Monday, December 30, 2019




J.C.


19. Born and raised in China and moved to Canada as a teen.


I’m still a student supported by my parents. I also have scholarship and have internships when I’m not in school, most of which are coding jobs where I get to experience different specific positions in the industry. I enjoy my program so far.

I don’t know how I want to change the world. Right now I’m trying hard to unlearn all the negativity I associate with being different, or being myself.

Something I wish Neurotypicals knew about Autism is that  Autism is a spectrum. The more visible ones are on the ends but there are a lot of people “in between” and they are just as diverse as neurotypicals. They aren’t necessarily in special education or geniuses.

I want to tell fellow people on the spectrum this: The society is very good at making people who are different from the “majority” feel broken. You are not broken. And we are not obliged to always make the accommodation by masking.

Since I came to Canada, many people(from different cultural backgrounds) have told me that I was very likely to be autistic. Some of them are complete strangers who just know me online because we are in the same chat group. Some are closer and know me in real life . And many of them already have ASD diagnosis and told me that my “signs” were much more obvious than theirs.

 Signs that indicated I was on the spectrum were Communication, Social, Sensory & others.

Communication: Others told me that I always make the conversation about myself and my interests(I'm already conscious trying not do that but still …), take words literally and ignore most nonverbel cues. Even when chatting in my native language I often fail to tell when others are mocking me or annoyed by me or I talked inappropriately until someone explicitly tell me so. My style is very straightforward and rational and “unusual for my age”. Now in university, I still often have to ask my NT classmates if the professor is being serious or just joking in order to understand assignment instructions. I hate eye contact, only started to force myself doing so after learning that not doing this brings a lot of negative consequences. And I still avoid having eye contact whenever possible, and physically not able to do that when I’m tired.

Social: I’m always commented as “abnormal” “weird” or “crazy” from daycare to high school. Always rejected/excluded by groups. No friend or only one friend. Always alone,  rejected or being extra. Now I have 2 friends. I never understand why.  And I feel more comfortable interacting with those who already have ASD diagnosis and honestly think they are the most normal people in the world. Had a lot of trouble in school due to my inability to understand non spoken and non written rules.

Sensory: I get overwhelmed easily in malls, especially in crowded ones. My energy gets drained quickly in them no matter how good I slept before. I hate films or basically anything played on screen with loud voices and intense visual stimulation. And I cannot do two things at the same time. Trying to do any work that requires the least amount of brain energy with music turned  on almost always makes my brain collapse.

Others:  Ever since I was a little kid I have to assign an eating order to food before I start to eat. My parents believe it's terrible table manner but failed to train me not do this through punishments.  I now understand that it's disturbing for others to watch me break a “whole piece of food” into parts and arrange them in my plate according to my preferred order of eating so I try my best not to  do that when eating with others but this makes me feel very bad. In fact I often feel I have to choose between being rude and feeling sick. And I have many weird routines in other aspects like walking stairs. If I say I go out at 5 then I go out at 5,  not 4: 59 or 5: 01. 
           I stim by combing my hair with hands, rocking and jumping. I was disciplined throughout the entire elementary school for rocking chair since it’s “bad manner and disturbing” but I still rock today, and when I watched a video in which a non-verbal autistic girl rocks I realized that I do the exact same.
        I enjoy writing down hundreds of names from one of my areas of interest in an order of generations or geographical locations,  and repeat doing this again and again. I'm also sensitive to dates. My interests are all very intense though they can change from time to time. This intense interest makes me learn related stuff quickly. Most of them are unusual for my demographics,  like enka.
      My empathy is also very limited. My reasoning may tell me that you feel bad, but I don't know how bad feels. It's just a word with 3 letters and I know it is negative. Again negative is a concept hung up high somewhere in the sky. I'm kind so I hope you don't feel the negatives. Occasionally I can feel the “bad” itself,  on average less than once a month,  often with the assistance of music or my love towards someone. By the way I can only either have intense friendship or barely feel any emotions at all, just like how I feel about my interests.

Interviewer: What is something  that you think your culture poses a specific challenge for you? Culture as in area of residency, gender, religion, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, age and, etc.

When I was in China, the culture expected me to catch a lot more non-verbal cues in communication and “read between the lines”. As compared with Canada, people were less likely to “say things straight” which made their words challenging for me to understand, even in my native language.

In the small Chinese city  I was raised, most people did not have an awareness of ASD when I was very small. Even today a lot of them understand ASD as either:
  1. A debilitating condition. An “illness” whose patients do not speak and have severe developmental delays.
  2. “Children from the stars” as portrayed on media and by some advocacy groups. Similar to 1 but with more adorable characteristics like “having a pure heart”.
  3. Silent or weird genius, cannot social but especially talented in certain ways like math or music.
I’m none of the above 3. I have above average math skills but not enough to be counted as 3 lol.

Another thing might be more cultural. In China school and parents focus more on academic success. My verbal language and cognitive skills are unimpacted, and I even got selected to enter a  program for gifted children based on intelligence tests. So although I had behavioral/social problems in school in China, those issues were largely tolerated, or ignored, due to my grades. Students also typically don't bully classmates with good grades, so although I was always socially isolated school, I didn’t experience a lot of bullying.

I’m also homosexual and the queer community I’m in contact with are super supportive with lots of individuals especially nurturing. It is a good thing, but sometimes the kind & warm social interactions make me anxious because I do not know how to handle them and I'm unable to reciprocate.

Barriers I am facing at the moment on getting a diagnosis is that: I don’t have insurance in China since I don’t live there anymore, and in Canada my insurance as a temporary resident is not high enough either. My parents refuse to believe that I might be autistic and thus do not financially support my diagnosis either. Even after a change in my university’s policy that raises my coverage starting from next year,  I still have to wait and try to get my diagnosis process spread from the end of one fiscal year to the start of a new one so I can enjoy 2 years’ coverage.

Most of my obstacles are from communication and social interactions. I learned how to greet people and understood that if I don’t people will perceive me as rude and don’t like me so I better do it in high school, but I still do not really understand why people do it and don’t really like doing it. And I still struggle to say goodbye without feeling very weird and uncomfortable. And I don't like eye contacts at all. This kind of basic stuff. Trying to be not rude by forcing myself into those “normal” behaviors takes lots of energy and still I feel awkward or mess up very often. And in job interviews I often cannot tell whether a question is a serious one or just small talk so I guess I just ruined a lot of opportunities this way. And I often have trouble interpreting people’s facial expressions. I can visually see a change in their facial muscles so I know something is going on, but do not understand what that means, and that gives me very bad anxiety.

Something positive: Autism actually benefited me too. When I was 20 months old my family started potty training by reading me stories when I sat on the toilet. After reading a story once,  my mother tried to “tell the story in her own way so it's not boring” but she made me mad by doing that. I remembered the original wordings,  and insisted that stories have to be retold without changing one word. Feeling very frustrated, my mother read stories again with her index finger pointing to each character as she read. And that's how I learned to read. I was able to read independently by the time I turned two. Being able to read opened up a new world for me to explore.

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