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Autism, pop culture, and me


Autism, pop culture, and me

Hi, I’m Maya, I’m 25, and I’m autistic.

April is Autism Acceptance Month and I have an announcement to make: Hi, I’m Maya, I’m 25, and I’m autistic.

For the record, this piece will be the first time I have ever writing about my autism in on a public forum, and oh God, it’s scary to talk about it. But hey, it’s my month, right? To answer a few questions I am pretty sure no one has: No, I was not diagnosed when I was younger and actually, I was misdiagnosed of NOT being on the autism spectrum. Which leads into my second point: yes, black people can be autistic! It’s actually a factor of how I was misdiagnosed! Finally, autism is a spectrum, so I’m classified as “high-functioning” so I appear “normal” and people don’t seem to believe me when I say I’m autistic because of that!

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, I can finally get to the meat of this piece: I am autistic and my brain is wired to consume a lot of pop culture. In the autistic community, pop culture is my “special interest,” which simply means that I have spent a lot of time collecting and learning about about most aspects of pop culture. This definitely works well for me as a movie critic because I have usually watched certain movies dozens of times over a couple of years and I can tell you about a film, who was in it, and who directed it, usually with no assistance of from IMDb or Wikipedia.

You can say that I’m a collector of knowledge and just random trivia that maybe only ten people know. It’s not that I just want to know a lot of things, but it’s more like my brain needs to learn more about the smallest of details because those somehow matter the most. This has led me to turn that thirst of knowledge into collecting media like manga, comics and books. Embarrassingly, a “symptom” of my autism (and ADHD, because I have that too!) is that I get so engrossed in a book or just owning something that I impulsively buy it only to not read it or get to a certain point and put it down to never pick it up again. Thankfully, I’ve counteracted that habit by going digital and donating my collection to literacy organizations.

While it seems very hard to be such an avid consumer of pop culture if I keep putting things down and never reading or watching them again, it’s just how my brain works! I mean, it’s also rare for me to binge stuff, unless it tickles that part of my brain that makes me want to consume it that quickly. However, as an autistic person, I find myself losing my habits in light of current events. Being autistic, you have routines that help you get through your day and my routine was royally screwed up once I was furloughed from my retail job, being put under a safer-at-home order and just losing that calming, repetitive loop.

As the pandemic worsened, I felt myself prone to more meltdowns or just having fits of fustration and anxiety. Until Animal Crossing came along.

When Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out, I felt my routine come back to life as I would take my Switch off the dock to do daily chores every morning and then I feel as though my day can be “normal.” Before the pandemic, I used to start my morning with whatever podcast had a new episode, but I have been able to get back on track with my podcasts during walks around my neighborhood and just piddling around Animal Crossing to get new structures built and moved around.

You have heard “Animal Crossing is keeping me sane.” How about “Animal Crossing keeps me from having meltdowns”? Autistic meltdowns sound very scary just from seeing the word “meltdown,” right? My meltdowns are more me feeling as though I cannot control myself and that I am doing everything wrong as sounds around me keep getting louder and louder. Sounds seem to actually take shape and it feels like my brain is going to explode. So. Fishing a lot on Animal Crossing helps. Blasting old R&B music on Spotify helps. Talking about some celebrity gossip mess with my friends (both groups, because a secret superpower of autistic people: THEY MAKE TOO MANY FRIENDS) helps. Watching a movie I’ve seen a million times helps.

Pop culture has helped me during the darkest hours of my life. It’s the reason why I have the privilege of writing on this site. It’s why I can proudly accept that I am differently abled after living a life of trying to be what is considered “normal.” Yeah, I need to get better at finishing games and not buy a lot of novels on my Kindle, but hey, it’s just how I am!

I end this rambling mess with this: different is good, neurodivergent people are people with feelings, hopes, dreams and futures, and oh yeah, f*ck Autism Speaks. No, seriously, boycott them and listen to autistic voices!

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