Samantha Craft is the voice behind @AspergersGirls and as a woman with Asperger's Syndrome, Samantha recognizes first-hand how misunderstood and underrepresented her experience is. So she created the Everyday Asperger's community (and memoir!) to share her personal story and celebrate neurodiversity, autism awareness, and self-love.
Tell us about yourself.
My penname is Samantha Craft and my legal name is Marcelle. I answer by both. I live in Washington State in the United States. I have three teenage boys, one who is on the autism spectrum (Aspergers). I have taught pre-k, elementary and middle school, and also have taught adult courses. I hold a Master's Degree in Education. I work for a great company called ULTRA Testing as the recruiting coordinator and community manager. Our focus is on employing neurodivergent individuals to work as software testers remotely from home.
I am best known as the author of the well-received blog, Everyday Aspergers, and the soon-to-be book by the same name, set to be released in 2016 late-June or early-July. I recently founded Spectrum Suite LLC, a company that focuses on celebrating neurodiversity through the arts, literature, and service. I have always been drawn to service, and Spectrum Suite is a way of bringing the neurodivergent community together in celebration.
"Everyday Aspergers" gives a glimpse into life as a woman with Asperger’s syndrome. What perspectives do you share? And how has your voice been received inside and outside the autism community?
I started my blog a little over four years ago after I realized that, like my son, I am autistic. The blog was a way of expressing my emotions and search for answers as I processed my Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis. After I wrote the Ten Traits post — describing ten traits I felt females with Aspergers sometimes go through — I drew a readership, and from there began a community so the individuals discovering my blog had a place to meet other neurodivergent people. I continue to post autism news and contribute to discussions on my Facebook page Everyday Aspergers. We are a kind community. I also associate with over a thousand autistics and their loved ones on my Samantha Craft Facebook page.
I mention these facts, as they are a major part of my journey. The folks I have met inspire me daily and keep me afloat. I’ve made connections and through my connections hundreds of others have found kinship and friendships. I would say my voice has been received with grace and maturity. The people I choose to associate with are often open-minded, artistic and/or creative, compassionate, understanding, and empathetic. In corresponding with over five thousand autistics through the years, only a very small percentage of the folks have been unkind. Last time I calculated it was .0006 %. So, I’d say I am well received and that I receive others well. I try to embrace people exactly where they are at in life. I steer away from teaching, preaching, telling, or advising. I believe we learn best through stories and authentic sharing, without expectation of outcome. And without pushing our truths and beliefs onto others. My writings reflect this nature. It is my truth at that moment in time and that raw truth attracts people. I try my best to remain patient, kind, and at the same level as others. I assist others, while trying my best to balance and implement self-care. I cannot imagine life without giving. Lately, finding balance has been difficult, with the book about to come out. I hope that answered your question, fully.
what does neurodiversity mean and why does it matter?
Neurodiversity is a term that was coined by an Australian sociologist in the 1990’s, I believe. She developed the term in hopes of celebrating and recognizing different forms of thinking, such as autism, dyslexia, and ADHD, instead of viewing “different” as wrong. For more information on the history of neurodiversity, I recommend the book NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman. Neurodiversity matters to me because it provides a term I am comfortable identifying with that doesn’t have a bad connotation or bring up negative history or images. It’s a nice way to say “outside the perimeters of the norm,” without using words like “abnormal.”
Many autistics have been called names their whole life, from intense, quirky, and odd, to sociopath, crazy, and idiot. It’s time to turn the table and focus on the reality of just having a brain that is wired differently than the majority and an outlook and perception that is often set apart from that of the mainstream. Different doesn’t mean wrong. And it definitely doesn’t mean broken.
Differences and new ways of approaching problems make the world go round. Great inventors, scientists, artist, writers, activists, and game-changers have been autistic. And that’s not to say neurodiversity equates greatness. It’s just a fact. Not every autistic is a “genius,” and who is to say what genius is anyhow? I uphold that every human being has potential no matter how their brain works—and actually not even “potential,” because we are born already good enough.
We live in a world where we are being psychologically beaten to death with direct and indirect messages that we are not okay, that we are innately flawed, and need to be fixed; and if not fixed than at least helped toward betterment. Not just autistics, but everyone who is influenced by big business and pharmaceutical companies, everyone not living in a remote village away from all this consumerism and political nonsense. With the embracing of neurodiversity, we are also embracing differences. We are standing up and saying there is no norm and WE ARE ENOUGH, and not only that, but YOU ARE ENOUGH.
Women who are on the autism spectrum are very underrepresented, in both research and advocacy. What challenges do "aspergerian" women face and what aspects of your experience do you find to be misunderstood?
The challenges autistic women face are similar to the challenges most humans face; however, we seem to be more susceptible to harms way. Keeping in mind all autistic women or “Aspergerian” women are unique and differ in their personality, vocation, hobbies, interests, philosophy, wants, needs, education, and so forth. I’d say as a collective, for the most part — unless there is direct guidance and intervention — we are very much susceptible to predators. This is due to our often times (but not always) gentle nature, humility, honesty, frankness, and tendency to be entirely authentic and “spill the beans,” so to speak. I, myself, don’t hold anything back. I respect others’ privacy and secrets, and can easily keep others’ secrets to myself. But for my own self, I don’t truly have any secrets. I am an open book. Literally, now!
I will answer anything anyone asks me with as much openness and truthfulness as possible. This honesty, and the other traits I mentioned, sometimes leads to others taking advantage of me. And I speak of this in my writings. Tragedies such as incest, rape, bullying, manipulation, trickery and so forth are all too common with autistics. And females, and the more “sensitive” male, and “sensitive” individual without gender preference, seem to be highly susceptible to being conned by a “romantic” interest or “stuck” in a relationship that is not to their best benefit. Ironically, because of our accepting and forgiving nature, we might be taken advantage of — often without realizing it. For others, they become toughened by the world as a means of self-protection, which makes complete sense; however, then, as a result of these employed shields and defensiveness, the autistic might become subjected to others tellings or “shouldings” about how to be kinder, etc. In general, we are often either violated or shamed, or both.
Another aspect of being an autistic and identifying with the female gender is the tendency to blend in and to have special interests that don’t stand out from the mainstream (books, philosophy, poetry, art, animals, mystical creatures, celebrities), and the ability to take on the personality and characteristics of others, including fictional characters and real people. These tendencies, on one hand, assist the female autistic in navigating through the “real” world undetected by the untrained eye. But at the same time we pay an extremely high price — the loss of self and identity.
There is really no greater loss than losing your own self. It took me years of writing to rediscover who I was and to reclaim my true being. The world has a way of stealing the childlike joy and light from us autistics, especially for females after puberty hits.
My hope, in sharing my journey, my book (that was ten years in the making) is that others can reclaim their light and/or be a guiding light to another. There is a community, over 1.6 million (diagnosed) in the USA alone, of folks who understand and get that deep afflicting pain of isolation and not knowing how to fit in that comes with being autistic. I have seen miracles since I started writing, people who go on to find a reason to live and a community that welcomes them. My book is a way of reaching out to more folks, neurotypical and neurodivergent, and letting them know they aren’t alone.
The aspect, in my opinion, that is most misunderstood by observers — be it family members, peers, or professionals — is that female autistics can fake it and not even know it! I spent over three decades (shortly after puberty) trying on various personas without even realizing I was doing so, in essence to survive life. Today, after writing, and after having the support and love of the community, I am happy to say I am me. I am finally me.
You share a lot of great resources via your blog, Twitter, and website. What resources have been most valuable to you, as a woman on the spectrum and as a parent?
Oh, gosh. That’s a hard one. But I’d have to say each individual I have ever heard from or corresponded with is my greatest resource. The people in the trenches, living the day-to-day life on the autism spectrum and their loved ones searching for ways to assist and provide comfort. People like quiet and sweet Olivia. People like flamboyant Krista. People like striving to better himself John. They are my inspiration. They are the sources that need to have a platform, a voice, and be heard. Our stories are what connect us and indirectly shed light on the unknown. Beyond that, it’s difficult to choose. I have a great list of resources I compiled at myspectrumsuite.com. I’d suggest going there and seeing what resonates for each person. I am a strong supporter of “to each his own.”
What's next in your journey of Asperger's advocacy?
My number one long term goal is finding means to travel the world and meet some of the autistics I’ve met online. I’m already visualizing sleeping on their couches and meeting their pets! I hope to travel to England, France, Italy, Malta, and Australia, first. I want to speak at conferences at no cost, except travel expenses. I am motivated and energized by serving. I also plan on developing conferences and educational workshops close to home. My goal is to have low- to no-cost opportunities for neuordiverse people to attend gatherings for a sense of community and for education.
With only 25% of individuals on the autism spectrum able to maintain fulltime work, that leaves a large percentage earning low wages or no wages. I think we need to consider our audience. What can autistics afford? Obstacles, such as traveling, socializing, leaving the house, anxiety, and so forth, are hard enough, adding to that the stress of finances often discourages and/or keeps autistics from attending events. And they are the ones that need the resources and support the most—the ones without means of finances to get support! While I respect the idea and great efforts behind large autistic gatherings, conventions, and festivals, I think it’s time to think outside of the box on how we can create opportunities that don’t require someone to apply for a scholarship or ask someone for money, so they can attend. That’s something I’d like to see change. Also, I’d like to move my focus away from autism and move it towards celebrating everyone. I’m not sure what that will look like but I look forward to finding out.