I Delivered my First Talk on Autism and Lived to Tell About It


It’s the final day of Autism Acceptance & Appreciation Month, so I appreciate that I was able to speak about autism at work this week. While it was a welcome break from my normal talks about data visualization and analysis, it was definitely not a break.

But was it ever worthwhile and timely.

There’s a world of difference between venues offering perspective on autism vs. autistic perspectives. I’m grateful mine was the latter.

So what happened, and what went well?

For starters, the event organizer was a gift, and she helped hammer out the topics and themes well beforehand. I can handle surprises, but she made sure this talk would cater to not just the audience’s needs, but a comfortable style of exchange.

I also had the questions beforehand, where I could mull over the answers and think about where I could thoughtfully inform on autistic misconceptions, being an ally, autism at work, and supporting autistic people growing up, along with neurotypical parents of neurodivergent children.

There’s one caveat.

For every talk, anytime someone makes the mistake of giving me a platform, I’m very quick to outline a key point: I speak from an autistic perspective, but I’m uniquely autistic and my experience isn’t going to be 100% representative of all autistic people.

It seems like that would detract from the message, but it was good to reinforce that autistic people are all unique, and that our voices are stronger through diversity. I’m not an “autism expert,” but I am an expert in my “autistic experience” — that helped.

There were good questions and real needs.

While I can rail on the struggles, there are people who genuinely want to support us, irrespective of disclosures. It was good to explain the practical steps on how. And then the parents, with whom I wish I could empathize more directly, who want to better support their uniquely autistic children — there’s never been a better time to grow up autistic than now. Knowledge is power, and we have so much of both now.

This wasn’t without mishaps.

I made the mistake of getting fancy with a self-description on incongruous juxtapositions, slipping in ‘Shakespeare-quoting history-majoring data visualization designer.’


The follow up question: “Oh, what’s your favorite Shakespeare quote?”

That’s the lesson, y’all — never mention what you can’t prove. I rattled off the first one that came to mind and stultified the minds of my enduring audience with half-baked literary criticism on the fly. My apologies.

(But not for using ‘stultifying’ – it was nice using big words freely in a talk for once!)

It went well, and it did well for the autistic acceptance and appreciation cause.

So: if you’re an employer, manager, ally, advocate at work — autism is the next and long-overdue step on your inclusion, diversity, and accessibility effort.

Bring in authentically autistic voices. We do want to share. And we can help.

Even if we have to come up with a Shakespeare quote on the fly 🙂


Let’s Go Bust Myths About Autism!

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Let’s go bust a few myths about autism today.

Myth: Autistic people don’t understand sarcasm or idioms. While I can probably dish sarcasm better than I can take it, that doesn’t mean we’re incapable of learning to process communication cues and context that would clue us in on idiomatic and sarcastic usage.

Myth: Autistic people are incapable of empathy. That’s flat out untrue, but I’ll admit that this myth didn’t come from the nothing. We might view some emotional circumstances far more concretely and detach ourselves from reacting as most would, but that’s not to say we can’t empathize at all.

Myth: Autistic people are savants with some kind of super ability. Some are! But that’s not generally the norm. It’s not like I can’t fold a shirt the right way yet can bust out Beethoven on piano with my eyes closed. No, I just can’t fold shirts.

Myth: You can’t be autistic if you’re independent. This is why I’m not a fan of functioning labels. Some autistic people have greater needs and dependence. Some don’t. And some phase between both at different times in life.

Myth: Girls and women can’t get autism. That…no. Just no. One of my own key discoveries in this journey was with how imbalanced the diagnostic story is with autism, skewing more male than it should. I’ve been more woke to autistic women and their voice, and you should be too.

Myth: You can cure autism. *spitting out bleach*  Uh, what’s there to cure?

Myth: An autism diagnosis is a death sentence for your child. It’s not. You’re more supported than ever. It might not be easy, but you’ll make a world of difference inappreciating them for their autism, not despite it.

Myth: Autistic people can’t make many friends or have meaningful relationships. I might not have many friend-friends, but I have a couple very good ones. I’m also married with three kids. I’m extremely fortunate. It has been a journey for us all, but at least that’s a journey that can be made.

Myth: People use autism as an excuse to be jerks. People think this. This is wrong. Please stop. When I’m a jerk, I’m a JERK because I’m a jerk, not because I’m autistic.

Myth: It’s difficult to hold a normal conversation with someone autistic (h/t Katie Wagner). Depends on your definition of ‘normal!’ If we’re talking ‘small talk,’ or otherwise run-of-the-mill, banally anodyne conversational fare, that’s painful for us too. We’re not always the most chatty, but sometimes we’re overly chatty – by no means are we going out of our way to make it difficult.

Myth: Autistic people are all introverted and can’t socialize. Whoa, yep, this here is a myth. There was one event where people claimed they missed me because of my flair and energy or something. Yeah, weird, right? It’s exhausting, but it’s by no means a natural inability. Some of us do enough to get by.

Any other myths we need to smash? Comment and lemme know.





Are We Ever Allowed to Fail?

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I am not allowed to fail. 

That sounds ridiculous, but think about how you react to the people that fail you and the things that fail you.

Usually, people may let you down, make a mistake, do something wrong. And what’s the normal reaction? Well, varying degrees of upset, but we’re all human people. And people get people: letdowns are forgiven, mistakes are corrected, and you empathize with their human failures.

What about when your things fail you?

Your car. Your appliances. Your tools. Your computer?

Are those so quickly forgiven? 


Those things are supposed to work. All the time. Just like they always have. When they fail, there’s no empathy. That wouldn’t make sense. It’s easy to get mad, stay mad, call your object stupid, etc.

That is why we are not allowed to fail.

There’s a certain, unspoken expectation of autistic people, especially the independent ones of us, with limited needs, greater independence, and routinely consistent in doing things.

One of our generally agreed saving graces is routine, repetition. We’re creatures of habit, of expectation, and the functions we serve (whether broad or limited) are often consistent. I mean, shoot, this blog still runs after YEARS! It’s its own autistic habit, nigh unfailing.

But what happens when we fail?

I’ll tell you.

It’s like when your grandma, you know, gets a little older, but she’s still cooking, baking, what have you. The cookies might not be quite right. The meals maybe a little underdone. Or maybe it’s a cherished friend or loved one, and perhaps their biscuits needed some extra love in the oven.

Do you even mention it? Do you respond?

No, of course not. You smile, nod, mention that it tastes “fine” and take another globby bite of biscuit goo with a side of extra bacon, please and thank you.

But me, I’ve sworn off making one of my favorite recipes for people because I failed it once and never heard the end of it.

It’s not just that.

We leave one thing undone that we normally, routinely do? Panic. Something comes in late? Concern.

We can’t afford to be anything but brutally, precisely constant and consistent. Even emotionally, our outbursts find less tolerance, understanding, while our downward spells are less understood and more inexcusable.

The enemy of unwavering consistency is a break, an interruption, your car not starting, as you pound the steering wheel out of rage. The functions weren’t exceptional, but essential. Until they stopped. That’s when the ire begins.

To err is human; to forgive, divine.

We autistic people are human too.

Let us fail for once.