Autism, community

The Time To Stay Silent Has Passed

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Okay, it may make me physically sick to have to write this post, but I do have to.

Yesterday it came to my attention that there’s a non-fiction book, being peddled as an “autism mom memoir” entitled “To Siri With Love,” by a barely human person called Judith Newman. She has an autistic son, and relates throughout the entire book how she sees him as inferior, not a whole being, and actually blatantly says she believes so strongly he shouldn’t have children of his own that she plans to have him forcibly sterilized when he’s 18.

Bucket, anyone, bucket? Yeah, I should’ve offered to hand them out before you started reading.

So, after getting this initial shock to the system, I went on Goodreads, and found that plenty of people (most of them autistic or with ASD relatives) are up in arms (thank God) about this farce of a publication, and are actively boycotting it.

Sadly — horribly — unimaginably — there are also plenty of 4-star reviews, and this book is on the bestseller lists in some countries.

That’s right — in this supposed “advanced” era of “humanity,” we actually live in a world where people support the view that someone with a neurological condition that makes him or her “different” or “limited” does not deserve control over their own lives, reproductive rights, and major personal decisions.

Second round of passing out buckets going on now…

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…And I’ll hand out ear plugs before I begin my absolutely justified rant.

I AM AUTISTIC AND I HAVE PRODUCED TWO BEAUTIFUL, AMAZING, NEURODIVERGENT CHILDREN WHO ARE GOING TO CHANGE THE WORLD FOR THE BETTER. WITHOUT PEOPLE LIKE US, THERE WOULDN’T BE SOME OF THE MOST INCREDIBLE SCIENTIFIC, TECHNOLOGICAL AND LITERARY ADVANCES OF THE 20TH CENTURY. WE ARE EXACTLY HOW GOD DESIGNED US TO BE, AND IT IS HIS CHOICE, NOT THAT OF MERE MORTALS, WHAT OR WHO IS WORTHY OF LOVE AND HAPPINESS AND BEING CONSIDERED WHOLE.

WHEN PEOPLE THINK THAT REDUCING AN ENTIRE POPULATION TO PREVENT A SOCIAL OR CULTURAL CONCERN IS A GOOD IDEA, THEY ARE BECOMING MURDERERS. IT IS CALLED GENOCIDE, AND EUGENICS, AND IT IS COMPLETELY WRONG AND SHOULD BE ILLEGAL IN EVERY SINGLE CIVILIZED NATION ON THE GLOBE. 

If you need any further proof that this point of view is utterly evil: The Nazis ran programs in the concentration camps to forcibly sterilize those with physical and mental disabilities.

Okay. *clears throat and dries eyes* Time to get our warrior outfits on.

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Don’t stay silent. Stand up for your autistic family, friends, and online contacts. Even if you don’t know anyone on the spectrum, stand up for the justice of letting us live our lives.

For those of you on Twitter, the hashtag is #BoycottToSiri. Otherwise, talk up this subject on Facebook, Goodreads, WordPress and Blogspot. Don’t let people think this title is acceptable to purchase. Write the publisher and holler. Write to Congress and yell.

I have also joined the hashtag #ActuallyAutistic, which encourages autistic writers to share their voices — whether their work features ASD or not, and whatever genre, style, or age group we write for — and you can spread the word that way, too.

The autistic community — MY community — needs your support. We ARE your classmates, neighbors, cousins, co-workers, online contacts.

We can’t combat fear and hate all by ourselves. We don’t want to feel alone anymore.

We DESERVE better.

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Autism, Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

Tantalizing Tidbits

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This is a new way of saying I have more sharing to do about my plans for the upcoming year. (By the way, if anyone can tell me just WHERE 2017 WENT IN SUCH A HURRY, it would be appreciated.)

So, remember when I said that there are going to be 4 volumes in the “canon” series for Order of the Twelve Tribes, followed by a “field guide” of sorts, and then a companion novel, i.e. most likely a prequel, and then I may attempt to write something else (or run away to New Zealand)? Well, here’s what happened with that:

I had originally decided to make a draft of Volume 3 my NaNo project. Then I scrapped that idea and wanted to try writing a contemporary for NaNo. Then I found out that I am not set up to write a straightforward contemporary, and proceeded to die a little bit. And two things kind of smashed together…

At approximately 5 a.m. one day in early November, I had an idea for a spinoff story (from the Twelve Tribes world), that had nothing to do with anything else I’d already developed. But it was too good to pass up. So I started developing it further — and as I was telling White Fang about it, he decided he wanted to join in.

So, we’ve put together a character/plot arc for a brand new, standalone sequel (that I anticipate starting on after the holidays). My goal is to release it sometime next summer.

This new character will be introduced in the “canon,” so I’ve given you a ton of stuff to look forward to!

Now the goal for the prequel is: It will become part of the field guide. I hope to answer all of your questions that any of you had that would’ve been addressed in a prequel (help a writer out, fill the comments with them!), as well as have fun with a few little notions that crossed my mind while planning out the canon.

Still more to do the happy dance of anticipation about!

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The other part of the smash was this: In about a 24-hour period, I went from nearly scrapping my entire NaNo project (yes, 35K words at that point), to figuring out how to 98% rewrite it.

This, obviously, will take time to explore and expand and make, well, not rough draft-y. But I love my new concept, and am excited to work on it.

Most likely I’ll get it ready for release after I finish writing/planning for publication the Twelve Tribes series (as I already have enough on my plate regarding the completion of my magnum opus).

The working title is “How To Be A Savage,” and it’s about… (drum roll, please) …

Autistic superheroes.

Yes, actual people on the spectrum who are also superheroes. They won’t be your standard fare along the lines of Superman, Batman, the Green Arrow, or Wonder Woman, either. They won’t wear those ridiculous spandex suits. They won’t be so foolish as to think no one will ever not recognize them if they wear a mask that only covers their eyes. They’ll have trouble creating and executing highly-sophisticated weapons or tech. Their chosen missions and reasons for fighting those battles may not make sense to anyone but them.

I am enthused.

Are you enthused?!

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Anyway… So, those are my writing plans as they stand at present.

Finish Volumes 3 and 4. (Okay, start and finish, in this case.)

Complete the field guide, along with its prequel-ish (and some sequel-ish) excerpts.

Work up White Fang’s character arc/plot arc more fully.

WRITE ABOUT AUTISTIC SUPERHEROES.

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I am also not planning on committing to anything else under the sun in 2018. I mean, that I wasn’t already expecting to do, like clean my house and feed my children and cat.

My Goodreads challenge for next year will probably be a very easy 25. I won’t be starting a newsletter or a Wattpad account.

My blog will stay pretty much as is — reviews, discussions, announcements, lots of cat pictures.

Hopefully, my fame will continue to spread and people will flock to my art like — ha, ha, I have to — moths to a flame.

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There are also local opportunities most likely opening up for me in the new year. I’ve been invited to speak at different readers’ and writers’ groups in town, through my local library, and this is exciting, too.

How can you help this little moth’s grand ambitions? Well, you can spread the word about my publications, my blog, my Twitter and Goodreads existence.

I now have 3 books available for purchase, Masters and Beginners, Rulers and Mages, and Dreamings and Muses, my short story collection. All can be found on Barnes & Noble.com, at:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/masters-and-beginners-daley-downing/1126998956?ean=9781538033111

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dreamings-and-muses-daley-downing/1127168779?ean=9781538036631

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rulers-and-mages-daley-downing/1127527926?ean=9781538056752

It’s coming up to the holidays, so take advantage of those coupons and free shipping offers!

AND…I will be giving away a free e-copy of Rulers and Mages! Just mention in the comments if you’d like to enter, and I will ask my trusted Hat of Randomness to select the lucky winner!

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Autism, movies

Movie Review: The Accountant

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So, about a week and a half ago, we watched The Accountant. 

It was my husband’s choice for viewing; I wasn’t that excited about it.

“Another movie with Ben Affleck killing people and blowing things up? Eh.”

Within 10 minutes, I’d drastically changed my mind.

Ben Affleck portrays a character with Asperger’s syndrome, who’s a successful accountant, and a trained assassin. Yes, you read that right.

I was utterly numb by the time the credits started. Affleck’s depiction was amazing. He constantly struggles with making eye contact with the other characters, shaking hands, understanding jokes or rhetorical comments. This is probably his only role where he doesn’t get the girl. The scene where he forced himself to deal with bright lights and intense noise through repeated exposure therapy actually made me look away and cover my ears.

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Now, I don’t have Asperger’s (White Fang and I are PDD — the differences are another post), but I’m pretty close in a lot of ways, so to say that I related and HAD ALL THE FEELS is, erm, well, worthy of being in all caps.

A while ago, I mentioned that I wondered, where were the superheroes that autistic kids could connect with? Meaning, is it possible to have superhero potential without possessing all the money, all the tech, all the bling, and refusing to wear those ridiculous spandex suits because of fabric sensitivity?

Well, I think The Accountant comes pretty damn close to being an autistic superhero.

His natural tendencies towards moving quietly and not engaging in small talk are seen as benefits (easy to sneak up on the bad guy, and not give him time to get away while making a snarky quip).

His creative problem solving skills and attention to detail and ability to self-discipline mean that he managed not to get caught by the FBI for a long time. His unusual mentality and sense of morality helped good people, innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire of some truly nasty business.

He lives very frugally himself, and donates huge sums of money to autism research.

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Without giving too much away (because I want you all to go and rent this movie NOW), there’s a minor character, a doctor who treats “neurodivergent” children with a completely open mind. This guy is my new favorite person for advocacy. Yes, he’s a fictional construct, but, damn it, we need people like him to spring into being and change the real world.

This doctor believes that autism isn’t “less,” isn’t “bad” or “wrong.” He believes autism is simply a different way of living, one that the rest of humanity hasn’t figured out how to translate.

(Get out the tissues for the autistic moth.)

Towards the end of the film, he tells a couple struggling to accept their son’s diagnosis, “Maybe he doesn’t understand yet how to tell us everything he’s capable of. Or, maybe we haven’t learned how to listen.”

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(Pardon me a moment.)

Okay, conclusions.

I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Ben Affleck, but he has my everlasting respect for his execution of this role. Portrayals like this give me hope that not just the tolerance, but that the acceptance, we so desperately need, will one day be within our grasp.

I don’t just recommend this movie — seriously, watch it tonight. (Note: It is rated R, so not a family thing.) There are many concepts addressed here that everyone needs to be aware of.

So that one day there might be autistic superheroes.

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Autism, writing

What to Do When NaNoWriMo Crashes and Burns on You

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Yes, this is exactly what happened to me. About 3 days ago, I began to have extreme doubts regarding my NaNo project. The excitement that I had weeks ago for the premise was rapidly fading. Too much of what I’d written was feeling hollow, bereft of my original purpose, and the notion of trying to plow through for another 10 whole days on this concept was just…ugh.

It was gnawing at me, digging at my soul. So, I took a break and banged out the pre-printing formatting for Volume 2. That was a good thing, as now Volume 2 is being processed, and hopefully will be ready for sale by Monday.

But there was still the matter of the fact that I had already entered more than 40K on my NaNo project, and the thought of all that work going to waste… Insert loud wails of despair here.

I went to bed in an absolute pit of agony.

Then — at about 5 a.m. — I was having a dream that had nothing to do with anything (I was interviewing for a position at a day care center, and failing miserably, because most people won’t admit it but don’t want to hire autistic employees), and this began to occur in my brain:

What if we lived in a world that gave people like me priority, rather than the last shot? What if we were at the top of the ladder, not the bottom? 

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Hence, a new idea on how to portray the gap between autists and NTs (the major premise of my NaNo project) took shape.

Now, because I have already put in so much work, and there are no rules stating that you can’t switch projects midstream (and I know some people regularly break their NaNo up into several smaller stories/novellas that in total hit the 50K or more tally), I feel much better.

All my effort till now has not been in vain!

And I still only need around 5K words to finish and win!

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So, what wasn’t turning out well for me?

Well, I was trying too hard to write outside my comfort zone. I was going for first person in present tense (which I’m not the best at, and have only done so once before, and it was a real struggle).

I tried to go all meta (throwing in way too many references to my personal life, like blogging and even NaNo itself — yeah, go ahead and cringe, I did, too). The whole thing felt more like a surreal journal of an alternate timeline to my own life. (Please, no one immediately tell me that’s a fabulous plot idea. Go write it yourself, then.)

My hope was to draw on some of my own experiences as an autist (because it’s real, many people can relate to that) to paint a fully-informed fictional picture of a character with my condition. It was getting too close for me. I just couldn’t do it. It literally hurt.

(Don’t even consider telling me that pushing my boundaries is a good thing. I will throw this pillow at you. Yes, this one, right here, see it??)

NaNo is a time of strict deadlines, and jumping in the deep end with both feet to a style/genre that is distinctly not my forte during this period was an epic fail. Maybe one day I’ll attempt something like this again.

Maybe never.

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So now, I feel calm, I feel ready to kick the rest of this word count in the butt, and probably the tears can be kept at bay until December 1st.

Some of the concepts I was exploring in the original NaNo-ing I may go back to at some point.

In the very distant future. In a parallel dimension.

In the meantime, I know I’m presently creating something that I’ll be happy with months from now.

All this upheaval is worth it.

(Yes, it is. Hush.)

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Autism, writing

NaNo Update: Changes, Plotting, and Some Pantser-ing

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Okay, so I have decided to become a magical unicorn — with 11 days to go before NaNoWriMo begins, I changed my project.

Prior to this move, I had been suggesting to myself that I really should start on Volume 3, since my intention is to have the revisions of Volume 2 complete before November 1st.

However, we are rapidly approaching the wire, and I was not feeling it.

In the last couple of months, I have worked so hard on Volume 2 that I just didn’t want to turn into a melted puddle of disgruntled, worn out, second-guessing sequel-writing author.

This would be a very bad thing to have happen during NaNo.

My brain needs a break from focusing on a “pretty serious” novel. So I’m going to give it said break.

Instead of Volume 3, my NaNo project will be a more fun (in theory), more easygoing (hopefully), less-this-could-make-or-break-my-career novel.

I’ll be attempting a contemporary that’s part autobiography, part fiction, all about living with autism.

My working title is “How To Be A Savage.”

This comes from the fact that White Fang says hilarious things at least 17 times a week, and one of his favorite remarks lately (when he does something like eat fork food with his fingers, or kills another player in a PvP video game) is, “I’m being a savage.”

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The other major reasons I’m trying this out are as follows:

There is not enough accurate and realistic — and simultaneously compassionate — representation of autism in current fiction. It took the medical community itself long enough to understand ASD better, and now the public is taking too damn long (in my view) to catch up. We’re still too often seen as a textbook of socially dangerous symptoms, rather than as real people with a neurological condition that simply makes us different from the norm.

None of this is good. I’ve been marginalized my whole life, and I want so much better for my son. In writing a novel from a first person ASD POV, my hope is to raise not only understanding but also tolerance.

So, what does this mean for my usual style of writing? Well, setting the story in the real world — super scary, by the way — will certainly be a departure from what I’ve been concentrating on for years. No magic, no fantasy-is-actually-fact. (Though there will still be plenty of geek references; that’s never changing.)

Despite having a general premise and the bare bones of a basic outline, most of it will be coming to fruition on the page, at the moment that I sit down to type it out.

This is rather different, as I like to plot ahead of time. Does this give me nightmares? No…but I am a little nervous. Winging it is not something I usually do.

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It will also feel very memoir-ish, and may be pretty damn hard for me to write at times. In relating what it’s like to live with autism to people who may have absolutely no idea what this entails, I’ll have to be brutally honest and forthcoming. Trying to explain neurodiverse pathways, physical issues, emotional difficulties, social challenges, and the choice whether to take meds or not — all in a first person narrative — will be extremely personal.

While I don’t believe writers should always write what they know, there are instances where firsthand experience is the best for showing the perspective an outsider probably would (not even intentionally) get wrong.

So, while I am nervous, I am also excited.

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For those of you who may be unused to the idea of me writing something other than fantasy — relax, I’m sure it’s a passing phase.

For those of you who like to see authors try an idea outside of their norm — I hope this hits all the right notes.

There has been a lot of support for this announcement on Twitter, and I greatly appreciate that.

We’ll see what the next few weeks bring!

If you’d like to follow my updates on Twitter, check out my account referenced in the sidebar.

You can also follow my book reviews or the blog on Goodreads! If you look up “Daley Downing” as an author, or search for “Masters and Beginners,” you should come across me!

And if you’re also participating in NaNo and would like to add me to your buddy list, I am found there as The Invisible Moth (imagine that).

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Autism, television

Thoughts on The Good Doctor

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So, remember the post I wrote a couple months ago, stating that I had pretty much stopped watching TV? Well, this is not a done deal just yet — thanks to the premiere of The Good Doctor.

The Good Doctor is an American version of a Korean program, and the premise is that a medical student with autism gets to train at a hospital on a surgical residency. To say that this alone would suck me in is a huge understatement. I almost cried every time the ad came on the whole week before fall season premieres. It was torture, I tell you, Spock.

Anyway (for a refreshing change), this show did not disappoint. Dr. Shaun Murphy is utterly real and precious (and yes, I know it’s an actor portrayal — shush, I’m getting there), and he is so beautiful to watch.

Freddie Highmore (an NT British actor) has done an absolutely excellent job of learning how to depict autism realistically and not patronizingly. This is the first time I’ve seen stimming portrayed, as well as accurately not making eye contact and not knowing what to say or what tone to use. There are moments of long pauses, or simply not answering questions, and Murphy focuses so much more on a corner of the ceiling or the fly on the window rather than on someone’s face. I literally have BEEN there so many times, I am SOOOO grateful to know other people recognize this in ASD-ers, and some of them even ACCEPT it.

Pass the tissues through the opening in the blanket fort, if you would, please.

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Of course, for there to be a plot, there has to be conflict, and some of the doctors at the hospital think that hiring an intern with autism is ridiculous, even dangerous. While Murphy often gets stuck with doing triage and reading x-rays, he also saves lives — by spotting a minor blip on a scan that actually denotes a serious medical problem, or listening to his instincts and refusing to follow protocol.

Murphy doesn’t think for a minute that everyone is like him — he perfectly understands that he has a condition that much of the world finds unusual or strange. When he can (when he’s not stressed, or when he can find the words through practice or conditioning), he explains to others why he doesn’t respond to a social custom or NT emotional process. Yet, while he is quite aware that he’s learning how a majority of humanity operates, he never for once sees the need to apologize for how/who he is.

YYYYEEEEESSSSSSS.

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There are scenes in which Murphy says out loud things that I have thought my entire life and always been encouraged to keep to myself. For example, the episode where he says, “On the day the rain smelled like ice cream, my bunny went to heaven,” my eyes were wet for the next 10 minutes. (And remember, I am half Vulcan, so that’s a LONG time, folks.) He processes memories and sensory information so differently from any other doctor (or most non-doctor people), and yet this is exactly what makes him special, brilliant, valuable in his field. The fact he has such a strong and encouraging mentor (Dr. Glassman) completely makes my heart sing.

While we’re only a few episodes into season 1 of this show, and there will doubtlessly be some things I take issue with (why are the other doctors so mean to him, give him a chance and quit being so narrow-minded, you nitwits), I hold out hope that this depiction will help raise not only autism awareness but autism ACCEPTANCE. Just being different does NOT mean there’s something wrong with us. We are still important to the world — and guess what, since we were born this way, God knew just how we’d be, and He let it be so.

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Historically it’s been proven that those who change the world the most — for the better — think differently than the masses. You know the guy who came up with E=MC squared? Yup, historians believe he had Asperger’s syndrome. The guy who wrote those adventures of a little Victorian girl in Wonderland that we all love so much was also suspected of being on the spectrum. And then there are the big ones — the man who signed the paper ending slavery in America, and the man who led England through World War II, are both thought to have had either some minor form of ADHD or spectrum disorder.

So, why can’t I be a bestselling author? Even though I have to take several months to finish a book, and stim while I write, and literally bust my butt to make sure my NT characters are behaving like real people? Why not?

Seriously, I’m The Good Author.

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Autism, television

Just the Two of Us

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So, recently, I posted a snippet on Facebook and Twitter about this fantastic episode I caught (while scouring the cable networks in one last-ditch attempt to discover some redeeming qualities in current TV broadcasts).

Stitchers is a program I’ve watched several times before, so I was familiar with all the characters and backstory, and even had a good idea of what was going on without needing to watch the “previously on…” part.

What drew me to it this particular day (about 2 weeks ago now) was that, in the summary, the words “autism” and “empath” were mentioned.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this show, the premise of Stitchers is that a secret organization founded by the American government uses advanced technology to solve homicides by “stitching” into the memories of the recently deceased individual.

Unfortunately, it has (in my view) become too formulaic, and most of the plots are now too predictable. Also, I don’t really care for the direction the showrunners are taking most of the character development. But, this is just my opinion, so, please don’t let that stop you from watching the show if you’re interested.

Episode 7 of Season 3, entitled “Just the Two of Us,” is a breath of fresh air in many ways. It cuts out the usual (tedious) plotline of find-clues, snarky-banter, confront-the-killer, and instead focuses on the details of the “stitch” itself. It turns out that the stitcher, Kirsten, is stuck in the memories of their current case, and she needs to work through it via the mental process of the victim. The reason this is especially challenging for her is because the victim was autistic, and of course how his brain works is not what most people are used to.

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Whenever I become aware of autism “rep” happening in TV/movies, I develop a skeptical perspective until they’ve proven this rep to be accurate and encouraging. The writers and directors of “Just the Two of Us” have (rightfully) earned my respect.

They did a fantastic job of covering sensory perception disorder, trouble recognizing facial/social cues, obsessive behavior, and even the not-so-kind way NT folks may view someone like Tom (the murder victim) as a burden — but never once indicating that Tom was acting maliciously or could have prevented his autism.

This is also the first time I’ve seen a storyline that addressed something that most NTs have very little to no concept of — super-heightened empathy. It’s hard to explain, but basically it means the autist physically feels the depths of somebody else’s emotional responses. For example, if we’re around a family member who’s just lost a job, we feel weighted down by the physical aching and pain of the disappointment, confusion, anger or sadness they’re emotionally processing. It often upsets the autist, since we can’t explain why our heart suddenly pounds, our chest aches, we want to cry or scream, when the thing didn’t even happen to us.

I haven’t experienced a lot of this in recent years (a side effect of burnout, maybe?), but ages ago, it was so strong I simply could not attend church services that strongly moved people, funerals, films with tearjerker endings, etc. I have never come across this mentioned in textbooks or non-fiction memoirs on autism. So this inclusion was amazing to me.

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The fact that Kirsten has to explore Tom’s POV so intimately (as if it were her own) is incredible. Not only does this definitely bridge the gap between unawareness and awareness, misunderstanding and understanding, it makes Kirsten so truly tolerant of another’s way of living and that it was totally normal for him. I just loved how the writers set up the script and screenplay, so that Kirsten and her love interest, Cameron, both vicariously saw things through Tom’s eyes in the stitch, which was a subtle and clever way of giving crime-clues to the audience, but also so tremendously beautiful in demonstrating the pros and cons of Tom’s ASD.

Not once in the entire 43 minutes did I feel that Tom was being overtly blamed for things he could not control and must have struggled with his entire life. Having been persecuted the majority of my existence for simply being “different,” I wanted to high-five the people who made this storyline come to the screen. (Okay, that’s a little understated. I wanted to write a letter of recommendation for their resumes and buy them coffee and make them a commemorative art piece for the episode.)

I pushed everyone I know on Facebook and Twitter to download this and watch it with an open mind. I’m doing the same now here. You don’t have to be a regular viewer of the show to benefit.

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There were so many little things, hints, moments, and whole scenes, paragraphs of dialogue, all that I simply loved. But I’ll wrap up with this:

At one point in the stitch (when Kirsten and Cameron are unwittingly perceiving the situation via Tom’s ASD traits), Cameron relates to Kirsten a situation that was actually part of Tom’s life; at the end of the conversation, Cameron says, “Thank you for listening,” and Kirsten replies, “Thanks for talking to me.”

Later, in the final scene, after Kirsten has figured out who the killer is, she says to the passed-on Tom, “Thanks for talking to me.” I cannot EVEN with how much this made me cry. It is such the absolute truth for so many autists — not only do we want people to listen to us, we want to be able to share our thoughts and feelings, without fear of being judged or told to change.

Kirsten didn’t just listen to Tom, she accepted.

It’s how they were able to solve his murder, together. It’s how Tom helped Kirsten deal with some personal things she was really having trouble with.

She grasped the beauty of what it can mean to think differently.

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