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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, See, She’s my friend, See, 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, But. 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, See. 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, Affection, 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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9lExcNBt10&t=88s
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: https://youtu.be/MoyDHJuzg4g
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.
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.
YouTube: Dashie Draws
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. https://www.deviantart.com/wavefreak/art/Censory-Deprivation-Framed-160295036
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: https://www.instagram.com/poetry_raw_mc/
Instagram art page: https://www.instagram.com/maddic_creates/
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.
[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: https://neurodivers.net/
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”.
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:
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.
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.
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: https://youtu.be/MoyDHJuzg4g