Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Eye Contact

Beth Wilson

[image description & transcription: A full-color hand-drawn comic strip.

The first row contains two panels.

The left hand panel has a green background. A blond white person on the left is talking and maintaining eye contact with the olive-skinned person with long dark hair on the right. Black all-caps hand-lettered text on a white background above their heads reads:

“For allistic people (non-autistic) eye contact is a way of connecting with others in conversation.”

The right hand panel has a blue background. On the left A black person with a natural hairstyle is looking down, with an uncomfortable expression on their face while on the right a white person with long straight hot pink hair and bangs has their eyes closed tightly. Black all-caps hand-lettered text on a white background above their heads reads:

“For autistic people, it’s different. Eye contact is uncomfortable and invasive.”

The second row is a black rectangle with white hand-lettered all-caps text reading:

“When we look away, it doesn’t mean that we are not listening. We are not disrespecting you.”

The third row is one large panel. It is a close up of the eyes and nose of a white person with straight long purple hair and bangs, with eyes wide open. Black all-caps hand-lettered text on a white background at the top of the panel reads:

“If we try and make eye contact with people, it can totally distract us from what is being said because of how horrible it can feel and the effort involved.”

Red-outlined word bubbles around the edge of the panel, in black all-caps hand-lettered text on a white background, read:

“Keep looking” “Having I looked too much?” “This hurts” “Am I doing this right?” “I have no idea what they’re saying” “Can’t do this” and “I feel so vulnerable”

All caps hand-lettered black text under the panel reads:

“© Beth Wilson 2017”

The fourth row contains two panels.

The left hand panel has a light blue background, and contains lack all-caps hand-lettered text on a white background. The text reads:

“Many of us can fake it by looking at details.”

The right hand panel has a pink background. It contains a close-up of a white person’s nose and open mouth. In the upper left corner of the panel, black all-caps hand-lettered text on a white background reads:


The fifth row contains two panels.

The left hand panel contains a close up of the eye of an olive-skinned person’s wearing teal-framed glasses. In the upper right, black all-caps hand-lettered text on a white background reads:


The right hand panel has an orange background. Black all-caps hand-lettered text on a white background reads:

“For others, even looking at a face is too much.”

The sixth row contains a single panel with a green background. It contains a South Asian person with short black hair on the left. They are looking at the white person with blue-and-purple layered hair on the right, while that person is looking away. Both are smiling. At the top of the panel, black all-caps hand-lettered text on a white background reads:

“When an allistic person demands eye contact from an autistic person, they are asking for something that only benefits them. Why should we experience discomfort for you?”

At the bottom of the panel, black all-caps hand-lettered text on a white background reads:

“Please respect our need to look away.”

All caps hand-lettered black text under the panel reads:

“© Beth Wilson 2017☆”]


This comic was originally published at

Monday, January 15, 2018

Happy (Autism Diagnosis) Anniversary

Chris Williams

Hello. My name is Chris Williams. Nice to meet you.

I recently celebrated an anniversary. If you’re reading this, thank you for letting me share it with you.

On January 7th of 2017, my doctor telephoned. My screening, my tests, my questionnaires, and interviews with my family had been reviewed and evaluated. My diagnosis was in the mail. “…Chris demonstrates pattern of behavior and impairment consistent with Autism Spectrum Disorder 299.00 (F84.)…”

I’ll introduce myself again, for the first time:

Hello. My name is Chris Williams, and I’m autistic. Nice to meet you.

My diagnosis was, it still is, mind boggling to me. Perhaps to those of you who know me. Perhaps not. To have a paradigm shift, at thirty-six years old, in self reflection, and in reflection about my personal relationships. My memories now telling me different stories. An awfully familiar stranger resembling me in mirrors. My internal cartography reordering itself, patterns forming across my strengths, my weaknesses, my ways of learning, my ways of thinking, and my ways of communicating. It’s been a cacophony of a change of perspective.

Outside my self, my genetics, looking forward and looking backwards, have been concurrent labyrinths to explore. My almost-seven-year-old daughter Calliope* is diagnosed autistic, and has significant support needs. At this time, she’s our only child with a professional diagnosis. In time, I’m confident she won’t be the only one. I’m 95% certain Caspian is; Catherina, perhaps closer to 35% sure. And casting a wider net onto my mother’s family, and onto my father’s reveals traits, behaviors, and whole individuals in different lights. Even friends start to take on new forms or more fully realized shapes, once you know the diagnostic criteria and prevalence of the condition, and not with an unreasonable eye.

You see, 1 in 68 people in the United States are estimated to be on the spectrum, and there’s talk that this is a low estimate. In his 2015 masterwork on autism, NeuroTribes, Steve Silberman writes: “…given current estimates of prevalence, autistic people constitute one of the largest minorities in the world. There are roughly as many people on the spectrum in America as there are Jews.”

That means there’s a lot of us out there. Out there in the open. Hiding within ourselves. Hiding from ourselves. Some of you reading this, maybe there’s some real questions you need to ask—or context you never thought to provide—about yourself to yourself. Or maybe about your spouse, your children, your parents, your brother or sister, your aunt or uncle, your friends, your coworkers. Maybe you'll consider that people are built in strange ways, ones you wouldn’t expect to be so unifying. It’s a revealing thread of humanity to understand, and be attuned to.

It’s funny. Despite Calliope's limited language, she has communicated more to me about myself, my family, and how to regard other humans than anyone I’ve known. She inspired me to learn, she inspired me to self-realize, she inspired me to seek my diagnosis, and now she’s inspiring me to stand tall and make my own truths plain for others to see. She is my skeleton key, my Rosetta Stone, my North Star in this journey.

It’s been a good year in this regard. With my vision unclouded about the best version of my self I can be, I stride towards the future with greater purpose. I am a proud autistic father of beautiful autistic children. I am a devoted autistic husband. I am Chris Williams, an exquisite, autistic human being, one with his eyes on horizons of advocacy, of leadership, and of making a difference for my family and for others. It’s a good place to be.

So on that note, happy anniversary. Here’s a toast to finding myself, and to all old friends and new friends alike. Thank you.

Chris Williams. Photo courtesy the author.
[image: A solar-flare selfie of the author, a smiling white man with short dark hair,
wearing a red baseball cap with two giant cartoon eyes on it.]

Editor's note: While many people find comfort in an official autism diagnosis, getting one is not always affordable or accessible, plus the Autistic community generally welcomes people who are self-diagnosed.

If you are newly diagnosed with autism, think you might be autistic, and/or are the parent of an autistic child, we recommend the following books and resources:

A version of this article was originally published on January 8th, 2018, at Medium.

*The children's names are pseudonyms.