matty post

autistic studying advice

by an autistic undergrad

1) Don’t trust all study guides by NTs

Their brains are wired differently and some things that work for them won’t work for us. There’s a chance those tips and tricks won’t do anything for you, which might make you feel like a failure. You aren’t! If something doesn’t work, move on. It’s okay.

2) If you have executive dysfunction, laziness and lack of motivation is not your problem

When you struggle with executing tasks it may feel like you are lazy and aren’t motivated enough, but that’s not necessarily true! You might be hella motivated and still not be able to do a task. Trying to motivate yourself in that case will only make you more frustrated.

3) Get distractions out of the way

Little things that would not distract a neurotypical person might distract you, in which case you won’t be able to work to your full capacity. Build a sensory friendly environment with no noises, bright lights, bad smells, etc. Use ear plugs or music if you need to. Get stim toys if you stim a lot to concentrate. Good environment is very important and is probably the reason why you struggle at school/college/uni where your senses might be overstimulated.

4) If you tend to hyperfocus, learn when it happens

Hyperfocus can be incredibly useful for studying, so if it happens to you, try to identify when it happens. For me I tend to hyperfocus when there are absolutely no distractions (for me that often means when I have headphones on and I’m alone). Then replicate those factors to get more done.

5) Learn ways around executive dysfunction and limited energy

This is the most difficult part. Studying when you have problems with executing tasks and limited spoons (energy resources) is tough. Here’s how you can deal with it.

6) Understand your priorities

You will not be able to do as much as NTs do in one day. Deal with it now. Understand that simple tasks such as brushing your teeth or talking on the phone also require energy. So prioritize. Assume you can only do one thing today, the most important/urgent one, and do that first. Then the less important thing. And so on.

7) “Don’t half-ass things” is a lie

Half-ass things. Quarter-ass things. If you can only do one math problem today, do it. That will be one less math problem later. If you can only read a few pages of a textbook today, do it. It’s also easy to think “if I can’t write the essay and finish that project today, might as well do nothing”. That’s a lie too. Do a small thing but do something. Do something badly but still do it. You might be able to fix it later. There’s no shame in being disabled, no matter what society makes you think.

8) Do the most complicated thing first

If you have several tasks and one requires more executive functioning, do that first. Your planning skills are probably at best right after you wake up, before you have time to spend any energy. So that’s the best time to do tasks with many steps or to plan tasks ahead.

9) Rest and take breaks right

It’s important to take breaks in between work, but you have to do it right. You might be tempted to do something useful for a break to be productive - like take a walk or read a book or talk to someone. Do not, or at least do not unless you are absolutely sure. Switching to another task requires mental energy, so that will only deplete your energy sources.

For breaks, do something ridiculously easy. Go on social media. Listen to a song and sing along. Watch a YouTube video. Stim. Daydream. Even lay down and close your eyes for five minutes. Just don’t switch to tasks that also require energy.

10) Don’t try to learn by repetition

Studies show that learning by repetition doesn’t work for us. It will not help you make more connections in your brain. Instead, do different tasks. Read from a book. Write down important points from the book. Read them out loud. Try to repeat them without looking. Pretend to explain it to someone. Answer questions related to the material. Draw it. Watch a video about it. Make a mnemonic for it. Whatever. Just don’t sit there reading it again and again.

11) Be kind to yourself

Your energy levels and capabilities will fluctuate from day to day, and you can’t always know how it will turn out. On some days I can write an essay from scratch in one sitting. On others I struggle to make myself a cup of tea. That’s normal, and it’s not your fault. Blaming yourself for it will only upset you and make it less likely that you do at least something today.

Imagine it like this: you are playing a game, and the difficulty setting randomly switches every day. On some days it’s on easy and you get through five levels with no problems. On some days it’s on very difficult and you can’t even get to the first checkpoint. That’s okay. Say to yourself, “my abilities haven’t changed, the difficulty changed”. Today, just get to that checkpoint. Tomorrow you might get through five levels.

12) Learn from other autistic people

For any other problem you might come across, other autistic people are the best source of knowledge. Allistic parents, teachers, friends, mentors, etc are likely to not understand your problem at all, or give you bad advice. Instead consult the real autism experts - actually autistic people. There are plenty of us who got through school, college and/or uni. Reach out to them. They will help.

Good luck!

It seems like a lot of people are under the impression that autistic people don’t like socializing because we don’t like other people as much as allistics do (hence some scientists actually trying to investigate whether autism can be “cured” with oxytocin). I don’t think that’s true for most of us, or at least it’s not because we are just inherently antisocial. I think it’s because of the expectations of how a “normal” person is supposed to be and the constant effort to fulfill those expectations.

Me, I used to love socializing as a kid. Every time I saw a new person at the playground I would try to make friends with them. And I would get upset if they didn’t want to play with me. But then as I started growing up I learned that the way I socialize is inappropriate and rude and wrong, and in fact a lot of my behaviors are wrong, and a lot of things about me are somehow unacceptable.

So I started monitoring myself and paying attention to everything I do and say. I started copying other people to seem more normal. I started stressing about being around other people cause every conversation was like an exam I didn’t know how to prepare for. And then despite my best efforts I was bullied for several years and developed social anxiety and now not only do I feel compelled to be careful about my every word and every move, I also feel incredibly anxious and stressed when I seem to do something wrong.

And as a result socializing and being around people is not an enjoyable activity anymore, but not because I don’t like people - it’s because I don’t like all the acting and thinking and effort that I have to put into it to not seem weird or rude and not to be mocked and bullied. For me going to the cinema with a friend is more like an obstacle course because I have to be on guard 100% of the time and pay close attention to everything in order to at least partially pass as neurotypical. Now around a person I trust, like a close family member, I can be myself and I don’t get as tired from socializing, or at least not more than your average allistic introvert.

So basically if you know an autistic person and it seems like they aren’t very social, that doesn’t automatically mean they don’t like people. It’s possible they like people a lot, and want to be nice, polite and be accepted, so they put a ton of effort into passing, which drains their mental energy super quickly and it makes them wanna stay home and recharge. But all you need to do to make their life easier for them in that case is to tell them you accept them the way they are and give them time to build that trust. Then they can be themselves most of the time around you, and they’ll probably hang out with you more often.

Is it just me or “self-diagnosers are faking it for attention!” makes absolutely no sense? Like…

This is the Internet. You have complete anonymity here. You can reinvent yourself and lie about every single aspect of your life. You don’t even need to try very hard to convince everyone. You can say you are whoever you are, you can say you are from a different country, of a different age, different gender… I mean technically you can even say you are Idris Elba or Hillary Clinton or something like that, although there’s a smaller chance people will believe you.

Now if a neurotypical person, or a person with Münchausen, would want to fake being neurodivergent/mentally ill, for attention or “special snowflake points” or whatever… what would stop them from saying they have a formal diagnosis? Cause it’s not like you can demand them to post their medical records - many actually professionally diagnosed people don’t have access to those.

I mean, why put yourself at danger for being mocked, ridiculed and doubted? Why not say you have been diagnosed years ago and have been in therapy and hospitalized twice and abused by psychiatrists and so on? Cause that will give you much more attention than saying “My name is Jamie, I’m a self-diagnosed autistic with anxiety, who knows scripts for job interviews/good stim toys to replace skin picking/home remedies for anxiety nausea?”.

To me if a person says they are self-diagnosed, that communicates that they are ready to tell the truth, admit the possibility of a mistake on their behalf and their intention to be a part of the community to share ideas and get support and help. It’s a small sign of their honesty and genuine intent. Now someone lying they have a formal diagnosis will insist on it because it seems more valid even though professionals can make mistakes too.

And considering that “you’re self-diagnosed!” argument is often used against people who most certainly have a formal diagnosis to silence them and mock them, it makes absolutely no sense to me why you need to spend your precious time attacking self-diagnosed people. They may not be exactly right about their subjective psychiatric label, but if they are talking about it, they probably have real traits and symptoms, so I doubt they are neurotypical.

So if you go around attacking self-diagnosed people, there’s a high chance you are harming those “actually disabled”/“actually mentally ill” people you claim to be trying to protect.

Sincerely, a professionally diagnosed mentally ill autistic person who supports genuine, well-informed psychiatric self-diagnosis.

On November the first, Autistic Speaking day, I decided to write an actually rather long Q&A with things I and other autistic people get asked most often. If you’d like other people to know these things or just agree with me, feel free to reblog!

Q: Autistic person, or person with autism?
A: I prefer “autistic person”, because I don’t feel like autism is something separate from me, my brain and my identity. It’s not an ink splotch on a picture, it’s more like a color filter that covers the entire picture and changes the way it is. Autism is not what I have, it’s who I am. More than that, there is no reason to put the person first since nothing about autism negates being a real person. Which is why most people in the community also prefer “autistic person”.

Q: Is autism a mental illness?
A: No, it’s a developmental disorder. The main difference between those two things is that mental illnesses typically have a start and sometimes a finish - they can be caused by something, and they can be treated and sometimes even cured with therapy and/or medication. Autism doesn’t have a start because people are born autistic and they die autistic. And it can’t be cured or treated, only accommodated.

Another reason why we separate them is because in my opinion mental illnesses cause distress and suffering just by being present, while with autism the distress and suffering mostly come from lack of accommodations, bullying, abuse and neglect. Which is why we are now trying to move away from this classification and call autism a “neurotype” - not a malfunction, just a different type of nervous system.

Q: Is autism a disability?
A: Yes, in the social model of disability. Meaning that the neurotype itself isn’t disabling, but the society and the world is. Autistic people make up about 1-2% of the population, so the vast majority of people in the world are allistic (not autistic). So the world wasn’t built for us. However with enough accommodations, help, understanding and acceptance we can change the world, and then autistic people won’t be disabled anymore.

Q: Should we search for a cure for autism?
A: No, mostly because of scientific reasons. Research shows that autism is more likely to be an anatomical brain difference rather than a biochemical one, meaning that it can’t be fixed or altered after birth or a certain step in prenatal brain development. So the only “cure” we can develop is a prenatal screening test that will allow us to detect it and give parents an option to abort. I stand with the pro choice movement and the right to abortion, however I do thing that we can come up with a better use of money than stopping autistic people from being born in the first place.

And the second reason is that the majority of autistic people don’t want a cure! As I’ve said, autism is an integral part of our neurology and curing us would be akin to killing us and creating a brand new person. Autism comes with problems and challenges but it also has many traits that I love and wouldn’t want to lose. And even for people who do want a cure, a more manageable and realistic goal would be to invest in support and accommodation that would help them with their problems.

Q: What about therapies for autistic people?
A: Sure. There are several reasons why autistic people might require therapy. A lot of us have comorbid anxiety disorders, often due to mistreatment, bullying and abuse, so therapy for anxiety could help some of us. Sensory integration therapy might benefit autistic people by helping them better understand their sensory perception and learning how to deal with negative aspects of sensory processing disorder. Some autistic people choose to attend social skills classes although we have to understand that being a social butterfly isn’t a requirement to be respected and accepted, so no one should be forced to take them. And of course autistic people can have mental illnesses that they might want to get therapy for. However don’t view autism as something that needs to be cured and fixed. So autism isn’t something you need therapy for by default.

Q: What about ABA, applied behavioral analyses?
A: ABA is to autism is what conversion therapy is to being non-straight or non-cisgender. It doesn’t help the autistic person, it just forces them into seeming more neurotypical which on the surface looks like they got better. It is often abusive, it leaves children and adults with higher rates of mental illness including PTSD, and it comes from a basic premise that autistic people are not whole, real people with thoughts, feelings and consciousness. Read more of my thoughts on ABA here: http://iamthestrangerinmoscow.tumblr.com/post/152193710933/hey-i-liked-the-post-you-did-for-parents-of

Q: What kind of autism do you have?
A: Autism! It’s true that we used to have different diagnosis for autism, such as Asperger’s Syndrome, Kanner’s Syndrome, PDD-NOS, childhood autism, atypical autism and so on. However further research and investigation lead the psychiatric field to realize that this separation was unnecessary because the diagnostic criteria for these disorders weren’t different enough. For example the only thing that separated Asperger’s and Kanner’s in DSM-4 was the time of developing verbal speech which said nothing about persons needs and abilities later in life. As a result we now recognize that autism is a spectrum with vastly varying combinations of traits, needs, talents, abilities and problems, but of the same nature. So there’s just one diagnosis (in the DSM-5) - autism spectrum disorder.

Q: Are you high-functioning or low-functioning?
A: I’m a real person with a complex combination of abilities and needs that can’t be put into one of two rigid categories. Depending on how you describe me, I can be labeled as both. If you say that I’m an adult who can’t live on their own, can’t do most basic housework, can’t even speak on the phone, struggles with severe executive dysfunction and anxiety and needs daily assistance, then I sound “low-functioning”. If you say that I’m a student at a university studying their special interest, fully verbal and eloquent speaker, had no developmental delays, can pass as neurotypical most of the time and is considered smart, then I sound “high-functioning”. In reality I’m neither.

Functioning labels don’t really serve their purpose as a descriptor of needs and abilities, rather they simplify them and lead to more discrimination. High-functioning means your needs are neglected and your problems are denied. Low-functioning means your talents and abilities are ignored and you are denied respect and autonomy. Both are really detrimental to us, so most of us really dislike functioning labels. Some other descriptors that might work are “verbal/nonverbal”, “living independently/requires some level of assistance”, “has an intellectual disability/learning disability/a mental illness” and so on. You’ll have to speak about each person individually cause we are all very different.

Q: Should I support Autism Speaks and Light it up blue?
A: No, by all means no. Autism Speaks is a terrible organization that cares more about money than autistic people. They call is a tragedy, a burden, a disease, the reason for divorces, worse than cancer and AIDS combined, a fate worse than death and so on. They use autism as a fear-mongering tactic to earn more money that goes to staff salaries and advertising (with less than 5% going to autistic people and their families!). They support ABA and abusive fake treatments of autism. They refuse to listen to us and basically they speak for us and over us. Boycott Autism Speaks and Light It Up Blue. More info here: http://autisticadvocacy.tumblr.com/post/102634036950/so-why-is-autism-speaks-bad-im-confused

Q: Which autism organization I can support?
A: ASAN - autistic self-advocacy network, and the Autistic Women Network, are the two good organizations I know.

Q: Is the puzzle piece symbol a good symbol for autism?
A: Personally I dislike it because of the association with Autism Speaks. It can be interpreted as “autistic people are missing pieces” which I think is rather dehumanizing. I prefer the neurodiversity symbol, which is the infinity symbol in rainbow colors. If other autistic people wish to use the puzzle piece for themselves, I’m okay with that, but I don’t like it being pushed on others, especially by allistic people.

Q: Are you professionally diagnosed with autism?
A: I am, but no one needs a paper diagnosis to know they are autistic. You can figure it out with research and help from various resources. There are many reasons why someone wouldn’t be able to get a professional diagnosis. Money and accessibility are the biggest barrier, however systematic oppression also plays a role. Autism is under-diagnosed in girls/women and people of color, and many people are denied a diagnosis because they don’t fit the stereotype of an autistic person. Typically an autism specialist is required to give a paper diagnosis and they aren’t always available - and non-specialists make a lot of mistakes.

Also a paper diagnosis might put the person in risk, depending on where they live. In my home country, Russia, a professional psychiatric diagnosis on your official record will mean denial of education, employment, adoption and even a driver’s license, which is why my family had to pay for the diagnosis out of pocket in a private clinic. All these are reasons why I, as well as most good autism organizations, support well-informed autism self-diagnosis.

Q: Where can I learn more about autism?
A: From other autistic people! No-one can be a better expert in autism than an actually autistic person. If you need answers, ask us. Some good resources to start are: YouTube channel “Neurowonderful”, ASAN official site, musingsofanaspie.com , askanautistic.tumblr.com and other autistic people on tumblr. Don’t speak over us, listen to us and accept us.

Nothing about us without us.