Monday, 20 June 2016

Autism, Sexuality, Gender ID, Young Women

I'm seeing a lot of materials written for autistic older secondary school pupils and University students.  Lots about how to organise diaries and get homework in on time.  Lots on basic sensory stuff now (which is good).

And, in some of the brand new shiny materials being promoted at the autism shows, a single mention of sex and intimate relationships.
Just one.  One sentence on it.  And, almost invariably, that sentence assumes that all females are 'straight', and of standard gender identity.

Not so.

The latest research we have  on autistic females shows that we're struggling to find even 50% who confidently tick 'heterosexual' and 'female' on boxes.  They're ticking


and other identities and sexualities.  Good research, from good researchers.  Online polls in autism communities.  Everywhere, a figure of between 30% and 50% is emerging (depending on the questions asked).

The advice to 'See a GP about contraception so you do not become pregnant' is not always helpful.

For a start, many of us cannot access healthcare.  You might as well order us to fly to the moon by flapping our arms, and get condoms there.  We often cannot communicate our needs fully.  We possibly don't know what options there are, so cannot prepare a conversation ahead of time to explore it.  We can't access the bizarre, "Turn up for an appointment at 10 and get seen by 12.15" stuff.  Sitting under fluorescent lighting, in the medical stench, trying to prepare an unknown conversation for a random number of hours?  We can't do that.  Our brains literally overheat from the load of that, and we leave.  So, unsafe, uneducated, possibly predatory sex awaits.

And, when we do access the GP, our learned language is, "I am asking about contraception so I don't get pregnant"?

OK, that's one possibility.  But, two lesbians would find it really hard to get pregnant together.  Trust me on this one.   So now we've issued a lesbian with a box of male condoms and The Pill, because she didn't know how to explain.  Is this an improvement in her University life?

We need to do better than this.  The future love, security, safety and wellbeing of autistic young women is so important.  And, to be clear, so is the safety of autistic young men.  They too often report a different sexuality or gender, and they too get almost nothing helpful-to-autism said about any of this through schools and colleges. Some would say it's not the job of schools and colleges.  In that case, why is it in the materials at all?

We know that some 70% of autistic women report that they have been sexually assaulted.  A huge number report rape, domestic violence. It's little wonder.  They are left with no way to discuss their identity. To talk in autism-appropriate ways about relationships and boundaries, about gender identity.   We need more than giving us one impossible instruction, in our schools and colleges.  We need more than one sentence as an afterthought.  We need directing to good materials, to people who can explain and understand.  People who won't judge us even more for 'coming out'.   It's part of why I worry a lot about the more traditional faith groups running autism care homes and colleges.  How are those faith groups working through their own, "All LGBT stuff is wrong" beliefs, when they could have 50% of their young autistic people feeling so very low and scared as a result of that?  Genuine, honest question.  We're often not even close to looking at the answers, because no-one has realised the statistics, I suspect.

Please, good authors and educators, talk with those of us who are part of the LGBT community and are autistic... and are professionals with plenty of experience of education. Don't guess at this stuff.  It's too important to mess up.

Many thanks.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Autism and School: Challenges and Solutions

Supposing this was your view of a brightly decorated classroom with fluorescent lighting?

Where is the teacher?  Who's who, around you?

Imagine deafening noise.  Chatting.  People moving around in classrooms next door.  People walking in the corridor.  Computers whirring.  Overhead projectors buzzing.  Chairs scraping on the floor.  Keyboards clicking.

Imagine stifling perfumes and smells from antiperspirants.  Clothing fresheners.  Soaps and shampoos.  Toothpastes.  Paints.  Canteens.

Now, sit really quietly and nicely, and answer all the questions correctly.

We're not being 'disruptive' or 'un-co-operative'.  We're blinded, deafened, afraid, and often in sensory pain.

Be aware of autism, and why autistic pupils may behave as they do.

It's very understandable that they want to escape to somewhere quieter.
It's very understandable that 'under the desk' seems like a good option.
It's very understandable that they may panic when asked to eat in an even noisier, more confusing canteen/restaurant.
It's very understandable that they may stay on the edges of a crowd, where they feel safer from the relentless noise and pain.
It's also very understandable that the melee of social time during breaks and lunch is utterly exhausting, not refreshing, after all of this.

We don't improve when people shout at us, or force us to stay in the pain for longer, or bribe us to endure it for longer.   We're not being weak, we're not being stupid.  We just can't cope with this environment.

Get different lighting.  Do all you can to keep classes quieter, or offer noise cancelling headphones.  Use sunglasses to help with bright lighting.  Allow a break if needed.  Keep instructions simple and clear.  Write as well as say, if you can.  Allow us a quiet corner or hobby during free time. 

Just be aware that classes, canteen and playgrounds are not a friendly environment for most of us.

If we are allowed to be in places where we thrive, we become society's best and keenest workers.  Honest, diligent, passionate about our hobbies and interests, pioneers of social justice.

Get to know us as people.  It's always worth it.