense attention to the fact that she is flapping her hands
  • Bernice notices that every time Alice flaps her hands, Bernice pays attention to her
  • Bernice concludes that her attention is reinforcing Alice’s flapping behavior
  • Bernice concludes that Alice’s hand flapping is an attention-seeking behavior
  • Bernice puts Alice on a behavior plan based on ignoring her whenever she flaps her hands

Behaviorists and others make this mistake a lot. They very, very frequently assume that the fact that they are paying attention to something means that it is being done to get their attention. It doesn’t. It just means they’re paying attention.

Starting at someone whenever they do something doesn’t mean that they’re doing it because they like being stared at. It just means that you’re staring at them.

tl;dr Stop calling everything attention seeking behavior. The fact that you’re paying attention to something doesn’t mean that someone is doing it because they want your attention. Not everything a person who has a developmental disability does is about you.

autistic teachers?

Anonymous said to :

Do you perhaps know of any resources for autistic teachers who work in inclusive schools? We rely on scripts a lot so when a child has different needs regarding communication I for example simply freeze and can’t come up with anything.

realsocialskills said:

I don’t know of any resources specifically for autistic teachers.

One thing I do know is that it’s important to respectfully acknowledge when you don’t understand something your student is telling you. It’s important to respect their communication enough to be honest about when you do and don’t understand.

Specifically, it can help a lot to say something like “I care what you’re saying, and I don’t understand yet.” or “I don’t understand what you’re saying, but I do care what you are saying.“

That affirms a few important things:

  • You know that they are trying to communicate something to you
  • You know that you aren’t understanding it
  • You respect them enough to think that it matters what they are saying
  • You care what they’re saying, and you want to keep listening
  • You know that you are responsible for figuring out how to listen
  • You’re trying, and you’re going to keep trying

This is important as a way to show respect. It’s also a way to tell people that there’s a point in communicating – that you’re not ignoring them and if they can figure out how to tell you what they mean in a way you can understand, you will listen.

A lot of people give up on communication because they’ve become convinced that no one will ever care about what they’re saying anyway. That’s a problem you’re probably in a position to mitigate, at least a little.

There are also a few things worth knowing about:

tl;dr If you’re responsible for teaching someone, it’s important to be honest about when you do and don’t understand their communication.

Anyone else want to weigh in? Autistic teachers who teach kids with disabilities - what have the communication barriers been? What’s working in overcoming them?

I say "autistic" on purpose

Anonymous said to :

Hello friend, I’d like to reblog you post about communication with people with autism, but it really bothers me that the whole thing says “autistic people” is there any chance you could edit it to be person first language? (Person with autism) ((because they are a person first and the disorder second.))

realsocialskills said:

I’m autistic, and that’s the language I prefer, so I’m not going to change it. A lot of autistic adults actually find person first language very offensive.

I wrote a post about autism language politics and history a while back that explains more about why. The short version is that many of us see autism as part of who we are and not separable from our personhood. (You don’t say “person with femaleness”, “person with Christianity”, “person with Britishness” or anything like that - it’s only use for stigmatized categories. We don’t want autism to carry that kind of stigma.)

I also want to address something else. Your ask said “they” about autistic people, which to me suggests that you’re probably not autistic and that you assumed I’m not either. It might be worth asking yourself why you made that assumption.

To me, autistic people are “we”, not “they.“

Autistic people are everywhere, and we have opinions. If you’re talking about autism, it’s a good idea to assume that there are autistic people in the room.

tl;dr It’s not wrong to say “autistic”. It’s a legitimate preference shared by a lot of autistic adults for important reasons. When a conversation about autism is happening, it’s good to err on the side of assuming that autistic people are part of the conversation. (And if they’re not, that’s a problem that needs to be solved.)

Why I oppose ABA as a method of instruction

Content warning: This is a post about ABA.


The primary reason I think ABA is irredeemable: ABA uses behavior modification as a primary method of instruction. I think that is inherently demeaning, counterproductive and dangerous. 

ABA therapy relies on continuous extrinsic motivation, which means conditioning the person it’s being done to to comply with a lot of things that they’re actively unwilling to do for several hours a week over and over. It means making them do things that make no sense to them, over and over for many hours a week. That’s dangerous. It’s especially dangerous for people with disabilities who have complex communication needs.


It’s dangerous to make a kid do things that make no sense to them over and over and over while relying on extrinsic reinforcement. That teaches them that people in positions of power can do whatever they want to them, and that they have no right to protest or understand or influence things. ABA leaves people subject to it very, very vulnerable to abuse. Extreme conditioned obedience is dangerous, and it’s the most persistently reinforced behavior in ABA therapy. It’s generalized to other environments, and does not go away once therapy ends. 


There’s also a few secondary problems with ABA, which are deeply embedded in the culture of the BACB:


The goals of therapy are often bad in themselves. Eg:

  • Teaching a kid not to stim
  • getting them to say a few words by rote
  • insisting on eye contact
  • making a kid spend hours and hours on facial expression flash cards at the expense of age appropriate academics

(For some good discussion of the issue of bad goals, see “Would You Accept this Behavior Towards a Non-Autistic Child?“ by an SLP specializing in AAC.) 


The reinforcers are often unethical even when the goals have merit.

  • ABA depends on extrinsic motivation in order to make people subject to it cooperate.
  • This used to routinely involve pain and food deprivation, and sometimes still does.
  • (Neither is actually prohibited by the ethical guidelines of the BACB, although they do mildly discourage it).

Aversives have fallen somewhat out of favor in recent years, partly due to public outcry over them. That does not solve the problem, and a lot of common reinforcers are not much of an improvement.


ABA therapists talk about using things like bubbles, tickles and praise - but those things are not, in the long term, reliably sufficient to get anyone to comply with many hours a week of boring therapy.


What does work is taking everything a child (or adult) cares about, and making their access to it contingent on compliance in therapy. That’s an awful thing to do to someone, and it can seriously impair their ability to care about anything or communicate about anything. If you know that showing interest in something means it will be taken away, it’s going to be hard to show interest. 


I think that’s inherent to this kind of therapy - ultimately, you have to either get intrinsic motivation or use really invasive extrinsic motivation. But even if that problem was solvable, I’d still be opposed to ABA as an educational method, because of the primary problem that behavior motivation is not defensible as a primary educational approach. Educational approaches should be about teaching, not about behavior modification.

Backup communication methods

Anonymous said to :

I find it very difficult to communicate myself verbally sometimes, to the point where I get frustrated and actually cry. It’s like, I can’t find the right words quick enough and it all comes out in jumbles. How can I improve my social skills when it comes to speaking?

realsocialskills said:

I think I’m going to write a few posts about this, because there are a lot of things that can help. But in this post, I’m going to talk about backup methods of communication:


For many people for whom speech is unreliable, having another method of communication to fall back on is gamechanging:

  • Speech isn’t the most important thing
  • Knowing that you will be able to communicate is the important thing
  • If fear and frustration is a reason that speech becomes difficult for you, knowing that you will definitely be able to communicate might in itself improve your ability to speak

Having a backup method doesn’t mean you have to use it all the time:

  • You might get stuck at one point in a conversation, type a bit, then resume speaking

Some possible backups:


Pen and paper:

  • If handwriting is reliable for you, it might help to carry around a pen and paper
  • That can allow you to write instead of speaking
  • Or to write a few words to unstick yourself
  • The advantages of this is that it’s cheap, low-tech, and readily available
  • (And most people have used paper to pass notes in a situation where they didn’t want to speak, eg: in a class, so it might not even look that odd)
  • You can also use this to draw diagrams or drawings illustrating a point. (even if it’s not a point that’s usually illustrated that way.) Having a non-words-based way of explaining things can help a lot.

An iPad (even without any special apps):

  • If you have an iPad, it might be worth making a point of carrying it with you all the time
  • You can take an iPad out relatively quickly and type on it just in the Notes app
  • (I do this)
  • You can even do text-to-speech this way. If you go to the general settings, then accessibility options, you can turn on text to speech. There are voices for a lot of languages; not just English.

You can also use iPads, paper, and computers as a stealth form of communication support:

  • If you pretend you’re taking notes, people generally won’t question it
  • You can then type out many of your responses before you say them
  • That can separate the process of figuring out what to say from the physical act of saying it
  • That can make speech far more possible for some people
  • (I do this more or less constantly in classes, seminars, discussion groups and certain kinds of meetings).

An iPad with decided communication apps:

  • There are a lot of dedicated communication apps for iPads (most of the good ones are expensive).
  • If part of your problem is that you lose words or forget the kinds of things that it’s possible to say, a communication app might help
  • Proloquo2Go has a lot of flexibility and good symbol support. If you have trouble with words and need symbols to remind you, it might be  a good option. 
  • You can make dedicated pages for situation in which you tend to have trouble communicating.
  • Making the pages also might in itself help you to map out things you can say in various situations, even if you aren’t able to use them directly.
  • Speak4Yourself isn’t very flexible at all, but it has icons arranged in a way that’s well thought-out. It’s designed to work with muscle memory, having the words in the same place all the time so that your hands remember where you are. If you sometimes need help even with simple words and don’t need specialized pages, it might be a very cognitively user-friendly option.
  • Proloquo4Text is a text-based AAC app. It can store phrases in categories to access quickly, and has very high-quality word prediction. You can also make the display text very large if you’d rather show your screen than use a computer voice.

tl;dr If you have trouble with speech and get overloaded, it’s a good idea to have a backup communication method. Scroll up for some concrete suggestions.


Anyone else want to weigh in? What helps you when you get overwhelmed and can’t find the words?

on pursuing autism diagnosis

Who do I see first to get my diagnosis? My general med doctor will not agree to start testing, but will send me to any specialized doctor I ask about. Psychiatrist? Psychologist? Therapist?

realsocialskills said:

If you have the option, you should go to a neuropsychologist, preferably one who has experience evaluating adults for autism and other cognitive and neurological conditions. 

The person who is testing you should be familiar with neurodevelopmental disorders, learning disabilities, and cognitive issues. If you have options, it’s better not to go to someone whose primary area of expertise is mental illness. (Which can often be the case for general psychiatrists, except for psychiatrists who specialize in things like treating ADHD.)  

Going to someone whose primary expertise is in mental illness can cause diagnostic problems because symptoms of autism and other neurological and cognitive disabilities can often look similar to symptoms of mental illness.  (Eg: self-care problems can look like depression; difficulty speaking can look like anxiety; needing to stim to self-regulate can look like OCD.) 

If you also think you might have a mental illness, that’s also worth investigating, but mental health evaluation that isn’t neurology-focused might not by itself give you good information about neurological and cognitive issues. (Eg: knowing that you have depression or psychosis will not tell you whether or not you are autistic, and it won’t make the possibility that you have a developmental or neurological condition any less important.)

That said, if a psychiatrist is the only realistic option you have for pursing autism evaluation, it’s something that *can* and often does work out ok. It’s just riskier, and worth avoiding if you have better options. But a lot of autistic people are in fact diagnosed by general psychiatrists, so I don’t want to overstate the extent to which it’s better to avoid that. It’s just that it’s worth knowing that if you have a choice of how to pursue evaluation, a neuropsychologist is likely to be a better option than a general psychiatrist.

tl;dr If you’re looking for autism evaluation and you have a choice of where to go for it: It’s better not to go to someone whose primary area of expertise is treating mental illness. Someone who has experience with evaluating adults for learning disabilities, autism, and other neurological/developmental/cognitive disorders is likely to give you much more useful autism evaluation.

Red flags vs fear of new things

I don’t know a solution to this, but this is a problem I think it’s worth discussing: It can be hard to identify red flags when you have a general fear of change and trying new things.

For some of us, anticipating change always or usually feels bad, regardless of whether there’s anything actually wrong. For instance, I hate all new TV shows until I’ve watched them with someone else at least three times. To use more weighty examples: for a lot of people, moving to a new apartment, taking a new job, starting school, getting close to another person, exploring a new hobby, eating new foods, or anything that involves change, will at first invoke an unreasonable sense of dread whether or not anything is actually wrong.

For most people who have routine fear of new things, it can sometimes be important to override that dread and do some new things anyway. Because sometimes change is necessary, or an improvement. But overriding and ignoring dread all the time causes a serious problem.

The problem is - sometimes the feelings of dread are because you’re noticing red flags. Sometimes the problem isn’t that you’re generally averse to change; sometimes the problem is that you’re noticing something that’s actually wrong.

I’m not sure what the solution is. Most people get told that the best way to avoid walking into trouble is to always trust your gut. That’s not necessarily viable for people whose guts tend to dread all change. Trusting all of those instincts would mean never trying anything new, and also never walking away from bad situations (since that would have to involve change). But disregarding your gut all the time doesn’t work well either, because sometimes it’s the only thing alerting you to trouble.

I think the best approach might be: listen to your gut, but don’t necessarily obey it. I think it’s a good idea to think, in as concrete terms as possible, what your gut feeling might be about. Some examples of questions that some people find helpful in that regard (not exhaustive, and not all the questions on this list are helpful for everyone with this problem):

  • Is the dread you are feeling the same way you always feel when you’re doing something new, or does this feel different?
  • (If it feels like a different feeling, it’s very likely something you should be taking seriously)
  • Are you afraid of a particular person?
  • Do you know why you’re afraid of them? Is it that they’re unfamiliar, or something in particular about them?
  • Are you afraid of a particular risk?
  • Does something seem physically unsafe?
  • Are there other available options that would be safer?
  • Do people seem to be treating you respectfully?
  • Is someone being mean to you, or to other people, in a way that’s making the new thing seem inadvisable?
  • Are people assuming that you can do things that you can’t?
  • Is anyone treating you like a child?
  • Is someone taking your private decisions weirdly personally?
  • Are you being pressured into spending money you can’t afford to spend?

I don’t think that there is a general answer to this. I think that deciding whether to go with your gut feeling, or whether to assume that you’re just fearing change, is something that you have to decide on a case by case basis. Either option involves risks; it’s ok to decide which risk you’d rather take in a certain situation. Sometimes that will mean you do the new thing (and risk ignoring a red flag); sometimes it will mean you don’t do the new thing (and risk avoiding a necessary or beneficial change for irrational reasons). Sometimes that will mean doing the new thing, but cautiously. Sometimes that will mean modifying the new thing. All are legitimate approaches; you’re the only one who can decide.

It’s ok to decide that something real is going on and that you’re not going to do the thing (even though it’s possible that you’re afraid for no good reason). It’s ok to decide that you’re going to risk doing the thing (even though it’s possible that you’re ignoring a red flag.) Both have risks. There’s no generalized answer to every situation; it’s a decision you have to make for each situation.

tl;dr If you’re generally averse to change, it can be really hard to tell whether your apprehension about a new situation is irrational fear of change, or a red flag you’re picking up on. It can help to evaluate in concrete terms what you think you might be noticing. 

For those of you who have a general aversion to change and want to be able to do new things sometimes: How do you deal with this? How do you tell when bad feelings are related to general aversion to change, and when they’re related to red flags you’re picking up on?

When teachers use ableist slurs

Anonymous asked:

Today we did a spelling test in English,and when someone asked what question two was when we were on question four, the teacher shouted. “Special NEEDS!!”. Is this acceptable??!

I don’t mind teachers swearing at us,but this seems even more inappropriate.

Should I complain?

realsocialskills said:

I think there are two questions here which may have different answers:

  • Did the teacher do something significantly wrong? and
  • Should you complain?

So I’ll consider them separately. The first question is easy. The teacher definitely did something wrong. Several things, actually.

The first thing they did wrong was insult a student who was asking a question. Teachers should encourage questions. It was entirely reasonable for the student to want to have questions they’d missed repeated. Spelling, writing, and paying attention are hard for some people, and a moment of difficulty or inattention shouldn’t mean that you’re not allowed to ask what the question was. It’s really unfair to mark students as not knowing the material when the problem was actually that you refused to make the test accessible to them. That would have been wrong no matter how the teacher chose to insult the student.

It’s especially wrong that the teacher chose to use the insult they used. When they said “special NEEDS!”, they were expressing contempt for students with learning disabilities and learning difficulties. They were also threatening students by implying that if they show disability related struggles, they won’t be seen as having a legitimate place in the class. That’s a horrible kind of sentiment.

They were also showing any students with disabilities who may have been in the room that this teacher is not a safe person to discuss disability-related struggles with. That’s awful, too.

What the teacher said was mean and hateful. Teachers ought to be building their students up, not tearing them down. Teachers ought to be teaching their students to be respectful of everyone, not participating in a culture of ableist hate. Teachers ought to be actively showing their students that they will find solutions that make it possible for them to learn; not insulting them for asking for help. They ought to be actively seeking out effective accessibility and accommodations; not mocking special needs.

The second question is more complicated, and I’m not sure I know the answer to it. It depends on a lot of different things, and I think it is on some level a personal choice.

Some options:

Complaining to the teacher directly:

  • I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this in your situation, but:
  • Some teachers who say this kind of hurtful thing don’t understand the implications of what they’re saying
  • Sometimes when someone points it out to them, they listen and stop doing it
  • This is risky, especially if you are in grade school rather than university.
  • I wouldn’t recommend talking to this teacher about the problem directly unless you have a generally good relationship to them and have reason to believe that they’d care what you think and listen seriously

Talking to another teacher:

  • Is there another teacher you trust to understand why this was an awful thing to say?
  • If so, it might be worth talking to them and seeing what they think is the best way to proceed
  • (But be careful about this too - some teachers in this situation might not understand that you’re vulnerable and might repeat things or  pressure you to confront the mean teacher in ways that are not in your interests)

Talking to an authority figure:

  • I know that it can sometimes be done effectively, but I don’t know how to describe how to do it
  • One thing is that you can’t assume that they will understand why this is a big deal
  • But you can sometimes insist that it is a big deal
  • It helps to be as polite as possible in every way aside from the fact that you’re pushing the issue
  • (Eg: It is helpful to refrain from shouting or swearing, dressing in a way that’s against the rules, or doing anything else they can claim is a discipline problem)
  • It also helps to be pushing for a specific solution. If there’s a built in thing they can do that would get you to stop bothering them, they’re much more likely to do something
  • (Figuring out what to ask for can be complicated. What do you want? Do you want the head teacher to tell your teacher that they can’t say things like that? Do you want a general memo going out about why you can’t say things like that? Do you want to put a letter of complaint in their file? Do you want to to be transferred into a different English class? You might be able to get one of those things to happen if you push in the right ways.)

Involving your parents:

  • If your parents are supportive and understand why this is a big deal, it might be worth talking to them about ways they might help you with this
  • Sometimes teachers and administrators who don’t listen to teenagers do listen to their parents
  • Parents can also sometimes be anti-helpful, so I don’t know whether this is a good idea or a bad idea for you. You’re the best judge of that.

Talking to other students:

  • You might be in a position to influence and/or support other students here.
  • Do you think other students think this was wrong? 
  • Do you think they know that you think it was wrong?
  • Knowing that someone else thinks it was wrong can make a huge difference to people who are vulnerable
  • There’s probably at least one other student who you could support in this way
  • (Possibly discreetly, like talk to a particular person alone at lunch and say something like: Hey, did you hear what Ms. Meanteacher said to Rina the other day during the spelling test? That was so mean/ableist! Why do teachers think that’s ok?“ Or "Why is Mr. Meanteacher always insulting us?”)

Beyond that, I’m not sure what to suggest. Do any of y'all have ideas about what might be effective in this situation? (Answers from people who are familiar with the education system in the UK would be particularly helpful.)