Wednesday, January 11, 2017

This post is not about vaccines

Every time people begin debating vaccines, I know that I need to prepare for an onslaught of messages about how my existence, and the existence of other people like me, is an unspeakable tragedy.     

Every discussion about vaccines inevitably turns to the question of whether vaccines cause Autism. And Autistic voices are almost always pushed out of the discussion

The anti-vaccine movement has built its popularity on celebrity support for the discredited former gastroenterologist, Andrew Wakefield, who falsified data to suggest a non-existent link between vaccines and Autism in order to explain a non-existent Autism "epidemic."  (Wakefield embellished the stories of the subjects of his study to make them fit his theories, and the apparent increase in the prevalence of Autism is largely a function of increased awareness and expanded diagnostic criteria.) That movement relies heavily on damaging and pathologizing descriptions of Autism, combined with junk science, to build its base.  One of the movement's leading voices, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.  speaks of the "catastrophic tragedy of autism which has now destroyed the lives of over 20 million children and shattered their families." Kennedy is now in talks with the President Elect about launching a national commission on vaccines and Autism.

Now, I know that not all people who oppose or question current vaccination protocols subscribe to Wakefield's theories or cite Autism as a reason for their position.   And my own views on vaccines are complex (I think some vaccines are potentially lifesaving for most people and that with others both the benefits and the risks are relatively small and that in almost every instance people should have a right to refuse any medical intervention that they don't want.)    But when Autistic people are saying that the anti-vaccine movement's depiction of Autism as a horror to be prevented is hurting us, the compassionate response is to acknowledge that pain, not to push past it.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death of Autistic adults -- for much the same reasons that it is one of the leading killers of Queer and Trans people.   We live in a culture that every day in dozens of ways shows and tells us that there is something wrong with our existence.   If we move or speak in the ways that our neurobiologies compel us to, we face discrimination, ostracism, and violence.  Yes, some of us are able to force ourselves to hold our bodies and craft our words and even move our eyes and our faces in ways that are more comfortable to the majority -- but the price is high in terms of the stress of constantly monitoring our every word and gesture, living in fear that our performance will slip, and the internalization of beliefs that it is not okay to make too much or too little eye contact, or to shake and rock to discharge excess energy running through our nervous systems, or to speak in language that is too complex or too simple or that doesn't use words at all about things that are too childish or too heavy or too esoteric for too long.   We interact with systems designed to meet other people's neurological needs and if we express our difficulties with them or ask for changes we are seen as deficient or needy.  

Personally, I live in fear that a trip to the bank will leave me overhwelmed to the point where I become agitated and begin to shake and lose speech, and that a frightened bystander will call the police and the encounter will escalate into violence.  It happens to Autistic people every day.   Not because we are Autistic.   But because the culture we live in only accepts one way of communicating and one way of processing sensation and emotion.    The things that make it difficult for me to live in this culture are also the things that give me the capacity to engage with plants and gods and history in unique and beautiful ways.   But for large stretches of my life I lived in a world that emphasized my disadvantages and trivialized or ignored my strengths.

Now imagine living this reality.  And imagine being a fifteen year old in a community where the only time the existence of Autistic people is acknowledged is when non-Autistic people are debating vaccines.  And the only thing you ever hear said about Autistic people is that our existence is an abomination to be prevented.   How do you think this would make you feel about yourself?

If you are part of the movement against mandatory vaccination, instead of telling me that you are not doing it because you hate people like me, I would love it if you would take the message to others who are opposed to mandatory vaccination that Autism is part of the natural variation in human neurobiologies that has existed as long as our species has and, like every other variation has its challenges and its gifts.   Please tell people to stop pathologizing us.  Your voice is more likely to be heard by those within the movement than mine.  

The pro-vaccination camp has not done much better by us.  Yes, those in favor of vaccination do frequently point out Wakefield's fraud.  But they seldom contest the idea that their is something wrong with being Autistic.   Rather than saying that Autism is not a tragedy, they tend to say vaccines do not cause tragic problems like Autism.

If you are a vaccination advocate, when you are responding to charges that vaccines cause Autism, please talk about the beauty of Autistic minds besides refuting the false science of your opponents.

And whatever camp you fall in, when Autistic people tell you that we are tired of being a political football in your debate, please stop and listen instead of going back to your script.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

On Safe Spaces and Ritual Purity

My gods are ancient and immense.

Like me, they emanate from the ecstatic explosion that ensued when the original darkness looked on darknesself's reflection and fell in love and in lust with darkness' own reflection.

Like me, they contain multitudes.

They are irreducible, and they teach me to own and to stand in the fullness of who I am.

Each morning, I pray that they help me keep pure the intentions of my heart.

They tell me "the only thing that is impure is your concept of impurity."

And so I take a cup of water in my hands and begin the work of releasing and transmuting all the fear and hate and guilt and shame that cause me to reject any part of their beauty, my beauty, and the beauty of the world we weave together, along with the myriad embodied and disembodied beings who join us in the perpetual orgasm of creation.


So what would it say if I invited them into a space that was hostile and uninviting to people who have been marginalized and oppressed?

My teacher, Karina taught me that Victor Anderson said that if we did not address our racism and misogyny, we would be in danger when we stood with the gods in circle.

My gods exist before and outside human gender.   What do I say to them if I say that only people performing the gender they were assigned at birth are welcome in my circle?

My gods are lusty and fecund.  What do I say to them if entry into my circle is denied to people based on who and how they love and desire?

My gods take pleasure in the multitudes of biological expressions that exist even within a species.   What do I say to them if my circle is not welcoming to every kind of human body?

Before they were my gods, my gods were the gods of the East African ancestors of all of humanity (or at least of those among them who walked beyond the edge of the fire to re-encounter the wild).   What do I say to them if I disown these ancestors or their fellow descendants just because they do not come from the same continent or have the same skin color as my more recent ancestors?

Freeing my circle and myself of hatred, bigotry, and oppression is the most important act of ritual purification I can engage in.


Those who say "sacred spaces are not safe" engage in the fallacy of equivocation.

On the one hand, absolutely, no ritual space worth of the name is truly safe, in that encounters with the divine and with the wild tend to upend all our categories of judgement, all our structures of belief, all the places we have become rigid.

But if by "safe spaces" we mean spaces that are as free as we can make them of oppressive actions and attitudes and images,  then the only truly sacred spaces are safe spaces, because they are the only spaces in which the gods we invite are invited to bring all of who they are.    Its not that these spaces are unsafe for the gods, they will sanctify whatever they touch by pulling it into resonance with their own natures, but rather that they are unsafe for those who would enter them clinging tightly to their own fear and hatred.   The gods will shake them loose.   And if someone is holding tight to their bigotry, the shaking will not be a pleasant one.

Standing in the presence of the old gods is unsafe for those who make spaces unsafe for others.  The only thing that is impure is our concept of impurity.  And it, too, will be purified, one way or another.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ghost Pipe: A Cautionary Tale

Thank you to Renee Davis for the Facebook post that pushed me to stop procrastinating on writing this.  And to Howie Brounstein for telling me many of these things in is inimitably loving way.

"I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods 
meeting the unmarked strip of light— 
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise: 
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear. 

"And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you 
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these 
to have you listen at all, it's necessary 
to talk about trees." 

-- Adrinenne Rich "Revolutionary Road"

I thought it was enough that I didn't give the names of the forests where I found it.

I thought it was enough that I told people to take only the aerial parts and only a few from each stand and not share their harvest spots and only use the medicine when nothing else would do.

But none of that matters to the plant whose populations my writing and teaching served a role in decimating.

I thought it was enough that I had the plant's permission to teach about it.

But plant's don't know  much about our culture's desire to take things and have them for our own.  So it was never really informed consent.

I told myself it was ok because William Cook had written about Monotropa uniflora all the way back in the nineteenth century and he hadn't made its populations dwindle.  But I didn't understand the impact another century of removing people further and further from the wild and from their own wildness would have.

I thought, nobody is going to read what some upstart late bloomer herbalist working with pot growers in rural Maine says, these words won't reach very far.   My false humility kept me from understanding how far my voice would carry.

I wish I had never begun writing and speaking about Ghost Pipe.

Yes, there are people who were helped who no other plant could serve who met Ghost Pipe through my writings.   And people who fell in love with the plant after I introduced them to hir and have built loving relationships with hir.   But I know enough about plants and about magic to know that I could have made this happen in more discerning ways.

So I am writing this now so you do not accidentally betray a beloved in the way that I have.


Another Adrienne Rich poem comes to mind:

"Everything we write
will be used against us
or against those we love.
These are the terms,
take them or leave them.
Poetry never stood a chance
of standing outside history.
One line typed twenty years ago
can be blazed on a wall in spraypaint
to glorify art as detachment
or torture of those we
did not love but also
did not want to kill.
We move but our words stand
become responsibly
for more than we intended
and this is verbal privilege"

The nature of plant knowledge is similar to that of other magical lore.  Those new to the Craft, tasting the liberation and vitality they are feeling in enduring ways for the first time in their lives, want to share everything so that others can be free too.   They assume the magic they have found is so pure and so powerful that it will transform the hearts of those who engage it, leaving no need to fear for its abuse.

That was what I believed when I began writing and teaching about Ghost Pipe.  Connecting with plants made you a better person, so all knowledge should be out there, free for the reading and finding.   (At that very time I was stalling from beginning to pursue training in the Feri tradition because I was struggling with the vow to hold certain knowledge and practices close and not speak of them publicly.)

The years that followed gave me a more nuanced understanding.

Yes, absolutely, the plants are there for all to encounter.  Just like the gods and the elements of nature.

But as with gods, there are some plants, and some aspects of their being and their medicine that are best shared by the plants themselves alone, when and how they choose to share them.   Or, by a seasoned practitioner with a trusted student after years of working together.    Not because that knowledge belongs to an elect few, but because it loses meaning outside its context.

 As my teacher Karina says often, not everyone needs to know how to use a chainsaw.

Many of us who teach hold this to be true about poisonous plants and profoundly mind altering plants, because of the dangers they might pose to people using them without the knowledge of the proper time and place and manner.

It is equally true of rare and fragile plants, because of the danger people might pose to them by using them without the knowledge of the proper time and place and manner.


I understand why knowledge of a plant like Ghost Pipe spreads like wildfire.   We live in a time when people feel cut off from the living world, and finding out about a strange, beautiful plant that taps into the mind of an entire forest brings a stir of recognition of the kind of connection the deepest parts of ourselves know is possible, even when we so seldom experience it in our lives and our worlds.

And I understand why so many feel the need to harvest the plant for themselves or buy the tincture from someone else.   We live in a culture that has objectified and commodified everything.   And in which the sense of our entitlement is magnified and the sense of our impact on the living world is diminished -- my own included, or I wouldn't be here writing this mea culpa.   It can seem like the only way to access the magic Ghost Pipe represents to us is to hold something made of the body through which that magic moves.

I am not saying nobody should use Ghost Pipe as medicine.   I am saying it should be used only when no other medicine will do, by people with enough knowledge to know that no other medicine will do, who have also cultivated a deep relationship with the plant.

For those who have come here seeking knowledge about this plant, here is what I suggest you do instead:

go to the forests, the fields, the deserts, the mountains

find strange and beautiful beings

make intimate relationships with them

and hold their medicine as close as you would the hidden pleasures a lover's body brings.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Our Existence is Not an Epidemic: An Open Letter to Jill Stein

Dear Dr. Stein,

I was an activist in the early days of the Massachusetts Green Party in the late 1990's and early 2000's.   We met briefly a few times when you were running for Governor.

I am also Autistic. 

The last time you ran for President, you told John Saul of the Seattle Times that:

"In 25 years in clinics, I witnessed an increase in diseases – asthma, obesity, autism. Certainly our DNA did not change in that short time; the problem is with our sick food system, pollution and failing health care,”

When you make statements like this you are further marginalizing people like me -- which flies in the face of the values the Green Party is supposed to represent.

Autism is not a disease.    As Autistic scholar Nick Walker writes "Autism is a genetically-based human neurological variant."  Our divergence comes in the form of increased sensitivity to sensory and emotional stimuli, marked differences in verbal and non-verbal communication from the general population, and a tendency toward non-linear systems-oriented thinking.   These differences have made us driving forces in technological and cultural change throughout human history.  And, in this culture, they have made us pathologized and feared.   Many of us have trouble "functioning" in the ways this society expects us to, because this society was not made with us in mind -- just as Queer and Trans people often find challenges to integrating into a society that is based on heteronormative and cis-normative assumptions about gender and sexuality, Autistic people often find it challenging to integrate into a culture rooted in assumed neurotypicality.

(Incidentally, being fat is not a disease, either.   While there is some correlation between a variety of health problems and high body weight or high body fat, correlation does not equal causation, and healthy bodies come in many shapes and sizes.  The moral panic about "obesity" is unscientific and contributes to discrimination against fat people.)

Nor is there an "Autism epidemic."   First of all, in order to have an epidemic you have to have a disease.   But, secondly, the increase in the frequency of Autism diagnoses is explained by changes in definitions and diagnostic criteria.

As someone who struggled with asthma most of my life, in part because of growing up in a cluster of trash incinerators in Massachusetts, I am more aware than most of the public health crises caused by pollution.    But my neurobiology is neither a pathological condition nor is it the result of anything in my environment.


  • Stop talking about Autism as a "disease" or an "epidemic."
  • Clearly and publicly distance yourself from the fraudulent and hurtful claims of former gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield that vaccines cause Autism.   While I understand your principled position that vaccines should not be mandatory because people should have a right to make their own health care decisions, in the absence of such a clear statement, your opposition to vaccine laws provides cover for those spreading false information about vaccines and Autism.
  • Get to know Autistic adults.   Consult with us about our needs.   Adopt policies that support the work and struggles of Autistic people.

I would love to be able to support your campaign, but I cannot do so while you pathologize people like me.

Sean Donahue

Sunday, April 10, 2016

All Acts of Love and Pleasure

"Both of us say there are laws to obey.  But frankly, I don't like your tone.  You want to change the way I make love.   I want to leave it alone." --  Leonard Cohen

What does it mean to be sex positive?

Seeing more and more people openly express the vibrant, healthy, holy, liberatory potential of sexuality is a beautiful thing.

But from lube shaming and to descriptions and proscriptions and prescriptions of right and wrong ways to experience orgasms to the erasure and/or objectification of the bodies and sexualities experiences of Queer people, Trans people, fat people, disabled people, and People of Color to the lack of understanding of how the sensory experiences of neurodivergent people and trauma survivors shape their sexual experiences, a lot of what passes for sex positivity in contemporary culture too often excludes a lot of people's experiences of sex.

So, I want to spell out what I mean when I talk about being a sex positive herbalist, a sex positive priest, a sex positive person:

I am sex positive even when I struggle with shame and fear about my own sexuality.   Even when shame makes it difficult for me to engage or express my own desire.   Even when fear makes me too dissociated to be able to connect with a lover.    Just as much as when I am feeling as free and embodied and lusty as a rutting stag.   All of these have been common experiences at different points in my life.   All of them are part of my experience now.   Sometimes I experience all of them at once. I am sex positive because I believe in being present to my body's authentic responses and sensations and desires and emotions however they show up.

I am sex positive when I encourage other people to allow themselves to play with and explore their own bodies.   And when I celebrate the pleasure they share with each other.   And when I encourage them to be honor their own boundaries, their own hesitation, to be still and slow and present with all of their parts as they come into different states of embodiment and different intensities and flavors of sexual desire and sexual aversion.

I am sex positive when I say that there are no right or wrong ways for people to have or not have sex, to have or not have orgasms, to ejaculate or not ejaculate,  to stretch their own boundaries or honor their own need safety, to run power through their bodies alone or with other people, to play with flows of power and pleasure between people, to explore sensation so long as they are grounded in authenticity, respect, and consent.    No such thing as too much or too little sex as long as a person's relationship with their sexuality helps them engage their vitality.   No profane sex except that which violates someone's sense of integrity.    

As Doreen Valiente wrote in "The Charge of the Goddess,"  "All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals."

And it is my goal to liberate my own love and pleasure, and be an ally in others' liberation.

That is what sex positivity means to me.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Gods, Authority, and Sovereignty

"A witch bows to no one."

This was among the first things I was taught in my training as a Feri priest.

No human, no institution, and no god ultimately holds authority over me.  I am responsible for standing in the fullness of my power, taking responsibility for my role in events unfolding in all worlds, for the ripples across space and time that trace back to my presence, my movements, my very breath.   My own godsoul, the divine aspect of my being, is the only being that rightly sits on the throne of my heart.    Victor Anderson taught that the true meaning of the first commandment was that nothing should ever be allowed to come between us and our highest selves, no god should come before our godsoul.  

What, then is our relationship with the gods?

They are part of the same world that we are.  Older and more immense by almost unimaginable magnitudes, to be sure.  But they are like us, but they are not greater than us.   A Redwood is far older and larger than a Hummingbird, but it is not holier or more important, both are part of the same ecology.  The same is true of gods and humans.   Anaar, the one living Grandmaster of my tradition, says "We sit at the table of the gods.  Sometimes we need booster seats, but we sit at the table of the gods."

Our tradition agrees with physics that our universe is made of matter and energy that came into being in the orgasmic explosion science calls the Big Bang, arranging and rearranging itself over and over again.   Gods have persisted in form for longer than we have.   But we are now less creators of worlds.  I create the world within me and reshape the world around me, as do all other beings.   And my world is transformed by the Sage that exhales the carvone that I inhale, that relaxes tension and opens the senses so I can connect more deeply with the living world around me.

I grew up in a religion that taught that the sacrifice of our body's pleasure and our own lifeforce was necessary to show devotion to a god who was crucified.   The church that taught that enforced it with emotional, psychological, and emotional violence and I still carry scars from that time.   To sacrifice means to make sacred.  Our bodies, our sovereignty, our autonomy, and our authentic desires are already sacred.  Any human or institution or god that demands their sacrifice is lying to us, promising to make us what we already are if only we give up what makes us who we are.    The gods I ally with are the gods who love me and want to see me free.

There are gods who are my lovers, gods who are my teachers and counselors, gods who are my protectors, gods I work with to turn the tides of history.    But there are no gods to whom I surrender my authority and autonomy.    And no human to whom I will give authority over my relationships with gods -- or overwhom I will assume authority.

 If the role of a priest is to practice theology and teach the truest law, then the law I teach is the only one that arises from my theology, the same one that Crowley expressed when he said that love is the whole of the law, love under Will.   And the only correction I will offer if I see someone not living that law will be the example of my own continuing liberation and my solidarity and willingness to be an ally in theirs.   Unless they are trying to take from others the ability to live that law, in which case I will resist them.

"A witch bows to no one."

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

What Herbalists Need to Know About Autism

"We need to help Autistic children now or else we will be paying for them in prison later."

The opening words of David Winston's lecture hit me like a punch in the stomach.

It was the fall of 2013, and I had only been "out" as Autistic in my professional life for a short time, and was still figuring out the implications of understanding and embracing my neurobiology.   Perhaps I should have known that a workshop called "Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Search for Answers"  was going to treat me as a problem to be solved, another puzzle piece, rather than as a person to be engaged and understood.   Maybe if I had known I would have found language that day, found a way to be able to respond directly to the things that were being said and implied about people like me.   But I was caught off guard and felt afraid of confronting a widely respected elder in a place where I didn't know if I could count on anyone else for support, so I bit my tongue and held back my tears and pulled myself together in time to teach my next class.

Now, two years later, I have the same sick feeling in my gut that I had that afternoon, as I see that the journal published by the same organization that sponsored the conference where Winston delivered that lecture, the American Herbalist Guild, has published an article on Autism by another prominent herbalist who sees my neurobiology as a pathology.   K.P. Khalsa's article is gentler than Winston's lecture, and his interest in Autism is clearly inspired by his love for his Autistic adult daughter, but it is still firmly rooted in a paradigm that presumes that there is one correct way for human nervous systems to develop and operate, and that the goal of medicine should be to make Autistic minds and bodies less Autistic.   

Tonight, I have words to speak.  And they are directed not just to Winston or Khalsa or the AHG, but to the entire herbal community.  It is time for everyone to learn and understand some important things about Autism:

1)  Autism is not a disorder.

Autism is a natural variation in human neurobiology that has existed throughout the history of our species.   As Autistic scholar, Nick Walker, writes:
"Autism is a genetically-based human neurological variant. The complex set of interrelated characteristics that distinguish autistic neurology from non-autistic neurology is not yet fully understood, but current evidence indicates that the central distinction is that autistic brains are characterized by particularly high levels of synaptic connectivity and responsiveness. This tends to make the autistic individual’s subjective experience more intense and chaotic than that of non-autistic individuals: on both the sensorimotor and cognitive levels, the autistic mind tends to register more information, and the impact of each bit of information tends to be both stronger and less predictable.
"Autism is a developmental phenomenon, meaning that it begins in utero and has a pervasive influence on development, on multiple levels, throughout the lifespan. Autism produces distinctive, atypical ways of thinking, moving, interaction, and sensory and cognitive processing. One analogy that has often been made is that autistic individuals have a different neurological 'operating system' than non-autistic individuals."
Neurodiversity -- the diversity of neurobiologies -- is as essential to the health of a culture as biodiversity is to the health of an ecosystem.   Traditionally, in many cultures, people whose modes of perception varied from the majority's were recognized and trained as people who could be seers on behalf of their communities and intercessors with other-than-human realms.  This culture has treated only one form of perception and sensation and processing and communication as permissible, and as a result is now enduring a crisis of vision as it confronts human and ecological catastrophes.

Oh, and there is no such thing as an "Autism epidemic."  The increase in the number of Autism diagnoses in recent years is the result of changes in diagnostic criteria, and was accurately predicted by those who wrote those criteria.

2)  Attempts to "prevent" or "cure" Autism are, by definition, expressions of eugenics.

To speak about eliminating a genetically-based variation in the biology underlying consciousness is to speak about eliminating a way of being, a way of seeing, a way of feeling.  As one of the people whose existence some of you would like to prevent our cure, I read such expressions to be declarations of war.

3) "High function" and "low function" are inherently oppressive concepts.

What we are supposed to be "functioning" as is as economically productive members of society.  And as people who act enough like neurotypical people to avoid making other people uncomfortable with our presence.   Categorizing us as "low functioning" or "high functioning" dismisses both the beauty and genius of the minds of Autistic people who don't speak or don't hold jobs or can't still their hands and the struggles of Autistic people who can do those things, but sometimes only at great cost to our health,  who still face stress and trauma related to the difficulty of navigating a society shaped by and for non-Autistic people.

4) No understanding of Autistic health is complete if it doesn't integrate an understanding of the biological and psychological impacts of trauma and chronic stress.

To be Autistic in this culture is to live in a world of physically painful sensory overstimulation, where we are  subjected to social norms that demand that we suppress our natural expressions and perceptions, and where we are marginalized and pathologized.  As people whose experience of the world is inherently intense, we are more vulnerable to trauma than many others, and living in a culture of enforced neurotypicality is universally stressful and frequently traumatizing to Autistic people.   Other people's failure to understand, and hence empathize with, and our difficulties in navigating relationships with people whose modes of perception and communication are very difficult for us to understand also make us more likely to experience physical, emotional, and sexual violenc than the general population.

Many of the "symptoms" and "co-morbidities" associated with Autism -- anxiety, depression, digestive disruption, dysautonomia, hypertension, autoimmune disease, asthma, allergies -- can be caused or exacerbated by the neuroendocrine disruptions caused by trauma and chronic stress.  Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder should almost always be investigated as a potential factor in our health problems.

5) Our "symptoms" are differences with the majority of the culture, not problems to be solved.

Let's take a look, if we must, at the official diagnostic criteria for Autism.

We are said to have "persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction" because we have trouble recognizing social cues and adhering to social norms  and  we display "abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gesture."   People claim that we can't read body language well -- but it turns out we read each others' body language and facial expressions quite well, we just have a hard time relating to the body language and facial expressions of non-Autistic people.  But, you know what?  Non-Autistic people have a harighly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focusd time understanding our nonverbal signals.   And most of us do way better understanding the signals sent by non-Autistic people than Autistic people do understanding the signals we send.   One additional "problem" we have:  when there is a discrepancy between someone's words and gestures, or between their outward communication and their presence, we often don't know which signals we are "supposed" to believe and end up responding in ways that are more honest than polite.   

As for our other "symptoms":

"stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech" - aka stims - represent our attempts to create a single stimulus strong enough to drown out the flood of sensation being carried across our nervous systems in order to ground ourselves in overwhelming situations . .

"insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior" is another way of managing overwhelm in environments crafted by and for people with dramatically different from ours . . .

"highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus" are passions we follow deeply enough and doggedly enough to discover patterns and possibilities no one else ever perceived . .

"hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment" means we respond to sensory stimuli in ways that are different from the majority of the population.

None of these are "symptoms" to be treated.

6) Nobody else can speak for us.

Non-Autistic family members and friends and partners of Autistic people have their own experiences of the world.    Some involve frustrations and challenges communicating and collaborating across a neurological divide.   Some involve compassion and solidarity with Autistic people.  Some involve really fucked up ideas about how they wish we were different or wish we didn't exist.   They can speak for themselves.   They and their organizations cannot and do not speak for us.

7)  We have good reasons to be wary of "natural" and "alternative" healthcare providers.

There are a lot of Autistic herbalists.   And there are a lot of non-Autistic herbalists who support Autistic people in compassionate ways.    But there are also a lot of herbalists and naturopaths and people who look and sound to all the world like herbalists and naturopaths who go around talking about preventing and curing Autism.   There are a host of cruel and bizarre Autism treatments advocated by people who call themselves alternative or natural health practitioners -- eg bleach enemas.   And the natural health community as a whole, and the herbal community in particular, have been major vectors for the transmission of toxic myths about Autism.  So don't be surprised if Autistic clients are a little nervous and hesitant at first.   

Still want to work with us?  Great!  Learn more about our lives by reading Autistic writers   (and good allies like Steve Silberman.) And then come meet us from a place of openness, curiosity, kindness, and respect, and wll will go well!