Autistic Thriving


“How can autistic and non-autistic people grow and thrive, not despite but because of the unique features of autism? And what can society learn from autistic persons?”

Lucy and I shall be at TEDx Pickering Street this Saturday 4 August 2018, talking about autism and neurodiversity. Come join us!


[Autistic Thriving – Dr. Dawn-Joy Leong]
There is a great deal of ‘awareness’ these days about Autism – mainly from non-autistic observations. However, where are the Actually Autistic voices in this cacophony of opinions and interpretations? What is it like to be autistic? Discover how Dawn learns to thrive within her autistic ecology, not despite but because of her autism.
Grab your tickets here:

sensory expedition


Lucy seemed restless this morning. She was lying in bed, watching me work at my desk, and suddenly did a little bounce and let out a mini yelp in my direction. I turned to look at her and she held my gaze, nodding her head, bounced again and made that same yelping sound. Lucy does that when she wants to communicate – she doesn’t bark at all in any other ‘normal doggy’ circumstances. When I first heard her bark, it was two months after she came to live with me, and out of the blue, one afternoon, she did that bounce + yelp thing, asking me to play with her. I’ve learned to recognise that. Continue reading

inside clement space

Dogs are amazing creatures. I never wish to anthropomorphise them, because they are more beautiful than human beings in my eyes, so why make them into inferior entities by ‘humanising’ them? No. There they are, inside clement space, the way anyone should be when enveloped in tranquility and equilibrium – around them there may be a hundred thousand different things clashing, crashing, turning, pivoting, whirling and reverberating, yet, there, inside their little cocoons of grace, they lay quietly resting. Renewing. Refreshing. Replenishing.

Lucy Like-a-Charm and her two ‘cousins’ Bizcuit and Tiny. Blessedness.


rainy day lunch

rainy day lunch

Grace. That is the word that is resounding inside my brain this morning. It has huge resonance, a deep basso continuo, with a wordless, tuneless contrapuntal soliloquy dancing atop. It is a feeling of lightheartedness, yet intense and profound without semantic description. Grace has no didactic voice. It does not dictate morals or pedagogy of ethics. Grace just is. Continue reading

packed to go

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I have been working hard, creating a small piece for an upcoming group exhibition. It is a simple piece, but every small work is still a big work anyway. Packed food has been the order of the day. Yes, it doesn’t look all that appetising really, I haven’t been inspired to cook much lately, for various reasons. Thank goodness for fresh, chilled mango! Lucy loves the sweet soft centres. It’s not much time that I spend sharing a mango with my baby, but the few minutes here and there are precious to me. The sensorial experience is beautiful: the sunlight dancing on the smooth, silky velvety black coat, her expressive eyes, the way she picks up the mango pieces so daintily, and her warm vanilla smell – these are priceless sensory treasures that I will keep in my memory.

multipurpose cuddle pup

This post by Lazy Girl Fitness is so resonant. I am no fitness gal, rather the opposite, having suffered from a limiting autoimmune condition since childhood, physical exercise fills me with dread and associations of pain. But I do try to keep as well as I can, and exercise has always been a constant uphill effort for me. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars in all kinds of things just to keep fit – individual pilates sessions (because I cannot bear being in a room with 10 other sweeting bodies), gym memberships, aqua fitness gear (which worked wonders after a severe flare up of arthritis) and supplements etc. They yielded results, yes, but at considerable cost to pocket and mental-physical effort. Ever since Lucy came into my life, I have been walking far more than I ever have done before. And guess what, the arthritis is now well under control. I haven’t had a major flare since I began walking with Lucy. And no agonising over the effort either. Just as Lazy Girl (Jess) put it, “your ‘I’ll start tomorrow’ excuses just won’t cut it” ! So, we Just Do It! Continue reading


Attention. Attend. Attune.

This morning, Lucy reminded me of the importance of attending. Really finely tuned, sensitive, attention.

There are no photographs of food in this post. But if you want to know about the senses, about autism, about attentiveness, and a very lovely, special dog, please read this to the end. With all your senses. Continue reading

personal space

Regardless of what his detractors say about Cesar Millan, he has pointed out many very important things about dogs. Temple Grandin, who is acquainted with Millan, has once remarked that he is best with the strong ones, i.e. the ones with more forceful breed features or personalities. I observe this to be true, his trademark, is of course, rehabilitation of errant behaviour in dogs and their owners. I don’t recall seeing him with a Greyhound. Would love to, if there was an episode. But then again, I seldom read about aggression in adopted Greyhounds, they are such regal and gentle beings by nature.

Whatever the case may be, so much of his advice about personal space, proprioceptive and sensory perceptions in dogs ring similar chords with autism.

I love this one (in the first few minutes of this video): “No touch, no talk, no eye contact!” His subsequent parody of American dog lovers is amusing, but also very real of the reactions of most neurotypical humans (regardless of cultural backgrounds) towards anything they perceive as ‘cute’ – dog, cat, rabbit, whatever pet, and children. Well, animals don’t want that – but neither do autistic children / persons.

I have always hated effusiveness directed towards me. Even now, I shrink with repulsion, but am better able to quell the instinctive reflex to hit out at or ‘kick’ the source of this unrestrained outpouring of emotion, which, to me, instantaneously feels unnatural, superfluous, perfunctory and invasive of my sanctuary. When I was a child, my immediate reflex (so I have been told) was to scowl, look away, or just sink into sullenness. I would become even more unresponsive or unpleasant if someone touched me – I hated being hugged by adults, including my own mother. This was autism, of course, but at that time, in the 60s and 70s, it was just considered bad behaviour, and I was often told I was an uncooperative child with a bad personality and poor attitude.

One of my primary school teachers actually wrote about me, “Rude and stubborn in her ways.” She was a typical unimaginative neurotypical who insisted on children doing exactly as we were told, regardless of logic or reason or practicality. She forced me to read the childish, boring books in the class library during reading time, and didn’t allow me to read my own books – usually junior science magazines, or classics for older readers. I remember being put in the corner for being silently disobedient (I took out my own book when she wasn’t looking) or arguing with her (I was only trying to reason with her – but took me many many years more from that time to learn that you just do not try to reason with her type of neurotypicals who have no logic in their minds at all, or who just refuse to see a different perspective from their own).

Autistic children, teenager and adults alike all need to maintain our equilibrium, the sense of balance that Cesar Millan talks about in dogs. We too, like dogs, are acutely aware of our sensory environment, our sensory composure and our need to keep the personal space. Sadly, the neurotypical world seems not to care much, though this too is changing for the better, or so I hope. So, please, “No touch, no talk, no eye contact,” until we get to know you better, and trust you a little more!

Is it any wonder that so many autistic individuals of all ages are naturally more drawn to animals than to neurotypical humans? And yes, the animals seem to know us better too.