dedication

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This blog is dedicated to:

My canine angel, Lucy Like-a-Charm.

My baby sister Althea, her wonderful hubby Robin, and her two furry boys Bizcuit & Tiny, and now also Mini-B, the prettiest sweetest little girl.

My loyal friends YS and Rick.

Without you, there would be no adventure, no narrative, no amazing tales to tell.

Autism Singapore: a journey

In 2019, the Asia Pacific Autism Conference (APAC) was held in Singapore. It was also the first time that APAC traveled outside of Australia. Here in Singapore, it was a massive event, with 1,800 delegates and the glitzy Resorts World Singapore as venue. (Yes, Singapore does do glitz pretty well.)

It was a groundbreaking moment for Autism in Singapore: the first time ever  in Singapore that actual Autistic persons were included in an Autism event. This may sound ridiculous to others outside of Singapore where autistic representation at autism events has become an established norm. But not in Singapore. Not until APAC19. Then, there was a sudden quantum leap forward. Autistic needs were prioritised, they even shut down all the hand dryers in the toilets, and there was a large team of autistic adult volunteers helping to welcome and provide access to autistic delegates from overseas. There were Singaporean autistic presenters, autistic musicians and artists, and two autistic Plenary Speakers, Damian Milton and myself. No, we did not make Keynote Speaker level, unfortunately, though I tried my very best at committee meetings, I was outvoted (I was the only Singaporean autistic professional in the committees). But it was still a monumental success in terms of Autistic Visibility. There were problems, but which human endeavour has no problems?

One year later, we are in the midst of a frightening pandemic, COVID19. It is Autism April again, a month which many of us dread because of the unbridled misinformation and ableist inspirational circus that proliferates during this “awareness” month. We autistics do not want blue. We do not want you to “light it up blue”, we are not puzzle pieces, and we loathe Autism $peaks. Instead, if you must celebrate, please use red or gold, and Autism Acceptance. Isn’t it time we move beyond mere “awareness” into accepting and embracing Autism, and the wonderful diversity in humanity? We need encouragement all round. Everyone – not just autistic people. It is a dark time for us all.

This video was produced by the Autism Network Singapore to celebrate Autism Awareness month. Written and sung by non-autistics. I hear they consulted autistic people, but I wasn’t one of them. That really doesn’t matter at all. You see, I really don’t care much about not being consulted on a song. Seriously, it’s not very important is it? What really matters to me is seeing how far we have come in our journey towards progressive, enlightened ‘awareness’, and how willing we are moving towards acceptance, and hopefully embracing Autism as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity. This video makes me happy. It’s Singapore-style rah-rah stuff, but I appreciate it for what it is anyway. For the first time, I’m smiling at Made in Singapore inspirational autism stuff. Perhaps, I, too, have come a long way in my journey.

There will always be the bitter, negative-minded naysayers. It’s ok. We need them in our midst as sombre reminders when we get out of hand with our bling-bling positivity. So, yes, I’ve been chastised by some regular naysayers for openly supporting this AWN video. The three most common comments made to me were:

  • why wasn’t it written and performed by Autistics (in leading roles)?
  • why wasn’t I consulted – I’m a musician and composer after all? (yes, I have an MPhil in music composition that is true)
  • why am I supporting this at all, it isn’t even Autistic-led?

Here is my response.

Yes, I would’ve loved it if they used the term “acceptance” rather than “awareness”.  Yes, it might be nice if they’d consulted me, but it isn’t necessary at all. Yes, I’d have loved it if it was Autistic-led instead of prescribed by non-autistics. But again, I repeat myself, I hear that they did indeed consult autistic people? I am not the only valuable voice here, please understand this.

And why am I supporting this effort? Because it shows how very far we, Singapore, have come in our uniquely Singaporean journey towards learning how to accept, embrace and support Autistic people in Singapore. I listened to the song, I considered the lyrics, and I can see the effort there already, where non-autistic society is being exhorted to empathise with autistic people, instead of droning on and on about how impaired we are and how much we need to be normalised. Believe me, this message, for Singapore, is a sign of significant progress! We look outside of Singapore to learn new things, good things, progressive thinking and strategies. But we need to look inside Singapore for context and application. Yes, autistic people must ultimately have a much louder voice on the autism platform, but are Singaporean autistics ready for this right now? After almost four years of immersion inside this domain, I can say honestly that the answer is no. Not yet. But I am hopeful for the future generations to come.

And especially to the naysayers, I wish to say this: Are YOU willing to take on my role as the infamous Dr. Dawn who is both loved and reviled? Are YOU willing to step up? Do YOU have any contribution to make to this journey towards progress? Think about it.

Already, I know one openly autistic, young Singaporean researcher in the autism field. There are more of us, but most are too afraid to emerge from our dark closets. There will be more, when the ground is less shaky, when society is more open minded and ready for us, and when we are ready to take that risk to meet society halfway.

Singaporean autists: take this as our time for training and developing leadership skills and the knowledge necessary to step up and show the way forward. During this time, we autists need allies who are willing to walk with us in this journey, and Singapore has no shortage of willing allies. APAC19 has shown that our allies are indeed open to change, though still somewhat apprehensive. Trust is reciprocal, just as empathy is. Autistics and allies need to build mutual trust. We have not yet achieved that, but we are well on our way.

We need to encourage our allies when they get it right, even if in small ways – perfection is not necessary. It is the journey that matters. We will get ‘there’ in time.

interdependence

I like what D.J. Savarese said about Autistic people living in a supportive community, with interdependence as a model, and not the too-oft lauded “independence”. In this article in Psychology Today, D.J. is quoted saying:

Interdependence is my model. Make sure all members of the community feel needed. We all need to feel loved and included—not just nonspeaking kids. Ask yourself why sad selves can’t get free from anxiety. Learning is not hard, but it requires a sense of commitment. It’s not always easy, but we all love being a necessary part of something bigger than ourselves, and when we are, the community—and each of us—is better for it.

I’ve always ‘felt’ words, a kind of sensory connectivity with words, rather than mere abstract meanings, and the word “independence” felt like a desperate flight away from danger and pain. I associate that word inside my Being with the time of my life where I constantly felt an overpowering white searing fear, inner loathing of my shackled feet, together with the screaming desperation for flight. A bird shackled inside a golden cage. For that bird, “independence” was paramount – even if it meant a terrible lonely and frightening escape from the grandeur of a luxurious prison. Continue reading

COVID19: music as panacea

Music, there is something about music that speaks to the un-worded, other-worldly part of our soul. And musicians, well, we are a kind of magic that is so different from all other artists. I am both musician and visual artist. I sense these identities very differently although I love them both. Music is my panacea, when I am at my lowest, when I am harassed and anxious, when I am exhilarated, and when I am sharing joy with Lucy – I sing to her.

This video made me smile, as do all the others of people around the world making music, sharing music and loving music together from a distance. We are distancing, but we are closer now than ever before in our shared grief and the music that is flowing forth.

I cannot thank my former Fine Arts professor, David Clarke, enough for advising me to first pursue music before visual art. This way, I was blessed with the best of both! Thank you, David!

COVDI19: weeping soul

An entire senior’s home in New Jersey is down with COVID19. 

I don’t know why, but this made me weep from the hidden deepest depths of the soul, a tearless weeping. I live with my 85 year old mother. She is taken care of meticulously by my younger sister. To be frank, only my baby sister has the love and dedication to do what she does for mum. I am put to shame, and I won’t even bother to talk about mother’s other daughters. The way mum is literally smothered with an abundance of consideration in every practical and indulgent way possible by my sister is such stark, grating and haunting contrast to the way countless elderly people have to live in homes, not all of which treat them with great respect or even care. Many silently put up with emotional and even physical abuse from staff, and that is the way they live the rest of their days here on this wretched earth.

COVID19 is thrashing up all the sad, ugliness of our human systems. Is this the ‘civilisation’ that we have become so proud of?

As I type, I can see in another report on the right of my screen, that Italy’s death toll passes 10,000.

Weeping and gnashing of teeth…

COVID19: draconian measures

Screenshot 2020-03-29 at 2.59.28 PM

The latest report from here in Singapore:

Coronavirus: ICA cancels man’s passport for flouting stay-home rules in first such action against Singapore citizen.

The passport of a Singaporean man has been cancelled for flouting stay-home notice rules, in the first such action taken by authorities against a citizen.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority on Sunday (March 29) said that Mr Goh Illya Victor, 53, travelled from Singapore to Batam, Indonesia, on March 3.

About two weeks later, on March 19, he returned to Singapore via Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal and was served with the notice upon entry.

But he went back to Indonesia that same day, despite the stay-home notice and warnings from ICA officers that he would breach the notice and could face penalties.

This means that Mr Goh, without a valid passport, cannot leave the country. He remains a Singapore citizen.

 

Screenshot 2020-03-29 at 2.42.42 PM

While many outside of Singapore may think this is a terrible infringement on people’s rights to be mobile, from the point of view of a serious worldwide pandemic unprecedented in recent history, this is a tiny little smack on the wrist for a person who knowingly placed himself and countless others in danger. I don’t always praise our government, but thus far, their handling of the crisis has been efficient and as effective as it can be, given the mentality of the majority of our population.

 

But Singapore does not deserve the sole claim to efficiency in handling the COVID19. Does anyone remember this man? Yes, I love to cite him, almost as much as I like to quote that offensive Bryna Siegel on her rubbish remark about us autists stubbornly staying inside our own worlds and refusing to emerge when the likes of her command us to do. The difference is, I repeatedly refer to Professor Gabriel Leung because, to me, he was like a prophet ahead of his time, a voice in the wilderness that nobody really listened to, until he was proven right. After that, when things became alarmingly serious, then governments began to implement the “substantial draconian measures” that he was strongly advising they should do, way back on 27 January.

“If we want, or if we desire to change the course of those epidemic curves that I’ve presented, then we are looking at substantial draconian measures limiting population mobility that should be taken sooner rather than later.” – Professor Gabriel Leung, Dean of Medicine, University of Hong Kong.

Fortunately, just like Hong Kong, my country acted far sooner than others, and that is why we are relatively safer. Still, 802 confirmed cases and escalating is not a small number for a tiny population such as ours. Our third death from COVID19 has already been announced, a 70 year old man with pre-existing medical conditions.

Of course, “substantial draconian measures” are necessary! We are dealing with an aggressive virus and incorrigible human beings. The combination is disastrous. Besides, this is not some ultra modern ‘new’ strategy – limiting contact, social distancing, closing events that involve large numbers of people etc. They did it way back in 1918 too.

Spanish Flu 1918 announcement

Picture from my friend Sarah.

Well…  talking about Hong Kong… this persistent, nagging question in my mind remains: Why does it seem as if Hong Kong has been quietly obliterated from the world news? Singapore is being praised left right centre, but where has Hong Kong gone to? They actually have fewer cases than we do, at the moment. Is the world resolutely ignoring Hong Kong for a darker more subtle ominous reason? I can only shudder at the possible answer to this. Because I recognise the patterns on the wall, etched so indelibly sharply that my mind’s eye hurts.

I ask no forgiveness for repeating myself. Turn away if you’re sick and tired. Oh wait, if you’re sick please go to the doctor. It might be COVID19. OK, if you’re tired of hearing me blather on – you don’t have to read my babbling, do you? I am proudly autistic. I speak what I think, and I do like repetition. Yes, it is frustrating that ‘normality’ is equated with so much folly in times like these, but my ‘abnormality’ bears much more wisdom than your ‘normality’. People don’t like fore-runners. But some of us need to repeat ourselves for the sake of a higher inner compulsion that has absolutely nothing to do with popularity ratings.

COVID19: distancing as respect

IMG_8208-masked

Your Lax Social Distancing Is Stressing Out Autistic People – Carol Greenburg

“What I cannot bear is the sight of all these seemingly ordinary, sensible people flouting life-or-death rules. When I get home, and calm down enough for my spoken or written language to fully return, I can process my confusion and fury with complaints. My son can’t, though.”

The above article popped into my consciousness this morning as I was reflecting on finding Clement Space, what that means to different people, and how we can learn something from everyone, even if we do not agree with them. Finding differences is, to me, a discovery of Self juxtaposed with Other, and trying to smooth out the crinkles, even if ‘common ground’ may not be achieved, at least there may be a nod of understanding.

It’s not just broken rules that irk me, I have been known to break rules myself, though I generally prefer staying within safe boundaries. No, for me, it is the stress of my already fragile and tenuous ‘wellness’ being constantly threatened and disregarded by people who have no care or no knowledge about simple, basic personal hygiene and space.

COVID19 ‘social-distancing’ measures are in place in almost every country around the world. The situation is escalating into frightening dimensions. In urban Singapore, where life revolves around bustling commerce, where capitalism rules triumphant and controls every breathing organism in the city, and where ‘normality’ means crowded malls, noisome soundscapes, and steaming stench of human perspiration mixed with various forms of air pollution, all juxtaposed with sparkling buildings and impressive skyscrapers, it is almost impossible to maintain comfortable personal space. I’ve been appalled, deflated, intrigued and distraught, riding the mental-emotional roller-coaster while musing on this: it seems to me that most people just don’t seem to comprehend disease control and personal space. Even though these measures are now being blasted loudly on the news, television and  radio, even though authorities mandated public spaces to create well-marked demarcations and obvious barriers to keep people at least one metre apart, and limiting numbers of people allowed in malls or shops at any one time etc., Singaporeans are either oblivious or blasé.

Do people even realise that the one or two metre rule is insubstantial as it is? This particular virus is more aggressive and virulent than anything known before. I’ve been gathering information on COVID19 in typical autistic style. A few other autistic friends of mine around the world are doing the same. It is alarming and hugely unsettling for us autists, yes, because most of us are drawn to recognise patterns, and we are all enveloped inside the burden of observation with no power to effect quick and vigorous change. A few studies are showing that this coronavirus can travel farther than our distancing measures allocate, and can linger in the air for a longer time than was thought before. Here is the latest article among the ones I’ve read on this:

‘Two metres not enough’ when social distancing’

“But a new analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US has found that viral droplets expelled in coughs and sneezes can travel in a moist, warm atmosphere at speeds of 10-30 metres (33ft-100ft) per second, creating a cloud that can span approximately 7-8 metres (23ft-27ft).

The researchers also warn that droplets can stay suspended in the air for hours, moving along airflow patterns imposed by ventilation or climate-control systems.

Virus particles have already been found in the ventilation systems of hospital rooms of patients with coronavirus, which the team believes could have been carried on “turbulent clouds” of air.”

Scientists said the research had implications for both the public and healthcare workers, who may not realise they need to wear protective equipment even when they are not in proximity to an infected patient.

Emphases in bold added by me. I am becoming more and more excruciatingly anxious and stressed just observing the non-action of the ‘normal’ social majority, a peculiarly Singaporean kind of parochial rebellion against a deadly and aggressive but invisible force that has the entire world in its grip. It’s the “bochup” attitude rearing its ugly head – deliberately ignoring the gravity of a situation, an almost perceivable gesture of tossing out whatever little good sense they may possess. Sometimes, when casually chatting with some acquaintances and even friends here, I feel a tinge of resentment, as if disobeying the authoritative directives on social distancing and other precautions is an understated, suppressed and repressed form of rebellion. Perhaps? But yet, perhaps not. I may be giving my them more credit than is due.

Why so impenetrable? What’s the attraction in jamming bodies together, smelling each other’s odiferous emissions and tacky, sticky textures? To me, so-called “distancing” is my idea of simple good social manners. Nothing “distant” about it except for the fact that staying at least one metre (or more is fine) away from me while socialising or walking or standing in a queue etc. really helps me draw much closer in heart and mind to the other person/s than apart, because I am able to interact in a relaxed space, without heightened sensory anxiety from the smells emanating from human bodies (including my own), and without literally feeling saliva droplets spewing from the mouths of people talking and settling on my face. Blame it all on autistic hypersensitivity and an immunocompromised body, maybe. But is this anomaly really an impairment or a deficit of social consciousness? Or is it a heightened sense of what it ought to be?

SARs brought Hong Kong literally to its knees. Following that, Hong Kong society changed in the way people approached basic hygiene and public conduct. Yes, the crowds still thronged, and personal space is a luxury that the majority of Hong Kong people simply cannot afford, but the people improvised. Why am I so pro-masks? It’s not about COVID19 at all. We all now know that even the N95 is not foolproof against this virus. And WHO and the like have been vigorously telling us all to ditch the masks – giving different reasons, though the most important is so that those who need it most at the frontline may have enough. Yet, we know they do not have enough anyway – because their various governments have been slack in their provision. So, why am I still waffling on and on about the wretched things? You see, even on a ‘normal’ day, being immunocompromised, the danger of my catching some kind of infection is high. These may be innocuous to the ordinary person but quite horrifying for me if it unpacks inside my system. This is why I appreciate the practice that most people in Hong Kong have adopted since SARs: wearing surgical masks. Some wear them to try and prevent infection, others for filtering out as much pollution as possible, and of course, people wear them when they are sick, as a consideration to others, to prevent their own germs from spreading and so as not to appear all drippy-nosed and disgusting. Hong Kongers are a lot more fastidious about their appearances than Singaporeans. In truth, there is no perfect protection against virulent disease, us humans just need to be sensible, considerate and vigilant – for ourselves, and for everyone else. I am still terrified of crowds, and living in Hong Kong was indeed sensorially challenging for me. But I feel more comfortable when out with my Hong Kong friends, compared to being with Singaporeans, because they practice awareness at a level that Singaporeans either are oblivious about or openly mock as ridiculous or paranoid. My friends in Hong Kong won’t bat an eyelid if I turned up at a gathering with a surgical mask on. In fact, I might not even be the only one there donning protective attire. The last time I had lunch with my best friend and her family, her husband turned up wearing a surgical mask underneath a stylish black covering, and made sure he sat away from me, because he’d woken up that morning with a sore throat. He knew I am immunocompromised so he was making sure as far as he could that I will not be affected by his condition. Now, this is the comfortable ‘normality’ for me. just knowing these habits have become the new collective norm made the squish of human bodies that much easier to bear. And I feel much more cared for, considered and respected by my friends in Hong Kong than those in Singapore.

Compared to Hong Kong, Singapore enjoys a lot more space. Concrete space, as well as green space smack in the middle of the city. If Hong Kongers could adapt and change in the aftermath of SARs, why can’t we we do the same? Or are we so much less flexible of mind and spirit? When this pandemic is over, I hope ‘normal’ people in Singapore would learn a few good hygiene tips from us ‘abnormal’ people, perhaps? Sadly… I doubt it of Singaporeans, but I can still hope, can’t I? Miracles can and do happen.

outsider

I read Sara Luterman’s review of the new HBO series, The Outsider, with interest. The whole kerfuffle over Autistic (mis)representation in the media – from documentary to fantasy – has been stirring and swirling and churning and heaving and whatnot else in that great cauldron perched precariously atop a spitting fire of contention for sometime now. It seems that everyone wants to ‘own’ Autism, from the Autism Mom bemoaning her sad fate at having given birth to an incorrigible creature, to the big money-spinners in Hollywood, the politicians jumping into the fray, and the shrill voices of Autistic advocates struggling to be heard above the din, chanting “Nothing About Us Without Us!” as valiantly as possible (given that most Autistics do not function well in noisy, crowded spaces, the latter are doing their level best as it is, but more often than not, being ignored  or vilified).

Autism has become big money. In The Grand Autism Circus, that is. Yet the revenue that filters down (if at all) to the actually Autistic is pathetically insufficient. Most of it goes to programmes that try to make Autistics appear as non-autistic as possible, “indistinguishable from their (neuronormative) peers”.

The problem with media interest is that it is a two-edged sword. And a jagged one that can create quite a bit of mess.

Reading Luterman’s review of “The Outsider” reminds me starkly of my own recent brush with (entertainment) media.

So, some local film company wanted to make a series about an autistic female character with ‘special abilities’. Some IT geek, of course. (Yeah, well, they do exist, they’re among the best paid and most employable ones of us autistics.) A representative of the film company found me online (not difficult at all), and asked if I could be their consultant. They have an actress already, and they wanted me to also follow her and give her advice on portrayal, etc. I was impressed. It was a great gesture – great because it was progress. You see, autistic people are seldom ever consulted about autism by people wanting to represent or portray autism. It’s the non-autistic ‘experts’ on autism that are always asked to give advice, whether paid or free. The parents, the teachers, the psychologists etc. And then, these ‘creatives’ go happily along and portray the autistic protagonists in mangled, tangled, bedraggled and sometimes utterly ridiculous and insulting parodies of the true autistic lived-experience. Pity parties or scornful derision, or monsters with no souls. Take your pick. Now we also have super geniuses thrown into the mix. Wow! Super Powers! Autistic Heroes! (Remember, this is Singapore, where, not long ago, a top university’s School of Medicine website used the word “disease” to describe autism.)

Well, the young people who contacted me were really pleasant. They had big dreams. And, to me, promising progressive mindsets. They were respectful of my authority as an autism professional as well as an autistic with lived-experience. At least that was how they came across to me. However, it all came to nothing after the seniors – people with authority to decide on money matters, that is – came into the picture. I told the young man who was communicating with me: some day, when you are in control of budgeting, if you still have this progressive mindset and you’re not by then swallowed up by the whole nefarious unscrupulous exploitative industry, please contact me. I will be happy to advise you.

Again, da capo ad nauseam. Yet another request for a lot of work but not a single cent of payment. Oh, please, could you do it as a friend? Um, hello, “friend”? I’d never met you before this. Do you know how long a friendship takes to grow and develop? Oh, but we have a psychologist advising for free! Why can’t you? Well, I pointed out that the psychologist – some ‘expert’ in autism I’ve never heard about before – has a full time job in an established autism organisation. That person is paid a decent wage. They can afford to do things for the fun of it, I guess? Besides, whether or not I want to be paid should be my prerogative, not for anyone else to dictate and cajole out of me using bizarre carrots on twisted sticks dangled in front of my affronted face (please, a psychologist???? can’t you at least be more creative?).

Listen, people out there wanting to contact me for yet more freebies. Read this carefully, ok?

I am a freelance consultant. Therein lies a huge difference. Every single committee I am invited to sit in is populated by professionals with full time employment. They get time off from their jobs to attend these meetings, which take place during office hours, so they are paid even while doing unpaid voluntary work. In my case, I have to pay out of my own pocket for every single one of those long, tiring meetings I attend: transport costs, hours spent, and the hidden costs of sensory overload and physical reactivity. Some of these volunteer forays have caused me to almost bankrupt my mental and physical resources, neurotypicals playing mind games, using the autistic as a token of inclusion etc. No matter, I did my volunteer time to the best of my professional and personal capacity, financed by little ol’ me. The time I spend doing freebies cost me much much more than whatever it costs the neuronormative well-paid professionals with the same qualifications that I have. Besides, it adds to their employment portfolio – I get nothing of the sort. Frankly, I am not even interested in worldly recognition. I just want to be paid what I am worth, commensurate with my qualifications and expertise, and the hours of effort I put in. It is respect and justice, plain and simple. But it is what disabled people are not even legally entitled to.

So, if you’re yet another one of those people in social enterprise, or commercial enterprise, and whatever organisation, and you want Dr. Dawn-joy Leong to feature in your sphere as some mark of “inclusion” to tick those boxes called KPI or some other acronym popular in Singapore, please note: I wish to be paid my professional fees. You see, in case you do not know, I worked hard for my qualifications alongside non-autistic people, I did not even ask for any accommodations apart from an assistance dog. And mind you, this was not given to me by my own country. My expertise did not drop down from the benevolent sky like a gorgeous refreshing shower on parched ground. So, you folks wanting to do any autism-related work, and you want to look trendy and progressive, you wish to tick those nice KPI boxes etc, then you will have to pay decently for my advice (note that I did not say “handsomely” just basic decency is required). If you’re not willing to do so, please don’t bother to contact me. Don’t waste your time and mine. Go away. Take your tokenism, bullying, exploitation and whatnot with you. You’re most welcome to come back when you have the budget for respect, justice, equity and true inclusivity. I happily work with those who are genuine about their vision and purpose to work towards true, respectful access and inclusion. Thankfully, there are such people in Singapore. So, be like them.

inclement space

This has stuck in my mind for a long time. A bobbing piece of driftwood, overwhelmed by the rush of events immediately afterwards, meekly staying afloat in the COVID19 tsunami that hit us all. I wrote the below ‘memory note’ a month ago but never published it till now.

I met two friends today for a quick afternoon catch up at the National Gallery. Of course, I asked them to please check out my installation, Clement Space. We had coffee later at the Courtyard Cafe, where I made some notes from their reflections and opinions on Clement Space. My friends are psychologists, and it was valuable to hear their views. In this current clime of wariness between practitioners and actual autistic persons, I am glad to say I trust my friends as allies, and I will not hesitate to refer people seeking help and support for Autism-related issues.

After my friends left, I decided to pop back into Clement Space to do a bit of observation. A group of young people were occupying the beanbags, chatting and taking photographs. They weren’t rowdy, so I just hung around and did my own photography. After the young people left, an elderly couple in wheelchairs being pushed by two young ladies entered. I smiled and welcomed them inside. I began to explain the space, but the young ladies just parked the elderly couple in an awkward position – one in front of the other – and bounced off into the other side of the room for ‘selfies’ and ‘we-fies’, chattering animatedly. I tried to engage the elderly couple, but they looked uncomfortable and did not respond. They could not talk to each other because of the positions in which their wheelchairs were locked, so they just sat there, blank expressions like concrete slabs of porous vexation, their silence louder than the excited voices of their two helpers.

I could not bear the heaviness that had entered and filled the room. I had to leave behind that grating juxtaposition, the deliberate mental and physical detachment that played out before me: stoic discomfort against chirpy elation, helplessness contrasting starkly with the buzzing activity created by the two mobile phones and their owners. The intensity of the ableism and deliberate cruel exclusion was too much for my autistic elemental empathy to bear. My heart was already shredding.

Terribly sad. I am not yet sure how to process it all. It was not clement in my beloved Clement Space at all.

COVID19: autistic initiative

“Wow, Autistic people have initiative? Who’d have thought?” I can literally hear the tut-tutting, and feel the eyeballs of the normative begin to bulge. “Are you people supposed to be trapped inside your meaningless repetitive world?”

Sorry to challenge so much the normative holiday deficits-focused sad-postcard perceptions, but this is another really damaging wrong idea of autism. Damaging not only to us autists but also to you, the normative, because if you keep thinking this way, you will not benefit fully from all the things we autists would happily do for you.

Here’s one autistic mother who’s taken the initiative to do something for the people in her neighbourhood, especially thinking about the elderly and those who are unable to get out of their houses but need practical help with groceries etc.

And if you look carefully into the world of social media, you will find a plethora of autistic-led initiatives to help other autistic people and the neuronormative cope with this current nightmare of COVID19. Yes. Autistic people can help non-autistic people. Powerfully too. And we will do so whether or not you acknowledge our contribution. Just that if you do, your own life will be greatly enhanced, that is all.