Uncategorized

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!

Awareness

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.”

Uncategorized

Fun Post! Cartoon Crushes from my Past

We’re going to take a break from the serious topics for a moment and have some fun! It’s been years since I did a fun post and after watching many videos of people talking about their childhood cartoon crushes, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about my past cartoon crushes! This could have been another YouTube video, but I stopped making YouTube videos years ago. Let’s get started with my very first cartoon crush ever…

Elroy Jetson (The Jetsons): There’s a picture of me as a four-year-old holding a plush Elroy Jetson doll and wearing a veil. According to my mom, I wanted to marry Elroy. Cara Jetson. Dia Jetson. Which sounds better? Funny enough, my husband used to have blond hair when he was born. It’s a light-ish brown with some gray hairs now.

Nick Dean (Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius): My cousin and I both had a crush on the cool guy when we saw the movie. Now the next cartoon crush is probably the most popular crush amongst women…

Danny Fenton (Danny Phantom): I know some people had a crush on ghost Danny instead of human Danny, but I liked both. The first kid superhero on Nickelodeon (that was how we was billed at the time) attracted me for some reason. I guess because… I don’t know. I was 11 at the time. I even made a collage of him in my journal and showed it to my friend Jenna.

Peanut Otter (PB&J Otter): I forgot about this one. I think it’s kind of an old shame. One of two non-human crushes and I was way too old to be watching Playhouse Disney (hey, very few people had Disney Channel back in the day, and it was only available on cable to everyone in 2002). I was watching PB&J Otter before a trip to Ocean City, MD when I saw the episode “World’s Strongest Otter” where Peanut Otter wanted to be super strong after doing horribly on those “test your strength” games in carnivals.

Willy Zilla (My Dad the Rock Star): I can’t remember why I liked this guy. I guess this started my interest in white guys with glasses. (looks at my husband) I know nowadays, Willy is considered the whiny, entitled white boy (the internet’s words not mine). I’m also just happy that I didn’t see every episode in the series because Willy ends up dating his friend Alyssa and I would not have liked her. I didn’t like pairings that involved my crushes, but that hate starts later.

Jake Long (American Dragon: Jake Long): He’s cool, he’s hot like the frozen sun. Emphasis on hot. Jake Long was the first crush I ever had (cartoon or real person) who wasn’t 100% white. No, my crush on him wasn’t because of him being “exotic”, and I get annoyed at people who use as much slang as Jake did in Season 1.

Matt (Cyberchase): I watched Cyberchase from the time it first aired until high school, so I never saw the movie or watched the turn when Cyberchase stopped focusing on math and started focusing on the environment. However, despite me starting to watch Cyberchase in elementary school, it wasn’t until I was in seventh grade when I started developing a crush on the red-headed farmer boy who is also athletic. When I discovered that Cyberchase had a DVD made thanks to an advertisement on Nick Magazine, my parents and I searched for that DVD, but you could only buy it online. I know he’s usually shipped with either Jackie or Inez and both girls also have a crush on Slider, but which girl is better for Matt: Jackie or Inez?

Aldrin Pesky (The Buzz on Maggie): So hi, I like muscles. Aldrin flexed his muscles multiple times in the show, including in the theme song when he’s posed in front of a mirror.

Fred (Time Warp Trio): I blame the muscles again! The episode “See You Later, Gladiator!” is my favorite episode for the same reason why Fred was my crush: Fred actually has pretty big biceps for a ten-year-old.

Joe Arthur (Time Warp Trio): I have no idea about this one. I think he flexed his muscles again. You know, whoever animated the series gave 10-year-olds bigger biceps than what is reality.

Raimundo Pedrosa (Xiaolin Showdown): It’s the abs, I admit.

Clay Bailey (Xiaolin Showdown): I don’t know why I had a crush on him, but it was probably because of how strong he is despite being gentle. Funny enough, my first boyfriend was from Texas.

Chiro (Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!): I kind of forgot about this crush until I went to Fanfiction.net and went down the list of cartoons to make sure I didn’t forget anything.

Captain Crandall (Teamo Supremo): Does anyone even remember this show? It didn’t get a lot of Disney love.

Philly Phil (Class of 3000): I don’t know, and I don’t remember. He’s my type, though: white guy with glasses.

Duncan (Total Drama): Dude, he’s just hot. I’m not the kind of girl who goes for the bad boys (seriously. Why is the “I love bad boys” trope so appealing to some women?), but I probably could have cosplayed as Courtney when I was younger. No Duncan/Courtney vs. Duncan/Gwen debates in the comments, please.

Cody (Total Drama): I’m not usually into geeks, but he’s just so cute!

Harold (Total Drama): I’m not usually into geeks, or is Harold classified as a nerd? I don’t know. I wish more happened with the Harold/Leshawna couple during the Total Drama series. My husband is kind of nerdy and I’m also a black girl who married a white man (and has liked more white people than other races), so some representation was nice.

Jordan Wilde (Oban Star-Racers): Yes, I’m counting Oban Star-Racers as a cartoon, even though it’s in the anime/manga category of fanfiction.net (but in the cartoons & comics & graphic novels section of AO3). Remember how I said I like muscles? Yes, that’s the only reason why I had a crush on him. I don’t think it lasted as long as the next one, though.

Rick Thunderbolt (Oban Star-Racers): A man with muscles and abs whose first and final appearance was him shirtless (among other times)? Yes please! On the now-defunct Oban Star-Racers forums, I started a roleplay thread about what Rick Thunderbolt does after returning to Earth and my character was supposed to be the love interest. However, the guy roleplaying as Rick didn’t stay long since he isn’t good at roleplaying, so the roleplay turned into something else.

Stan (Oban Star-Racers): No shirt underneath overalls AND muscles? Well I know who I want as my mechanic. Wink. Too bad someone else on the Oban Star-Racers forum got him first. We even had a wedding ceremony thread for Stan and the forum user. Kimm, if you happen to see this, I wish you finished your Captain Shirtless Loves Little Mouse fanfic. She’s allowed anyone to take over the fic, but you have to credit her by her fanfiction.net username Hatori’s Assisticant. The fic was last updated in October 2008 and she may have forgotten about being a fanfiction writer, but giving her credit should still be advised.

Kurt, a.k.a Nightcrawler (X-Men Evolution): So I forgot about this crush too until my Fanfiction search. Okay, so he’s not fully human either, but I think I preferred his Kurt form over his Nightcrawler form. Didn’t stop me from making a sign saying “Mmm, big blue elf meat” back in high school.

Jude Lizowski (6teen): Forgot about this one too. He can deharsh my mellow any day. While I watched 6teen on Nickelodeon at first, I watched it more when it was on Cartoon Network. While he ultimately isn’t my type, he was nice to look at and a fun person.

Wyatt Williams (6teen): Yep, another forgotten crush. Isn’t fanfiction great? You know, for a black person, I rarely had a crush on black people, either in real life or in animation. While he was nice to look at, my time watching 6teen in university was around the time in my life when I started to develop feelings for people when it was NOT heavily based on how they looked. Like, sure, I want someone to look good, but it’s not a 100% requirement anymore. Wyatt’s a nice dude. I even inspired my look in university based off his first girlfriend Serena. Bigger gold hoops than I used to wear and I kept my weave in a ponytail. Besides, if I still liked people 100% based on looks, I would have had a crush on Jonesy Garcia instead.

The Warden (Superjail!): I’m done repeating myself. The looks got to me (sees the pattern of white guys with glasses from my real life type). I even wanted to cosplay as The Mistress (the warden of Superjail’s female prison counterpart Ultra-Prison), but the costume does not fit my body type.

Lance (Sym-Bionic Titan): It’s the abs, alright?

Oh wow, I totally forgot how many crushes I had until I made this list, and I may have forgotten some. I’m pretty sure my future blog post about anime crushes is even longer. I need TWO hands to count how many crushes were from the anime Naruto (and no, I did not have a crush on Sasuke).

School

A Message to University Class of 2022 Graduates

Hello Class of 2022. We did it. We graduated from our respective universities. Whether you finished community college (or junior college), a four-year Bachelor’s degree, or finished a graduate or post-Baccalaureate program, it’s time to celebrate you.

Our time in school was not as easy compared to others. For those of us who chose to get an education in-person, most of us had to suddenly switch to an online format because of Covid. My friends who graduated from grad school before me experienced it too. We had to deal with having to re-adjust to going back to school in an in-person format.

For others, our time in school was marked by life-changing diagnoses or health events. For me, I went most of my school life without an autism diagnosis. It explained how I had various different struggles in language arts and English classes, with undergrad being very difficult for me when it came to learning. Grad school was better because I learned to compensate and not repeat undergraduate mistakes. I could have done better in undergrad if I had a diagnosis and school supports, as my potential plan to go into a Doctorate program may be ruined by my undergraduate grades. My favorite Twitch streamer Hey_Bi_The_Way developed a physical disability within the past year and has had to learn to navigate academia with disability accessibility (or inaccessibility, rather) in mind.

Many of us, whether you realize it or not, are not supposed to be crossing the stage for graduation. There are systemic barriers that prevent many people, especially marginalized people, who want to attend a university from pursuing higher education. This can range from the cost of higher education preventing minorities from getting anything past a high school education to ableism preventing an autistic person from even be given an opportunity to attend university. Whether you are an autistic black person like me, a disabled Latina like my favorite Twitch streamer, or belong in a single or intersectional marginalized group, be proud that you were able to work hard to break barriers.

Honestly, if I knew it was going to take me four years to get a Master’s degree, I probably wouldn’t have done it. It is not supposed to take that long for a Master’s degree. I was judged for needing to take longer for a Master’s degree, even though I explained that I have a full-time job and wedding planning started shortly after I started grad school. I needed to take extra time due to needing pre-requisites due to my Bachelor’s degree not being in Computer Science and I had to stay an extra semester because my original graduate project was delayed due to other people. Even if I didn’t have those factors, I’m autistic (undiagnosed until almost a year ago) so I needed things to be manageable for me. The only things that were really worth it is meeting this one friend through another friend and feeling like I was given opportunities that not every university gives.

I have some extra special thanks to say here: I thank all of those who have been here since I announced being accepted into the Master’s program. I thank the few people who did not judge me for taking more than two years to get a Master’s degree. I especially thank Ravynn Stringfield, the creator of Black Girl Does Grad School (link below my picture as part of my image description). I didn’t realize I needed black woman in grad school representation until I found her blog. I even did a guest post at the end of 2018.

While this might be the last blog about my time in grad school, I hope people can benefit from the posts I made through the past for years. Until next time, my friends, keep learning.

Image description: A picture of me from the back with me holding up a sign saying “Thank you, Ravynn” and Ravynn’s website https://blackgirldoesgradschool.com/

School

Graduate Project: The Final Chapter (Study and Presentation)

I can’t believe this may be one of my final grad school blog posts.

The last time I talked about my graduate project, I had announced that I had changed my project because the website was (and is) still not done yet. The website not being finished caused me to have to stay an extra semester, so when my project advisor saw a new usability study become available to do, she asked if I wanted to switch.

My new usability study project involved going in-person to my university’s usability lab to conduct a study on how people interpret charts and graphs. Participants used eye trackers for future analysis to see how their gaze affected interpretation, which we determined interpretation by having the students summarize the charts they saw. Did you know that eye trackers get calibrated before each use and wearing glasses may affect calibration? We had some technical difficulties with the eye tracker, so I couldn’t collect as much data. A professor I was working with tried data collection later and still had the same technical issue. It could be the age of the eye tracker, though. It’s not the latest version and I think this one was bought in 2013, before I graduated from my undergraduate program at another school.

This was the first time I conducted a usability study. I was supposed to do that as a group project in my Human-Computer Interaction class, but that class happened in the Spring 2020 semester. Yeah. I would be a big dream for that professor to raise my grade in that old class due to me doing this usability study. A girl can hope, can she? I just want that grade to be higher than a C since that was my only C in grad school.

My final step in the graduation project was the presentation. Whether you chose the thesis option, the project option, or the internship option, you still have to present what you did. Of course, people who did a thesis did what is called a thesis defense. A lot of people who do the project option are doing something on their own without collaborating with a professor. At my university, graduate project presentations involve three people in your presentation panel: your project advisor and two other people. For my panel, my other two panelists were the professor who directly worked with me (who was also my Human-Computer Interaction professor two years ago) and another professor whom I never met, but still does research on Human-Computer Interaction.

I had a time block of 30 minutes, with about 20 minutes to present and the rest of the time for questions and discussion. I was so nervous about the presentation because unlike class presentations when you present to the class and the teacher grades you, the presentation panel was made up of professors who do relevant research when they are not teaching. They know A LOT more about Human-Computer Interaction (sometimes initialized as HCI) than I ever will. It went better than I thought, and my advisor talked to me privately afterwards telling me that she could tell I am committed, write well, and have an obvious interest in the Human-Computer Interaction field. She told me that if I want to pursue a Doctorate degree, she will be more than happy to be my mentor.

Being told that I have what it takes to get a Doctorate is such a big deal to me. I struggled academically in undergrad due to not being diagnosed with autism yet. In retrospect, I could have put in more effort at times, so I can’t 100% blame my academic struggles on my autism. Just 90%. When we did our class presentations in my Human-Computer Interaction class, only a few people were encouraged to apply to the Doctorate program and I was not one of them. Honestly, at the time, I was thinking “I’m done after a Master’s”. I had (and still don’t have) an interest in being a professor and an undergraduate professor said it’s not worth it unless you only want to write scholarly articles. However, there is someone at my job with a Doctorate, my husband’s dad’s cousin just retired from being a director of a gifted program, and not everyone with a Doctorate becomes a professor. Besides, with me being autistic, I can bring new perspectives to the field of Human-Computer Interaction.

This has solidified my decision to eventually go back for a Doctorate. I kept going back and forth about whether I want to or not for the past year and I still sometimes worry about my husband not being okay with me being more educated than he is since he has a Master’s degree. There was a woman in one of my religion classes in undergrad who broke up with her fiancé because he didn’t want her to go back to school to get a Bachelor’s degree and she wanted to. Honestly, all I need is someone to believe in me, and my graduate project advisor is that person, just like I feel like I was able to finish undergrad because my advisor when I changed majors believed in me.

Next step: graduation.

Mental Health

The Helpfulness of Neurodivergent Therapists for Neurodivergent People

While it helps to have a therapist who understands neurodivergence, there’s a special feeling in having a therapist who happens to also be neurodivergent.

This post is inspired by my therapist. On January 31st of this year, my therapist disclosed that she’s neurodivergent (specifically ADHD). I suspected her to be neurodivergent, but only because I felt like she knew WAY too much about neurodivergence to be neurotypical. She was able to notice during our first appointment that I’m neurodivergent.

To me, it is VERY important to have a therapist who has a proper understanding of neurodivergence and does not try to change the client to act normal. Therapy also never worked for me because I did not receive an autism diagnosis until almost a year ago. A lack of a proper diagnosis has done more harm to me and others than good when it comes to therapy treatments. I talk more about how therapists have contributed to issues with people who have autistic traits here. Yes, you can go on Psychology Today’s find a therapist site and find a therapist who works with autistic clients, clients with an intellectual disability, clients with ADHD, or clients with learning disabilities, but how many of those therapists have a proper understanding and aren’t simply trying to fix the client to make them normal? How many of those therapists can help a neurodivergent person navigate the world when their normal is different from society’s normal?

The advantages of having a therapist who is neurodivergent are that they have the lived experience of being neurodivergent and they can more easily detect clients who are neurodivergent whether they have a diagnosis or not. However, there is no database I’m aware of that will help you find therapists who are neurodivergent themselves. Then again, that’s not surprising when people are told not to disclose their neurodivergence in the workplace.

Therapists, how can you help stop the shame and internalized ableism in your clients?

School

Busy Busy Busy: Graduate Project Time!

So this blog is supposed to be about neurodiversity and grad school, but I haven’t talked about grad school since December! I have had so many ideas about neurodivergent-related topics, but it’s time to talk about grad school again!

So for those who are new to my blog, in December, I announced that I was forced to stay an extra semester to finish my project requirement. This is because the website my university is creating was still not ready. I was supposed to do a usability study on a web application that would help autistic children in the emergency room.

Fast forward to February 8th and my project advisor tells me that the website STILL isn’t finished, so she offered to have me work on another project so I can graduate in May. Of course, I accepted. The December 2021 graduates are celebrating in May 2022, so I am able to get away with lying about still graduating in December. However, I can’t come up with a lie if I stay even longer. If graduates are listed by semester of graduation, I can lie and say that some names got mixed up. That’ll probably happen. It happened before. In May 2021, there were separate ceremonies for the 2020 graduates and May 2021 graduates. I saw some classmates who graduated in May 2021 be listed as a 2020 graduate and vice versa.

My new project will involve a usability study again, but this time with undergraduate students that the human-computer interaction professors teach. Interested students are getting bribed with extra credit. The students will be using eye-tracking technology as they analyze three different types of graphs to determine how well people understand graphs. However, this means I have to do the study in-person. While I didn’t want to do that, I want to graduate so if that means traveling nearly an hour to campus, I will gladly do it! I waited until the end of March to buy my semester-long parking permit since I get a lower rate on the evening parking pass than if I needed it for the entire semester.

Last week, I came back to campus to learn the technology needed for the study. Eye trackers are so cool to use! There are multiple professors involved in this project, but I worked with my Human-Computer Interaction professor from two years ago to learn the technology. He remembered me despite my last name changing, and I had to remind him that my class was during Spring 2020 so my class was never able to do the usability study group project. My project advisor will be around during the study as well since this is a pilot study and she needs to determine if she needs to modify the study for the future.

The studies will be done based on my schedule, but with a combination of doing the study and working on the project report (report is required for everyone who is doing a graduate project), I will be quite busy with finishing grad school. Add to that my upcoming brown belt test in kickboxing and the fact that my grandmother had her gallbladder removed, I will probably not have time to do a new blog post until probably around graduation. I already started working on a neurodivergent-themed blog post, so I will finish that at some point.

Awareness · School · Workplace

Should You Disclose Your Neurodivergence?

So I usually don’t write neurodivergence-related blog posts that are commonly written, but I have only seen this commonly discussed in online support groups and not WordPress blogs, so you get this little treat from me. I usually hear this question in autistic spaces, but this may be something discussed in ADHD groups or learning disability support groups as well.

Typically, people say the answer is no. There you go. End blog! Wait, come back! I’m kidding! We discuss things here.

Oh thank goodness you’re back! Let’s first talk about why it is suggested not to disclose your neurodivergence.

  • Negative biases. This one is a major one that encompasses many other downsides to disclosing you’re neurodivergent. When it comes to neurodivergence, people only see the struggles. If you check off autism when you are asked in job applications about disabilities, you might not get an interview despite you being under a protected category. Note: I have not seen ADHD as a disability listed under job applications. Your abilities may come into question before you are given a chance. I’m a lead of a small team at work and I worry that disclosing my autism would cause my leadership abilities to come into question when I already don’t have leadership experience.
  • People won’t think you’re actually neurodivergent. People have pre-conceived notions on what someone who’s autistic looks like or how someone with ADHD acts like. However, what if you don’t “seem” neurodivergent because you present differently than what people thought years ago? Studies about neurodivergence focused on boys, so it wasn’t expected for girls to be neurodivergent either, and no one learned about non-binary genders until about 10 years ago. Maybe you did better in school than the stereotypical neurodivergent person. Or maybe you’re intellectually gifted as well (discussion about gifted and neurodivergent people can be found in this post).

Is there an advantage to disclosing you’re neurodivergent? Yes! Here are some advantages.

  • Challenging stereotypes. I’m going to use autism as an example as I am autistic. People who think of autism think of autism before it was considered a spectrum. They think of people who rely on 24/7 care from their parents or siblings. They don’t think of people like actor Dan Aykroyd or university professor Dr. Temple Grandin. If I disclose my autism, it will help people redefine what it means to “look autistic”. I can help show people that it’s possible to get a degree or to work a full-time job, though as I talk about in this post, I don’t want parents to set unrealistic expectations for neurodivergent children.
  • Getting the help you need to be successful. At some point in our lives, everyone regardless of whether they are neurodivergent or neurotypical need help to get something finished. However, neurodivergent people may need extra help. Before you can ask for any accommodations, you need to understand your strengths and challenges. This is because each neurodivergent person is different and not everyone needs the same accommodations. Look at accommodations that will help with your challenges and see if they would be considered reasonable accommodations in school or work. AANE posted an article last month that can help supervisors become more inclusive of neurodivergent people (Note: AANE is an autism support organization, so while this article has suggestions that can cover ADHD as well, there is a bit more focus on autism). Anyone who is a supervisor should read this to jump start their learning and support efforts.
  • You might be the source of support for other neurodivergent people. A note of caution: If you want to be a source of support for other neurodivergent people (or do any form of neurodivergent advocacy), figure out your social, emotional, mental, and physical limits first. Neurodivergent people are the best sources of support for other neurodivergent people because neurotypical people often get things wrong. Thus, some neurodivergent people have blogs, YouTube channels, and TikToks dedicated to educating about neurodivergence. Neurodivergent people might also seek advice from you. However, make it clear to everyone that they should look up sources for themselves, too. This is especially evident when people of privilege ask marginalized groups for resources instead of taking the time to do the research themselves. Yes, it’s good that they’re looking for sources created by marginalized people. No, it is not our sole responsibility in life to provide sources to people.

Do I disclose my autism? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. I only disclose my autism when the need occurs. For example, I disclosed my autism when I hosted the first Disability Day of Mourning vigil at my church back in March 2022. I disclose my autism when there are discussions about autism. Very few people at my job know that I’m neurodivergent (I didn’t use the autism label), but I am considering disclosing my autism to my boss soon.

Awareness

What to Do If Someone Says “Asperger’s”

Warning: As you can see in the title, I will be using the term “Asperger’s” in this post. I will also mention autism elitism, Naziism, and murder. Please stop reading if these are triggers for you. Thank you.

In 2013, the DSM V came out and removed the diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome and brought Autistic Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) into the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, people still use the term “Asperger’s” when they talk about themselves. First, let’s take a look at reasons why someone may say they have “Asperger’s” instead of autism.

  1. The person was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome back when it was a separate diagnosis.
  2. The person lives in a country that still has Asperger Syndrome as a separate diagnosis.

The only difference between Asperger Syndrome and Autistic Disorder is that people with an Asperger’s diagnosis did not have significant speech delay. Thus, if I had been diagnosed sooner, my official diagnosis would have been Asperger Syndrome.

So besides the fact that there is only one major difference between Asperger Syndrome and Autistic Disorder, what is the harm in saying “Asperger’s”?

Asperger Syndrome was named after Hans Asperger, born as Johann Friedrich Karl Asperger. While he wasn’t a Nazi himself, he was aided and supported by Nazis for studies about autistic children. The children in his study were often sterilized and/or sent away to be euthanized.

There are also concerns about elitism in autistic communities. Asperger’s may be seen as the “better” autism. The “smarter” autism. They are called “high-functioning” autistic people, with that label ignoring their challenges.

Okay, now that I gave brief reasons why the term “Asperger’s” is considered a harmful term, what should you do if someone says “Asperger’s”? Well, that depends on your comfort level. Some people don’t like confrontation, so those people might not do anything. However, if you want to say something, follow these tips:

  • Calmly explain why the term “Asperger’s” should not be used. Key word: calmly.
  • This applies moreso to making this comment online, but might work if you hear someone say the term: If someone already told someone to not say “Asperger’s”, don’t say it too. People already don’t like being corrected, but the person may feel attacked if multiple people tell them the same thing about being wrong.
  • If you get pushback, tell people that autistic people know themselves best and how non-autistic people don’t always have our best interests in mind. Just like the first tip, mention this calmly.

Sorry for the long wait between blog posts, but I hosted my church’s first ever Disability Day of Mourning vigil and I needed to plan and prepare. I can’t promise to post more often as work has gotten busier.