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Planet Dancetime: Social Skills and Functioning Labels

If you’re allistic, it might be difficult to imagine what life is like for an autistic person. That can make it difficult to write from an autistic perspective. In order to help facilitate understanding, I, Mod Aira, have come up with an extended metaphor that I hope will be helpful. This is the first in a planned series, and it will cover some of the basics of social interaction as well as the harm that functioning labels do.

Please note that this series is written from my perspective and according to my personal opinions and experience. It will not necessarily reflect the reality of all autistic people, but it is one authentic perspective.

Imagine that tomorrow, you wake up on another world. It’s called Planet Dancetime. The people there look just like humans, except their social rules are insane. They do a complicated dance while they talk to each other, and all communication is carried out in this dance-talk. At first, you can’t make any sense of it, but slowly you start to puzzle some of it out. When you speak to a woman, you have to stand on your right foot the whole time. When you speak to a man, you have to stand on your left. If someone is non-binary, you have to stand on your toes. You also have to touch the shoulder of the person you’re talking to every ten seconds exactly. If you don’t follow this rule of *precisely* every ten seconds, you’re being very rude. When you’re telling a happy story, you have to wiggle your shoulders, starting with the right side and working your way left. Sad stories are the opposite. For *angry* stories, the wiggle is in the eyebrows. You also have to indicate your emotional state and age at the time the story happened by a complicated motion in your fingers set to a specific beat, and your *current* emotional state by the particular angle at which you hold your elbows and wrists.

There are still countless other rules here, more than you can figure out. The Dancetime people are constantly making strange gestures and movements. The crazy thing is, it seems to be effortless for them. How can they possibly keep track of all these rules? You decide to ask someone.

The response is not positive. You get the most disdainful look you’ve ever seen, and the explanation, “It’s obvious. Just use common sense.”

Well that isn’t helpful. How could they possibly conceive of this system as being obvious? And if it’s so simple, then why can’t they explain it?

At long last, you come to an epiphany. Of course this system isn’t simple. In fact, it’s so complicated that the only way for them to manage it is for their brains to handle it subconsciously. A massive amount of their brainpower is devoted to decoding, remembering, and carrying out all these convoluted rules. And their bodies are naturally conditioned for it, too. They can stand on one leg for hours without any effort – it’s just the way they evolved. But you can’t. Your brain is busy doing other important things that these people hilariously can’t do (more on this another time), and it’s not about to take over all those extra responsibilities now. You have no easy options, and you’re stuck here now, so you have to make a choice.

Option one is to say – hell with it. Maybe you just don’t have it in you to do this – you just can’t get your head around it, and it’s impossible for you. Maybe you have a physical issue that prevents you from dance-talking, or you just don’t have the type of memory required to learn dance moves, or the multitasking ability necessary to count and talk at the same time. Or maybe you just decide: I’m not going to bother with their stupid rules. I’m going to stand on two feet when I talk, and I’m not going to count to ten silently in my head while I’m talking so I can time the shoulder-touches properly – I mean, who could even do that? I’m just going to be me, and they’re just going to have to deal with it.

This does not go well for you. When you fail to follow their dance-talk rules, these people freak out. Some of them are angry – how dare you insult me with your non-dance body language? Even worse, it turns out that some movements that you make entirely naturally which have nothing to do with conversation, or some aspects of your normal, natural body language, are actually grave insults in dance-talk. You can’t figure out which things you’re doing which are so wrong, and no one will explain it to you. Many people think you’re extremely rude. But some of them are scared or worried and are determined to figure out what’s wrong with you. You are quickly surrounded by “experts” who want to help you. After all, you couldn’t possibly survive without the ability to dance-talk. You obviously suffer from some kind of hideous disorder. You try endlessly to explain that you can talk just fine without the dancing, that there’s nothing wrong with you, but they won’t have it. If you talk without the dance moves, they ignore everything you say like it’s some kind of incomprehensible babble. If you can’t dance-talk, then you obviously have a disability, and you need to be cared for. You’re obviously not intelligent enough to communicate, so you’re automatically not intelligent enough to care for yourself. You wind up in an institution with the others who have been diagnosed with “low-functioning human disorder”, also known as “severe humanism”. The nurses look at you with pity in their eyes and don’t bother talking directly to you. You hear them talking (as though you’re not there) about the tragedy of your extreme human-ness, how terrible it must be to live that way, and what a burden you are to those around you. You try to scream: it wouldn’t be terrible if you’d just leave me alone! But your screams, lacking their accompanying dance moves, fall on deaf ears.

So let’s consider the other alternative. You can try to puzzle out the dance-language and see if you can fit in well enough to get by. Not everyone has this option – I mean, the dance-language is obscenely complicated, after all. But maybe you’re one of the lucky ones. Maybe you have a good memory for movements and are good at figuring out or guessing when to use each one. So you give it a shot. And after a lot of trial and error, you start to find some success. Your dance moves are still a bit off, and you get funny looks pretty frequently. Eventually, you get “diagnosed” with “high functioning human disorder” and told you should be fine as long as you put in enough effort. You ask that maybe someone teach you some of the dance moves, and you are rudely dismissed as being lazy or pretending to be disabled so that you can get more attention.

This is the same reaction you get every time you make a mistake. And of course, you will always make mistakes. There will always be days when your legs are simply too tired, and you have no choice but to stand on two feet for a while. Sometimes, when you’re trying to talk about something, you just can’t spare the brain power to count to ten over and over again, and you miss a few shoulder-touches. Sometimes you’ll get the wrist and elbow angle just slightly wrong and give entirely the wrong tone to a conversation. And sometimes you encounter a social situation you’ve never learned the moves for, and there’s no possible way for you to do it right.

Every single mistake is met with indignation. How dare you insult us that way? You apologize and try to explain that even though you’re pretty good at it, this dance-talk still doesn’t come easy for you. It doesn’t help. Your explanations are written off as lazy excuses. Everyone knows you are perfectly capable of using dance-talk. You do it all the time. The fact that you’re not doing it now obviously means that you are doing it on purpose. You are intentionally insulting those around you, and they don’t appreciate it.

The looks, the stares, the muttered insults, they eat away at you. You are doing your best, damn it. You are doing infinitely better than should ever have been expected of you. You put so much energy into the most basic conversations, you don’t even have enough left over to care for yourself. You haven’t been eating well, with no energy to cook. You suffer from constant anxiety – fear of the next mistake – when (not if) will it happen? How will they react? But no one appreciates that. No one helps. No one explains the mistakes you’ve made – and usually, you have no idea what you’ve done wrong. You’re expected to just figure it out on your own, and are punished for each misstep, because damn it, you might be technically human, but they’re not about to let you use your humanness as an excuse for rude or lazy behavior.

You feel the constant underlying threat all the time: if you can’t dance-talk like the rest of us, if you stop trying or make too many mistakes, then we’ll change our minds about you. We’ll change your diagnosis to low-functioning human disorder, and stick you in the institution with the others. We’ll never speak to you again. We’ll never look at you as a person again. You’ll just be a lump of flesh that we have to feed and bathe. So you’d better try harder.

The best case scenario you can hope for is that people will find out you’re human and say, “Oh, wow! You barely look human at all! You should be so proud of yourself.” Human is an insult. Not human is a compliment. That’s the world you find yourself in now. And sometimes you start to wonder – are they right? Is being human really a disability? Is there something wrong with me? Now you can add a fight against depression to the list of things you have to deal with. There are days when you wonder if the effort will ever be worth it. You feel hopeless and lost.

All because dance-talk doesn’t come naturally to you.

Now, disclaimer, here: this is a simplified analogy of how functioning labels can feel, and the ridiculous basis on which they are assigned. The reality is a little more complicated and there are more factors, some of which we’ll explore later. And as always, we repeat: everyone’s experience is different, and not all experiences are reflected here. This story is designed to help those who are not autistic start to understand what life is like for those who are. This really is how it feels for a lot of people, myself included. These are the choices I feel I have. I can relax and give up and just be “me” without apology, and then I am liable to lose everything – my job, my friends, my life. Or I can try to fit in and act like the others, at an enormous energy cost, and often not have the strength left over to take care of myself. They call me “high functioning”, but they’re ready to take that shiny little badge away at any moment – and they would have taken it away long ago if they saw how I am at home at the end of a stressful day.

A far, far better situation would be to do away with the functioning levels entirely. Judge each person based on their individual attributes, and try to understand that under other circumstances, they might be very different. Sometimes I can talk, and sometimes I can’t. Acting “normal” takes a lot of energy, and sometimes I don’t have enough left to do it. But I’m still able to live independently, and still have many strengths and abilities – many that “allistic” people typically do not have.

So please, when you’re thinking about writing an autistic character (and good for you! hooraaaayyyy!!!!), don’t think of them in terms of high- or low-functioning, in terms of “severe” or “mild” autism. Instead, think of a list of traits, what they’re good and bad at, what comes easy and what doesn’t. Your character is as individual as you are.

Happy writing!

-Mod Aira

pastelnerd-deactivated20141212  asked:

So that swing dancing gif had a lot ladies dancing together in pairs which is something you don't see a lot of nowadays. Was it because dancing alone or as a group wasn't really a thing back then? Did guys ever dance together as friends like that?

Dancing in pairs was definitely a thing at the time— there doesn’t seem to have been a lot of solo or group dancing, at least not in the way we dance today.

Dancetime Publications has a breakdown of dancing in the 1930s. There were group dances and circle dances (like square dancing or contra), and many dances had callers to tell you the steps as you went.

I’m guessing that it was socially acceptable for women to dance with each other and less so for men to do so, but I don’t know that for certain. It probably depended at least in part on the social setting and the ratio of men to women at any given event.


Twitter Sources: @hongbondage and @habaooni

Tumblr Souces: bluefairyravi, leo-is-life-but-im-ruined

Part One 

  1. On and On - 1
  2. Voodoo Doll - can’t find voodoo doll fancam , I FOUND A FANCAM!!! >> FROM UTOPIA IN JAPAN 
  3. Light Up the Darkness - Leo focus, 1 
  4. Secret Night - 1
  5. Dramatic On Stage Scene #1: Some Open Heart Surgery On Stage as VIXX Change

Part Two

  1. Fighting Sequence - Hongbin Solo - 1
  2. Ghost - Ravi Solo (featuring him on a throne with lots of girls) - ghost preview, 1 (sorry, can’t find fancams with the actual audio since I think it’s not allowed to be posted since the song has not been released yet)
  3. After Dark - N focus, Leo focus, Leo focus2, 1
  4. Talk
  5. Youth Hurts - Hongbin focus, 1
  6. Say U Say Me - 1, Leo focus, 
  7. Lets Learn About Human Emotions VCR - 1
  8. Call You Mine (Jeff Bernat Cover) - Hyuk Solo - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  9. Rolling in the Deep (Adele Cover) - Ken Solo - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Part Three 

  1. Chaos - Leo focus
  2. Talk
  3. Time Machine - short fancam, N short ver.,
  4. Rock Ur Body - Ravi focus, Hongbin focus
  5. Talk
  6. Love Letter - short fancam; Ken focus (uljima~ T_T), 1, 2, 3
  7. Someday - 1, Ken focus, N focus
  8. Sad Ending - 1, Leo focus
  9. Dramatic On Stage Scene #2: Woman holding corpse of a dying child before military man shoots her (while Vixx are off stage)

Part Four

  1. Words to Say (Original Song) - Leo Solo - 1 (no actual audio; same reason with Ravi’s solo)
  2. Blue Gangsta (Michael Jackson) - Hakyeon Dance Solo - , 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
  3. Hyde - Ken focus
  4. Beautiful Killer - 1, N focus,  Leo focus, N focus2
  5. Eternity - Leo focus
  6. Dramatic On Stage Scene #3: Diffusing/Triggering a Bomb (??)
  7. Error - 1

Part Five

  1. Starlight (lyrics on screen) - by starlights
  2. Love Equation - 1, N focus, Leo focus
  3. From Now On, You’re My Girl // Today, You’re My Girl (played three times because of Hakyeon) - N focus, 1, 2 (All hakyeon focus)
  4. Talk (including imitating Ravi’s growls and performance of Ghost)
  5. GR8U / You’re Impressive - Leo focus, 1, Hongbin focus, N focus

Other fancams/talks/etc: