This is a transcript from F’s notes and script for his video presentation and keynote address at Autistics Present Symposium: Essential Youth Voices on October 19, 2019.
Respecting Autistic Ways of Playing, Interacting & Making Friends
My name is F and I’m going to talk about autistic ways of playing, interacting and making friends.
Parents Are Not Our Voices!
My mom is going to be helping me when needed with this presentation, but she’s not speaking for me. My mom is not my voice. Parents should amplify their kids voices, but never speak for them. Even if they don’t talk. It’s more accessible for me to talk on video instead of in front of a live audience. So that’s how I will do this presentation. There are some slides that my mom will describe for you.
I’ll start this off by telling you a little bit about myself. as previously mentioned I am F. I’m a student in high school and co-founder of the Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Library in Stanwood, Washington. I enjoy gaming, comic books and cats among a few other things.
When I was young doctors and therapists told my mom I needed to play differently. When I’m told that I play in the wrong way it makes me feel kind of upset. I liked lining up toys for lots and lots of reasons but no one had ever asked me why. The pros of lining up toys is some people like to have things in order, some people like to look at patterns and they’ve helped… they helped me see all the parts to rebuild them in different ways and that is creativity more or less. It also made me feel good to look at my collection and it never hurt anybody either.
Image: This is an image explaining the problems with “inappropriate play” featuring the Neurodivergent Narwhals. A green cartoon narhwal is lining up toy cars. Two blue and yellow narwhals are playing together on their tablets but not facing each other. A pink narwhal is flapping and spinning the wheels of a toy truck. Text reads: What is “inappropriate play”? Autistic children do not play in “inappropriate” ways… Autistic children play, learn and engage in uniquely autistic ways. Don’t pathologize our ways of being and how we understand the world around us! Just because its not your experience, that doesn’t make it wrong!” image is watermarked with the Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Library logo and neurodiversitylibrary.org.
Sensory & Movement Stuff:
I interact with the world in autistic ways and there is nothing wrong with that.
There is no right way to play but the most important thing is that everyone has fun. Just because you don’t understand the value of doing things my way, that doesn’t make it wrong. Telling people how they have to play kind of defeats the purpose of playing in the first place.
Autistic people experience a lot of sensory input. It’s almost impossible to shut it off. My brain is working really hard to process things that non autistic people don’t even have to think about.
- Fluorescent lights
- Loud noises
- Too many noises
- People talk too fast for us to process
- Certain smells are too strong
- People sometimes don’t specify what they really mean
- People insist on eye contact & standing still
- Non autistic people think their way of communicating is the only right way
You don’t have to understand any of this in order to respect autistic people.
My thoughts on “Peer Buddy” programs:
- In real friendships, both people benefit and both people are equal
- In peer buddy relationship, it almost feels like you have a parasite
- Autistic kids have value and have a lot to offer as friends
- Friends are not there to constantly correct you and teach you to act non-autistic, that is belittling and harmful.
My friend K was not my peer buddy, he is a real friend who is not autistic who I met in fourth grade. He never tries to make me act more like him or mentor me to be more typical. He likes me for who I am and we have a lot in common. He’s much more social than me, but he respects that I am more of an introvert. And I respect that he is not. Because friendship goes both ways and we both have a lot to bring to the table.
Autistic Mentors & Friends:
My friends who are a little older or younger seem to understand and accept me better than people who are the same age as me. When I was younger, I always had older friends because they were more calm than kids my age.
I met my friend H because our moms were friends. H is a mentor and friend to me. It felt like a relief when I met H because it’s nice to have someone a little older than me who is autistic and knows what I’m going through and understands me. We talk about things like gaming and he’s also really funny and makes me laugh. I think every autistic kid should have an autistic mentor and friend.
Autistic Kids Might Play Differently Than You Expect
One of my favorite things to do with my cousins and friends is to game together. Some people might think, “oh, those kids are just looking at their electronics and not interacting!”
That is not true.
Sometimes, we are playing a game together like Terraria or Roblox.
Sometimes, we are playing our own game but still being together.
Sometimes, we are showing each other interesting things in the game or one of us is gaming and one isn’t.
Some autistic people really enjoy parallel play because you don’t have to be doing the same thing together all the time to enjoy each other’s company. It’s a more relaxing way to be together.
Technology & Screen Time: Not an Abomination!
Image is the lady yelling at a cat meme. A split image shows a blonde woman pointing and yelling while a darker haired woman stands next to her comforting her on the left. The right image is a white cat with a calm look on its face sitting in front of a table with a plate full of food and drinking glasses. Text above the women reads: “AUTISTIC KIDS ARE ON THEIR SCREENS TOO MUCH!!!!” Text above the cat reads: Me: just trying to communicate with friends.” Meme made by F!
I think people worry too much about screen time, but it’s actually really ableist. Screens help a lot of autistic people to communicate and socialize in ways that work with their brains.
Technology provides access for lots of people with disabilities. Don’t be afraid to let your kids use technology if that’s what helps them communicate and make friends. Parents & kids should talk about internet safety & try to make sure that your kid can be honest and communicate openly with you about friends they make online. Set limits on screen time together, because kids deserve to have a voice in that.
Don’t shame kids for liking screen time just because you think a different way is better.
Image: A black and white picture of people from about the 1940’s or 1950’s showing a bus full of people looking down and reading newspapers and not talking to each other. Text reads: “All this technology is making us antisocial.” Image found online.
- Typing is easier to express my feelings than talking
- When you go online, you can find people who share common interests with you
- A lot of autistic people have direct communication styles and the words you type don’t have a “tone” or a hidden meaning (or at least they don’t for me!)
- Don’t have to worry about hidden social rules that cause anxiety
- Don’t be afraid of technology, but always be safe online!
I have friends at school too but I have made friends online who share interests with me. I’m really into Geometry Dash, which is a computer game. I followed some youtubers who make videos about gaming. Sometimes, we talk about gaming. I ended up chatting with some people and befriended another gamer named P. We have lots in common, he’s also an autistic gamer. But he lives all the way in the UK and we never could have met if it were not for the internet. I’ve actually chatted with people all over the world who enjoy the same things as me. That’s friendship and it makes me feel good to know I can make friends in my own way in different situations.
Advice to Parents & Professionals:
This is my comparison chart of the effects of acceptance versus rejection of autistic ways of being. In my experience, I feel more accepted by my parents. Obviously, they are not perfect because nobody is but I think they gave me more opportunities to find my own way. This has made me feel good about myself and proud of being autistic.
Image is a split comparison chart on a pastel colored gradient background. The left side of the chart is labeled:
Supporting Autistic Kids To Do Things In The Way That Works For Them:
- Encourages self advocacy
- Makes them feel good about who they are
- Lessens anxiety
- Helps them learn their way
- Will have a better relationship with their parents
- Will feel loved & accepted
The right side of the chart is labeled:
Making Autistic Kids Do Things Like Neuroptyicals Do:
- Creates more anxiety
- Feelings of shame
- Tells them that their comfort & feelings don’t matter
- Will have a lot of self doubt
- Will think they have to earn love by pretending to be someone they are not
- Might not have very healthy self esteem
- More vulnerable to abuse
Chart created by F
My advice to parents and professionals is to be more accepting when you talk and converse with your child. You can be more accepting by not forcing speech because communication is lots of things. Don’t force your ways of life upon them because it might not make sense for them. If it doesn’t, don’t belittle them for it. You don’t have to understand why autistic people do certain things in order to respect it and respect your kids. Don’t teach your kids to be ashamed of disability and let them know that you’re always proud of them.
Thank you. If you have any questions about my presentation, you can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org