Autistic with Invisalign: Eating is a Chore

Big Trigger Warning! As you can see by the title, I will be talking about eating and how your eating habits change with Invisalign. This will also reference weight loss. As this may be triggering to some people who struggle with eating disorders, please proceed with caution or skip this post.

As I write this, I am on tray 7 of 13. I am about halfway through my initial Invisalign treatment.

I’m going to be honest here. Eating is such a chore and requires a lot of thinking with Invisalign. You have to change how often you eat since you have to wear your trays for at least as long as your dental professional tells you. You have to also clean your trays before putting your trays back in your mouth. Say goodbye to snacking.

You need to think about how often and when you can eat. I was told to wear my trays at least 20-22 hours per day, but most people are told to wear the trays for at least 22 hours. This will limit you to taking your trays out during the main three meals. This will be difficult for people who include scheduled snacks or for people who eat smaller meals throughout the day.

However, this is training my brain to only eat when I’m hungry. I noticed that I would snack a lot, especially when I would eat Maruchan Ramen a couple of hours after dinner. Eating the ramen was a routine for me, one I had to give up when starting my Invisalign treatment and when the price of a 12-pack of chicken flavored became too high to justify eating it (as of now, the cheapest place to get the 12-pack of Maruchan ramen is $3.68 where I live). I still like ramen, but I only eat Lotus Foods miso ramen once in a while. Lotus Foods ramen has less calories and at least half the sodium of my Maruchan ramen. Less sodium in my body means…

…I lost a little bit of weight! That’s right, if you wear Invisalign and you don’t snack so much to follow directions on how long to wear Invisalign, you may lose a little weight. However, please be careful not to put as much food into your body in each meal. It may be tempting to eat as much as you can since you can only eat three meals, but not only do you have to keep track of how much time your trays are out of your mouth, but that can develop a bad habit of binge eating.

I don’t remember what else I was going to say, so I’ll end it here and edit this post if I can think of anything else.


Autistic with Invisalign: Meeting Oral Sensory Needs

This may be my last “Autistic with Invisalign” (or any Diary of Self) post for awhile. I will be co-authoring a book and the chapter for which I’m responsible is due in mid-March. Combine that with needing to plan the Disability Day of Mourning vigil at my church on March 1st means there might not be much time to hear from me.

I am an oral sensory seeker. Oral sensory seekers are people who need more oral sensory input in order for their brains to recognize the input. What are some ways to meet oral sensory needs?

  • Eating a crunchy or chewy snack
  • Chewing gum
  • Drinking through a straw
  • Eating foods that have intense flavors, such as pickles, sour candies, spicy foods, etc
  • “Chewies” such as “Chewelry” that a child can wear as a necklace or bracelet

How have I met my oral sensory needs pre- and post-autism diagnosis?

  • Chewing off pencil erasers (this was so impulsive that it didn’t matter if it was my pencil or not. Christina, if you’re reading this, sorry I chewed off your eraser when I borrowed it during Mad Science after school)
  • Chewing paper
  • Biting my nails probably counted
  • Putting my fingers in my mouth (dad always had to tell me to take my fingers out of my mouth when I was little)
  • Using a pacifier way longer than I should have (I was forced to not have it at my pre-kindergarten graduation and kindergarten was my first time without it)
  • Sucking on a spoon, with March 2020 being when I realized that I was an oral sensory seeker as sucking on a spoon calmed me
  • Chewing on my chewelry necklace (This one is the exact one I have)
  • Doritos!

When you have Invisalign (or even braces), some ways of meeting oral sensory needs are either more difficult to do or no longer an option. For example, you can no longer chew gum when you wear braces. You also have to make sure you keep your trays in for a certain number of hours per day, so you can’t just snack whenever you want. How will you meet your oral sensory needs now?

Guess what? Wearing Invisalign meets my oral sensory needs! I realized this during the first 48-72 hours of wearing my first set of trays. The placement of my tongue makes me occasionally feel the trays, but Invisalign meets my oral sensory needs because there is something in my mouth all the time. When I’m not wearing my trays, I’m either eating something, drinking something that’s not water, or performing oral hygiene care. Special chewies or munchies made specifically for Invisalign can help too! Your dental professional may or may not have given you something to help “seat” your trays properly. If they haven’t, there are options on the Invisalign website. Note: The PulTool doesn’t have a silicone chew to bite on, so make sure you get the Pul System if you want the benefit of a chew and a way to remove your trays.

Note: I’m not sponsored by Invisalign, but wouldn’t it be cool if they sponsored an autistic person?

An advantage of Invisalign vs traditional metal braces is that you have more freedom of what you can eat, so you can still eat your chewy snacks if you use that to meet your oral sensory needs. Honestly, the only thing you probably can’t do to meet your oral sensory needs with Invisalign is using chewelry, but your special chewie made for Invisalign works as a nice substitute.

Recently at work, I had a strong desire to chew chew chew! I took out my Pul System and chewed on the silicone piece. I felt better after only a minute!

I honestly did not intend for my Autistic with Invisalign series to coincide with my tray changes (I put on Tray 4 of 13 last night) and this pattern will be broken with my advocacy and writing projects, but my next planned Autistic with Invisalign blog will be about eating.


Autistic With Invisalign: Adjusting to the New Routine

This is kind of a sequel/follow-up to my Preparing for a New Routine blog post. Today also marks one month since I started my Invisalign treatment program.

Many autistic people feel comfort in following a routine. However, having Invisalign changes your routine by adding a new routine. The following routine needs to be added to your DAILY structure:

  • Taking your trays out before eating or drinking anything that isn’t water
  • Cleaning your trays
  • At the very least rinsing your mouth after each meal
  • Putting your trays back in
  • Making sure you keep your trays in for at least a certain number of hours each day
  • Improving your dental hygiene. This means
    • Brushing your teeth every day
    • Flossing at least once every day (more if you get food stuck between your teeth)

In my Preparing for a New Routine post, I gave the suggestion to practice the new routine before you get your first set of trays. That way, it will be easier to incorporate the new routine. It’s okay if you have to do things in stages. For example, rinsing your mouth after one meal per day for practice and increase the number of rinses until you get to every meal. If you don’t brush and floss every day, slowly add days. However, I understand that some routine changes cannot be practiced. For example, cleaning your trays. You cannot practice that until you have your trays. Practicing the new routine ahead of time helped me to remember what I need to do every time I take out my trays and put my trays back in.

Many people on the autism spectrum are rule abiders sometimes to the point that we’ve been made fun of for not breaking rules. Sometime for us, we may need to add our new routine as rules to take care of our teeth and make sure we don’t hinder our orthodontic treatment progress. For example:

  • It is a rule to take out your trays before eating or drinking anything that isn’t water
  • It is a rule to clean your trays before putting them in your mouth
  • It is a rule to rinse your mouth after each meal
  • It is a rule to put your trays back in after rinsing or brushing your teeth
  • It is a rule to wear your trays for as long as your dental professional says
  • It is a rule to brush and floss your teeth every day

But what if you forget to follow the new routine? Have someone remind you of what you have to do to take care of your teeth and if you struggle to remember to put your trays back in, there is the TrayMinder app as well. Note: I am not sponsored by TrayMinder.


Autistic with Invisalign: The First Tray

Happy 200th blog post!

I finally have my Invisalign trays after such a long wait period! Just to remind everyone, there are some things I will say in this post that will be different from what your dental professional may have told you. While what I say is based on what my dental professional told me, your dental professional’s instructions supersede mine. Thank you.

While there are many YouTubers who talk about getting Invisalign, I only saw one video of an autistic person involving Invisalign and she was almost done with her treatment. Which YouTubers do I recommend who talk about Invisalign?

  • Braces Explained, an orthodontist who also talks about many things orthodontal-related
  • The Bentist, an orthodontist who is the best if you want comedy involving dental and orthodontal topics
  • TrayMinder, which features Dr. Bailey with her talks about all things clear aligners. She also co-created an app (called TrayMinder) that helps people know how long their trays were in. I’d personally recommend TrayMinder as the #1 YouTube channel for Invisalign as Dr. Bailey mainly talks about clear aligners

So let’s go through a timeline from my experience so far!

Day 1: December 15, 2022

  • I get my attachments put onto my teeth. This will help move my teeth to make room for the three total teeth that are a little crowded and also helps to snap the trays onto my teeth. The number of attachments you need varies from person to person
  • I expected the trays to feel thicker than they actually are
  • My dentist had me practice taking out my trays and putting them back in. I used my fingers at the dental office, but have used a PulTool since then
  • I received tray sets 2 through 5 and I will change them at home every two weeks. Note: If you are told a different time period before changing to your trays, listen to your dental professional instead of me.
  • I am instructed to keep my trays in between 20-22 hours per day. Again, listen to your dental professional on how long to wear them each day

Day 2:

  • I have slight discomfort on two of my bottom teeth as two of my bottom teeth to the left of my crowded teeth are more crowded than the one upper tooth that is pushed forward, but it is nowhere near as painful as my first day of braces back when I was 12. Discomfort doesn’t last long
  • It’s getting a little easier to take my Invisalign trays out with my PulTool. I have been making sure to rinse off my trays after taking them out and brushing them with a soft bristle brush before putting them back in. Also have been making sure to rinse my mouth after eating
  • I’m not noticing any issues with changing my routine
  • My lips are getting drier
  • I didn’t have any issues singing with them on

Day 3:

  • Still some slight discomfort like yesterday, but it only happens when pushing my lower tray back in.
  • This is helping me not snack so much
  • Maybe I should wear chapstick to help my lips not be so dry

Day 4:

  • No discomfort. Yay! May happen again when I change my trays to set number 2 on December 29th
  • I’m an oral sensory seeker, and the Invisalign meets my oral sensory needs as there is something in my mouth all the time

Day 5:

  • First day going to work with my Invisalign in! I pack my carrying case, my PulTool, a 3-oz plastic cup for rinsing my mouth, and some floss picks just in case I need to floss
  • Note to self: Always use the chewie built into my PulTool after putting trays back in. I talked to someone after lunch without doing that and I was so lispy! Note: Not every PulTool includes a built-in chewie. The one I linked in Day 1 has that.

Day 7:

  • I hope there isn’t slight yellowing of my upper tray. I’ve been brushing my trays before putting them back into my mouth

Day 8:

  • Used the provided cleaning crystals to thoroughly clean my Invisalign
  • Maybe having a cleaning tub will help, so I ordered the Invisalign Cleaning System which includes 50 cleaning crystal packets and a cleaning tub

Day 11: Christmas Day!

  • I visited my grandparents for Christmas, so this was my first big meal out of the home (excluding eating lunch at work) since getting my trays
  • Needed to floss, but luckily my mom gave my grandmother some floss picks so I was able to floss something out from between my upper front teeth. I should probably pack floss picks with me like I do when I have my lunch at work
  • I think this was the longest I had my trays off all day (combined time almost at or a few minutes more than 2 hours of trays being out)
  • Starting to think about the fact that I put tray set #2 in later this week
  • My husband got me a harmonica and a kazoo for Christmas. Am I going to be able to play these with my trays in? (Musician problems, am I right?)
  • Yes grandmother, I do sleep with these on as I have to keep them in between 20-22 hours per day

Day 12:

  • I’ve been clenching my jaw in my sleep. Are the trays causing this or is this a natural consequence of me being a singer again?
  • One tooth by a lower crowded tooth is getting easier to floss, but I noticed a super small (unnoticeable unless you look) gap to give space for the non-crowded tooth to eventually move. Haven’t seen any changes on my upper teeth yet

Day 15: December 29, 2022

  • Tray Changing Day!
  • I’m a little nervous about how the new trays will fit. Have my teeth movements progressed well enough?
  • The upper trays were snug and took a couple of pushes to get the tray up to where my two front teeth are
    • Note: It can take up to three days for the teeth to conform to the trays. Don’t worry! Just use your chewies to make sure the trays are properly seated
  • Lower trays went in just fine!
  • I predict that I may have some discomfort tomorrow with my upper trays. Either way, new trays are in and my old trays are in a bag
    • Note: Keep your prior set of trays just in case something happens to your current set of trays

Here are some tips I can give you based on my experience so far.

  • Get chapstick. To my surprise, my lips have gotten dry due to wearing these trays
  • Stay hydrated. Your mouth may get dry due to wearing your trays
  • Pack your dental care supplies if you’re leaving the house so you have no excuse not to rinse (and maybe floss) if you’re eating outside of your home. I know it may feel weird to rinse and put your trays in if you’re at work, but you might work with other people who use clear aligners. I know at least three people on my work project who have either Invisalign trays or Smile Direct Club trays
  • Everyone’s level of discomfort varies based on pain tolerance and what needs to be treated orthodontically, so don’t be scared when you see videos of people saying they’re in a lot of pain with Invisalign

I don’t know when I’ll do my next Autistic with Invisalign blog, but I will answer any questions you may have.

Mental Health · Self-Reflection

18 Months Post-Diagnosis: How’s It Going?

On May 1st, 2021, I experienced my first day of my autism evaluation. On June 1, 2021, I received my evaluation report stating that I am autistic. How am I coping with this diagnosis? How has my life changed? This may be a disjointed post, but I’ll do my best.

Topic of Disclosure: This is a big deal for neurodivergent people, especially for those who are autistic. I even created a blog post back in March to discuss pros and cons of disclosure. I sometimes disclose, but only when necessary. In that post, I said I was considering disclosing my autism to my boss. I disclosed my diagnosis to my boss back in April when I gave him an article by AANE relating to neuro-inclusive supervisory styles. I wasn’t going to explicitly say I’m autistic, but my boss told me that his son is autistic. My coworkers do not know as I fear the lack of awareness of the autism SPECTRUM would cause them to not want me in a leadership position anymore. Some family members know. The few friends I have don’t know.

Improvements Since Diagnosis: I’m starting to meet people with some level of true understanding of autism. I happened to meet a woman at a potluck who does work involving gifted students and she also helped to start a Master’s program at my grad school alma mater to teach teachers who want to go into gifted education. We were able to present at a state conference to educate teachers on the topic of twice-exceptionality. I have special earbuds to help with noise sensitivities, but I try not to wear them too often or else that will cause a worsening of my auditory sensitivities. I am also (still learning) my limits so I can know when I’m reaching my threshold. With diagnosis in hand, my therapist is using neurodivergent-friendly techniques that worked well enough to only need therapy once a month.

Have Things Gotten Worse?: I seem to be sensitive to things that weren’t a sensitivity before I received my diagnosis. I tolerate being in social situations less. People seem to want to talk to me less even without them knowing my diagnosis. I get made fun of more often even though most people don’t know I’m autistic. Social skills deficits are somewhat more frequent.

Do I still attend support groups?: Yes, but not to the extent of when I was first diagnosed. Instead of general adult support groups, I went with more specific support groups in AANE. Women’s group for age 21-35, BIPOC adults (though I had to stop going to those as they are during the day on a day in which I have to be in the office), and LGBT adults for age 18-30 (I hit the age max and unlike most LGBT people, I don’t believe gender is a social construct). I make more appearances at a group closer to home now, but I attend groups online. I feel like many support groups focus on the negatives of being autistic, which is why I stopped attending some groups.

Parental Understanding of Autism: Mom’s learning. Not sure about dad. I think dad would have a better understanding of autism if he was able to attend my feedback session. Purple Ella hasn’t had any videos lately that I wanted to share with my parents. I feel like mom might be autistic too, but I don’t know how to approach the subject with her. She can’t afford an evaluation and is often too busy taking care of her parents to take time for an evaluation.

Noticing Autism in Others: I’m quite bad at that. I know some neurodivergent people can detect it in others. I am in retrospect suspecting people from my past to be autistic. My high school BFF may be autistic (her brother is autistic and at the time, autism wasn’t seen in girls unless you had the typical male presentation) and my friend from college may be as well (AFAB, has a BPD diagnosis which is often the misdiagnosis for AFAB autistic people, has misophonia, and he’s a trans man which there is growing evidence that there’s a link between autism and gender identity). Mom thinks one of my ex-boyfriends may be autistic.

Do I Mask Less?: Not compared to pre-diagnosis. I feel like I was only able to have people notice my traits because years ago, I was no longer able to cope with my environment and I would unmask unintentionally. I don’t have any safe places to unmask unless I’m at home.

Headcanoning Characters as Autistic: Nope. Most writers write characters without autism in mind and most characters that are headcanoned by fans as autistic don’t seem to have the traits. Then again, bad autism radar on my part. Tina Belcher is the only headcanon that I agree with. Tina was like me when I was her age, except my love for butts developed in high school and I never wrote erotic friend-fiction.

When I was first diagnosed, I described myself as “almost happily autistic”. Do I still feel that way? Honestly, I’m less happy about being autistic than I was when I was first diagnosed. Sometimes, I wonder if I unknowingly shortened my lifespan by having this diagnosis. My biggest challenge relating to my autism is social interaction. I always had poor social skills, but the older I get, the worse I have gotten regarding social appropriateness. I think I’m doing okay in my interactions, and later find out that I didn’t do it right. This has led to traumagenic social anxiety. A recent issue with my social interactions is starting to affect my marriage now, and I may have to quit kickboxing over it. I blame our misogynistic society with this as it should be okay for me to have a close friendship with someone of a different gender without me being forced to change myself to not arouse suspicion. I don’t want to leave the house anymore because leaving the house means more social interactions and the guarantee that I’ll screw up. I don’t know if I wish to be neurotypical as there is a big uptick in hate against people who are privileged. I notice it mainly with Gen Z. It does no good to hate someone because they’re white, or straight, or cisgender, or neurotypical, or able-bodied; and I truly believe hate against the privileged is why hate groups are more prevalent.

Awareness · Rant

My Problem with the Term “Slacktivism”

I’ve been wanting to write this for awhile, but am only getting the chance to do this now.

What is “slacktivism”? I have seen two definitions of this throughout the years.

  1. Tumblr SJWs who just complain about social “injustices” without doing a thing about it
  2. People who sign online petitions and don’t march on the streets (more discussion about this definition in this post)

Let’s break these definitions down. Definition number one! Back when I used to surf on Tumblr, it was during a time when many people were reblogging about social justice issues. There were also many people calling them “social justice warriors” because they were so-called offended over every little thing.

Definition number two! You apparently weren’t an activist unless you marched on the streets. People also debate the effectiveness of online petitions, but I have seen them work.

First of all, how do you know that the Tumblr users who are passionate about social justice aren’t doing anything about social injustices? Second of all, have people not considered that some people can’t march on the streets? Let’s talk about why some activists don’t march in the streets for rallies and protests.

  • Safety: The nearest city from them may be very dangerous (e.g., Baltimore or Detroit). Some people fear they will be attacked by cops despite the right to protest in the United States. To those people, they value their safety a lot
  • Accessibility: The activist has a disability. Are the streets wheelchair accessible or accessible for someone who uses other mobility aids? Is there an adequate place for shade for people who are negatively affected by the heat? Would protesting use up a lot of spoons?
  • Transportation: Can the activist get to the site of the rally? They might not have their own transportation and might not be able to find someone who can give them a ride. The person may not live in an area with public transportation, and some forms of public transportation reduce their routes or times during weekends and certain holidays.
  • Jobs: I know people are anti-work nowadays, but some people can’t afford to not work. Some people actually like their jobs. They may not have the ability to take time off of work to protest. Some people could lose their jobs if they protest.

What’s wrong with calling people “slacktivists”? You are not thinking of people’s possible reasons they don’t fit YOUR definition of activism and are invalidating their best efforts.

What can you do if you want to do activist work, but don’t want to or can’t march on the streets?

  • Sign petitions (again, people debate the effectiveness of online petitions, but sign if you’d like)
  • Write letters (you can write your own or you might even get emails with prewritten letters for you to fill and send out)
  • Phone banks
  • Text banks (I love doing these because I don’t like talking on the phone)
  • Meet with local government officials and share your testimony

I have done all of these except for phone banking. I never liked talking on the phone and to me, a “Burn in Hell” or “Fuck you!” holds less weight in texts than in voice. Phone and text banks can also be done virtually. I have also hosted a Disability Day of Mourning vigil earlier this year. I even question how many people who are calling others “slacktivists” did anything relating to activist work.

I often do text banking with Human Rights Campaign, an organization fighting for LGBTQ equality. You can find activist events through them here. Apply filters to find phone or text banks you want to do. You don’t have to live in that state to do the virtual events, but it’s best if you live in the United States. Other organizations may also use Mobilize, which you can find any events you’d like to participate in here. Comment on other sites you have used to get involved in activist work.

Let me close this post with a video from the original Fresh Prince of Bel Air series (the original one with Will Smith, not the remake). In this clip, Uncle Phil (played by the late James Avery) tells off Marge when she says that being out on the streets is the only way to protest despite the less-fun parts of activism and that he is no less committed to causes because he chooses to fight in other ways. Clip Here.


Autistic with Invisalign: Preparing for a New Routine

I’m getting Invisalign soon and the dentist didn’t answer my question about what helps people adjust to the new routine of getting Invisalign and I can’t find decent YouTube videos about autistic people having Invisalign, so I’m going to make this post to help us all! Please note that this is for clear aligners only and will mainly discuss Invisalign. Most things discussed may still apply for SmileDirectClub or other cheaper clear aligner programs, but this will mostly not apply to people who are getting traditional metal braces. People who get traditional metal braces will have a change in routine that is different from clear aligners.

Hi, I’m DiaryOfSelf. Due to my autism, sometimes it takes me awhile to get used to a new routine. The dental office I go to is a disability-friendly clinic, so I felt comfortable disclosing my needs for my anxiety and autism. Pain and the change in routine are my biggest concerns with Invisalign, especially since I was in a lot of pain on my first day of wearing braces and wearing my retainer over a decade and a half pre-diagnosis. I’m currently working with my therapist on coping ahead with pain by using Wim Hof’s cold shower training, but if you do that for coping ahead and are neurodivergent, start with 10 seconds of cold water and add an extra second each day. If you are neurotypical, start with 30 seconds. However, this blog is about preparing for a new routine.

First, you need to determine the coping ability of you or your child when there is a change in routine for both expected and unexpected changes. Things not going according to plan triggers my anxiety, but getting warned in a change of routine with plenty of advanced warning helps me to expect that change. My elementary school would always warn us a day or two in advanced if there was a change in the schedule due to chorus practice for upcoming concerts or for assemblies.

During your consultation with a dentist or orthodontist, the dental professional will tell you how to take care of your aligners and your teeth. They will also tell you what changes in routine you need to make. The main changes in routine are as follows for me:

  • Rinsing my mouth and flossing (if applicable) after eating. With clear aligners, you can take them off to eat so there are no food restrictions like there are with traditional metal braces. Note: The dental professional may tell you to brush and floss after you eat and before you put your trays back in. My dentist told me to just rinse my mouth and floss if necessary. Your dental professional’s instructions supersede anything I tell you.
  • Cleaning the Invisalign trays. This can be done with either a soft bristle brush and water (and some toothpaste if desired) or you may use a cleaning solution provided with your Invisalign trays. SmileDirectClub may not provide a cleaning solution, though.

If you know ahead of time that you need to change your routine for anything, if possible, gradually make the change in routine ahead of time so you are prepared when it is truly time to change your routine. Of course, I don’t have anything to use to practice cleaning my Invisalign trays. However, I have decided today that I can practice the new rinsing routine by rinsing my mouth after meals.

If you also want to practice the rinsing routine by rinsing your mouth, decide how often you or your child will start rinsing their mouth after meals. For example, will it be easy or okay for the mouth to be rinsed after each time food is eaten, or will you need to rinse after less meals and snacks first? If you’re going to rinse less first, will there be a choice of when to rinse as long as you rinse at least once, or will there be consistency of when to rinse? How long will it be until you add another rinsing time? Either way, you must make your way up to rinsing after every time you eat.

For example, your child is getting Invisalign, but it is felt like practicing rinsing should be done gradually and during consistent times. Depending on time constraints after breakfast and lunch due to school, you may find it best that your child rinses after dinner.

Another example. You work from home on some days, and in the office other days. You want to practice rinsing gradually too, but eating breakfast before work only happens on telework days. You may also not want to leave your desk after lunch right away while you start practicing. You may choose to be consistent or inconsistent when you start practicing. You may choose to practice rinsing after lunch on telework days and after dinner on in-office days.

A therapist may also help you brainstorm ideas with practicing changes in routine or with coping ahead with changes in routine and pain concerns. The above idea is something I came up with on my own today after I had my Invisalign consultation yesterday, but no matter what you do, make sure you reach daily constant practicing if you are doing daily gradual practices in anticipated routine changes.


Rejection Sensitivity and Lessons in the Arts

What I mean when I say “lessons in the arts”, this involves lessons for not just visual arts, but performing arts such as acting, singing, or playing a musical instrument.

Rejection sensitive people are those who are… well… sensitive to actual, perceived, or possible rejection. This may be due to being a naturally sensitive person or it could be due to being constantly criticized at a young age. Neurodivergent people are often criticized for behaviors that aren’t considered normal, so we are forced to live with the shame and trauma that we cannot control no matter how hard we try. Rejection sensitivity is often associated with ADHD, but other neurodivergent conditions and mental illnesses can be linked to rejection sensitivity.

I decided to write this as a topic because I’m planning to sign up for singing lessons. I have wanted to take singing lessons for years, but grad school got in the way with scheduling. There are rumors that my church’s choir is restarting back up after many years (the choir disbanded pre-Covid) and since many people are formally trained in singing, I don’t want to be the person holding the choir back from sounding as good as possible. Experience isn’t required in this choir, but when there were talks about hiring a new choir director back in 2019, some of us were worried that we would be expected to have experience since we were considering hiring a vocal performance major from the local college. Now that I’m finished with grad school and the mentorship program I just joined is during the work day, it’s time for me to finally do what I want to do.

Arts-related classes will always involve some form of critique. Playing or vocal exams for musicians, scheduled art critiques for visual arts students (photography, drawing, painting, etc), whatever actors get critiqued on. Maybe your feedback is verbally told to you right away, or maybe you have written feedback. Either way, we are expected to receive criticism in this hobby/career.

When I took Interactive Media in high school, my teacher used the criticism sandwich: say something that was done well, give a criticism, and say something else that was done well. My therapist, who is neurodivergent herself, feels that the criticism sandwich is not a good technique for neurodivergent people. Would we be able to focus on what we did well too, or would our rejection sensitive brains ignore what we did well?

There are probably videos giving advice to help with rejection sensitivity and coping with criticism better, but I want to know if you the reader cope with criticism better when you know you will be critiqued (or ask for critique) or is your brain “Criticism is bad even when I know it’s coming”. For me, I do a little better asking for critique, but it still makes me nervous.

Next week is an open house at the music school where I want to take my singing lessons and it includes a free 15-minute trial lesson. Not sure if the trial lesson is during the open house since open house is three hours long, but I’m kind of nervous about possibly being the only non-parent adult there. Adults take lessons there too according to the website. Maybe I should invite my gym buddy. He wants to improve as a singer.

School · Self-Reflection

What I Wish I Knew Before Starting Grad School

It’s been months since graduation, but it’s also time for students to go back to school if they haven’t yet. There are so many videos on YouTube about what they wish they knew before starting at a specific university, but here’s something for those who either are starting grad school, are in grad school, or are no longer in grad school.

  1. Universities don’t seem to have many campus community opportunities for grad students. I talk about it in this blog post. A lot of campus activities and access to on-campus services are mainly for undergraduate students. If there is something for graduate students, it’s during the day, meaning that anyone in a graduate program whose classes are in the evening may not be able to access these programs. This is especially true if the grad student has a full-time job.
  2. There are a lack of online resources for graduate students in a Master’s program. Please refer to the linked blog post in #1. Try looking up things related to grad school. Now count how many things online mention Doctoral programs (PhD, ScD, PsyD, etc.). Now count how many things online mention Master’s programs. Good luck finding even one. Graduate scholarships are also exclusive to Doctoral grants.
  3. People don’t want to socialize. Due to struggling with socialization and its nuances, I struggle to make and keep friends. I had no intentions to make friends in grad school, but I was surprised at how little people talk with each other before and after class unless it’s for something compulsory like group assignments. I have been told by many people that graduate students just want to go in, study, and graduate. I ended up making friends thanks to group projects.
  4. Classes seem to be easier than undergrad for people I talked to. Big emphasis on “people I talked to”. For me, it felt like grad school was much easier than undergrad. Other people seemed to agree. Receiving an autism diagnosis during grad school is not the big factor in why grad school was easier since I never sought accommodations. One factor that makes me think grad school is easier for people is that you only take classes focused on your major. This allows people to more deeply dive into their interests and prevents people from taking gen ed classes that may be difficult due to neurodivergent traits.
  5. Many people are getting Masters degrees for a career change. At my grad school, if your Bachelor’s degree was not in Computer Science, you had to take prerequisite classes before you were fully admitted. This is the case for other Master’s programs at the grad school too. Many of my fellow students had degrees that weren’t even tech-related. One classmate has a Bachelors in History, multiple people I knew have a Bachelors in Biology, one person has a Bachelors in Sociology and a Masters in Psychology, etc. Now most people are likely going into the tech industry for the money. In my state, you need to make at least $65,000 per year in order to live alone without financial stress, so making a lot of money is an essential need in many people’s minds.
  6. There’s a lot more accountability on the student. It may just be my school, but I had professors who were strict on deadlines and group participation. It was not this strict in undergrad. For example, one professor gives you a zero if you do not turn an assignment in on time. No, technology issues are not an excuse to him because everyone experiences technical issues in their daily lives. I also had a professor who gave a zero on a group project to anyone who wasn’t pulling their weight. People in the group had to let the professor know ahead of time if someone wasn’t pulling their weight and he would talk to them. If that didn’t work, zero on the project for that student. In this class, the project was worth 30% of your final grade and since it was a core class, you needed at least a B to pass. I know most people hate group projects due to non-contributors, but I actually liked group projects because you will be working in groups in your jobs.

Those are the big things I discovered in grad school that were not told to me beforehand. Happy new school year!


My Sermon: Treatment of Disabled People vs. The First Two UU Principles

Hello everyone. I did a lay-led sermon at my Unitarian Universalist fellowship on July 17th, 2022. This was edited to remove the names of people from my congregation and I also went off-script a few times. Before I share my sermon, I have two things I need to share first:

  1. Unitarian Universalism has Seven Principles in which guide our morals. The link from the governing body shares the seven principles. The first two principles are:
    1. We affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of everyone.
    2. We affirm and promote justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.
  2. Trigger Warning! This post will talk about ableism and will mention the ableist r-slur twice (in the context that I tell people to stop saying it). If these are triggering for you, please stop reading this blog post. Thank you.

Earlier this year after the Disability Day of Mourning vigil, my minister said that disability issues should continue to be talked about, so I’m doing that now.

Many people don’t know this, but every March, the disabled community remembers those who were victims of the mindset “It’s better to be dead than disabled.” These are the people whose inherent worth and dignity were not affirmed. People who are not respected or shown compassion. People who are included in the list of people who receive no justice when something bad happens to them.

If you’re someone who believes in God, especially a God who doesn’t make mistakes, then why would you try to fix the mistake we call disabled people? Why do we not accept them for who they are and meet their needs? Why do we wish for or even try to make the mistake go away?

When I was a kid, being around disabled people, or other people who didn’t meet society’s definition of normal, was my normal. I grew up around an uncle who had autism during a time when autism wasn’t a spectrum and only people of below average intelligence could be considered autistic. He received a diagnosis during a time when it was thought best to institutionalize disabled people as they were considered a family and societal shame. It was considered okay to warehouse people like him. I didn’t know about the institutionalization of disabled people until 2010 when my cell biology professor told us about it when there were talks of my alma mater buying the property that previously held an institution for disabled people.

Many years later as an adult, I was back in the world of disabled people, but with me this time. Last year, I found out that my anxieties and social troubles are due to being autistic.

Okay, I know some of you are thinking that I don’t seem autistic. Many of those on the autism spectrum, which now includes Asperger Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, worry about being told that they don’t seem autistic whenever they disclose. We only disclose to people we think we trust because of it, and many on the autism spectrum may have lost friends or family members due to the diagnosis.

Not being believed is not unique to those on the autism spectrum; this is experienced by many people with invisible disabilities. It’s bad enough that doctors don’t believe their patients or take health issues seriously enough to investigate chronic illnesses more quickly. They’re told that they don’t look sick. In the words of the Devo song “Peek A Boo”, “If you cannot see it, you think it’s not there. It doesn’t work that way.” If they’re having a good day one day but aren’t feeling well the next day, people say “You were fine yesterday. What’s wrong with you?” They are often not invited to events because they may have had to cancel one too many times due to health issues. Some people may want to make their invisible disabilities more visible, but that is a risk not everyone is willing or able to take. As mentioned earlier, a person could lose friends for being disabled. They may be treated with pity, which gets annoying after awhile, especially since people don’t want to be pitied. Others will automatically assume the things you can’t do instead of figuring out what you can do, like what happened in an episode of Degrassi High.

In a season one episode from the late 80s, there is a character named Maya who is in a wheelchair. A group of friends wanted to go to a movie, but the closest movie theater was not wheelchair accessible and neither were the buses, so they didn’t invite Maya. At the end of the episode, Maya called them out on their ableism because the friends didn’t think of alternative and accessible options for her to be included. There was another movie theater in town that was wheelchair accessible and Maya’s mom could have driven her to that theater. They made a decision without her input and robbed her of her agency. It was also hinted that the friends intentionally went to an inaccessible movie and took inaccessible transportation due to being embarrassed of been seen in public with a disabled person.

As mentioned by Kim Nielsen, disability has been, and still is, used as a weapon. There are times when people use words as a way to demean people and their differences have been weaponized. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me? News flash! Words hurt and since people know the power of words, people use words as weapons against people who are different. We have used outdated names for medical conditions as slurs, for example. In high school, the autism program director did a campaign called “Spread the Word to End the Word” with the goal of people ending the use of the word “retarded”. I saw this campaign happen once when I was in college and for years, I stopped hearing that word. However, when I worked at an old job, I started hearing that word again. Calling someone out on using that slur carries a big risk of being called a “social justice warrior,” which is a term I hate so much because it is used to silence people who speak about social justice issues.

Some of you know about hostile architecture. For those who don’t know, hostile architecture is a method used to restrict behaviors using the building environment around people. This can be as obvious as spikes built on top of ledges, but can be as subtle as removing benches so people can no longer sit in certain areas that were once accessible. The original intent of hostile architecture was to keep homeless people away from urban areas so as to not make the city unattractive to tourists. However, this type of urban planning also affects other people: the elderly, pregnant people, and disabled people. Disney World removed benches years ago so people don’t sit around often. You can’t ride rides or spend money at Disney if you’re sitting on a bench! You know what Disney’s answer is for people with stamina issues when they want accommodations? Rent a wheelchair or a mobility scooter. Most of the lines in Disney World and Disneyland are either wheelchair accessible or there is a separate entrance for people in wheelchairs. Hey Disney, maybe people don’t want to spend more cash than they have to and want free seating.

There’s also the issue of being invisible when you are using mobility devices such as a wheelchair or a mobility scooter. For some reason, people don’t see you or get in your way. I feel like this was originally done as a way for people to not stare at someone with a physical disability. We’re taught at a young age not to stare. If you are able to, you need to see where you’re going so you’re going to glance. Just don’t look at them for a long time. Also, if you see someone using a cane for mobility purposes or as a way to navigate the world when someone has low vision, for the love of whatever you believe in, don’t tamper with it when it’s in use! My boss’ wife uses a white cane due to sudden low sight issues. My boss and his family went to Universal Studios parks in Florida earlier this year when someone walked up to his wife, looked at the cane, and kicked it out of the way. You can’t make these stories of ableism up, people.

Our society is a deficiency-focused and fix-it culture. We focus way too much on what people can’t do and focus way too much on fixing people. A prime example of the fix-the-deficiency culture is Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy. This therapy is often used as an early intervention for autistic children to stop their negative autistic-based behaviors in order to pass as normal to society. The autism community is against ABA therapy due to how many therapists use aversions to stop negative behaviors. People see the therapy and make one comment: I wouldn’t even do this to my dog. The fact that animal lives are seen to matter more than marginalized people’s lives in America is very disturbing.

Disabled people have various strengths just like able-bodied or neurotypical people. When picking out the music videos for today’s service, I intentionally picked songs by disabled artists. These artists show that with the proper supports and the right people believing in them, they can achieve whatever they want that is within their interests and capabilities. However, we need to be mindful that just because a person with a specific disability can do certain things doesn’t mean that every person with that disability can do the same thing.

So how can you help with disability justice, accessibility efforts, and the fight against ableism? Honestly, the first thing you should do is to listen to the stories and voices of disabled people. They know what it’s like to live with a disability and they know what helps them live in an able-bodied and neurotypical world. Non-disabled people have tried, yet many times failed, at creating spaces and tools to help. Once you find out what works best for disabled people, you can start using your accomplice powers to work alongside disabled people to help improve accessibility.

Examine the language you use every day and think about any terms you use that are considered ableist. Yesterday was the last day any of you can use the term “retarded”. Also think about your thoughts. Do you have negative biases regarding disability? Do you focus too much on what a disabled person can’t do? While you need to be realistic about the challenges disabled people face, think about their strengths too! A nonverbal person can still communicate by writing or using AACs, Augmentative or Alternative Communication systems.

It is also wise to believe those with the lived experience of invisible disabilities. If you don’t live it, you don’t fully know it. Otherwise, you are invalidating their experience and are making it seem like you know more about their medical condition than they do.

UUFHC has made efforts to raise awareness and accommodate others. In March, my minister and I hosted the first Disability Day of Mourning vigil. While attendance was very low, people became aware of disability justice, which is a social justice issue that is not talked about much in our congregation or in Unitarian Universalism as a whole. Our Director of Faith Formation has made efforts to accommodate people who need to fidget and struggle with sitting still in a chair by providing sensory toys and a pad for kids to sit on the floor during worship. As many neurodivergent people have experienced, society forcing us to be normal like everyone else contributes to comorbid mental health issues.

Parents and guardians, let your kids use fidgets and other sensory toys. They serve a purpose of helping people focus and are effective tools for self-soothing. If you think your child is too old to have sensory toys, I’ll be 30 later this year and I have some self-soothing toys to use. The fidget toy I use the most is the infinity cube. Doctor’s appointments and dentist appointments cause me a lot of anxiety due to the unexpected nature of the appointments, so I play with the infinity cube to help calm me in the waiting rooms. People of all ages can benefit from these self-soothing tools, but many fidgets are marketed towards children so many adults don’t feel comfortable using something that is called a “toy”.

EqUUal Access, a UU organization made up of congregants with disabilities, their families, and allies, created a certification called Accessibility and Inclusion Ministry (AIM). The goal of the AIM certification was to recognize UU congregations who worked on accessible and inclusive ministries as well as dismantling ableism. Getting this certification was a goal my minister and I wanted to work on. However, due to a lack of participation, disabled Unitarian Universalists were not getting much benefit from the program and EqUUal Access decided to end the program on June 30th. However, anti-ableism efforts will not stop.

I know there are children and youth sitting in during this service and I have something for you all to think about too. I want you to think about whether there is a classmate or other student in your school with a disability. How do your classmates treat them? How do the teachers treat them? How do you treat them? Are you kind to them or do you stay away from them for being different from your classmates? I want you and your families to have a conversation about how people treat disabled people.

As Unitarian Universalists, we must include disability justice and anti-ableism efforts in our anti-oppression efforts. We cannot have one or two social justice issues dominate Unitarian Universalism, and I do not want us failing a group of UUs who may have had their issues ignored in the past. I encourage you all to be accomplices in the fight against ableism, but please be mindful to not speak on behalf of those with disabilities who are present. Ashe, blessed be, and in the words of Captain Planet, “The power is yours.”