Sunday, April 8, 2012

Kassiane Sibley: Autism Acceptance Month

Both of These Things Are GABA,
which amuses Kassiane.
We're featuring "Slice of Life" conversations with Autistics of all ages -- kids through adults -- throughout April's Autism Acceptance Month

Our goal is to help TPGA readers understand that autistic people are people who have interesting, complicated lives and who are as diverse and varied as any other population united by a label.

We are the people in each other's neighborhoods, and the more we know about each other -- the more visible autistic people and children are -- the more common autism acceptance will be. That is our hope.

Today we're talking with Kassiane Sibley, a gymnast, swing dancer, neurology student, and autism advocate who recently joined the TPGA team as an Affiliate Editor.

What is your name?

Kassiane Alexandra Sibley.

Do you have a website?

I do! Blog: Radical Neurodivergence Speaking ( That's where my angst lives.

What would you like a one-sentence description of yourself to say?

Just one sentence? Kassiane is an absolute force of nature who cannot be adequately described in one sentence, no matter how much one abuses semicolons.

Do you have any autistic superpowers? What are they?

What does that mean? Umm ... I can make people mad at me just by breathing? My hearing bottomed out an audiology test. I have an extremely detailed memory, which is actually less awesome than it sounds sometimes -- remembering the location of All The Things except for what I am actively looking for. I'm good at math, and explaining math, I enthusiastically explain things I like to people who don't necessarily have the background I do ... and I don't get dizzy easily, which probably helped with the whole gymnastic thing. Oh, and I'm awesome with kids. And apparently I read fast.

What are some situations that make you happy, or satisfied?

Getting dizzy is the most amazing feeling in the world. And I love the feeling of teaching something I really like to someone who wasn't going to "get it" automatically. I love being squished. Being around people who are like me, or who at least get how I work, is extremely relaxing and blissful. Realizing I have friends who care about me for me, who want to grok who I am rather than "fix" me, that's pretty satisfying too.

What are some situations that make you sad, or anxious?

Every time I have to fight for my right to be seen as a human being I get both very anxious and very sad. It's not OK. When someone is killed for being autistic, it's like a kick in the gut. When someone throws around ableist slurs, it's like being punched. The way people talk about other autistic people, it makes me sad. And when someone decides they don't think I can do something because of autism, that's ... it's not OK. And loud places ... loud and overly busy places are panic attacks waiting to happen.

Are there specific topics you find particularly compelling?

I like neurology. A lot. I will tell people more than they ever wanted to know about how brains work. I'm pretty into the physics of gymnastics as well, and I'm active in the neurodiversity movement.  I was into genetics as well until a prof kind of ruined it for me; I'll be cool with it again in six months or so.

What are your preferred ways to be social?

The Internet is freakin' amazing. I like going swing dancing, because it's structured and I like getting dizzy (or trying). I've also done a couple cosplay meetups (SHUSH! I AM A NERD!) and they were a good time since there was a built in thing to talk about. But without the Internet I'd be way too shy-and weird-to get to a place where I can socialize with people.

What traits do you prize in a friend, or companion?

They don't have to be autistic, but I tend to get along better with people who aren't exactly NT. A sense of humor is key. More key is embracing who I am, good stuff, not as good stuff, weird stuff. It helps to be nerdy, because nerds are awesome. An ability to speak Kassianeish (which is what happens when I am tired, or overwhelmed: what words there are may or may not all be there, they probably aren't in the right order, frustration occurs) is also helpful. Not freaking out in event of a seizure is an absolute must ... but so is being able to make just about everything into something to giggle uncontrollably about.

Are there parts of your life you wish were easier?

Um yeah.  Isn't it that way for everyone? I wish that my hearing wasn't so good-it's painful. And I wish I didn't have seizures (which aren't autism. They're seizures. They're a pain). It'd be nice to not have to make a federal case about my ability to take a community college PE class (no, really). My family is kind of awful, and I wish that weren't the case ... or if it must be, the way people act towards people with crappy families is unacceptably victim blaming and I'd rather it weren't like that. And I wish I didn't live in a world that thinks that people like me don't deserve to be ourselves ... but that is the world's problem and it needs to get over it.

What's the next big goal you have for yourself?

Med school. I'm going to be a pediatric neurologist.

What does bliss feel like to you?

Heaven is: listening to Bach's cello suites on a silent beach while jumping on an Olympic trampoline. The world is the motion and the visual and the music.