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The Princess and the Frog: What it Meant For Me as a Young Autistic Kid

When I was little my favorite movie was The Princess and the Frog. I didn’t understand everything that was going on in the movie as a little kid, but the visuals and the music piqued my interest. I liked the atmosphere set up in the beginning of the movie with young Tiana and young Charlotte (Tiana’s best friend) listening to Tiana’s mom read princess stories in Charlotte’s pink princess themed bedroom with lots of dresses. I thought it was so funny when Charlotte dressed the cat up as a frog and threw him on the ceiling, and Tiana’s mother told them to stop tormenting the kitty. I was completely captivated watching Tiana and Prince Naveen row down the bayou as frogs with Louis the alligator playing the trumpet and the scene where Ray the firefly sings about the evening star he’s in love with, Evangeline. 

When I was little, I was diagnosed with autism because I had trouble communicating and socializing. I didn’t understand many social situations and I didn’t really communicate with others my age. So I processed everything in a visual way. I also didn’t understand many social situations and had to be told explicitly what was happening in a movie. If there was a villain on screen and there was even ominous music playing in the background, my mom would have to explain that they were evil. While I didn’t understand all of Tiana’s struggles or how evil Dr. Facilier was, I loved the music and animation so much. I can remember how much I loved watching Dr. Facilier dance around and practice voodoo in his song “Friends on the Other Side,” and the scene where Tiana twirls about and fantasizes about her new restaurant in the song “Almost There.” 

Because of my autism, I enjoyed repetition. I liked when things were predictable and familiar. In the summer of 2010 when I was four, going on five, I watched Princess and the Frog at least a dozen times (I’m not kidding). I loved going on the walk or drive to Blockbuster and renting the DVD for it along with and maybe buying a gumball with some money that I took from my dad’s change compartment in his pickup truck. Another thing that was part of my autism was that I often didn’t communicate what I was thinking or what I wanted. So, when I told my parents that I wanted a Princess and the Frog themed birthday party, they were so excited. I was excited as well, once I figured out when my birthday was and the fact that I got to look forward to it after the summer. I was asserting what I wanted, and it was the dawn of a new era. While watching The Princess and the Frog a zillion times wasn’t the only reason I learned to communicate my hopes and desires (I was also doing summer social thinking activities geared towards autistic youth), it played a huge role in my early childhood years and my mom was amazed when I told her about my birthday wishes. I think that the movie inspired me to put my newly acquired social skills to use. 

The dress I got for my fifth birthday!

I had a blast at my Tiana themed birthday party, and I got a cake with a Princess Tiana topper with her wearing a green dress and kissing the frog. My parents went all out with green decorations with Tiana on them and my classmates and my parents’ friends brought me gifts that went with the theme. I got a pink nightgown with Tiana on it and a stuffed animal that was Tiana in frog form. My favorite gift that I got was the iconic green dress Tiana wore in the movie when she changed back into a human. I wore my Tiana dress for Halloween that year when I went trick-or-treating with some of my classmates. 

My birthday cake with Tiana on it!

As I got older, there were some more things that I got to understand and appreciate about The Princess and the Frog. I got to appreciate the plot of the story more. I thought it was really beautiful how Tiana worked with what she had to achieve her dream in the face of adversity. Even though she grew up poor, she held onto her dream to open her own restaurant called Tiana’s Place. And when the building for her restaurant was bought out from under her, she still worked hard to manifest her dream even when it felt hopeless. I now appreciate that even after she married Prince Naveen, she established her restaurant. I learned that even princesses get to run restaurants if they want to. 

Me wearing my Tiana nightgown!

I also appreciated that the character of Tiana was left-handed, like the actress who did her voice, which I thought was really cool because I’m also left-handed. As I got to be a teenager, I also liked how supportive Charlotte was when Tiana married Prince Naveen instead of her. I liked how they portrayed a positive female friendship without pitting them against each other, even though they came from different backgrounds and had different values in life. 

On a larger scale, it was a historical moment and milestone in the history of Disney movies for Tiana to be the first Black Disney princess. I didn’t really think of Tiana’s race as a huge part of the movie when I was younger as a biracial girl with light skin, but as I got older, I understood the importance of positive Black representation and what it means for young kids. Black girls watching the movie could feel represented and know that they can be princesses too, and kids who aren’t Black can be exposed to different stories of people who come from different backgrounds from theirs. I think people can also enjoy and relate to characters no matter what race they are, and people of all races can enjoy watching Tiana’s story. Of course, maybe kids aren’t thinking with those exact words or on a large scale about representation, but I think we learn subliminal messages from movies as kids and as we get older, we have actual words for the lessons and values we gather from the films we watch. 

I haven’t decided what my favorite film is now, but Princess and the Frog is a movie that I will forever cherish. Overall, it’s a movie that has had a big impact on my early childhood, and I still appreciate it now that I’m older. 

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Keep the Cat

About a year ago, I was given some excellent advice from someone. The advice was that if you are in a relationship with a person, and they make you choose between them or your pet cat, you should keep the cat.

While I’ve never had to choose between a person or a cat, I think it’s a great metaphor for life. To me, this means that you shouldn’t sacrifice anything that is important to you for someone who doesn’t appreciate it. It also means you shouldn’t sacrifice a valuable companion, who is already in your life, for someone else. 

Here is some other advice that I would like to share with people who might need it. I’ve had to learn some of this advice the hard way, and it would be nicer to help others learn some of this stuff the easy way. 

  • Don’t sacrifice yourself for other people’s approval. Sometimes people might sacrifice their own comfort or best interests in order to fit in with other people. People, especially young teenagers, might start wearing clothes that they don’t feel comfortable or happy wearing. They might do this in order to fit in with other people or to hide who they really are in fear of rejection. I’ve learned that it doesn’t help anyone to do this. If someone doesn’t like you for who you are and you feel like you have to change yourself to fit in with a person or a group of people, they’re likely people you don’t need in your life. If you actually start being yourself, even though it means some people might not like you, it allows you to be more genuine and form real friendships. It might inspire other people to be true to themselves as well.
  • Don’t be ashamed of your challenges. Challenges are part of being human, and there are other people who are going through the same stuff as you. When I was younger, it was so nice to learn, as an autistic person, that there were other people who also struggled with socializing. Also, through social groups, I’ve made some friends. I have ADHD as well, and in meeting and making friends who also had ADHD, it bonded us together even more because we understood each other. We would high-five each other in the hallways at school and shout “High five for ADHD!”
  • Embrace your interests. Your interests make you who you are. Don’t be ashamed of them, even if they’re seen as “dorky” or unconventional. They’re a unique part of you and they should be embraced. When I was younger, my special interest was Minecraft. It was a game that provided comfort and entertainment, and I would talk about it all the time. However, at the same time, I’ve had to learn that not everyone shares that same interest and not to be offended.
  • If you like someone but they don’t put in the energy to be your friend or they’re often mean to you or disrespect you, they’re probably not real friends. I experienced this when I was young when there were two girls in my elementary school classroom who pretended to be my friends but they were mean to me and manipulated me into doing things for them. A true friendship goes both ways, and even if there are mistakes, a friendship should feel good most of the time.
  • Don’t be ashamed of your challenges. Don’t feel like you have to hide them from people to make friends. The real friends are the friends who you can be yourself around.
  • Wearing makeup does not equal low self worth. I know some people believe that makeup is anti-feminist or that it’s just for other people’s (namely men’s) approval, but that shouldn’t be the case. I like wearing eye makeup and lip color, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like how I look without makeup. I see it as just another way of expressing myself and my style. I think it’s far more liberating to say that if you want to wear makeup, go for it, but if you don’t, then don’t wear makeup. Also, plenty of men and non-binary people wear makeup, not just women.
  • Perseverance isn’t just powering through the extremely difficult stuff. If you try to climb Mount Everest with no mountain climbing skills, that’s unreasonable perseverance. However, perseverance also applies to some of the smaller, more reasonable things in life, such as folding the laundry. When I was younger (around seven years old or so) it would take me days to fold my clean laundry because I always got distracted and bored. As a young kid with ADHD, getting through the small stuff like folding clothes was difficult because the act of repeatedly folding clothes wasn’t engaging, and I got distracted easily. Clean laundry would sit in the basket for days, ready to be folded. However, when I learned how to fold the laundry through practice, and I learned how to stay focused while doing so, the task went by much more quickly. Earlier this week, I folded my laundry while listening to music so I didn’t get bored and it took about five minutes, tops.
  • Enforce and respect your own boundaries. I expanded on this in one of my other blog posts. I had a huge revelation that made me realize that I’d spent my time accommodating people way too much and needed to speak up for myself more. It was a big eye opener for me when I learned that I didn’t have to preserve other people’s feelings if it meant sacrificing my own needs and comfort.
  • Last but not least, if you are in a relationship and you have to choose between that person or your pet cat, keep the cat.

I hope that this advice helps and, even if it’s not directly applicable to you, I hope you learn something from it. These are some of the lessons that I’ve had to learn through my life, and I intend to write about these, and more, in my next book about being an autistic teenager.

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An Important Announcement…

For the past year, I have been writing blogs here about some of the lessons in my life that I have learned such as creating and enforcing my own boundaries, embracing my autism, and making friends (and realizing that they aren’t always forever). There is something very important about these pieces of writing, as they are previews to my next book that I am currently writing! 🎉

I started writing another book about my life as an autistic person. This one’s a bit different from my memoir, as I am giving advice through relevant stories and lessons I’ve learned from my life rather than a book that has memories going from oldest to most recent.

I’m looking forward to completing it, though it will be a while before it’s done (a very long while). Stay tuned for more updates!

Just a nice picture of me on a hike
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Friends Aren’t Always Forever

Finally! I’m posting a blog that isn’t a year after the previous one! In this blog, I want to talk about making friends and drifting apart from them. 

Over the years, I’ve learned how to make and keep friends. While there are some added challenges that come with being autistic, being autistic also adds some spice to the experience, which I will expand upon as I write this. 

When I was younger, I had a friend who I’ll call Ava. I met Ava at a summer learning camp and she seemed really nice. Ava and I were both nine at the time, and when I first met her, she seemed really nice. 

One day, I forgot my snack. Ava knew that I was snackless, so she offered me a yogurt cup. That same week, she invited me to get Mexican food for lunch and to come to her house where we went swimming and played Minecraft. That same week, Ava and I became best friends and, for a long time, we would play and hang out together. It was really nice having a real friend who accepted me for who I was. At the time, I’d finished third grade, and in my class, there were some girls who were mean to me and pretended to be my friends. After going through that, it was refreshing to have someone who proudly called me her best friend and actually invited me to hang out with her. I learned from Ava what a real friend was and how a real friend should act. I learned that while real friends might make mistakes, they don’t put you down and make you feel bad for their own amusement. They don’t beg for your things and give almost nothing in return. With a real friend, it’s generally expected that if you pay for food while you’re out and about, they’ll pay for food next time, or something along those lines. No one feels used in a real friendship. 

From Ava, I learned how to trust that people were my real friends. After I had fake friends, I had a hard time telling if someone was my real friend, and knowing if I could trust them enough to be myself around them. After hanging out with Ava, I learned that I could be myself without her judging me. My fake friends took advantage of the fact that I didn’t have many friends and that I had a tendency to trust people too much. 

Ava introduced me to American Girl dolls, a game called Subway Surfers, Drumsticks ice cream treats, and the TV show Liv and Maddie. We found out that we had some stuff in common like how we both liked the Dork Diaries book series and played Minecraft. It was so nice to finally play Minecraft with someone who appreciated it as much as I did!

Grace, the doll I got for my 10th birthday (thanks to Ava introducing me to American Girl dolls)

Ava was my first friend who I got to walk around town on my own with and go on a short trip without my parents coming along. For her birthday, I went with her family to Los Angeles and we went to the American Girl store. It was so cool getting to go on an overnight stay so far away from my parents, and it was fun picking out clothes for our dolls at the store, which was absolutely HUGE. 

Ava and I remained close friends until about middle school. I noticed that Ava was leaving me on “read” and not replying to my text messages, though I noticed she was active on social media a lot. I also noticed that Ava and I were talking and hanging out less, even though we had considered each other best friends the year before. 

Drifting apart from Ava was difficult, even though I already knew we weren’t as close as we once were in elementary school. I didn’t have any distaste towards her, or anything like that, but our lives were going in different directions, and I felt like there were some things I couldn’t talk about with her that I could talk about with my other friends. Drifting apart from friends can be difficult. It seemed like the end of the world to me, and it meant change. However, I learned that it’s a natural part of life. 

You might want to blame your friend for drifting apart from you. Sometimes parents might blame the friend and accuse the friend of being “mean” if they don’t want to play or hang out with you anymore. However, that is counterproductive to moving on. It’s also too “black and white” and it doesn’t help you see any nuance. If you are autistic, the black and white idea that a person sucks because they drift apart from you can cause even more harm because it doesn’t offer any explanation or reasoning. It just makes you feel angry and creates resentment for other people who might not deserve it. 

Sometimes you might want to hang on to that friendship and do everything in your power to keep it going. You might try to text the person and try to invite them to hang out with you, but if they don’t respond or express interest, it can make things awkward. If the conversation is dry and you don’t know how to bring it back, it’s a sign to move on. There is a difference between peaceful silence and awkward silence.

Oftentimes during adolescence, friends from childhood will drift apart. Their lives may go into different directions and they might not talk to each other as much, if at all. Sometimes you’ll find new friends in that new chapter in life. Being autistic can make that part of life harder because it means letting go of the past, and it means that things aren’t the same anymore. When you’re moving into a new chapter of life, it can be disheartening to realize that you won’t have that person by your side to move into that new chapter with you. It means that you’ll have to find new friends and start over with the whole making a friend process. 

It sounds nice to have a friend from early childhood that you’ve stayed friends with and will stay friends with all through adulthood, but that’s a rare treat. Friendships aren’t always like that, but that doesn’t mean that there is any less value to those friendships or that they don’t matter. 

The moral of this story is that close friendships are important, but they might not last forever, and that’s okay. When I was younger, I had a hard time accepting this, and I felt sad drifting apart from Ava. I couldn’t just magically be over drifting apart from Ava, as she was a big part of my life up until that point. Now, five years later, it feels fine, but it didn’t feel fine then. It’s okay for it not to feel fine and for you to feel sad through that transition. My advice is to just let friends drift away if your attempts to connect are not being reciprocated, but don’t be ashamed of feeling sad about it. Feeling things is very important, and you have to let yourself feel emotions so you can be all right in the long term. 

My advice is to remember the good times with past friends, cherish the friends you have now, and embrace opportunities for new friendships in the future!

Me as a twelve-year-old!
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It’s been a while… and April is Autism Acceptance Month!

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged (I believe I said that last time). This is going to be a long post, so feel free to read it at your own pace or if you just need to skip to the suggestions for observing and celebrating Autism Acceptance Month this April, I won’t be offended.

Since I wrote last year, I got my driver’s license (cue “Driver’s License” by Olivia Rodrigo), traveled to Nova Scotia, and I’ve started the process of moving. I’m looking forward to moving, but it is a very time-consuming activity to prepare for moving day.

April is Autism Acceptance Month! Autism Acceptance month is an important month. Many people prefer Autism Acceptance over Autism Awareness, because awareness implies that autism is something that needs a cure. Meanwhile acceptance means that autism is a neurotype that needs understanding. It shows that autistic people are people who deserve understanding and acceptance just like everyone else. 

It’s easy to be aware, but it takes work and challenging your internal biases to be accepting towards other people. It means looking at autism through a nuanced lens, understanding that autism is what makes a person who they are, that it can’t just magically go away without erasing a core part of people. On the other hand, we need to acknowledge that autism can be a disability for many people and attempting to reframe it as a “different ability” is harmful in its own way. Autism is considered a disability because we live in a word that was not built for us. While there are different cultures in different places, in a capitalist society like the United States, how much you can work is placed above the quality of life and people believe that your success in the workplace determines your value. If someone cannot work because socializing and communicating with people all day is too exhausting or there is too much sensory stimuli for them, then people don’t see their value. A lot of the ideas of success for people are rooted in capitalism and “traditional values” like getting a house, getting married, and having kids which may not be attainable for some people.

April can be a hard month for some autistic people because many organizations that speak on behalf of autistic people use pathologizing language and imply that autism needs a cure. When people put up their blue puzzle piece decorations, “light it up blue,” and imply that autism needs a cure, it can be very disappointing and a bit of a downer, to be honest. While I don’t think that people have malicious intent when they talk about the “rates of autism” or the “epidemic,” it’s heartbreaking to know that people demonize a core part of my existence just because it’s not convenient enough for them. 

Autism Awareness Month feels performative to me because it’s all about the blue. There’s no shift in philosophy, and just telling someone to “be aware” doesn’t mean much. Adding blue decorations to your store for autism doesn’t mean much and it provides no benefit other than being aesthetically pleasing. It doesn’t directly benefit autistic people and it can alienate them at the same time. 

If something is performative, it means that it’s ingenuine, inauthentic, and the motive behind doing something is to get the attention and approval of other people. The reason why I don’t like the “light it up blue movement” is because it is often associated with the notion that autism is a disease that needs to be cured, and it evokes a similar vibe to the notion that an autistic person needs to conform to neurotypical standards, even if it is emotionally or physically damaging. Some people say that blue for autism was also coined by a certain organization (I‘m not naming names here) because of the idea that autism is more prevalent in boys. Really, the issue is that autistic women and people assigned female at birth are diagnosed less because of the stereotypes created on how boys and girls are supposed to act and present their gender. 

While this whole blog post could be me airing my grievances, I want to offer some advice. Some advice I have for autistic people struggling during April is to take breaks from social media or the news. It is important to be knowledgeable about current events, but not at the cost of your mental health. If you do want to be on social media, but you don’t want “autism awareness” ads or posts recommended to you, you can click “show less posts like this” or “not interested,” and you’ll get less posts like that recommended to you. 

Avoid visiting websites that promote “cure culture” or demonize autism. I’ve come across some websites that have promoted negative views on autism and have left me feeling discouraged and dehumanized. While resilience is important, it is important to know when to leave situations where you feel uncomfortable or threatened. 

Some advice that I have for people who want to observe and celebrate Autism Acceptance Month is:

  •  Ask autistic people what accommodations they need in order for your store or school to be accessible to them. If you are an educator and you have a student who has a hard time focusing with the bright classroom lights, create a solution so they can learn and thrive just like everyone else in their classroom. Don’t belittle them because they’re autistic and have more challenges than their non-autistic and neurotypical peers. 
  • It’s also important that you do your research on autism. Good resources on autism to find information about autism include The Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network and The Autistic Self Advocacy Network. 
  • Expand your library. Read and/or listen to books written by and about autistic people. When I was twelve, I wrote a book about my life growing up as an autistic person. It’s called Autism Over the Years: A Twelve Year-Old’s Memoir and you can order it from Amazon or from my website directly. In the book I use person-first language but since then, my way of referring to and understanding my autism has changed. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any validity to my stories that I share in my book, they still matter. I am currently reading Different Not Less: A neurodivergent’s guide to embracing your true self and finding your happily ever after, by Chloe Hayden, who is an autistic actress and activist.
  • If you want to host any events, use red to symbolize autism acceptance and use the rainbow infinity symbol to represent neurodiversity, and refrain from using the color blue and the puzzle piece. The puzzle piece was created because it symbolized that there was a “missing piece” to autistic children and that it was a “puzzling” condition. The logo was paired with a weeping child in front of the puzzle piece. The puzzle piece also feels patronizing because it implies that autism is just a children’s thing. I’m seventeen, and I’m still autistic, and I’m going to be autistic for the rest of my life. There are many autistic adults in the world and they need to be addressed as well. 
  • Understand that you learn as you go in life and some of the things you learned before don’t apply to everyone or just don’t apply nowadays. Some people get offended when you tell them that many people prefer the word “autistic” over “person with autism.” Some people think that “autistic” is a bad word and many people prefer person-first language, but I prefer to say that I am autistic over saying that I am a “person with autism,” because my autism is a part of me – I was born autistic and I will live the rest of my life as autistic. Autism colors every experience that I have. If my autism was removed from me, I would not be the same person, and I am completely happy with who I am. Many other autistic people have a similar viewpoint and it irks some non-autistic people. I can imagine that it’s frustrating to learn that what you learned in higher education settings doesn’t apply nowadays or it isn’t applicable to everyone. However, language has to change over time and it’s important that it reflects everyone. 

I hope this information and these suggestions help. I didn’t want this blog to be a downer, but I want to express my opinions and suggest ways to be more inclusive to autistic people of all ages.  

Stay tuned for more blog posts!

If you live in or you are close to Ventura County, consider stopping by to listen to me present about autism! 

  • Saturday, April 8th 2023, 11:00 AM, E.P. Foster Library| Ventura, CA
  • Saturday, April 15th 2023, 11:00 AM, Oxnard Public Library | Oxnard, CA
  • Saturday, April 22nd 2023, 11:00 AM, Oak View Library | Oak View, CA