Hello and welcome to my website! Here, I talk about autism, education, books, writing, pop culture, and some other geeky stuff.

If you’re looking for something in particular, here’s an index to help you navigate through the site’s content. (This pinned post will be updated as additional content is added to the site.)

Continue reading “Welcome!”


Hi, everyone!

I’ve added a new tag called “Tongue-Tied.” These posts are excerpts from a Young Adult novel that I’m currently working on. It’s the story of two very different young women who both happen to be autistic, and what happens when they unexpectedly enter each other’s lives. I’ve thrown a bit of science fiction into the mix, with the inclusion of virtual reality devices that give users a little more control than one would expect. Our main characters, Cecilia and Hope, are both dealing with the hardest parts of growing up (identity, love, family, etc.), and they find that things are further complicated by their very different life experiences on the spectrum.

You can find a more formal summary of the book below. Thanks for reading!

Cecilia Miller has been in love with Jacob Hunter for as long as she can remember. When he mysteriously vanishes from their hometown one bright summer day, Cecilia wants to join the search and help bring him home.

There’s just one problem. Cecilia is autistic, communicates using an AAC device, and requires a lot of daily supports. Her big brother Michael, who takes care of her, doesn’t like the idea of her heading out on her own – especially to look for someone who likely doesn’t want to be found. Plus he’s too busy with his new job, at the local meat processing plant, to help her with her search.

Enter Simulera Incorporated.

When Esperanza “Hope” Diaz agreed to be a part of Simulera Inc.’s pilot program, she wasn’t sure what to expect. They told her she would be helping disabled people who couldn’t leave the house or travel great distances on their own. Through the company’s patented VR headsets, she would be able to show users parts of the world that they could not physically reach themselves. Hope is both nervous and excited about her first assignment.

When Cecilia asks for help in her search for Jacob, Hope doesn’t know if she should accept the job. But once Cecilia reveals her autism, Hope is completely on-board. Hope has recently been diagnosed with autism herself, and she has been trying to make sense of her life, through reflecting on her past and writing about her experiences. Hope is also incredibly curious about this nonspeaking girl who wants so desperately to chase after a lifelong crush. Hope has had some experience with relationships, both good and bad, and she knows first-hand how hard unrequited crushes can be. Even though she has learned to communicate relatively well with others, her worst crushes can leave Hope completely tongue-tied and vulnerable.

Cecilia is tired of feeling powerless, and hatches a plan to meet up with Hope on her road trip. Hope decides that she wants to help Cecilia get closure, so she can move on and get over her infatuation with Jacob. Maybe then, Cecilia will be able to find someone better to love. Hope presents herself to Cecilia as the expert on relationships, but her confidence hides a darker story – one that Cecilia is determined to get to the bottom of. As they follow the trail that Jacob left behind, both girls discover that they still have a lot to learn about life, love, and friendship.

A Site Refresh, and More Info on Autistic Authors

The site has a new look, with a new theme that will hopefully be more accessibility-friendly. It’s still a work-in-progress, so forgive any missing alt-text, wonky headers, etc. I’m still learning the ins and outs of accessible web design!

I’ve also added more links to resources about autistic books and authors, and I’ve updated my own list of Autism in Literature. I also plan to add information on recent and upcoming books by autistic authors, and I’d like to differentiate more between books by autistic authors and books by neurotypical authors. (There’s so much I want to add and update that I may end up having to split the page into multiple pages, and/or create a database! Stay tuned!)

In the meantime, you can visit my list of autistic authors on Twitter. Thanks!

Día de Muertos

The older I get, the more I appreciate Día de Muertos.

Years pass, loved ones pass, and I grow to understand more fully the philosophy behind the Day of the Dead.

Holidays can be tough, for years after you’ve lost someone. Memories of the past can come flooding to the surface, and in these moments, you can’t seem to see anything else – except the fact that the loved ones who used to be there with you are no longer around.

Birthdays can be hard, too, for the same reasons. Anniversaries, and new additions to the family. It’s all too easy to be reminded of what it is you’ve lost.

But Day of the Dead is magical.

Here, we do not mourn the losses of our loved ones.

We celebrate life. We share stories. We cook good food and watch monarch butterflies and we sing and we dance.

When we talk about the ones we’ve lost, on other days of the year, sometimes our talk is tinged with pain and sadness.

But during Día de Muertos, we talk about food and life.

  • When else would I bring up my father’s love of Carvel ice cream cakes?
  • My dad’s whipped pumpkin and chocolate chip pie may be mentioned during the Thanksgiving holiday season, but there’s really no designated time to discuss the fact that my dad, who never drank milk, instead would pour hot cocoa – with marshmallows – over his Wheat Chex cereal for breakfast every morning.
  • Who would know to ask me about the fact that my father, like his father before him, would typically not take a single sip of his drink until he had finished the entirety of his lunch or dinner?
  • When is the time to share the fact that my dad strongly preferred Burger King over McDonald’s, and loved eating at Friendly’s when we lived in New York?

The answer is, of course, on Day of the Dead.

I might not be making ofrendas and visiting graveyards at night (not yet, at least), but I’m still building a sort of digital altar, watching the butterflies, and telling my stories.

The more time passes, the more likely that our memories will slowly start to fade away. Wading through those memories on a regular basis can be a difficult task, when you know there’s a very good chance that it will lead to tears and sadness.

But if we can put that positive spin on our recollections, the way we do on Day of the Dead, then maybe it won’t be so bad.

And so, my father:

  • Who loved to travel, cook, take pictures, and listen to music.
  • Who would wake my sister from her naps by playing “Chop Suey!” by System of a Down on his stereo system.
  • Who would drive too fast and park entirely too close to the edge of the mountain roads in California.
  • Who took us trick-or-treating in a Sacramento shopping mall in the mid-90s.
  • Who would take us on surprise trips to theme parks like Six Flags.
  • Who, when I was briefly vegan, would set aside a small bowl of steamed potatoes for me, so I could add my own fake milk and fake butter.

Without a word.

My dad was quiet and introverted. He showed his love through actions, not phrases.

Sometimes it was hard for me to relate to him – especially when my autism was already making me awkward and socially at a loss.

But no matter how many years pass, no matter how many specific memories I forget, I will always remember how happy his presence made me feel.

That happy feeling is now all wrapped up in the imagery of monarch butterflies, marigold flowers, pan de muerto, calacas and calaveras, and the bold colors of all the cute little Day of the Dead items my Mexican mother sometimes buys for me.

I didn’t grow up with Día de Muertos, and my father was from Puerto Rico, but living in San Antonio – the last city he lived in – for the past decade or so has given me a great appreciation for the holiday.

I’ve cried a lot of tears over the past few months, so I am more than ready for a change.

So tonight, let’s say a toast.

To life, to love, to family, to friends, to good food, and great memories, and one amazing shared experience that is celebrated all across the world.

To anyone else observing Día de Muertos this year, I hope it brings you peace, joy, and happiness.

September 25th

September 22nd, 2018.

A cool, fall day.

My husband drives us across town to visit his ailing grandmother.

He’s been preparing me, or himself, or the both of us, all morning – telling me who else might be there, what we’re going to do, what to expect…

And finally, he says to me: “The location will be familiar, but not the situation.”

– – –

Summer 2007.

My maternal grandmother lies in her bed.

Every other time I have come to visit my grandmother, she has either been sitting in her recliner or making food in the kitchen.

I have never seen her bedridden like this before.

She dies in November.

– – –

August 2007.

My parents and I fly down to Puerto Rico to visit my paternal grandmother.

She is lying in bed, surrounded by family members I have never met, speaking a language I can barely comprehend.

I stand to the side, unsure of what to say or do.

My father says hello to her. He is kind. He smiles. He just stays there by her side, for a long time.

I wander around the house. There’s a full-size basketball court next door. Lizards and stray cats skitter down the street.

I sit on the porch and listen to the sounds of conversation and laughter. Family members reunited, after far too much time apart.

She dies in September.

And shortly after, my father receives a diagnosis of Stage II nasopharyngeal cancer.

– – –

January 2011.

I sit by my father’s bedside, after months of hospital visits, chemotherapy sessions, and radiation treatments.

He is sitting in his recliner, next to the bed, resting.

My anxiety gets to me, and I check his pulse. He’s still alive.

He doesn’t look like he’s alive.

He dies on February 5th, 2011.

– – –

September 22nd, 2018.

A cool, fall day.

I’m coming down with something. I’m exhausted, I feel terrible, but I’m here.

I sit close by her side. I hold her hand. I talk with her and my husband and his grandfather. I try my hardest not to worry about what to say. I just talk – about work, my students, Halloween, whatever comes to mind.

Voices carry from the next room, as family members talk about what to eat for lunch.

A letter from a childhood friend speaks of holding a book club in an overcrowded kitchen.

We all do our best to focus on life.

My husband’s grandfather tells us that he knows that she is proud of us.

There are pink watercolor hearts on her bedsheet. I study the pattern, and try desperately not to cry.

– – –

September 25th, 2018.

I understand more fully now, why we gather at our loved ones’ bedsides.

Yes, we are there for them, to comfort them at the end of their life.

But we are also there for each other.

Over the past 11 years, I have seen far too many loved ones stricken with cancer.

Losing a loved one to this terrible disease has not gotten any easier for me. It still tears me apart.

But as I sit beside my husband and listen to him talk about his grandmother, and his grief, and how to handle losing her, I hope that I might be at least getting a little better at comforting those left behind.

I am heartbroken today. Overcome by memories of my own grandmothers, and of my father.

But I am not alone. We still have each other.

Our family, our friends, our loved ones – losing them can hurt so much, can make us feel so lost and alone.

But then we make our way back to each other, and we remember the good times, and we comfort each other, and we celebrate life.

Love the ones you still have left.

Love them with all you’ve got.

Life is just too short.

#GirlsCanBeAutisticToo – Week 1

As one great autism event (#TaketheMaskOff) ends, another important one begins: #GirlsCanBeAutisticToo. Week 1 focused on Barriers to Diagnosis, and there are so many for girls and women!

Societal expectations of girls are different, and autistic girls are better at masking and blending in socially. Our special interests are generally more accepted, and our sensory sensitivities are often more subtle.

In general, autistic girls may look more “put together” on the outside, while on the inside, they’re falling apart. Anxiety can be hard to spot, or hard for others to believe.

When I sought out a diagnosis, I personally wrote a 16-page report documenting my autistic traits, but not everyone can do that – especially not young girls! We need to get better at diagnosing autistic girls!

Join the #GirlsCanBeAutisticToo conversation on Twitter!

#TaketheMaskOff – Week 7

The Finale 3-10 Sep – #TaketheMaskOff How people have been affected by the weeks.

Over the past 7 weeks of the #TaketheMaskOff event, I have learned a lot about myself. Reading about the experiences of other people, all across the #autism spectrum, has been amazing and confirming. The ActuallyAutistic community makes me feel less alone.

Surprisingly, the event also gave me an unexpected amount of focus. It gave me something significant to write about. Gave me a new topic to think critically about – a topic that only recently became relevant to my daily life.

In writing about autism and masking, and how it applies to both myself and the kids I work with, I have made many new connections between all the disparate dots of my life. I have gained new understandings, of both myself and autism, that may not have been possible otherwise.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve also been listening to the “Hamilton” musical – in true autistic fashion – on repeat, exclusively. (This is true: Nothing but “Hamilton” has played on my car radio for the past 3 weeks!) And the lyrics of “Non-Stop” have been firmly lodged in my brain.

One line in particular always speaks to me: “How do you write like you need it to survive?”

And I thought, well, writing is how I make sense of the world, isn’t it? How I make sense of myself. How I reflect on my achievements and my mistakes. How I learn and adjust to (hopefully) make things better the next time around. Writing makes me aware of what I am doing and why.

Writing about autism allows me to better understand myself, my students, and the wide breadth of experiences across the autistic spectrum. And that’s what this event has brought me.

The underappreciated peace of mind that writing has always given me, but that I’ve always struggled to keep up with. I know now that I do need to write to survive. But when life gets tough, I let it slide, I stop writing, I stop thinking and reflecting, and I just get stuck.

Writing helps me re-center and refocus. Helps me find the hope in the midst of so much daily, constant anxiety. To quote another line from “Hamilton”: “I’ll write my way out.” That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve now learned to do.

Every person’s autism affects them differently. We all have our own unique ways that we cope. We all present ourselves to the world in our own individual fashion. And this is mine. I write. I write about autism. I write about life. I write about the world. I write about myself.

And I’m going to try to make a difference the best way I know how: by writing, and by sharing the stories of others. I am a storyteller. And there are so many stories still left untold.

As people #TaketheMaskOff and venture out into the world, I want there to be a solid precedent for them to follow. I want them to know that there are successful people with autism out in the world. I want to tell them, you can be one of them, however you define success.

I’m still working to define success myself. But I can tell you how I define hope. Hope is knowing that you are not alone, that things can get better. That you will survive. The more people with autism talk about surviving and thriving, the better place the world will be for it.

One more quote from “Hamilton” that seems appropriate here: “Overwhelm them with honesty.” That’s what I aim to do, and what I hope I inspire others to do, too. Be brave. Be true. Be you.

Masking, stimming, mental health, burnout, diagnosis, self-awareness, coping strategies. The #TaketheMaskOff event covered a lot of important topics. I hope the event has been educational for those unfamiliar with autism.

In summing it all up, I have to point out how incredibly important online communities are for people on the spectrum.

By participating in online communities (even if we can only find time to do so sporadically), we gain so much: understanding, guidance, strategies, ideas, tips, and love. Our conversations help us improve our lives.

It is the same in any community, whether you are in a physical neighborhood or an online gathering. It’s why teachers tweet so much, why teens can’t live without social media, and why we love our hashtags so darn much.

Our communities connect us, help us feel less alone, and give our lives structure and meaning. And they give us hope. People with autism need all of that – no matter where they fall on the spectrum.

I hope the #TaketheMaskOff event has inspired everyone to learn a little more about autism, and also helped people to better understand the perspectives of those on the spectrum.

Join the #TakeTheMaskOff conversation on Twitter!

#TakeTheMaskOff – Week 6

Week 6 27-2 Sep – Coping Strategies. What can help you not to Mask. Using it purposefully?

As someone who was diagnosed with autism fairly recently (a professional told me I was autistic in October ’17; I took the diagnostic tests to be officially diagnosed in March ’18), I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot over the past few weeks of the #TaketheMaskOff event.

This past week was our first week back at school. I’m teaching a class full of kids with autism. And it’s also the first time I’ve started a school year fully knowing that I was autistic.

All through the training and staff development days I attended over the summer, I have had to weigh my options, and actively consider who I was going to be. What face I was going to present to the world?

How much was I going to share about my autism? How autistic was I going to allow myself to act? Would I tell the entire staff of my school? Would I tell the parents of my students? How much should I talk about autism? When should I not talk about it?

As the days progressed, I realized that there is another side to this. Yes, I have many coping strategies to help minimize my stress and discomfort. Yes, I actively try not to put limits on myself and my stimming. Yes, I’m trying to be more upfront and honest about my autism.

But I am also working to minimize the need to mask by encouraging autism-friendly behavior in others. Many accommodations that would make the world a better place for autistic people would benefit neurotypical people, as well.

The more neurotypical people who wear tinted glasses and high-fidelity earplugs, the more who turn down the volume and dim the lights, the more who utilize online ordering and customizable meal options, the less self-conscious an autistic person has to feel about life.

Living with autism can be so hard sometimes. Not because of anything inherent to autism itself, but because of the way the world around us is. The world often does things a certain way because it’s the way things always been done, and not because it’s particularly good for anyone.

Masking would be much easier to avoid and prevent if we got others to buy into the same accommodations that we are striving for. Many changes would benefit others, while some would have little to no impact on their lives. But it’d mean the world to us with autism.

So what is currently helping me to not mask? Remembering the coworkers who have bought earplugs, covered their fluorescent lights, and ordered the most complicated drinks at Starbucks, without a care in the world. I’m going to be more like them, because they’re being more like me.

I am going to continue being who I really am, as much as I possibly can, but with the same confident approach that neurotypical people have about life. I am allowed to have preferences and accommodations in my life. I do not have to feel ashamed. I do not have to constantly justify myself.

I may still purposefully mask, from time to time, when it makes my life simpler and more convenient, but that is my choice to make. It will take some getting used to, deciding when and where to mask or not mask, but it is my hope that, over time, I will know how to live my best life.

And it is my hope that every autistic person out there is able to figure this out for themselves, as well. Just as we are all very different people under the same umbrella of “autism,” we will all have our own unique, individual way that we live our best life.

I sincerely hope the #TakeTheMaskOff event helps everyone, wherever they are on the autism spectrum, to find a more comfortable and fulfilling place in the world around them. I hope it teaches neurotypical people how to make life better for the autistic people around them, too.

We will all need to work together to make the world a better place, for everyone.

The start of every new school year brings with it countless little questions about the visibility of autism in our classrooms.

When I say classrooms, I also mean the hallways, the library, the front foyer, the cafeteria, the playground, the gym, and so many other places in our school buildings. Each of these educational spaces brings with it certain expectations of student (and staff) behavior.

There are many who expect students to be quiet, raise their hands, do their work, sit still, actively participate – basically, to meet all the criteria of the popular image of how students are “supposed” to act.

But our students with autism don’t easily fit into these neat little categories of behavioral expectations. Some are loud, don’t naturally know how to ask for help, can’t complete their work independently, can’t sit still, and participate in their own special way.

A student with autism may not be looking at you, but you can be pretty sure they are listening to everything happening around them – including everything that is being said about them.

My job as a Special Education teacher is to teach my students with autism both academic and functional / life skills. Social skills fall into the latter category. How to Be a Person 101.

But the question of who gets to define “appropriate social skills” is a complicated one. How much should a student with autism be pushed to make eye contact? To sit still? To not flap their hands? To not be visibly autistic and visibly different from other students at school?

In the end, it is my hope that I can impart to my students what the neurotypical world looks like, while still allowing them to feel comfortable being autistic. I want to teach them coping strategies to prevent or minimize painful meltdowns.

I want them to know how to mask, if they choose to, but I don’t want them to feel as if they have to. Kids feel so much pressure to fit in with peers, and I want to give them strategies to fit in, if they wish to, while also teaching them that their differences are worth having.

Eventually, I want them to know what masking is, what autism is, what stimming is, what neurotypical and neurodivergent mean, and so much more. Most of this may not mean anything to them until they are much older. But I don’t want the only messages they get about autism to be bad.

As you can see, teaching kids about their autism is a very complex process! I’m still figuring it out, translating things from theory to practice. I don’t want them to needlessly suffer, but I also don’t want to suppress who they are.

They shouldn’t have to mask, in a perfect world. But until we get there, I want them to be prepared to fit in, as much as they care to. I want to model for them a way to be both autistic and successful, both myself and professional, both social and solitary. It’s complicated.

But my hope is that someday, it won’t have to be so complicated. Someday, we won’t have to worry about what others are thinking, because everyone will know what autism is and what it looks like. People will understand why kids are pacing and flapping and squealing and bouncing.

I want my students with autism to be happy, but just as happiness itself is a broad idea that we all must individually define, so too is autism. What my autism looks like may not match what my students’ autism looks like, and that’s okay.

They will figure it out for themselves someday. My job is to guide them along their journey, show them multiple ways of being autistic, and give them the freedom to figure out who it is they want to be.

Join the #TakeTheMaskOff conversation on Twitter!

#TakeTheMaskOff – Week 5

Week 5 20-26 Aug – Diagnosis/self-awareness. How does that impact Masking?

Most undiagnosed autistic people have no idea what masking means. Only after a diagnosis do they recognize that masking is what they have been doing all their life, intentionally or not.

We feel so much pressure to fit in with others around us, even to the detriment of our own mental health.

Being aware of what masking is and how it affects you can change an autistic person’s life. Instead of feeling an overwhelming need to conform to neurotypical standards 24/7, they can adopt a healthier mindset.

Whether it’s taking sensory breaks or unabashedly stimming in public, being aware of the ways in which we suppress our autistic traits can help us to find healthy ways to unmask.

There are some who are opposed to self-diagnosis, but many live in a country where a diagnosis can cost thousands of dollars. For many, who are unable to work, or work a minimum wage job, or have a family to support – that kind of money can be hard, or impossible, to accumulate.

I was able to afford a clinical diagnosis, but others are not so lucky. Self-diagnosis may be the best that someone can do. It can still be a transformative process. A diagnosis of autism can give meaning to a life that has long made little sense.

Since being diagnosed, I’ve come to understand what masking is, and why it led to such a striking case of autistic burnout for me. I’ve made adjustments to my life, accommodated for myself and my needs. Life is infinitely better.

But more importantly, I don’t second-guess myself or question every move I make anymore. I feel more free. I’m able to use my mental energy to focus on the things I want to do, instead of worrying about whether or not I’m sufficiently doing the things I’m “supposed” to do.

Every single person with autism deserves that privilege. We may not yet be at a point in our society where every person with autism can freely unmask, but we have to do our best to get there. We have to help those with autism right now to live the best life they possibly can.

A child who does not know that they are autistic (or what autism even is) will either a) almost always feel the need to mask, or b) feel incredibly “off,” and may never truly understand why.

Children are incredibly perceptive, often more than we give them credit for. They can tell when they are different from other kids, both in real life and in the media.

Verbal or nonverbal, autistic kids have a sense of self, an identity, ideas about who they really are and how they fit into the fabric of society and the greater world around them.

Autistic kids need to know about their diagnosis, and they need to know what it means to be autistic. Not the negative traits (many of which may be due to co-morbid conditions), or the stereotypes, but the wonderful, awesome things that they can do because of their autism.

That’s why I love initiatives like the addition of Julia to Sesame Street, and the increase in children’s books about autism. They make it so much easier to share relatable, positive representations of autism with even our youngest students.

Giving autistic kids positive role models and representations is critical to their psychological well-being and their sense of identity – the same as it is for any other child. We all want to feel like we are valid, like we belong.

This also underscores the importance of having ActuallyAutistic adults in these kids’ lives. It helps them feel less alone, and helps them to feel more understood. That sense of community is so important, to everyone!

Join the #TakeTheMaskOff conversation on Twitter!

#TakeTheMaskOff – Week 4

Week 4 13-19 Aug – What is burnout? How is it connected to Masking?

Burnout is what happens to an autistic person after too much energy has been expended by masking. Over a long period of time, masking can lead to disastrous results.

Having to mask all day, every day, is exhausting, and can be especially hard on young people. Especially those who are setting off on their own for the first time, and trying to define who they are and what their individual identity looks like.

Many actually autistic adults who experience burnout do so when they leave the safety and routine of home to attend college. The social demands of college, paired with the difficulty of setting your own, new routine can be tough. Executive function deficits can make studying hard.

Young adults who aren’t yet diagnosed can experience so much stress in this situation, and they may not understand why, which can lead to even more stress! This is often when misdiagnosis happens, when a therapist may attribute their behavior to bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Undiagnosed autistics can end up being needlessly institutionalized & medicated for the wrong diagnosis. That’s why better diagnosis rates (especially for women & POC) are so important, as well as greater acceptance of autism. The quality of people’s mental health depends on it.

The more actually autistic people are allowed to talk openly about their struggles and experiences, the more understanding the rest of the world will become, of all forms of autism. Thus making the world a better place for the next generation of autistic people.

Pressuring autistic children to “fit in” with their peers may give us the illusion that we are helping, in the short-term. But in the long run, we may be setting these kids up for eventual burnout.

When we talk about proper child development, it’s mental as well as physical. If you teach a young person that their life will be better if they fit in at all costs, if you push them to suppress who they really are, all the time, then we are setting a terrible precedent for them.

We are who we are now because of the childhood that we had. Some folks can work hard to overcome a rough childhood and come out relatively good, but for people with autism, it can be an additional, unnecessary struggle for them to overcome.

A kid with autism may already be at a disadvantage, having to actively figure out how the world around them works. But add in confusion over who they are and how they should act, and you’re putting down roadblocks and speed bumps when you should be smoothing out the pavement.

Autistic kids who don’t feel comfortable being themselves become actually autistic adults who burnout. Their mental and physical health can suffer immensely, as a result. And once they’ve gotten used to suppressing their true nature, it can be such a hard habit for them to break.

Autistic kids need to feel comfortable being themselves. They need to know that it’s okay to be different and unique. We need to teach all children, both autistic and neurotypical, that it’s okay to be “weird.” No child should ever be bullied for not acting like everyone else.

Finally, having actually autistic adult models can make a huge impact on an autistic child’s life. Seeing other people with autism out there in the world, living their own lives and making a difference, can be a great source of hope. These adults can help kids figure out autism.

Join the #TakeTheMaskOff conversation on Twitter!

Choosing a College When You’re Neurodiverse | Psychology Today

One thing about college–the learning experience is what you make of it. You can learn just as much in a virtual reality lab at a local school as you can in a VR lab at MIT. The MIT degree will mean a lot more when you go looking for work, but it won’t mean anything if you can’t graduate. The most important school in that regard is the school you can finish.

As someone who left home at 18 to attend a really difficult school (Wellesley College), this article’s advice is spot on!

Autistic teens, you may not be ready to leave home to go to college right away, and that’s okay. There’s no shame in taking a year off or starting at community college. You should do whatever will help you to succeed, and for some of us, we need more time to prepare.

Looking back, I wish I had the option to delay my enrollment for a year, or that I had chosen a simpler school to start out. But it was a learning experience that I can now use to help guide others!

So don’t fret! You’ll make it to college, somehow, and do great! Just do you!

Don’t give up, autistic teens! I couldn’t finish my bachelor’s degree on the first try, but I was able to go back to school, finish it, get a master’s degree, and now I’m completing my graduate-level school librarian certification. Might even do a PhD someday, too!

via Choosing a College When You’re Neurodiverse| Psychology Today

#TakeTheMaskOff – Week 3

Week 3 6-12 Aug – How does Masking affect Mental Health?

Having to mask too much, too often, can lead to so much unnecessary anxiety. Your brain is constantly monitoring, constantly analyzing, constantly trying to translate rules of social communication that you may not completely understand. It can be overwhelming.

Long term, it can have a detrimental effect on your mental health. You never get to relax. You never get to take a break. You’re constantly “on,” actively having to make changes on the fly. Constantly having to stifle what comes naturally, your true self.

We can’t restrict being ourselves to just the few hours of the day when we’re safe at home. We need to be able to be who we really are, no matter where we are. How else can we be expected to be fully functional members of society?

While some allowances can be made for certain situations – I, for one, would try and tone things down a bit at, say, a funeral, or at a meeting with the school board – there are so many other instances in life where we should feel free to be ourselves.

I struggled a lot with mental health growing up. Looking back, a lot of it was due to undiagnosed, severe anxiety. A mental illness affects the way you see the world. It’s like a broken filter. Adding the task of masking my autism, on top of my anxiety, was unbearable at times.

I’m doing much better now. Managing my anxiety and taking better care of my health, both physical and mental. There are still moments where things fall apart, but the difference now is that I have so much more hope about my ability to survive. And I have solidarity with others online.

Kids with autism have it rough, whether they’re aware of their diagnosis or not. Either they know that they’re different from other kids, and wonder why, and struggle to figure out what they should do about it.

Or they don’t know they’re different and they’re bullied or excluded because of it. It may not even be intentional or malicious exclusion. When kids don’t understand why autistic kids are the way they are they keep their distance. Those who understand aren’t afraid to get close.

Kids with autism want to fit in. They want to be social and have friends. Their ideas of play and friendship may look a bit different from those of other kids, but they’re still there. Autistic kids just don’t naturally know how to socialize. They need to be guided, and plainly told.

We all need friends and peers. Extrovert or introvert. Social interaction is how we define ourselves. How we figure out and know who we really are. How we learn what’s important in life, and what’s important to us. How we learn what matters. Other people are mirrors and windows.

Autistic kids suffer without a social network or a feeling of community. Over time, the isolation and loneliness they feel can wreck their self-esteem and sense of identity. Anxiety and depression can exacerbate this, and lead to so many other physical and mental health problems.

Join the #TakeTheMaskOff conversation on Twitter!

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