Not Your Puzzle: Autistic Voices for Autistic Equity

Content Warning:
Mentions of

Autistic Abuse

Humans openly expressing
their emotions creatively

I wanted to take on this project and art exhibit to find a creative way to challenge people’s perceptions about what they think they know about being autistic.

“Vaporescence” Jodi Dudrow. Mixed Media acrylic painting, 2017. Image Description: Big red anatomical heart as central focal point on a black background. Heart has flowing water running down the front of it that leads down into a large body of water at its base.

For this particular exhibit I put a call out to autistic artists to help me creatively represent the differences between autism awareness, acceptance, and equity. I asked them, what feelings did these topics invoke in them when discussed? How can we present this to help an audience understand better why so many of us in the autistic community struggle having our voices fully heard on such matters? How can we also validate others struggling to make them not feel so alone, as well?

This project isn’t here to pretend that any of us are experts, though we are experts about our own struggles and frustrations. We just want to express how we feel and how we are often suffering from constantly being unheard. We are vulnerably opening up ourselves through our creative processes in hopes that people might not only hear our words, but feel the depths of the pain we are often drowning in from how society continuously treats us.

“Masking II”, Etching. Ivonne Fernández. Image description: Black-white-grey image. The face of a woman, she turns her eyes upwards and holds her hands to her head, looks exhausted. A mask with two faces (left and right) covers her face.

So many of us “mask” or hide the fact that we are autistic, even from ourselves, because of the way society treats autistic people still in 2020. We hear the things that people say. Many of us know all too well how aggressive and even violent people can get with us if we don’t act like the one autistic child that they know. We know how people will accuse us of not being “autistic enough” if we can articulate for ourselves or if we have rewarding friendships, romances, children, professional jobs, or anything successful in our lives that our family doesn’t provide for us still in adulthood.

“Masking”, vector art, 2020. Jackie Venus. Image Description: A person is holding up a mask to the left side of their face. The mask looks very similar to their own face, but it is really happy, but with plain brown hair. More fake, than actually happy. The unmasked part of the face is neutral. Its hair color is purple and has flowers in it. The masked side there are more people in the background than on the unmasked side.

My personal story is that I didn’t officially know I was autistic until age 39. Though I had suspected for about 11 years prior, the few people I opened up to about it made me feel like I was making things up and there was no way I could be autistic. Along with the fact that the loudest voices in the autistic community have historically not even been autistic people themselves and are getting what being autistic is about all wrong. It was hard to sort through if what I was reading was accurate or not and if it even really pertained to my experiences.

Once I began escaping my family’s lifelong abuse at age 35 and was trying hard to stop repeating my own cycles of abuse in romances, I kept circling back to research that indicated I was indeed autistic. I sought a diagnosis and the doctor that evaluated me told me she was shocked no one I had been to in the two decades of being in therapy with numerous different so called “professionals” never suggested being autistic as a possibility for me. Instead I was told I just needed this medicine or that medicine to “fix” me, and if I had severe adverse reactions to them I was told not to read the labels because I was imagining my reactions. Or it was implied I wasn’t trying hard enough in my recovery work.

“Untitled”, by Charlie Callisto. Image Description: The drawing is of a nude girl bent over in distress, hugging herself. It is done in pink ink, with hatch cell shading. The top of her head is cut open and the inside is revealed to look like a bowl. Liquid is spilling out from her head down in front of her. She is crying. The words ‘Oh No’ surround her in different sizes. Blotches of ink cover the paper.

They tried to force different labels on me. Things that aren’t bad, but they weren’t what was going on with me, so it wasn’t helpful. Instead it was harmful and caused me additional trauma. Since diagnosis, I’ve found out the whole medical and mental health field is based on a lot of assumptions, personal biases, and LOTS of bigotry and disdain for ALL marginalized people.

I bring this up because my story isn’t the only one from autistic adults who are now finally brave enough to be communicating in the ways we can, to share our stories of abuse and torture, simply because we process the world differently. This isn’t anything new, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping. If anything it might actually be getting worse in some ways. I was so excited after my diagnosis to take on the world and share with others why I was so misunderstood my whole life.

“Seeking Solace” (self portrait) by Katja Schmid-Doyle. Image Description: This was created using pen, marker, and colored pencils on sketch paper. Image depicts a girl in a red shirt with curly hair crying into a tree in the middle of the forest. Her eyes are closed, and tears are streaking down her face.

I naively believed if I had this understanding of myself, that others would actually accept me and try to understand me better and there wouldn’t be as much friction in my life.

But sadly, I was very wrong.

When you only have autism awareness, that opens the door to people interpreting autistics from their narrow perspective and getting a majority about us wrong. That can open up doors of exploitation of a vulnerable population, because they can claim how autistics need to be “cured” to peddle their services to others that are even less informed than they are. Such services can include ABA therapy that often “trains” autistics to basically stop being autistic, to parents forcing their children to drink bleach solutions to “cure” them from what they claim are parasites living in our bodies that make us autistic.

“A$SHOLE”, by Robert Byland Jr. Image Description: colored pencil drawing of a personified blue puzzle piece. It has arms and hands. Those hands have their fingers stuck into where ears would be, like it’s not listening. It has a simple face. Eyes closed and tongue sticking out. On the front of the “body” it says A$ in black and ABA with devil horns and a tail in red.

Awareness only, is when you have medical professionals that misdiagnosis or gaslight patients because they don’t understand that being autistic is a neurological condition that affects the whole body and how it functions. They are only aware we exist but still mistakenly believe it is only a social disorder and that we are being “overly sensitive” and “over reacting” when we claim we are having adverse reactions to medicines or procedures that don’t harm the neurotypical majority.

“Untitled”, by Charlie Callisto. Image Description: The drawing is of a nice girl with light, curly hair, she is facing the front. Her expression is scared and confused. She is crying, and holding her hands close to her body to self soothe. It is done in blue ink, with hatch shading. Surrounding her there are sentences that people have said to her in speech bubbles. She is upset by these words. The words read; ‘Why are you so weird?’, ‘Retarded’. ‘T.M.I much?’. ‘you’re not autistic enough’. ‘Spastic’. ‘Weirdo’. ‘Ew!’. ‘I was told to stay away from you’. ‘You don’t look autistic’. ‘Broken’. ‘But you can talk?’. ‘Can’t you just be normal?’. ‘Get away from me’. ‘Psycho’. ‘Crazy’. ‘Well, my friends- sisters- brothers…’.. ‘I’ll pray for your cure’. ‘What’s wrong with you?’. ‘You’re not autistic!’. ‘You’re too different’.

Awareness is when people tell us “at least you’re high functioning” or “you don’t LOOK autistic”, and think that’s a compliment. When you have the public and even professionals thinking it’s appropriate to label autistic behaviors as abusive or use the word as a derogatory slur akin to the “R” word, that’s them having just awareness we exist, but not the proper information about why we behave in ways they don’t understand. Or when people’s awareness of us makes them use us as a punchline for their jokes or make stereotypical characters in their entertainment programs based on a small majority while claiming that’s how all autistics act.

With the world becoming “more aware” we are hearing all the horribly inaccurate things that people think about us, and it is weighing us all down collectively.

“The Weight of Autism,” vector art. 2020. Jackie Venus. Image Description: a person with with an angry grimace on their face, but their head is leaning downward as they look defeated as well. They are wearing a shirt that says “I (heart) a very precious Neurotypical”. Person is holding the world on their back and there are lots of abstract figures all over the earth in random places. There are word bubbles that say, “You complain too much”, “Don’t give so many details”, “Why Can’t you be like everyone Else?”, “Why Can’t you understand simple things?”, “Stop repeating yourself”, “You’ll never have a ‘normal’ life”, “Drinking bleach cures autism parasites”, “Don’t take everything so literally”, “What’s wrong with you?”, “You don’t look autistic”, “Don’t overreact!”, “Autism wasn’t a thing when I was young”, “We must find a cure”, “Why do you make things so complicated?”, “At least you’re HIGH functioning”, “So you lack empathy?”, “You’re so overly sensitive”, “You must be imagining things”, “Why are you always a problem?”, “No one wants to talk about that”, “We’re all a little autistic”, “What are you so annoying?”, “Be more tactful”, “Abusive Manipulative LIAR! R$%&#d worthless”, “Vaccines cause autism”, “Autism destroys families”, “Don’t be afraid of silly things”.

Awareness is still believing that only cis white males can be autistic.

Awareness only, makes people believe that autistics are automatically born having numerous mental health conditions that affect us negatively. Instead of seeing that many of us might actually not be suffering so much if society accepted and included us how we desperately need to be. We have no healthy concept of what it’s like to be truly accepted and included into society. Our collective trauma runs deep and many of us end up in horribly toxic interpersonal relationships in our adulthood because of this.

Because of awareness, many autistics end up being cared for by people that don’t even feel autistics deserve human compassion or they feel autistics are burdens that ruin people’s lives for simply existing. Thoughts like this continue to exist when the biggest organizations for us make billions yearly from telling parents that their child being autistic is something to be mourned or feared and one day they will find a way to cure us.

“Incognito”, Drawing. Ivonne Fernández. Image description: Black and white image. A woman with a Venetian carnival mask walks past a power pole with surveillance cameras. The woman appears angry but calm.

There are some in society that are moving beyond just “awareness” to accepting us as different, not exactly broken, and they even understand and embrace being autistic as a neurological difference. They may not exactly think there’s anything negative about us, but many in this group don’t want to do anything outside of their comfort zones to truly make sure autistics are included in society, which makes just having acceptance a problem as well.

When we live in a world where most of the largest organizations for autistics don’t actually employ any autistic individuals, that’s still a world that doesn’t want us taking part in society with them. They will use us as the equivalent of lab rats to do research about us that they will get credit for to advance their careers further, but they never actually make us a valued team member.

“Censory Deprivation”. Graphite on Bristol Smooth. Robert Castleman. Image Description: drawing of parts of a human face on ripped pieces of paper to focus on these specific parts. The eye is first at the top of the image. Then the mouth is left of center. Then an ear is at the bottom right. On top of these images is four strands of barbed wire going in various directions.

Some with acceptance might employ autistics, but often so many still don’t view us as equals to everyone else unless we work hard to mask our autistic traits that might inconvenience them too much to have to deal with.

We see how often social initiatives leave out intersectioning neurodivergent and disabled people from the real conversations and actions they take towards social justice. Often we are talked about as after thoughts, but never really included to take part in actions or activism, unless we mask any of our needs as an individual. We see how workplaces and any other public places, really don’t want us included and how people that accept us still won’t work hard to make the changes needed to make everyone feel welcomed at all times. Instead we have to sit around and wait for special occasions that they may think to include autistic children, but typically never us as adults. If we dare ask for accommodations, we are being demanding and difficult.

“Will.I.Am”. Will Hazzard. Acrylic on canvas. 76 x 76 cm. Image Description: image of a human from torso upward. They are wearing a black tee shirt and have their right hand placed up to their forehead with fingers intertwined into their short hair. They are looking straightforward. The background, and flesh of their body is done in the swirling post impressionistic techniques made to mimic parts of Starry Night by Van Gogh.

Many will claim to be for us, yet won’t take our full sensory needs into account. Some may for children, but seem to forget autistic children do indeed grow up to be autistic adults and we still have certain sensory needs. That don’t go away in adulthood, we just learn how to hide them or become antisocial to avoid the constant discomfort. From the mouths of people that accept us, we are often told there is nothing that can be done, since the majority don’t mind the bright lights or loud noises. We often get the pitied excuses, but no one willing to take any real actions to make us feel welcomed.

“I like my likes”, Martine Mussies. Image Description: a self portrait of [Martine Mussies] engaged in their “special interests”. Black and white drawing. Martine is sitting with legs crossed on the floor. They are wearing knee high cat socks with a cat on their lap. They are holding a video game controller in their hands about chest level. They also have on headphones and eye glasses, with a long braid in their hair on the left shoulder. They are smiling and happy.

We want to live in a world where we feel not like non autistic’s equals, but are appreciated and accommodated for, for our own individual needs. We want to live in a world that we don’t have to worry about jobs firing us because we couldn’t think and respond like our neurotypical co workers. Even though if given the chance we can excel when others accept we don’t always do things like everyone else and that’s okay. We want to live in a world where, even as adults, we don’t get punished or bullied because we didn’t understand the social hierarchy and play society’s socializing games properly.

We want to live in a world that will take the time to learn how to teach us best, not force us to fit in a box, then pathologize that we must be deficit in some way for not understanding. We want to live in a world where we can process it how we need to, despite how unusual that may look to other people.

We want to live in a world that doesn’t look down on us negatively for communicating in ways they may not understand, because we often don’t have as many issues communicating with other neurodivergent people like we do with neurotypicals.

“Exclusion”, chalk on paper. Ivonne Fernández. Image description: Black and white image. An abstractly drawn woman in a coat holds an umbrella, stands under a bridge, it is raining thick drops. The woman’s face is empty.

We want to live in a world where medical and mental health professionals will actually believe us and stop treating us like we aren’t even human and don’t deserve their compassion if we dare do anything that deviates from the limited scope their education failed to provide them with.

We want to live in a world that we don’t have to be a savant or inspiration to be worthy of existing.

We want to live in a world where people take the time to understand that most of what they label problematic behaviors are us reacting to things that are causing us physical and mental distress.

“Untitled”, by Charlie Callisto. Image Description: The drawing is of a nude girl with dark hair bent over. Her hands are covering her ears. It from a side angle. She is in distress. It is done in purple ink, with hatch shading. There are arrows stuck in her that have been fired from all directions. All around her, there are words written that describe the things distressing her. The words read; ‘spin, fear, help, too close, pain, confused, scream, people, yell, blur, itching, noise, stop, can’t breathe, touch, too much, ringing, vulnerable, broken, fatigue, shout, fast, eye contact, crowds, cry, light’.

We want to live in a world where asking for reasonable accommodations isn’t a bad thing for ANYONE. And where we don’t fear the worst happening when we do ask for such things.

We want to live in a world where we stop being bullied when people know we’re different, even as adults. Even in the workplace. Even by the police. Even by medical staff and mental health professionals. Even by our own families and loved ones.

We want to live in a world where people stop pitying us, like we’re something defective that people can’t even love and accept unless they are super human.

“Get Lost”, by Robert Byland Jr. Image Description: Colored pencil drawing of a personified rainbow infinity symbol with arms flipping off with one hand and pointing to go away with the other, a personified rainbow puzzle piece with arms that are sticking their fingers in the side of the rounded part that looks like a head. The puzzle piece has a simple face on it and it is frowning.

We want to live in a world where people stop exploiting us to make themselves look and feel better when they do “nice” things for us. We want to live in a world where we don’t have to make art that doesn’t even come close to depicting the pain we have inside for how we are treated daily.

I personally want to live in a world that I don’t break down into tears, as I sob while compiling this for public consumption of our collective thoughts.

I feel what we are asking for is so little, yet we are told so often how we’re “too much” or never good enough as our neurotypical counterparts. We’re asking to be simply treated like we have value and purpose like everyone else.

“Budogirl”, Martine Mussies. Image Description: a self portrait of [Martine Mussies] as an autistic warrior. Black and white drawing. Martine is holding a sword above their head. Wearing cat ears, with long dark hair. They are smiling and look happy. They are wearing an outfit with a samurai cat on it.

We’re asking to not be locked up in institutions or be murdered because some people think that’s better than having to care for another human being that’s different than they are. We are asking that people stop thinking that not vaccinating their children and them being dead is better than having an autistic child. Even though there is no actual scientific proof that vaccines even cause autism.

We’re asking that parents of autistics stop exploiting their autistic child to make money from them or gain sympathy from everyone else about how difficult it is to be parents to people like us. We’re asking that society stop implying we won’t ever have a “normal” life being autistic. Like your “normal” is the only way to live and anyone else that can’t function like that are defective. We’re simply asking to be treated like human beings, yet that seems like too much to ask from the majority of society.

“Equity”, 2020. Vector art. Jackie Venus. Image Description: 5 abstract figures all on top of different colors stylized flowers growing up towards a digitally embroidered sun shinning rays down on them all. Each flower and person has their own support needs. The first, a green human has a plant stand to hold the flower up. The second orange figure doesn’t have as much support. The third purple figure is in a wheel chair and its flower is tilted for better access. The fourth person has minimal support needs. The final person in blue needs a lot of support. A part of the stem is reaching up and “hugging” them. While they all have different support needs, they all are equal heights in their growth towards the sun.

I end this exhibit with a powerful poem titled “Seat at the Table” written by Maddi Crease.

All of these images in this exhibit and her words come from only a few of us, but there are countless tears and voices to be heard that often are being ignored.

We’re tired of being your puzzle pieces and it’s time for society to really listen to us.

Seat at the Table
Their awareness is the mention at the party.
Or the conference.
Or the picnic.
They mention me.
Me, and people like me,
People on the autistic spectrum, see,
They’re aware of me!
They know I exist and, and
I’m supposed to be grateful,
Even though,
You know,
I wasn’t invited.
To the party,
The conference,
The picnic.
And their “acceptance” is their knowing me, see,
Sometimes, just knowing me.
Kind of how they say that they see me,
Cause see,
They call on me sometimes.
They say, see, they, they say,
“I know a girl.
And she’s got autism.
She’s great,
You see,
She’s my friend,
And she’s so creative and I-“
And I know they’re playing with my identity.
With my
Diagnostic criteria met
They say they’ve befriended me.
I can barely know them,
But they call on me.
They see me, see,
They see me!
My name slips sweet into conversation-
Their awareness astounds and they see.
They must be so accepting
If they’re friends with me.
Nobody asks how they’re treating me.
It’s like a name-dropped celebrity,
‘Cept more toxic, see,
They can say that they know me,
Say that they get me,
When I’m overwhelmed or in meltdown,
They’re not there.
They don’t seem to care.
If they’re with me,
They’ll drag me along and hiss to calm down,
And they say that they’re friends with me.
The next time there’s a party, or a conference, or a picnic,
Maybe I’ll tag along.
After all, there’s my equality.
Even though there’s no way for me,
Me to feel safe,
To feel safe in this space,
With these people, these noises,
Their overpowering voices.
I won’t speak much.
And anyone who knows me,
Really knows me,
Knows that me, I talk.
I talk and express and I share and I smile-
Not here.
These people,
They never make the move to care.
I don’t want much.
And your seat at the table,
It really is great, so
I shouldn’t complain but.
Your seats are fine dining suite leather,
And mine is the garden bench.
I’m thrown into place,
Divergency pace.
There’s nothing here for me.
If I go into meltdown,
Who will be here for me?
Now, if I had equity.
If I had equity
There’d be someone I know with me.
I don’t expect you to know everything,
Just to admit what you don’t and where they can help.
There’d be a side room I can go to,
With the lights off,
And I’d calm down.
On my own.
Without being told
To calm down.
Your awareness is the mention
Of my condition.
Your hollow acceptance is you
Saying we’re close.
And your equality is the inaccessible invite.
Your true gesture of equity,
And understanding
Is the ‘just to say’ at the bottom of the text,
Where you say I can come,
That reads
“Ps. There’s space for you to go.
If you need to.
And tell me,
What else you need.
I’ll see what I can do.”

To watch video version of this exhibit, please click here:

Sadly there wasn’t enough room to fit all submissions into this project. There was another video submission that just couldn’t fit in due to the time length but I feel it really deserves a viewing.

Please view Alyce Niquette’s short video called Sensorium here:

Robert Byland Jr.

Discovered being autistic just 18 months ago, so [he’s] still trying to adjust to living my life in a more autistic friendly way. [He’s] been married for 14 years, and [they] have a 13 year old daughter. [Robert is] an amateur/smartphone photographer, and [he’s] pretty good with bicycle stunts. [Robert’s] a recovering addict and alcoholic, and [he] advocate[s] for other people who are seeking to achieve sobriety. In the future, [he] hope to coach others on the spectrum, on how to live a more comfortable autistic life, through sensory diet and mindful living.



Charlie Callisto, AKA Dashie Draws

Is a graphic watercolourist and digital artist that uses colorful and whimsical illustrations to represent their love of nature, people, and animals. They combines these elements, along with Fantasy and Surrealism, to try and show how much emotion the living form can convey, and how beautiful our childhood daydreams of magic were.

Instagram: @dashiedraws_

YouTube: Dashie Draws


Robert Castleman

Was diagnosed autistic at the ripe old age of 52 after a life long string of mis-diagnoses and the comorbidities that tag along. A decade later [he is] still sorting through the consequences of [his] social ineptitude. But it’s getting better. [Robert has] become more self-accepting and less self-judgmental. [He’s] more comfortable with challenging misperceptions about autism. [He has] several essays about [his] experience in the book “Been There, Done That, Try this!”. [Robert is] currently working as a systems architect for a world leading microchip manufacturer and hold two patents for a software system of autonomous, self organizing agents.

Limited edition prints are available.

The original is framed in a shadow box suspended from “barbed wire” and also for sale.

Maddi Crease

Is an Essex-based artist and poet. After discovering her passion for poetry in her mid teens, she writes both written and spoken pieces. Her pieces centre on themes of mental health, neurodivergency, and equality and diversity. She also creates abstract art with acrylics.


Instagram poetry page:

Instagram art page:

Jodi Dudrow

Is a creative artist and poet at “Art from my Heart”. Which is the home for her creativity as an outlet of expression as she ventures through her path to healing from lifelong trauma. She uses her everyday perception in life as an autistic and emotionally sensitive being coupled with her experiences, as a catapult for her creativity. Jodi is in the midst of exploring various mediums, but is commonly working with acrylic paints and mixed media. Jodi is currently working on a collection inspired by her favorite musicians. She also is compiling a collection of poetry for a self released poetry book.


Nihilivonne / Ivonne Fernández y González

[She is] a German/Spanish autistic multidisciplinary artist and BSc Psychologist. [She works] with various media – graphics, mixed media, prints, poetry, objet trouvé, videos, electronic music – because [she needs] the freedom to express [herself] in different ways. As a living and in line with [her] personal values [she does] art projects for children. Since [her] autism diagnosis [has been] been active in the autism advocacy and neurodiversity movement and funded the German Non-profit organisation NeuroDivers e.V – after experiencing years of hostility from the outside world [she] fought [her] way back into society and intrinsically want[s] to change society for new generations of autistics as much as [she] can.



Non-Profit Organization:


Will Hazzard

Is 19 years old and autistic. [He] had a love of art from a young age but art became a form of therapy with [his] autism diagnosis at age 10. Influenced by Buddhist philosophies, [his] work aims for a connection with animals, the environment, and the Wiradjuri land [he] live[s] on. [Will’s] work is often inspired by personal encounters with nature (lizards, kangaroos, cockatoos etc) and [his] paintings represent life cycles and a spiritual connection with the earth. [He has] developed [his] own unique style and [his] work often features built up layers of paint and is meant to be tactile as [he] want[s his] art to ‘touch’ people. [Will has] started experimenting with graphic design elements as well as a unique collage technique, that [he] call[s] “painting with paper”.






Jackie Venus Jacovidis

AKA Actually Autistic and Angry

Is a creative artist that likes to dabble in a little bit of everything. From embroidery, sculpting, painting, graphic art, and basically anything that can be turned into art. Lately their works have been focused on graphic art that combines their love of embroidery and colorful imagery to help illustrate their healing journey surrounding their childhood trauma and living in an ableist world that actually doesn’t want them to exist. You may connect directly to more of Jackie’s works at Facebook:






Martine Mussies

Is a Dutch artist and researcher. Under the umbrella of “Inside the Autside”, she shares her “auti-ethnographies” to critique current views of autism as a condition that renders the autistic as being more or less than human.


Katja Schmid-Doyle

Is an autistic artist, writer, and musician pursuing a psychology degree at Bryn Mawr College (she hopes to be a clinician one day). She uses visual art to help her process her life, as well as to translate her awe of nature. She works with whatever material available— this work was made using markers, pen, and colored pencil, but in the past, she has used charcoal, oil pastels, watercolors, India ink, and no.2 pencil to create images. Her art tends to be grounded in realism, with symbolic elements and occasionally calligraphy as well, to convey the emotions and experiences she struggles to articulate otherwise.

Instagram: @kschmiddoyle


Alyce Niquette

Alyce Niquette, better known as Applestar Creations, began as a fiber artist and in recent years has branched out into digital art, textile design, and animation. She is autistic, suffers from Complex PTSD, and has glaucoma. Her goal is to leave the world a prettier and cozier place.

Additional video By Alyce Niquette called Sensorium can be viewed here:

3 thoughts on “Not Your Puzzle: Autistic Voices for Autistic Equity

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