FREE RESOURCE: Autism Shapes

So I am aware that this is a sex blog, but it’s also an autism blog, and, as usual, I have a bee in my bonnet about the general public’s perception of autism and their limited understanding of what the autism spectrum actually is. Functioning labels (“high-functioning autistic” and “low-functioning autistic”) are limiting and without nuance, and are mostly defined by how much one’s autism inconveniences the people around them and/or impacts their ability to contribute to an ableist and capitalist society. They fail to take into account the fact that most autistic people don’t have the same level of difficulty unilaterally with all aspects of life, and they make me so annoyed that I want to bite people.

So I made a PDF, because confrontation scares me. You can access it by clicking here. Essentially, the PDF introduces the Autism Shape, a way to visualise the experiences of autistic people in a way that doesn’t limit them to a sliding scale which goes from “not very useful in a capitalist society” to “rather useful in a capitalist society”. The blank template looks like this:

A sort of graph thingy with eight straight lines protruding from a black dot in the middle. These lines are marked at intervals, labelled from 1 (closest to the centre) to 10. They are all labelled with different things an autistic person may struggle with. From the top, clockwise, these are: Social interaction, Sensory perception, Interoception & self-care, Flexible thinking, Adjusting to change, Paralinguistic communication, Verbal communication and Cognitive empathy. In the bottom-right corner, there is some text which reads, “Morgan Peschek, 2019. Feel free to share, but please credit me!”

The idea is to prioritise the nuanced, lived experience of autistic people over the perceptions of their “functioning” that other individuals might have. You mark your own values on the template, with 1 meaning “I struggle a lot with this” and 10 meaning “I’m fucking amazing at this”, and then you connect the dots to create a fun shape, like so:

A radar chart related to the autism spectrum, with eight "spokes" each labelled with a different aspect of autism. More information is available in the PDF.
The same graph as before, but this time with a teal eight-sided polygon drawn onto it. This is my own Autism Shape.

I’ve been developing the Autism Shape for a while now, and I’m really pleased with it, but I’m always open to suggestions! I’m particularly interested in input on how to make the PDF more accessible to people who use screenreaders, and to people with dyslexia for whom black text on a white background is difficult to read.

Who this resource is for:

  • Autistic people who want to define and express their own experience of autism
  • Professionals who work with autistic people and who know that the high/low functioning model is a pile of shit
  • Friends and families of autistic people, only for the purpose of showing it to said autistic person and saying, “Hey, this might be a helpful tool for you!”

Who this resource is not for:

  • Anybody who plans to build an Autism Shape on behalf of an autistic person. Obviously you can help them, but the whole point of revisualising the spectrum is to help autistic people define and express their own experiences.
  • At the moment, people who can’t read English, because I don’t have the means to accurately translate it or to commission a translation (let me know if you do!)
  • Anybody who practices ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis), because if you use my cool resource as a way to harm autistic people, I might actually bite you.

I really hope that this tool helps my fellow autistics, and I encourage all my readers to share it far and wide. And on Saturday, I’ll be climbing off my high horse to deliver some smut, since this is a sex blog – stay tuned!


Liked this post? Excited by the work I’m doing? Amazed that it took me multiple hours to create the goddamn template in free graphic design software? Consider joining my Patreon to help me do more things like this!

Disability, Dignity and the Myth of Independence

Stock image of the side of a door with keys inserted in the keyhole, primarily because it was the nicest thing that came up when i searched for "access".

I am well and truly fed up with people talking to me – or at me – about disability & independence.

You hear it in school. You hear it in college. You hear it in media about or relating to disability. Even the UK government calls the benefits it awards to disabled people “Personal Independence Payments”. And honestly? It gets on my tired, disabled nerves.

It gets on my nerves because very few people are truly independent. Have you ever ordered a pizza? You depended on somebody else to cook and deliver it. Have you ever made a phone call? You depended on the engineers who made that possible and on the person who sold you your phone. Even when people go off-grid, living self-sufficiently in reclaimed shipping containers, they’re often relying on the inventors and manufacturers of solar panels. I cannot think of a single person who is actually truly independent, because humans are social animals who are hardwired to rely on, and to help, other humans.

So why do I, as a disabled young adult, have to strive for some arbitrary level of independence that is vaguely defined and contrary to human nature?

People talk about independence like it should be the end goal for many folks with disabilities. The ideal disabled person, in society’s eyes, is one who can go places alone, do their grocery shopping on their own, complete household tasks unassisted and rely on nobody. Which is especially weird when you consider the number of adult men who have no clue how to do laundry or where to find vegetables in a supermarket, having sailed from life with parents to life with a partner who, if they’re female or assigned female, will do all of those things for them. In suggesting that disabled people should aim to – or want to – reach a level of independence whereby they don’t need to live with somebody or use the services of a carer, we’re holding disabled people to a higher standard than lazy men without disabilities.

Holding disabled people to high standards isn’t new, of course; one need only glance at the coverage of any Paralympics event to realise that disabled people are expected either to be groundbreakingly good at something or to melt into the background, meek and inoffensive. Expecting disabled people to be more independent than their abled peers isn’t outside of the norm, but it is damaging and hurtful to those of us who might never be able to live alone or who might always need to phone their mum before sending an email (which I definitely do). I’ve learned not to feel bad that I’ll never be a Paralympic athlete, or Rain Man, but I still feel bad that I’m not the wholly independent disabled person that I’m allegedly supposed to be.

I propose that we shift our focus away from independence, and instead look to a more subjective, holistic measure of quality of life for disabled people: dignity.

The wonderful thing about promoting dignity, rather than independence, is that its parameters change from person to person. For example: Alex, Bobby and Carly all have a disability that makes unlacing boots difficult for them. Alex feels undignified when xir partner unlaces xir boots for them, so xe spends the extra time practicing unlacing xir boots and mastering the use of a shoehorn to make the process easier. Bobby feels undignified when he’s bent over, struggling with his laces for fourteen full minutes, so he asks his friend to give him a hand. Carly, meanwhile, finds that both of those options undermine her personal sense of dignity, so she only buys and wears boots with elastic and no laces at all.

That last sentence is important – specifically, the part about Carly’s “personal sense of dignity”. We all experience dignity differently and can find different situations more or less dignified depending on our cultural backgrounds, personal hang-ups and many other factors. Independence is a rigid, standardised goal that looks similar for everybody who strives for it, but dignity is a personal, flexible goal that is achievable for everyone.

Some people probably wouldn’t feel dignified rocking backwards and forwards in a shopping centre, humming to themselves – but that, for me, feels more dignified than staying home, and certainly more dignified than a full-scale meltdown in a public place. The beauty of it is that I get to decide what makes me feel comfortable and act accordingly, without worrying that I’m not “independent” enough, and also without any external pressure to eventually “progress” to not using my tried-and-tested coping strategies, including reliance on my support network.

I don’t want to strive for independence. I’m a human, living in society, and I want to be able to lean on other people when I need to without guilt. I’m going to strive for dignity instead, however that looks for me.


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Pride: A Complicated Experience

Stock photo of glitter laid out in stripes to form a rainbow. Glitter is present at a lot of Pride events, in case you didn't know ;)

I haven’t been to a tonne of Pride events.

I came out to myself as bi when I was about 13, and as nonbinary when I was about 17. Unusually, I think, I didn’t feel any internalised shame about my queer identity in the traditional sense. When I realised I was bisexual, I was excited about it: excited about my newfound connection to the LGBTQ+ community, excited about the possibility of kissing girls and excited that I’d found a label that fit me, after a year or two of worrying that I was simply a lesbian who was very bad at lesbianing.

When I came out to myself as nonbinary, I felt a degree of anxiety that I wasn’t not-cis enough (I didn’t experience all the dysphoria that mainstream media promised me, and I’d only put the pieces together as a young adult), but mostly I was, again, excited to find a word that fit my experience of gender. I understood, in theory, that a lot of people needed the Pride movement to allay their feelings of internalised shame, fear and grossness about being anything other than cishet, but whether it was the autism or my mum’s accepting and loving influence, I never felt bad about being queer.

This didn’t mean that I was uninterested in Pride events, but I didn’t feel any desperate pull towards them. I could experience the joy of being part of the LGBTQ+ community online, in the comfort of my own home, and that felt like enough for me. The first time I went to Pride, it was for an unconventional reason: I was deeply, deeply depressed, and it was a reason to leave the house.

My hometown’s Pride event was, and still is, mercifully grassroots in nature, held in a spacious park and never too crowded. But this didn’t stop me from feeling overwhelmed, especially when I found that there was nowhere for me to sit down and rest my disabled little legs, and nothing was signposted, leading to me getting turned around and confused at least twice an hour. I loved spotting other people’s flags, starting conversations with people about their dogs or their outfits, and talking to the people who ran stalls relevant to my interests, but I left the event exhausted and overstimulated and had to spend at least a couple of days in bed or otherwise in my pajamas, recharging my limited energy.

Bigger Pride events, as you can imagine, intimidate me. I went to one in my university city and found it so challenging that I slipped away on more than one occasion to the outskirts of the event, taking deep breaths and chewing on free sweets obtained from various stalls and booths. I know lots of other people find Pride inaccessible, and this year, I stuck to my hometown’s event – but still needed to be babysat by my girlfriends and metamour, reminded to eat, and encouraged to leave earlier than most people might because I was ready to lie down on the grass and give up.

This is why I feel conflicted about Pride. I already felt like it might not be for me, since I didn’t experience the internalised shame that so many LGBTQ+ people talked about, and after having found so many Pride events to be lacking in the accessibility department, I felt that even more strongly. Couple that with a police presence which makes my autistic nerves run higher than the volume on the main stage’s speakers and the ongoing online discussions about who “belongs” at Pride, I’ve often wondered what Pride does have to offer me.

The thing is, Pride as a concept is great. I enjoy rainbow paraphernalia and I even enjoy watching corporations desperately try to cater to me (only to drop the facade on the 1st of July) and then watching other LGBTQ+ people mock them for it. Pride month is fun, it reminds me of the importance of community and visibility, and it gives me an excuse to respond melodramatically to every minor inconvenience (“It’s raining? During this, Pride Month?”). But I’m starting to acknowledge that I pressure myself into attending events that I don’t really need to be at. I already know my community exists, I have created safe spaces of my own to be queer in, and I don’t feel gross or ashamed or anything other than pleased about my queer identity.

I know Pride does a lot for a lot of people. I love seeing people at Pride events blossoming with confidence they might not feel anywhere else, and I appreciate that there exists a space where everyone can just… be their authentic selves, without fear of repercussion. But with gatekeeping, corporate involvement, inaccessibility and the rest of it, it’s a movement and a series of events that I feel somewhat disconnected from.

I will continue to defend my LGBTQ+ siblings’ right to attend Pride events, obviously. I want to speak up in defense of asexual and aromantic people’s place at Pride and about the ways that a police presence can make POC and neurodivergent people feel deeply uncomfortable, but I might not need to push myself into events to achieve that. I suppose it’s a result of internalised ableism, something I do experience a lot of, that I feel like I need to do what my abled friends are doing whether I actually want to or not. And I suppose it’s important for me as an activist to confront my internalised ableism, and that might mean staying home from crowded, noisy, police-infested Pride events when I need to.

I’m still going to buy shit with rainbows on it, though. I’m always going to buy shit with rainbows on.