This is the script for my panel for 2023's Othercon, "Alterhumanity and Autism". You can find the recording of the panel right here, which also includes a QnA section.
The blurb that I wrote for the panel, to be put on the schedule, is as follows:
"This panel aims to explore the relationship between autism and alterhumanity, by looking at the history, the modern autistic community and what real alterhumans have to say on the topic. Why it is that neurodivergency is seemingly so common in the alterhuman community? Is it correlation, causation, or perhaps something in between?"
And below is the script itself.
Hi, everyone! I am so excited to be speaking at Othercon this year and I hope everyone else is enjoying the 'con so far. My name is Azure! You may also call me Bede, as I answer to both. I like he/him, she/her and bun/buns pronouns, and I am a multitude of things! I am a demon (a fallen angel if you wanna get technical), and my main fictotype is, you'll never guess who based off my names, Bede from Pokemon. Shoutout to any Pokemonkin listening. I've been active in the alterhuman community for around 5 years now, and was the head and sole mod of ‘From Fictionkind', which is a zine released in 2022, aiming to explore the experiences of those who have a fiction-based identity. If you are interested, you can download it here. (Send link)
I am a grab bag of disorders and disabilities, most of which I won't list, but what is relevant to this panel is that I am, in fact, autistic. Not only that, but I have done, by all metrics, way too much research into autism, and I am an autistic activist!
To preface: although this panel is going to specifically namedrop and talk about autism a lot, I am sure that a lot of different beings can relate to what I am going to talk about today. Not just other neurodivergencies and disabilities, either. Much of what I am going to be talking about today could resonate with any oppressed being's experiences. I welcome all discussion about the similarities of different experiences with open arms!
But, for the sake of transparency, I am not very good at talking off the cuff. So I am going to spend the bulk of this panel reading from a pre-prepared script. If anyone is interested in a transcript, it is available on Google Docs for viewing! I will send it in the panel chat right now, so that anyone who needs to may read along, for word-processing purposes. (Send link) This also means that I am not going to be looking at the chat a whole lot, so if there's something you'd particularly like for me to see, I encourage you to hold it until the end so that I can be sure to see it and give it the thought and recognition that it deserves. All this being said, I still will be looking at the chat occasionally.
To prepare for this panel, I took a survey polling autistic alterhumans, which was taking responses from March 7th to July 1st, so around 4 months. I was hoping for about maybe 90 participants, but that number was blown out of the water with over 500 responses!! I will be going over those results later on in the panel, and will also be referencing the anonymous freeform responses.
The very last point of my preamble here is to warn that this panel may not be suitable for all audiences. This lecture contains extended discussion of ableism, and, while I try to keep the mentions brief, there will be specific talk of disabled folks, including children, being hurt. If you're unable to handle that at this time, that is absolutely fine. Take care of yourself and have a great con!
This panel aims to explore the relationship between autism and alterhumanity, by looking at the history, the modern autistic community and what real alterhumans have to say on the topic. I hope to, perhaps not explain, but look into why it is that neurodivergency is seemingly so common in the alterhuman community, and whether it's because of correlation, causation, or perhaps something in between.
Now, let's start off with a question and feel free to try and guess: What do fairies, aliens, and crystals all have in common? Do we have any guesses?
The correct answer is that all 3 of these things have been used to try and claim autistic children are nonhuman!
Let's get into the specifics, starting from the top with fairies.
The changeling is a form of fairy found in European folklore. Also referred to as an "oaf" historically, a changeling is a fairy that is left in the place of an identical human child, when they are stolen away by other fairies. This is to say, parents believed that their human child was being replaced by an identical fairy child. There were multiple tricks that were thought to fend this off. When you believe you already have a changeling, though… There were less ways to go about that. Historical records and tales about changelings unfortunately imply that the solution chosen for a changeling child was often times infanticide.
Many modern psychologists now believe that most tales of changelings developed in an attempt to explain disabled children. This includes, but is not limited to, deformities, Down syndrome, Williams syndrome, cerebral palsy, and, of course, autism. The fact that boys are more often born with birth defects lines up with the touted belief that boys were more likely to be taken by fairies.
Furthermore, see "regressive autism". This so-called phenomena occurs when a child appears to develop, quote-unquote, "normally", until they start showing symptoms of autism in their later years. Now, what actually happens in these cases is that they never noticed their child's autistic traits until those later years. But the fact that there is still a name for this sudden perceived shift in an autistic child shows the sheer amount of cases there are like this, even today. Now, imagine how bad it was hundreds of years ago, before we even had a word for autism. This "sudden shift" perspective very much parallels the supposed markings of your child being replaced by a changeling.
Second verse, same as the first: aliens. Although the term "starseed" has been picked up in the alterhuman community as a way to describe one's self as an alien, "starseeds", or "star children", didn't originate in the alterhuman community. Their existence is a theory put forth by Brad Seiger in his 1976 book, titled "Gods of Aquarius". It posits that some humans originated as extraterrestrials, and arrived on Earth through either birth or by taking over an existent human body.
Generally agreed-upon signs that you or someone you love is a starseed, according to believers, include that person feeling like they don't belong, being hyperempathetic (which is a sign of autism, despite what the stereotypes would have you believe), introversion, and… Actually, I'm going to quote this in its entirety. In "What Is A Starseed & 50 Clear Signs You Are One", published by The Spirit Nomad, the first listed sign is, quote, "You are highly sensitive. You easily feel overwhelmed and drained when you are in a place with many people and with intense stimuli – like shopping malls, clubs, and networking events. You might also be sensitive to stimulants like coffee, alcohol and even dark chocolate." Endquote.
You think I'm joking about these things just listing autism symptoms. I'm not!
Finally… Crystals. Crystal children and indigo children are both believed to be sort of the next step in scientific evolution, according to New Age circles. More specifically, crystal children are the newest generation, while indigo children were the first wave, from around the 70s to the 90s. I'll just be calling both of these 'waves' crystal children for the sake of simplicity, but know that they are just two waves of the same thing. Crystal children are believed to possess special or supernatural abilities, such as telepathy. Autistic children having telepathy, as we all know, is the plot of Mob Psycho 100.
Signs that your child is a crystal child include high empathy, being perceived as 'strange' by others or intelligent for their age (see the autistic gifted kid phenomenon), and being sensitive to the point of fussing in crowded spaces. It's also said that crystal children may struggle in socially conventional schools, because of their dislike of rigid authority, being smarter than their teachers, and their lack of response to guilt, fear, or manipulation-based discipline. (Read: indirect communication.)
It is actually a noted phenomenon that many parents, when confronted with a diagnosis like a learning disability, ADHD, or autism, will alternatively label their child as a crystal child. Autism researcher Mitzi Waltz noted this phenomenon, and spoke about it in a 2009 issue of The Journal of Religion, Disability & Health. He suggests that parents recategorize autistic symptoms as telepathic powers to attempt to reconceptualize these autistic traits as a part of a more conventionally positive identity. He also puts into words why this can be harmful, stating that parents could refuse to acknowledge their child's impairments, refuse accommodations, and, quote, "transmit belief systems to the child that are self-aggrandizing, confusing, or potentially frightening." Endquote.
Believe it or not, there are actually MORE examples of myths or conspiracy theories that attempt to explain autistic children as nonhuman. But, I will leave it at those three.
Let's take a brief look into modern media now. Specifically, the "autistic-coded robot" trope. A lot of times, when humans try to write robots, or AI or such, they think that they can just take all essential things that make humanity what it is, and take away a few things. Make them not express empathy, they don't get nonliteral phrases, they obviously speak in monotone. We could sprinkle in a little bit of feeling out of place with humanity for flavor aaaand it's autistic. Your robot is autistic. To name some examples of this trope, think Data from Star Trek, or Zane from Ninjago.
This trope is more or less echoed, beat for beat, with the autistic-coded alien trope. Examples of this flavor of the trope include Peridot from Steven Universe, Spock from Star Trek, or, and I'm sorry for anyone who I'm about to violently throw back into 2016 with this, Keith from Voltron.
Because nonhumanity is so often linked to autistic beings by the culture around us, desiring to be nonhuman or connecting with nonhumanity is now a recognized part of autistic culture. We often feel out of place in neurotypical society. Join autistic spaces, and you'll see jokes like, "What kind of nonhuman did you think you were as a kid?" (In case you're wondering, the answer is werewolf for me.) Growing up thinking that the reason behind your autistic traits is because you are secretly nonhuman is a common experience. Jokes about desiring a tail and to purr often go viral within autistic spaces, because they are forms of natural and nonverbal communication that shows those around us that we are happy. The topic of nonhumanity within autistic culture is also talked about within professional settings, such as in Kim Duff's speech, "The Role of Changeling Lore in Autistic Culture", at the 1999 Autreat conference of Autism Network International.
There is also discussion of how autistic beings oftentimes connect with animals better than with humans. For example, Temple Grandin is an autistic animal behavioralist who has written extensively on how her being autistic helps her understand how animals feel. For example, she speaks in 2004's, "Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior", and in 1997's "Thinking the Way Animals Do: Unique Insights from a Person with a Singular Understanding".
In more modern times, we have the 2022 article, "How Autism Connects Me With Animals", in which Emily Moran Barwick, writes, quote, "I knew how profoundly frustrating, isolating and demoralizing it was to be unable to convey what I wanted to convey. I knew how it felt to never be truly understood. And it broke my heart thinking of what non-human animals were experiencing at the hands of humans; that no matter how desperately and clearly they communicated their terror and pain, they were ignored and discounted." Endquote.
All of these connections have led to the creation of subcultures created in an attempt to reclaim the dehumanization put onto us. To name one example, voidpunk is a subculture created by tumblr user arotaro in the 2010s, and more or less hinges on this idea. Key points of this subculture include the rejection of the norm, embracing nonhumanity, and comfort in the unknown. In the words of it's creator, quote, "It's not the same as otherkin because it's not really like, "Ah yes, I am a cat/dragon/wolf/that one guy from Homestuck/etc.", it's not necessarily something specific, and it's not necessarily literally believing you're something other than human. It's, well, punk. Society puts out a lot of messages about What It Means To Be Human (trademark) that can make a lot of people who don't completely fit the bill feel lost, broken, alone, or like they're doing something wrong; Voidpunk is about taking that message of "you're not human", making it your own, and throwing it back in society's face. You say I'm not human? Sure, ok. That's chill. Why does being Human (trademark) have to be a goal to aspire to anyway? What's so great about humanity?" Endquote. She then goes on to specifically namedrop neurodivergents as one of the target audiences for the subculture, as well. She also later answers an ask to clarify, quote, "Someone who doesn't face dehumanization cannot be voidpunk." Endquote.
So, where does all of this information intersect with the notable number of autistic alterhumans? Well, that's just the question, isn't it? Is it possible that alterhuman identity may correlate with those who have identities and neurotypes which are demonized by society? After all, queer beings are common within alterhuman spaces, too. And, if there is a correlation, is there causation there, as well? There are already some terms coined to describe when alterhuman identity is caused or influenced by autistic traits; such as ‘otherspin', a term for when one's alterhuman identity is caused / influenced by special interests. Furthermore, ‘altervexo' attempts to describe identifying as alterhuman out of spite for the dehumanization one has faced. However, to my knowledge, no term has been made or extensive talks had about, voluntary or nonvoluntary, alterhuman identity, as possibly having origins within dehumanization.
So, I set out to have that conversation. As stated at the start of this panel, I ran a survey, mostly promoted on tumblr, from March 7th to July 1st, posing questions to the autistic alterhuman community about their personal experiences, which got over 500 responses! 537, to be exact. I'd like to share the results of this survey with you now. The raw data collected is available here. (Send link) I will also be posting both the raw data, and the script for this panel, to my tumblr, @azuremist, but that's mostly for easy archival purposes. Now, it's NUMBERS TIME, baby!
I asked everyone to indicate if they agreed or disagreed with the statements I made. For the statement, "I believe that my autism has influenced my alterhumanity in some way, shape, or form," 92% of those who took my survey agreed, and 8% disagreed, which is a WILD split. Far beyond notable.
For the statement, "I feel like the way that autistic beings are seen by society has influenced my alterhumanity", the split is a bit more even, with 72.4% agreeing, and 27.6% disagreeing.
This means that, of those who I polled who agreed that autism influenced their alterhumanity, 78.6% (rounding down) also agreed that the way autistic beings are viewed in society influenced their alterhumanity. This is a rate a bit over 3 in every 4.
This next question is one of the things that I asked more out of personal curiosity, which is, whether or not they feel more safe to be openly autistic in alterhuman spaces, when compared to other community spaces. Of those polled, 89.4% agreed, and 10.6% disagreed, which makes me quite happy! One anonymous being commented, quote, "I generally find that most alterhuman spaces are a lot more accepting of autistic beings than wider society if that makes sense? Going into an alterhuman space, I'm never concerned that it may not be safe or accessible for me." Endquote. Someone else wrote in that they could testify to the opposite being true, as well; autistic spaces, in their experience, had a higher likelihood of being accepting of alterhuman identities. However, one being who answered ‘no' to this question stated that they avoid alterhuman spaces for things related to this subject. They list as an example, quote, "Like the refusal of tone tags? I understand not wanting them to be used for you but banning them from the space all together? And also a lot of spaces, despite being accepting of autistic beings, still find a way to hate those beings for being autistic." Making community spaces safe for autistic beings is an ongoing learning process for everyone involved. So please make sure to consult your local autistic advocate to make sure everything is accessible for those of all neurotypes.
For the next questions, I asked about everyone's specific experience with alterhumanity. Another question that I asked, mostly out of curiosity, is, "Would you consider alterhumanity, as a subject, a special interest?" 64.8% of respondents answered ‘no', and 35.2% answered ‘yes'.
The next question, though, is really quite interesting to me. It asks, "If you have any kintypes which originate from a piece of media: Would you consider that kintype's source material a special interest?" 69% of respondents (nice) answered ‘yes', and 31% answered ‘no'. That's a pretty close percentage to the question about alterhumanity as a special interest, but with the answers flipped. Indeed, many times in the section where I invite others to talk about their experience, there are respondents specifically namedropping that they believe their special interests contribute to their alterhumanity. Some, but not all, of these instances include a space conceptkin who has space as a special interest, two catkin, with one having Warrior Cats as a past special interest, and the other, cats in general as one, and someone who specifically wrote, quote, "I also feel as though my special interests in some medias have influenced the fact that I identify with both real and fictional species. For example, I have a large number of original characters who are demons and I feel like my special interest in them may have led me down the path of discovering myself as demonkin." When discussing the subject of autism influencing alterhumanity, special interests were easily the thing that came up the most, other than how autistic beings are seen by neurotypical society.
The final multiple choice question I had asked, "If you have a nonhuman kintype of any kind: Do you experience species dysphoria and/or euphoria?" To this, 85.9% answered ‘yes', and 14.1% answered ‘no'.
We can compare this to a survey not aimed at autistic alterhumans; specifically, the ‘Alterhumanity and Gender Survey', as conducted by Eli, at pantomorph on tumblr. These results were posted on July 22nd of 2019, and reported that, in response to the question, "Do you experience species dysphoria?", 4.9% answered ‘I used to,' 8.9% answered ‘unsure', 22.7% answered ‘no', 36% answered ‘sometimes' and 27.6% answered ‘yes'. Adding up the percentages of ‘I used to', ‘sometimes' and ‘yes', we get 68.5% of respondents who are certain that they have, at some point, experienced species dysphoria.
This means that, according to these surveys, autistic alterhumans appear to have a higher chance of experiencing species dysphoria, with a 17.5% difference. Though, keep in mind, I included euphoria in my question, and Eli did not. This would certainly require more data to confirm, however, this at least would warrant further polling, in my opinion.
All of this talk about autistic beings and species dysphoria may have you thinking about the fact that autistic beings are statistically more likely to identify as transgender, with some estimates stating that transgender individuals are up to 6 times more likely to be autistic than cisgender individuals! This is because gender is stupid, and autistic folks are not. Multiple respondents to the survey brought this point up. One being specifically wrote in, quote, "Statistically, autistic folks are more likely to know they're trans than allistics, and I support the theory that that's got something to do with autistic beings seeing things without the lens of social cues and societal pressures, including more awareness of who we are and how we see ourselves. … Society is like, "You should be like this," and autistics are like, "But why? It doesn't really make sense, plus I don't fit in to those standards anyway, so why not choose my own path in life?"" Endquote. I definitely agree that the reason so many autistic folks identify as transgender may be similar to, or the same, reason that autistic folks seem to be more likely to be alterhuman.
Hello to all trans autistic alterhumans listening! Call that a triple threat.
Now, the final question that I asked. I listed multiple different alterhuman identities, and asked everyone to indicate which, if any, of the provided labels that they identify with. And, indeed, my hypothesis when going into this question was proven correct. Of the terms that I provided, it was "nonhuman" that most autistic alterhumans identified with specifically, with 74.9% of respondents identifying as nonhuman. Other popular answers to this question included ‘therian', with 57.5%, and fictionkin with a nonhuman fictional character. Indeed, I did put two separate options for fictionkin, where they could indicate if their fictional kintype was human or not. 45.1% of respondents had a nonhuman fictotype, and 41.2% of respondents had a human fictotype. So, autistic fictionkin appear to have around a 9% (rounding down) higher likelihood to identify with nonhuman fictional characters. Unfortunately, I could not find another survey to compare this statistic against, but it is a statistic we have now, nonetheless.
Furthermore, I specifically listed 3 common kintypes that have been associated with autistic beings, as previously discussed: fairies, aliens, and robots / technology. Of these, techkin was easily the most popular, with 19.9% of respondents identifying as such. Alienkin and fairykin were close in numbers, with 11.2% identifying as alienkin, and 11.9% identifying as fairykin. On the subject of being robotkin, one being wrote, quote, "I do not on a literal, physical level believe I'm a robot, however, tropes related to robots and the way they behave and are treated feel analogous to my own lived experiences, so in some ways it feels as though I experience my life as a robot would." Endquote.
Which segways nicely into the final question, which is the filled in responses. For this question, I prompted, "If you have anything you'd like to add, please tell me about your experiences involving your alterhumanity and autism."
Many took the chance to speak on if they felt like their autism and alterhumanity were connected. As previously mentioned, lots of folks mentioned special interests as a factor. Lots of folks also said that they felt the two were connected, but couldn't explain how, with a common sentiment being that it is a ‘chicken or the egg' situation. Two different beings whose kintypes are their past lives wrote in, and both said that a hypothetical allistic version of them wouldn't be able to get memories as easily. Multiple beings also wrote that they felt like the awakening process was made easier due to their autism. They were so used to seeing themselves as different from everybody else, and not understanding social cues, that they were more willing to take on, quote-unquote, "weird" solutions as the source of their feelings. Other commonly-mentioned points include dehumanization as a reason for alterhumanity, autistic traits being seen as similar to animalistic traits, and the possibly-related high rate of autistic pagans and witches.
Something that I didn't expect going in, but perhaps should have, is the amount of autistic alterbeings who wrote about their struggle to find words to describe themselves. One ghostkin wrote they felt like their nonconformity to their kintype's typical associated traits (like darkness, doom and gloom, et cetera) was due to their autism, but that they felt they didn't belong with other ghostkin because of it. And a LOT of folks wrote in saying that they had a lot of trouble figuring out what terminology to use, especially regarding the ever-dreaded ‘identify with' or ‘identify as' question. One being wrote in that they see themself as psychological otherkin, but would be more accurately described as having a neurotype-based, or neurology-based, origin, due to their autism. However, this has caused some issues, as it is not seen as a, quote-unquote, ‘valid' origin. Someone else describes having issues with this because the community does a lot of gatekeeping, and because it is easier to find beings complaining about words being misused than the actual use of words.
Now, there are some responses that I would like to read in full, or mostly in full, for your listening pleasure.
The first one is as follows. Quote. "When I was 6-ish, I started noticing that people treated me a bit like they treated our old Windows ‘98 Dell computer. The computer was inhuman when it worked (and praised for its distance from humanity! "Yes, it can play videos from the internet! Isn't technology cool?") and human when it broke down ("He's getting overwhelmed, give us a sec." "She's blinking at me. I have no idea why this is such a difficult task." "It ate my fucking CD. Stubborn POS."). It's a bit frustrating that my autistic traits are only praised when they make me convenient for others to use… I'm self-sufficient, I'm quiet, I'm a fast learner and a thorough researcher, so I rarely need to bother another person to complete the tasks I'm given. But because that's all anyone ever seems to want me for… It's a self-fulfilling cycle which is useful for the neurotypicals but exhausting for me, and when it ends in a burnout (inevitable) then I'm finally treated as human, but only because I've failed to be the computer they wanted. So I'm a computer when someone's pleased with me, and I'm human when I've disappointed them. You can see why I might like the idea of being a PC more than a person. Also, when something's wrong, computers' error messages are both clearer and harder to ignore than a human's requests for accommodation. This is a bit of a bummer, sorry. The upside is that I'm crazy good at data analysis now." Endquote. This was excellently put, and I'm sure something that may resonate with autistic techkin.
Another write-in reads, quote, "One does not have to be autistic to be alterhuman or nonhuman, but one does have to be autistic to be my species. My species does not have human neurology, or allistic neurology. To be my species one must be autistic… though it's more that my species has neurology which allistics will refer to as autism. I could not be my species if I wasn't autistic." Endquote. This is a very interesting response, and, to be honest, I sort of wish I knew what this being's species was so that I could look more into it. It's almost like a sort of alternate view of autistic nonhumans or autistic aliens, which is just lovely.
Then, there is this submission. Quote, "Diagnosed with autism at 15, explained a lot, I can't help but wonder - if I'd known, would I still dehumanize myself in the way I do? Other kids called me "cat boy" because when they would pick on me, I'd hiss at them. I don't know why. I think I just saw my cats do it and it was the only way I knew how to retaliate. But it just made them laugh. … I stopped seeing myself as human a long time ago, more of an animal for people's amusement. … But when I found out about otherkin, it was like suddenly this experience of mine I was certain I was alone in was shared. For some people it's spiritual, but even in our differences, our feelings were the same. The community taught me to love this nonhuman side of me, and they were understanding of my diagnosis. I didn't feel like an outcast there, they made me feel like it was something to cherish, and I do." Endquote. Again, absolutely very well-said. Reclaiming and celebrating nonhumanity is, from what I've gathered, a large part of the autistic alterhuman experience, and this response phrased it just wonderfully.
Lastly, in regards to responses: shoutout to the one guy who said, "I just finished making my first ever tail, isn't that sick?", because yes, yes it is.
Thank you so much again to all the respondents to my survey!
And so, we have now reached the discussion section, which will last until my time runs out. This is where I will cease looking at a script, so please send anything you'd particularly like me to see now! Also, feel free to ask me questions, and I will answer to the best of my ability. Alternatively, tell me about your experiences, or just give general comments!