Graduate Project Deliverable #1: Literature Review

Note: What you’re required to turn in depends on your university and your project advisor. This blog post, and additional posts about my graduate project, is about my experience.

On September 17th, I had a literature review due. This was a deliverable that was due for me, but you might not be required to turn in a literature review. However, regardless of whether a literature review is required, I still suggest you read some relevant scholastic articles. You should be able to read scholastic articles for free through your school. I especially suggest reading articles because if your graduate project deals with improving something, you can get an idea of what things were like in the past and notice flaws in a system.

I have done literature review critiques in my Human-Computer Interaction class, but for that class, we review one article of our choosing almost once a week. This meant that the concept of a literature review was not new to me, but since I had to review multiple articles in one, I needed a little assistance to figure out this new way of reviewing articles. For that, I used this sample literature review from a different school as a guide. However, ask your project advisor about the guidelines on how to format your literature review as title page guidelines may vary from school to school, or even professor to professor.

If you have a literature review, you need to find articles that are relevant to your project. As my project is to improve emergency healthcare services for autistic children, I looked at my long list of autism articles sent to me by a doctoral student to find articles that dealt with autistic children in healthcare. I then took notes on each article to start figuring out how to organize my literature review. After reading the articles, I decided to organize my literature review in the following sections:

  1. Introduction (which mainly explained what autism is)
  2. Barriers to treating autistic patients in a healthcare setting
  3. Suggestions to reduce treatment barriers
  4. Critiques of the articles and studies
  5. Conclusion

Time for some self-reflection. When I was reading the articles, I thought back to the experiences of my autistic uncle who died in 2007. Complications from getting some teeth pulled had him in the hospital and the doctors didn’t take as much care with him because he was primarily nonverbal. People who have read my other blog posts know that I am autistic as well and have medical-related anxiety. A nurse wasn’t very sympathetic with my anxiety traits when I had to get a throat swab to test for strep throat years ago and it ended up being a traumatic experience. I didn’t mean to move the back of my tongue multiple times to stop her from swabbing my throat. I know I’m too old for that nonsense, but I have severe anxiety issues that are related to my TWO anxiety disorders and my then-undiagnosed autism. That was one of the last times I went to a doctor. I haven’t been to a doctor in over four years and it would be hard for me to find an autism-friendly doctor.

We need to keep the end goal of our graduate projects in mind. We need to think about the articles from the past to shape how our projects positively impact the future.

Mental Health · School

Alexithymia in Action: Graduation Celebration Update

Alexithymia is a trait where a person cannot identify and describe their emotions. It is commonly linked to autism, but there are mental health conditions that it can be linked to as well, such as depression or PTSD.

It was around two years ago when I first learned about processing emotions. It made no sense to me. In therapy, I realized I can’t process emotions that aren’t the basic mad, sad, and glad. My current therapist occasionally uses an emotion wheel for me.

Even rarer (and sometimes preferred), I feel absolutely NOTHING! Today is one of those days.

Before we get started, let me explain a couple of school-related terminology.

Graduation: The completion of all of your degree requirements.

Commencement (or Commencement Exercises): The formal event where everyone wears caps and gowns and walks across the stage to symbolize their graduation. As final grades do not get reported in university until after the ceremony, the ability to walk across the stage does not automatically assume you graduated.

I graduate from the Master’s program in December 2021. However, due to Covid, we will not be having our commencement until May 2022. I should be disappointed that I have to wait 8 months for a ceremony instead of 3 months. I should be scared that my 91-year-old grandfather might not live to see me walk across the stage by May. I should feel thankful to have extra time to find a (preferably black) photographer for my graduation photoshoot. I should be sad that the kente stole I wanted for my birthday (for the photoshoot) will have to be put on a Christmas wishlist instead.

Instead, I feel absolutely nothing and can’t process whatever emotion is behind the nothing. I see my therapist on Monday so I’ll talk to her about it then. The only thing that doesn’t change is that I planned on having my graduation party in the spring anyways. My original commencement date would have been right before the winter holidays and I don’t want to deal with the unpredictability of winter weather. We can’t predict the future with the weather, so I wouldn’t want to schedule a party for January 15th (example date) and there’s a combination of a snow and ice storm.

Earlier, I mentioned an emotion wheel. When using an emotion wheel, you go from the innermost set of emotions to the outermost set. The emotion wheel I use has fear, anger, disgust, surprised, happy, and sad as the innermost emotions. However, you can use any emotion wheel you find online or one provided by your therapist. Here’s an example of an emotion wheel you can use.

I start my final module in DBT group on Monday and we’ll be learning about emotional regulation. I hope we use an emotion wheel there. I can’t be the only person in that group who can’t identify emotions even if I’m likely the only autistic person in the skills group.


I Don’t Feel Autistic Enough in Autistic Spaces

School has started back up for me, so blog posts may be lacking in the coming months.

We as an autism community NEED to talk about this as I am probably not the only person who feels this way. Sometimes I feel like the only autistic person who feels that way.

For a bit of a background for new readers: I received my autism diagnosis in June 2021 at the age of 28. In October 2020, I started attending support groups for autistic people that also allowed people who are self-diagnosed or are suspected to be autistic.

In many cases, I feel like I don’t fit in with other autistic people. I’m probably considered the most neurotypical autistic there. I have a Bachelor’s degree and will graduate with a Master’s degree in December 2021. I have a full-time job. Some of the autism-related struggles do not apply to me (like chronic pain or chronic fatigue, which both have a link to autism). I reached childhood developmental milestones early. The only people who can detect that I’m neurodivergent are neurodivergent people, so most people didn’t realize something was wrong with me.

Maybe I don’t feel autistic enough because of internalized ableism. Sometimes the reaction of disclosing your autism is “You don’t look or seem autistic” and I don’t disclose my autism because I expect to hear that. I know I don’t seem autistic. I think some other autistic people don’t think I’m autistic either. Pre-evaluation, the facilitator who is also on the spectrum asked why I wanted a diagnosis since I seemed to be doing well.

Yes, I don’t seem autistic because I worked hard to not appear weird (older autistic people were taught how to be normal). No, I don’t know how to unmask. No, I don’t feel safe unmasking.

I think what would help with what feels like Imposter Syndrome would be to see representation of autistic people in social media and YouTube who aren’t like the typical autistic people. Most people I encountered in AANE support groups either didn’t go to college or dropped out due to challenges related to then-undiagnosed autism. I have yet to find an autistic person who is either currently in grad school or has a Master’s degree. Most of the autistic people we see online are content creators because companies don’t want to hire us and it feels like I’m the only autistic with a job (and autistic people advise not to disclose my autism at work or else I won’t have a job anymore). I want to find other autistic people who want to disclose their diagnosis to help society redefine what autism looks like.

I want to feel like a valid autistic person.