Friday, June 16, 2017

A Grand, a Temple, and Vera

Trigger/Content Warning (TW/CW): the following blog post contains mentions of inspiration porn and use of person-first language. Reader discretion is advised.

This is the first of two posts discussing about my experience at the 2017 Milestones Autism Conference.

On Wednesday, the Milestones Autism Conference kicked off with a keynote speaker event featuring Dr. Temple Grandin, whose work in the industry involving humane cattle slaughter has gained her notoriety worldwide. Dr. Grandin is also autistic, or as Milestones refers to, an "individual with autism." Instead of allowing Dr. Grandin to embrace her identity as an autistic individual (what people call "identity-first language"), she was reduced to being a person that has something proverbially Velcro-attached on her (what people refer to as "person-first language").

That's not how an autism conference should work. That's not how any of this should work.

Even though the conference is designed to help non-autistic people (also known as "neurotypical" or "allistic" people) better understand and provide crucial support to their autistic loved ones, apparently Milestones forgot that autistic folks would be interested in better understanding their non-autistic peers as well.

The venue, which was the Allen Theater at Playhouse Square, was a beautiful setting for this presentation. What made it ugly as fuck was they sold bottled water for $4.25, and the size of their seats were not made for the 2017 theater goer (maybe the 1917 theater goer, but certainly not the 2017 version). I had to slide one hip in to my seat before sliding the other hip in, so they could safely stick out underneath the arm rests. Talk about being a fat and unhappy member of an auditorium audience.

Prior to the speech by Dr. Grandin, the co-founders of Milestones showcased a video to get folks interested in the conference, called "A Spectrum of Possibilities." It featured all-verbal folks of the autistic community explaining their views about autism. Then the co-founders introduced the people who participated in the video onto the stage. The audience, mostly made up of folks who were loud and rambunctious even before the presentation began, immediately rose to their feet and gave a hearty standing ovation.

For what? Appearing in a video? Communicating about their autistic lives?

The underestimation and low expectations the vast majority of the audience had, as evident by the response they gave for seeing "the stars" of the video, really make me angry.

I just sat there, did a little clap, and then watched from my seat as people surrounding me from all positions stood up and cheered as loud as they could for a short video featuring real autistic folks in a blatant and dehumanizing inspirational porn video.

Now, the autistic folks who appeared in the video did a fantastic job, explaining about themselves and their thoughts on what autism is and what autism means to each person. And I do not blame them for participating in this video project whatsoever. However, I'm sure if they were to have known that their contributions would have been made into a video that so many folks would have "climaxed" over seeing such "adversity overcoming," maybe a stormy doubt of their permission would have certainly made its way to the landscape of their minds.

With that said, Dr. Grandin made her way onto to the stage and began her talk. It was a cisfemale version of Henry Rollins with a PowerPoint presentation and a wealth of knowledge of cattle and human brain activity instead of punk rock and American politics. The talk was very fast paced, with topics changing almost from one slide to another. Dr. Grandin did complete her talk in the one hour she was allotted.

Then the question and answer segment came about, where people would walk down the aisle to a position where a microphone was to ask a question to Dr. Grandin. Ironically, the questions all came from non-cismale participants, including myself.

Yes, I managed to suck it up and take one for the team (take a deep breath and do an action on behalf of a group of people) by making my way down this aisle and to ask Dr. Grandin a question.

I started off by identifying myself as an autistic adult (WHERE WAS MY OVATION, YOU AUDIENCE OF UNGRATEFUL JACKASSES, heh; maybe they didn't hear me that well), thanking her for her talk and explaining a bit about my upbringing, where my parents had viewed autism as this "bad thing," as a pretext for my question. Dr. Grandin had chimed in with a statement in which I have no memory of what she said, as my internal recording device did not boot up when it was supposed to. By the time she finished, I asked her the following (paraphrased): "what would your advice be to parents, who are completely unfamiliar to autism and yet are in a community where something of this is frowned upon; what advice would you give to parents of a newly diagnosed child?"

This is where Dr. Grandin impressed the hell out of me. Her response (paraphrased): "tell them that buildings can be made by using one of two materials. One is made by using steel, and the other is made by using concrete. Either way, the buildings are still erected and still stand, regardless as to how they were made."

Bam. I'm sure a lot of folks, irrelevant as to their ethnicity or nationality or culture they come from, can understand that concept. And if not, they can eat a bag of dicks. Luckily for me, a few folks from the audience caught my attention to whisper to me "thank you for asking that." You owe me one, neurotypicals. You owe me one.


  1. Got it, Vera!

    "The buildings are still erect and still stand".

    And I hope those buildings were not covered with cladding like the ones in Grenfell Tower [London] - that would probably be the worst thing for a parent-builder to do.

    Christo wraps are probably fine.

    There is also the Deaf clap or the flap.

    $4.25 for bottled water! That is actually cheap given some of the exorbitant prices bottled water has reached.

    And it would have been helpful for something in the stomach if you had vomited/gagged during the Spectrum of Possibilities video [which I am sure has happened].

    "chimed in with a statement in which I have no memory of what she said, as my internal recording device did not boot up when it was supposed to."

    1. I almost didn't get into the event. When my ticket was scanned, it had said "STOP" on the reader. I was like: "huh?" So was the attendant. She grabbed another aatendant, to see what to do. The second attendant checked her list of names. After a couple of seconds, the second attendant looked at me and said: "you're good."

      I had a ticket snafu prior to the event. I finally recrived my ticket, but only after Playhouse Square sent me a new ticket. I never got the new ticket; I went with the old one.

    2. Yargh!

      That was definitely a snafu.

      And always good to keep a name list about.

      Glad the ticket didn't go into lost sock territory.