IN THIS WEEK’S EPISODE:
(52 mins) In this episode, hosts Haley Moss and Dr. Lori Butts welcome Catina Burkett. Catina is a Bronx, New York native. She graduated from Columbia College in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. Her career in the mental health field started as a therapeutic counselor providing direct care to children with a vast array of mental, emotional, substance and behavioral health issues in Columbia South Carolina. In 2010 she completed her Master of Social Work at the University of South Carolina. After graduation she worked in a North Carolina Psychiatric Hospital as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Catina opened a private practice in Columbia South Carolina. In 2018 she discovered she is on the spectrum and has been advocating for research and mental health providers to recognize symptoms of autism in Black females. She created the “Culture of Autism Spectrum” training for mental health providers.
You can learn more about Catina at www.catinasway.com
Spectrumly Speaking is the podcast dedicated to women on the autism spectrum, produced by Different Brains®. Every other week, join our hosts Haley Moss (an autism self-advocate, attorney, artist, and author) and Dr. Lori Butts (a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist, and licensed attorney) as they discuss topics and news stories, share personal stories, and interview some of the most fascinating voices from the autism community.
Have a question or story for us? E-mail us at SpectrumlySpeaking@gmail.com
HALEY MOSS (HM): Hello, and welcome to Spectrumly Speaking. I’m Haley Moss, an attorney, author, artist, and I’m also Autistic. And today I am joined here by …
DR LORI BUTTS (LB): Hi, I’m Dr. Lori Butts. I am an attorney and a psychologist. How are you?
HM: I’m doing good. How are you doing?
LB: Very well. Thank you very much.
HM: I feel like it’s been a hot minute since we’ve gotten to hang out together, so. Anything new going on in your world?
LB: No. Kind of keeping the status quo. How about you?
HM: I went back to Miami so I got to actually see my apartment again and get, cause as, some of the listeners have known since the Pandemic started I went back home, and now I’m back in my space again. And I just, turned in my book manuscript this week so …
HM: Kind of a big week of stuff going on so it’s definitely an adjustment and I think I just enjoy having a little bit of space too. So it feels like I’m on a vacation, to an extent. [Laugh]
LB: That’s really nice, that’s really nice. Congratulations on getting the book done. Wow.
HM: Thank you. So now it’s time to breath for a little bit.
LB: Wow, yes. I feel like that went really quick. All things considered, but.
HM: I feel like it took a while, because I feel like I was just slogging through it for weeks and weeks and weeks like there’s no end in sight. And then all of a sudden the due dates all “Oh my God, I’m done.”
LB [Laugh] What an accomplishment. I hope you’re celebrating. I hope enjoying.
HM: I did get to celebrate a little bit last night so I can’t complain too much.
LB: Good. I’m sure your parents are going to miss you though.
HM: They do and I miss them already too.
LB: Yeah. Yeah.
HM: But, hey. I can’t complain, I think life is still interesting. I still, I gave a presentation yesterday as well so I am always up to something even no matter where I am which is kind of nice. So, can’t complain too much. And, of course, because this is Spectrumly Speaking we have, always have something to look forward to on the show. And you know this is probably one of the favorite parts of my week.
HM: And today we have a fabulous guest in store. Are you excited?
LB: I am very excited.
HM: Me too. So today, it is my absolute honor to introduce our guest who is Catina Burkett. And Catina Burkett is a Bronx New York native. She graduated from Columbia college in 2006 with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. Her career in the mental health field started as a therapeutic counselor providing direct care to a vast array of mental, emotional, substance, and behavioral health issues in Columbia, South Carolina. In 2010, she completed her Master’s of Social Work at the University of South Carolina. And after graduation she worked North Carolina Psychiatric Hospital as a licensed clinical social worker. Catina opened a private practice in Columbia, South Carolina and in 2018 she discovered she is on the Spectrum and has been advocating for research and mental health providers to recognize the symptoms of Autism in black females. She created the culture of Autism Spectrum training for mental help providers. And you can learn more about her at catinasway.com. Welcome to the show.
CATINA BURKETT (CB): Hi, thank you for having me. Glad to be here.
HM: Thank you for joining us today. It’s really awesome we get to have you and I’m so excited to learn more about you and what you do. So, to get this show on the road and because we usually like to ask this of our guests right away, would you like to share with us how you got involved in the Autism community?
CB: Yes. Well, pretty more, much like what you said. After I had my diagnosis and I realized my life was just, professionally going well but personally, tanking. And I found that I had the, that I’m on the Spectrum and I realized there were no resources for me, like nothing. Even the recognition that someone like could have it. So that’s what started it all. I figured everything I ever learned and trained I might as well use it to try and create a way for myself and people like me, who, you know go under, undetected, not on the radar at all.
LB: Can you talk a little bit about how black women on the Spectrum go undiagnosed?
CB: Well, I really wish I had some stats I could give you, but there aren’t any. [Laugh]
LB: [Laugh] Problem number 1
CB: Problem number 1. So when people ask me that stuff the first thing is “Oh I would love to give you numbers.”
CB: And we have none. So, mine this is my personal experience and since I’ve had my website that a lot, but quite a few women and some men have contacted me about getting a late diagnosis or having a hard time getting diagnosed. So it’s just meeting people that way and I read a lot about the women in Australia. You know how the numbers are growing there and they are fighting to get recognized and different it looks in women. So all those things are not really seen as statistically significant that it’s even researched.
CB: So, it it, that’s the hard part. It’s hard, it’s so difficult to tell someone you exist and you are looking at them. They’re like “No research doesn’t say you exist.”
LB: [Laugh] Yes.
CB: You know.
CB: So it it’s weird. It’s tough.
HM: That makes a lot of sense.
LB: And and, I guess my question is what and you and you alluded to it a second ago is is how was it how was it different for black women than it is for white women or white.
CB: Oh I’m sorry I didn’t answer.
LB: No no it’s okay.
CB: Well to me that’s, it’s, when I looked at the women in Australia I say that I was just like them except I’m black. So that was the difference, the not recognizing and the whole being the whole the way your interacted with. Like if I’m not staring at you and it seems like I’m not listening to you, it seems to have taken a negative tone. You know if I’m I I’m not very like the non-verbal ques like a doctor comes in the room and a nurse comes in the room and pa you know the whole status hierarchy is just different. They want me to act differently according to who I’m talking to. Like the doctor’s on set the day, and I act the same way at the doctor’s except the secretary’s on set today because if a person’s upset they’re upset. So I’m not recognizing the different in hierarchy and how they want to be acknowledged because I acknowledge everyone the same. And as a black female, a black person rather, it’s like you get looked at a little differently because of, you know, if I did something and and I can’t I’m making this generalization but I think if we did the same thing in a different way just because I’m black it’s going to be taken differently.
CB: So it’s more like I ignoring you, I’m being mean. I’m being disrespectful.
CB: Where as you might be more “Oh she might be having a bad day.”
CB: “Maybe she doesn’t feel good, maybe … ” they will find reasons to see maybe there is something going on for you but for me anything I do is seen as intentional. So it is hard to have a disability when everything you is seen as intentional. So that’s the huge difficulty and then within in the black community itself, there is a whole lot of disconnect there. And it’s like “You’re going to school, you’re smart enough, you know how to act. Act right.” Cause we’re very social like how to behave for safety in the public. So if you don’t know how to, quote on quote, “act right”, then that means you’re purposely acting wrong. You know what I mean? So you don’t have that same privilege to be disabled or to have no no understanding of what someone means. You’re just being hard-headed or you’re you’re acting ignorant. So it’s, that’s the difficulty, you’re not afforded the same problems as someone whose not black, you has the same issue.
LB: Right. Right.
HM: And, how do you say, oh sorry. And …
CB: How’s that I hoped I answered your question.
LB: Yes, absolutely. Yeah.
HM: It actually fit perfectly in to my follow up. A lot of those challenges that you mentioned especially how difficult it is to have a disability when being seen as intentional. How do you say those same challenges extend to the broader neurodiverse community in in, within the black community and also with other mental health disabilities?
CB: How it is seen as intentional, okay. I’m going …
HM: Like the same challenges, like the same challenges that black women on the Spectrum have. Do you think the, how do you think those same challenges might extend? I guess that’s what I’m trying to ask. I’m sorry.
CB: So people who don’t have Autism?
LB: Or any kind of mental health diagnosis. So like I mean what I’m hearing is what you’re saying is is that because of implicit bias and stereotypes and things like that depending on the color of your skin no matter what kind of disability or diagnosis you come with come to the table with that that there’s an extra layer of of problems that that people people have to confront with whether it’s with doctors or with you know other …
CB: Oh, okay, I get what you are saying.
CB: How about, PTSD, because that is invisible disability. So if you’re a little bit more jumpy if you’re a little bit more. They can’t see your issue.
CB: You know, so with other and that’s what, and I was pretty pretty good with explaining difficult diagnoses. So trying to break down what was going on with me, it was difficult, but it made more sense in my head. You know of why people don’t like me but I don’t have a personality disorder. You know it was just it’s just easy for my brain to break it down but like a-a- PTSD is like best ones I can come with because you are going through so many things like your action, your responses, your fears, no one can see it.
CB: All I can do is judge you on your behavior or if you’re having a good day, where your anxiety is low and your managing better than other days people assume you’re fine. So is that answering your question?
LB: Yeah, yeah I mean I think you know it it’s interesting in my, I work in the forensic world, I am a psychologist in the forensic world, and I see I see this a lot with children who experience trauma. And they’re acting out behaviors are diagnosed as Operations Defiance Disorder …
LB: … rather than PTSD and it’s it’s just it’s really perverse.
LB: I see that I see that a lot, I see that a lot.
CB: Exactly. That’s exactly what it is. It’s taking that as this person is talking back or they’re refusing to listen, they’re probably terrified.
CB: They’re probably have this muscle memory of not to move when you hear that. You know, it could be a bunch of stuff but instead of thinking on a broader level of what could cause these triggers. And you know another thing, now I want to go off on a tangent but, when you’re on the Spectrum and you live in a neighborhood where there is a lot of noise, maybe some violence and all of that, it’s taken for granted because of, you know, your person of color because you’re accustomed to that. And it’s not really seen that this person probably cries more often, more sad, more fearful because of their symptoms that are not being recognized.
CB: You know so just imagine you live in a city with noise and all kind of stuff going on and it’s in a building with a lot of other people and they need their own time just so they can gather themselves, and so they’re weird.
CB: They’re different. They’re acting like they need special treatment. There’s just so many terms and words used to describe them other than these people in the city just because they’re color don’t mean they’re doing well if they have a disability like that, you know.
CB: So I just think that’s overlooked.
LB: Can can you tell us about your culture of Autism Spectrum training?
CB: Well, when going for help was very dr-, you know, was very, it was hurtful. It was very hurtful, just to get looked in the face and knowing I have my background and people are denying that I have any issues and it couldn’t happen to me. There’s no record: I have one doctor telling me that I was cool with. One doctor tell me so your like your like a unicorn, you know. So it’s like, what’s the point in me trying to push the narrative that I could have Autism because no one no one understands it and no one wants to deal with it. So just, I’m sorry, could you repeat that last part of the question you gave.
LB: Yeah, your training, your training program, the Culture of Autism …
CB: Okay, yeah. So I was like, I want people to be able to talk about what they’re experiencing and and I want mental help providers because one lady told me “because you know what, a lot of mental help providers yes, we do know a lot of things but we may not know how to look for those symptoms. And people of color and I really wasn’t thinking that way so I was like you know what, that is more of the issue. It’s one thing to have this symptoms but not be able to express them but a lot of times we need a professional to recognize that within us. At any stage in our lives. So I said if mental help professionals or either just medical professional had an idea of what symptoms to look for or how vernacular or how we speak, how we behave, how we describe things. They may not be the book, text version that you may understand it to be, those might be the symptoms we are trying to express and we don’t even know and need education on. This is the type of help we may need, this is the type of intervention. So I feel like if mental help providers where ever you are, and you heard this same thing, you know, you are checking for certain symptoms with nonwhite, you know with nonwhite people how they talk, how culturally do they explain things, like in my culture it is common to say you should speak, when people come around smile, say hello. So if you don’t do it that’s seen as being rude. And if you’re doing that for years it’s seen as you continually being rude and your getting worse. It’s not it’s not a symptom, int’s not a sign that here’s a problem.
CB: So it’s like I got to get to get you in line because you got to know how to speak to people.
CB: Or talk when I tell you to talk, you know, because a lot of times when your younger if your just not completely mute or nonverbal you may say things you do want. I want the cup. But you may not say much else after that. So, that’s what the mutism thought of cause you can be completely nonverbal which is a whole different level, but they’ll take that as you’re choosing to be, your choosing to be that way, your choosing to be able to talk when you want to, that you’re trying to take control, instead of you’re having a problem where you’re not communicating well. So I want people to be able to see that if a lady comes in and says “I don’t know why he’s he can’t get used to the tv being on and so on so playing the music. Everybody in the house can get used to it but he is constantly complaining. He always got an issue with everything. Why is he so different, why does he need to be so special?” And so they keep immersing him in that environment to get him used to it and it’s really tearing him down more. So I’ve just want those types of things to be noticed when the person, you know, is culturally trying to accommodate and get used to things that we can’t get used to that, you know what, you might wanna, see if there’s something else going on with them and educate us, because a lot of times we don’t know.
HM: I think that’s all really interesting and what advice would you have out there for a listener whose an Autistic person of color and isn’t quite sure how to start self-advocacy?
CB: I wish I had the best answer because the only reason I’m doing this is because of my background. If I wasn’t from a mental health field and I wasn’t at the level I am at, I wouldn’t not, I wouldn’t self-advocate. And I, so if you want to self-advocate, i really can’t give that advice. But I do talk to self-advocates and sharing that story and the people contact me on my website it it is reaffirming. And it is good to hear that other people out there are dealing with it, but I wish I had more resolution for them. I wish I had more direction for them. And the best thing I can do right now is try and encourage mental health providers to recognize us. And when I say other mental help providers, I’m giving a, I really want black people to recognize this too. Cause a lot of black health providers that I’ve known and talked to, they’ve heard of it but they don’t really want to be the one who steps out and say that we may have Autism on top of the other issues that are not really recognized. So it’s like, you know, if everyone not saying that and the book’s not saying that, then I’m not going to step out and do that to. I’m not going to make life that much harder and I can’t prove it. So I just want that to be something that, you know, the health provider do just to get people recognized.
HM: I just think that’s super interesting cause I I think of self-advocacy as just generally as even just being able to stand up for your own needs and being able to get what you want to. It’s just so interesting to think about how it also interplays with how we are as professionals too. So I appreciate your honesty about that. There is no exactly like best advise too. And I totally respect that.
CB: Well for me it’s not. And I wish I had more to tell you about self-advocacy but if it wasn’t because of my medical understanding of mental health, I wouldn’t do it. So it’s just being out there saying I’m on the Spectrum, I was diagnosed as well so I think I am and just sharing your story that’s so hard.
CB: It’s difficult so, now if I didn’t have the knowledge I have about certain things I and I couldn’t back it up, cause people will question you and doubt you. And I’m a good, I can argue a case. I can really argue a case.
CB: So if any if anyone in the medical field want to come at me and challenge me, you you know what, let’s get it going. Cause cause I’m ready. I am so ready and I don’t know if I would do this if I didn’t have that readiness to defend. So that’s why I wish I can give you more on the self-advocacy, it’s so hurtful when someone argues you down or tries to make you prove what you’re trying to tell them. That you need help with, that I wouldn’t be able to fight it if I didn’t know what I know if that make sense.
LB: Yes. Absolutely. It makes sense.
HM: That makes it, that definitely makes sense.
CB: Yeah, yeah. That’s the tough part of it you know. And as it just so much and like the identity of being a black person, you know. That the whole identity when you try to tell someone that you know, “I’m on the Spectrum.” It’s like, okay, who really cares and who’s going to help you with that. It’s like, you have so many other issues and pressing concerns. It’s almost like you’re making it up like why do you want to bring more problems to yourself.
LB: Yeah. Yeah
CB: And it’s like oh I hear what your saying, I really wish this was a choice. You know because I I can play the role. I can I’m a great masker. I can make you I can talk and I I learned how to engage in ways that people would never even assume it a little bit. Even the people who do know me for years still don’t believe me. And the ones who do now believe me, they still have a hard time adjusting to me. And it’s almost like I’m looking for special attention or I just don’t want to be held responsible for certain behaviors I have. And that’s what being told by people who’ve known me for years. So it’s just a it’s just a whole nother level of knowing who you are and trying to get that across to other people. Especially in the black community because there is so many other things we are dealing with; who wants to hear it? So that’s a whole other struggle there.
LB: Yeah, what gives you the strength to do that? That’s what, I mean that just sounds so so challenging and difficult. What gives you the strength and perseverance to to do that? To advocate?
CB: Well, well I just need, for me period, and I think everyone has their own what motivates them.
CB: And for me, making mental health conversation normalized within the community of color so we don’t feel terrified to, excuse me, speak about it and acknowledge it. I like to just, always say well you, well today I’ve just been having, I have just been overloaded up to four phone calls, I’ve been to the store, I’ve done all this, I’ve have to. I need time to myself, because I need to build myself up. So I like to make it part of the everyday conversation. So because I feel like there are other things that we experience that we don’t make it normal, because it’s not normal to work three jobs. It’s so it’s not like where do I get it from, I don’t have a choice because it’s it’s my reality. And living with not knowing I had it I realized how much harder my life was. Now that I know how to address my symptoms and why I behave the way I do and why life is not getting easier in certain areas as I get older. It has freed me. So it’s like I’ve been under this pressure I didn’t know about all these years. So it’s not so much as having the ability it’s like, to me it’s like I am freeing myself. And I want to give other people the opportunity to be free as well. You don’t have to keep suppressing and masking and pretending. You know, just you know take for granted, you’re like everybody else with issues and errors and flaws and you don’t have to worry about every little thing you do, and that weird thing about you now that you know what it is. So that’s that’s what gives me the the push for freedom. [Laugh] The freedom just to be.
CB: That’s what …
LB: Right right.
CB: That’s what gives it to me.
LB: Yeah, yeah that’s a great way to put it, yeah.
HM: I feel like I definitely learned a lot today.
LB: I I’m I definitely did.
HM: So, since our listeners probably also learned more, what are the best ways to learn more from you?
CB: Oh, just www.catinasway.com catinasway.com. I pretty much keep it update with what I’m doing, and you know things I’m working on and invite people to contact me through the site. And I’m very active in responding. So I get a lot of people reaching out to me and I get back to them as soon as I can which is usually within a couple of days. So that’s one way.
HM: We really want to talk about how the community how the Autism community can change in terms of inclusion.
LB: Yeah. The community certainly needs to change in terms of inclusion. I mean at look at yeah, the world needs to change in terms of inclusion.
HM: Absolutely. And I feel like disability communities in general kind of have this way as far as inclusion. There are so many different ways to look at like Autism and just broader disability. What I’ve noticed in the broader disability community that I’ve kinda been trying to explain to people who aren’t that aware is that there is this disability hierarchy so that certain disabilities are seen as more desirable and then you see the ableism against them. And then it’s like the only thing about broader inclusion is I think a lot about what others have said that the disability community, at least in advocacy and people that are very public, that it is overwhelmingly white.
HM: And it definitely not representative of everybody who is Autistic or has a disability.
CB: Yeah, that’s something I wanted to touch on. Ableism. I’m not very familiar with it. I’ve read a little bit on it, and in my videos in discussing Autism and what the experience is like. I use high-functioning and low-functioning. You know, and it’s been brought to my attention that that’s ableism and how you know, one lady, I was going to speak to her students, was really trying not to use that term. And I told her I said I I don’t really understand the problem with higher-functioning and lower-functioning, cause for me, the older I get, the lower my functioning is.
CB: Meaning [Laugh] the less the I’m able to fake it, you know. I’m not I’m I’m not as available to be socialize and to do how someone wants me to be like when I was younger. So my functioning is getting lower and lower and I cannot fake it and I just need to talk about it like I’m doing now and tell people my Autism is out there. And somedays I just need to be Autistic and I just can’t do this today. I …
HM: I I I feel you on that. 100%.
CB: I can’t feel with your emotions today.
CB: I can’t feel what nonverbals today. If you wanna if you need to deal with me, tell me what it is or I don’t see you and I don’t hear you. Use your words.
CB: You know so it’s like I need to get my Autism on today.
HM: [Laugh] Yes
CB: And it’s like more and more the older I get and my functioning is getting less because I cannot pretend I’m like you today. I can’t do it. I can’t listen to you no more today, you know what I mean. [Laugh]
HM: Exactly. i feel like that goes with like the type, even with masking like, there are days where that I am like “Yeah, I can’t put my best normal on.”
CB: Well, to me to me that’s low-functioning. That’s what low-functioning means to me. That means my disability takes precedence today. And I’m …
HM: I think, I’ve never heard functioning described that way. I mean I know why people don’t use high and low-functioning and I personally don’t use those terms sure different reasons I hear them labeled. I mean I don’t use them because if your labeled as high-functioning, people don’t think you need support or their not willing to give you that support because your quote-on-quote ‘high-functioning’ and you can just do the thing by yourself or you can just …
CB: See, that’s my thing. I wonder where did that come from because I’m like why, if I’m a high-functioning disabled person, why would you think I’m no longer disabled because I’m high-functioning?
HM: Exactly. Exactly, and people just …
CB: So …
HM: People use it as a way to be very dismissive, like my official diagnosis as a kid has high-functioning in it and people would just use it as a way to dismiss me if I ever needed support. Or they would just go …
CB: But to be best, that’s us giving them to much power.
HM: It would just be like, you don’t look disabled, you don’t look Autistic, you don’t need this. You’re fine, I would never know if you didn’t tell me. And the people that are, and I worry about the people who are like historically labeled as low-functioning that people just think that can’t do anything. And that they don’t get these opportunities in life and that they face more stigma and more discrimination. So I always try to measure quote-on-quote ‘functioning’ in terms of what support somebody needs. Obviously, so someone is probably nonspeaking or can’t live independently is for instance, they have higher support needs. So they probably require more substantial support and maybe they need help their family, they need help from outside home aid. They need something else that, but that doesn’t mean that they’re less valid or that they’re not …
CB: See, …
HM: … Deserving.
CB: … what you just did when you explained all of that, see that’s why I told one lady I don’t know if it’s a black or white thing or if it’s a Catina thing, because I have Catina issues. And I’m …
CB: … completely aware of that. So because my whole thing is being black, a lot of are like “how do you deal with things?” and I’m like “I’m born black. There’s a lot of things I have to deal with that I have no control over.” So I am low functioning because I cannot pretend not to be black. Or to me that is lower-functioning because if I was, if I was able to pretend I was anything other than a black person my life would be completely different. So that’s how I look at it and I just feel and that’s one of the issues I have with the Autism community with terms like low-functioning and high-functioning. I think we’re too concerned on how the non-Autistics see us. And we keep bending to blend. We keep bending to be accepted.
HM: Exactly. I just wish they would meet us halfway. [Laugh]
CB: See, that they won’t, because we keep bending, why should they? This is why I use the terms I use and maybe they get on board with the terms I use. Just like you do for any other subculture and how they identify themselves. They don’t identify themselves according to what’s easier for you. So why should I?
HM: That makes a lot of sense. But I just think it’s really really interesting and language does hold a lot of power. I just agree with you that it should be something that we define. Not that the neurotypicals or able-bodied people are necessarily defining for us.
CB: Like I was saying before I really think we need to like all the subcultures. We need to stop trying to make, they don’t try to make people who like them feel better. They just don’t. They are like “This is who we are and what we dealing with. Stop interpreting different.” You know what I mean. So I think …
HM: I would love to see that acceptance. I think that …
CB: Well I think that it’s up to us to do it though. We have to make that decision.
HM: I know. I think that there’s just something I think is kind of infuriating about how much we do bend as well and something that I’ve seen explained and I’ve had to I’ve said and given this explanation before. A lot of this comes from I believe it was ‘Cassian’ I can’t remember her last name off the top of my head but she has a blog called Radical Neuro-Divergents Speaking and she wrote about what meeting someone half way is. And Cassian said she doesn’t know what half way is because neurotypicals expect you to give 95% …
CB: Thank you. Yes.
HM: … And and they and they give they give ninety they give their 5% and then and then they complain …
CB: That’s right.
HM: … that they are giving you half and it’s so much and all of a sudden you giving 97% is the new half.
HM: That’s how she explained it that she genuinely doesn’t know what meeting someone half way is.
CB: That’s right. She I agree. And I think that’s what I do with the high-functioning, I’m low-functioning. [Laugh]
CB: I am low-functioning, I can’t do you today. I can’t do your drama, I can’t do your need me to explain everything, I can’t do with all this talking you need and all these feelings flying around, I can’t deal with it today. I’m low-functioning and I’m proud of that.
HM: I love that.
CB: I know exactly who I am. I know exactly how I feel. I don’t want no female doing things she says she hates and she out there wanting to be accepted. I don’t know nothing about that life.
HM: I am here I am here for confidence.
CB: See but to you it’s confidence, to me it’s Autism. It is Autism and Autism don’t have time for that.
HM: This is why I love being around other Autistic people because everyone always has another different take on it.
CB: Yes. And that’s mine that’s the Catina take. I had met a guy who didn’t know I had autism, but he would always say “you got that Catina stuff. There you go with that Catina stuff.” I’m like, you don’t know everyone in the world, there are probably many people like me who don’t know. I know a lot of people and that’s some Catina stuff.
CB: Now, I I it’s my term of endearment. That’s my Catina stuff, like Catina is not going to walk around in heels that hurt. I’m going to wear some cute, comfortable shoes. I’m not doing that.
CB: So it’s like in these shoes, then he just don’t like me. How can you like me and want my feet to hurt? I don’t understand that. And …
HM: I think we’re going to still have that eventually bonus segment of Spectrumly Speaking where we talk about shoes and clothes …
HM: … and we can have you and we can have Marcy Ciampi back because every time Marci is on the show with us we end up talking about clothes or fashion decisions and …
HM: … and I think we should have a sensory friendly fashion segment with all of the all stars, just saying.
CB: Yeah. Yeah, cause I, what if I want to be sexy and beautiful today, for no reason at all? And …
HM: I mean …
CB: … that’s how my Autism works. You might think I’m spontaneous but I’m not. That’s just what’s happening.
HM: No, everything is deliberate. You just want to be just wanna be just wanna be sexy and confident because you want to feel like being sexy and confident. That’s …
CB: Not wanna …
HM: Just today. Not everyday, just today.
CB: Not when I’m going out. I don’t feel like that today I need to feel comfortable and it makes no sense. But today I wanna do that.
HM: Exactly. I go through phases of that. I’m like you know what, today is a great day to wear high heels around the house.
CB [Laugh] No, honestly, I’m I’m so serious. Like I will make up my face like I feel like looking pretty. I’m going to see what this looks like.
HM: yup. Yup. It may. And then I’ll actually be like going somewhere for real and I will be like do I really have to do that? Do I have to put on my best normal for this and why?
CB: Everyday I’m like I have to rationalize why I have to go show this world what it needs to see. I’m like I don’t feel like it. So I’m like yeah.
HM: Exactly. It’s like, see, the other thing for me is sometimes I’m like I have to feel like it because I have an extreme baby face.
HM: And I’m like I’m like I have to rationalize it because I would like to not be like written off as a teenager.
CB: No, but is that an Autistic thing? I really do I think we come off as younger looking because we’re not worried about all that other stuff non-Autistic people are worried about. And …
HM: I think we’re not worried. I think we’re also just have this spirit to us where we just don’t care what people think about us all the time.
CB: Yeah but I think that that gives of a …
HM: Youthful vibes.
LB: Maybe Autism is the is the the fountain of youth? [Laugh]
HM: If we’re if we’re still on the air in like 10 years you can let me know.
LB [Laugh] Did we lose her again. Did the I think the microwave went back on.
CB: Oh did did you lose me?
LB: Oh there we there we go.
CB: I’m sorry.
HM: It’s okay. It’s okay.
CB: I am total with the microwave so we’re going to keep that microwave off for the rest of this segment. I just realized how lunch time and break time messes with my internet so…
HM and LB: [Laugh]
HM: You know what else messes with mine? Naptime.
LB and CB: [Laugh]
LB: I think that Catina needs to make to make memes or a daily affirmation or something. I mean I your your expressions Catina are amazing. I I love I love all your Catinaism. They’re wonderful.
CB: I appreciate your appreciating that.
HM: I think that should be the next segment we eventually have, just Catinaisms.
CB: I think we all have it but we’re so busy trying to make the …
HM: I know. We’re so busy trying to put this version of ourselves out there. I think this would be a really funny thing to do in the future. Just to have this random fire or lightning around thing where we just hang out with our guests and find out all the isms about them. And we could have …
CB: Have the to have the low-functioning day.
LB and HM: [Laugh]
CB: I’m serious. Have a low-functioning day. Today, I am not going to walk in and smile and make sure everyone else is good and wonder about their weekend. Today I’m just going to make it the coffee machine, I’m going to leave out. And I’m going to have a good day because I made it to the coffee machine, I didn’t do nothing crazy, I didn’t say nothing wild, and I laugh.
CB: That’s my day and that’s a good day for me.
HM: And a great day with that is when they’re not judging for it.
CB: No no no. We don’t care about that, because we’re low-functioning.
HM: That’s a really but it’s also a really great day when they’re not just going to come back on a better and be like “What happened yesterday?”
CB: That’s what I was low-functioning. Explain this.
CB: It’s on them.
LB: Right. Right.
CB: If they start questioning why you’re behaving that way, you’re low-functioning and they need to recognize that.
CB: And that’s a disability and I’m unable to be bothered with you. That’s my disability today. Do you understand? So that’s how you’re low-functioning cause when they start feeling “Oh but this, I thought that, and I I I.” No. Go get a therapist, go get a friend, go get a therapeutic dog. Do what you got to do, but I’m low-functioning today.
LB: [Laugh] I love you Catina.
CB: But doesn’t that make sense? I low-functioning so when you start breaking down, you’ll know I’m low-functioning.
LB: Yep. But you know I I again I’ve always bring this neurotypical perspective on this. I think that women as a woman of color for Catina, I think as both of you with disability you know. It’s like these layers of judgement that that we can all relate to no matter, you know, I mean several, obviously some have have a lot more than others and others I. But but certainly, it goes it goes down to just like can’t we all just accept and stop judging each other for every little thing and lets just all be who we are and just I I guess this is my Ku-Bon-Ya moment. But you know just just accept that we’re all doing the best we can in the world and and that’s it. End of story, you know?
CB: Yep. I agree with you but I also think Autistic people can teach non-Autistic people how to relax.
CB: And I don’t think people, I don’t think a lot of people in the Spectrum take advantage of that power you have. To not get ingulfed in every little thing that’s going on. And I think non-Autistic people are going missing out on being their own friend and being in their own company and knowing how much fun it can be. You know because they’re always trying to engage us so much we can’t have fun by ourselves cause we have to make sure they’re happy.
LB: That’s a great point.
CB: So they have no idea they can be, and I think we can show them that.
LB: Yeah it’s it’s like you like your super power, you know.
CB: Yes. Yes. So it’s like it’s like we’re born with a level of mindfulness.
CB: You know what I mean. We’re born with some level of mindfulness that’s like inborn. And I think if it wasn’t for race and if it wasn’t for people teaching it, a lot of people on the Spectrum wouldn’t see it because most of us just don’t care. We just want someone who’s not going to bother us, going to pick on us, going to make us feel bad. So we don’t care what color you are we just want to be ourselves. So and that’s one thing I’ve found about other Autistic people. I say when there’s no neurotypicals around and we’re different races and stuff, we have a ball. We have a ball. So I was just like it just it’s just so much good to it, you know outside of the issue socially we have to be conscious of. But outside of that it’s just, it’s very freeing, you know. It’s very freeing so that’s why I’m all for the low-functioning. Especially as I get older and I would hope that other people on the Spectrum would own the low-functioning, you know what I mean? Own it because that means I can’t be like you and you can’t expect me to.
LB: Right. And when you own it you can’t be judged for it. It’s not …
CB: You can’t be judged for it. You can’t and they can’t expect you to be what you’re not.
CB: Because somedays you just can’t. Somedays are literal can’t. Not a choice, you just can’t.
CB: So I won’t. But that’s my soapbox.
LB: I love it.
HM: I appreciate this soapbox and i appreciate the passion too. I also think it’s really interesting like you kinda were getting onto how other Autistic people act around each other.
CB: Oh yeah.
HM: So I’m a huge fan of Autistic culture and I’m a huge fan of being around like being around other Autistic people is so different than being around the neurotypicals in my life and it’s just so liberating.
CB: It’s very very, I know I went to a meet up one time, I was just desperate and I went to a meet up with high-functioning Autistics of course like I was a counselor, whatever, right. So I’m with them whatever and one of them young ladies she drives and everything and is high-functioning, just different and everything, how they label us. You know, whatever it is. Anyway, the song came on and she just started dancing, right in the bar full of mini-golf course. She just started dancing. And I danced with her. I said “she’s awesome.” She said “I cannot stay still when I hear this song.” I said “you need that” and what was so wonderful about it is that it’s not that we’re not conscious of the people looking at us, it’s just that we don’t care, you know. And I …
HM: Your body needs and wants in that moment and you just want to dance in the middle of the golf course. But she was just doing it and I was all like “You are right girl.” And it was just so fun. You know what I mean and other people were talking kinda talked all over each other and no one got mad. It was just …
HM: I wanna I wanna go I wanna I wanna do that. I want to go join your group when a great song comes on and go dancing in the middle of a golf course.
CB: For real, for real because some of us look a bit different and you would think and I was like “Man, we may look different but my God I understand them. I get it.” You know what I mean? I completely get it and that was the best part about it.
HM: It just sounds so flappy happy to me.
CB: It was because we were talking over each other and wait a minute I’m going to talk right now. [Laugh]
HM: The role, honestly like all conventional social rules that everybody tries to beat into us just don’t apply. So it’s just it’s just this wild amount of joy.
CB: It was. We even had this one lady and one guy who needed a lot more assistance and he kept worrying about something and then the other one who was who you know was able to make the decisions better than him, she’s like “Don’t worry about it. We’re over here talking. Come talk with us and leave that alone” So even redirecting one of us and getting us back on track was fun to see.
CB: Because there was no judgement in it. It wasn’t like stop that, cut it out, it’s weird. Let’s go back over here.
HM: I think I think that the best thing this community can do in inclusion is that have that level of acceptance and have that just being together. That is the just the dream I think.
CB: Yeah, it was cool. Because I was like not everyone was functioning the same, but the other ones who did catch it told the other ones “Cut that out. You know they’re going to think we’re weird.” That was just wonderful, it was just wonderful to have that within us and there was no judgement because it was coming from us. And so I was really that’s my whole thing with it. I was looking for us to really embrace us you know. Especially as a black person and trying to embrace mental health issues anyway. You know that’s going to the layer, that’s my other layer. Trying to accept mental health issues anyway and the deep roots that comes from so but that’s my, that’s pretty much my goal. To do the culture of Autism and try and get mental health people on board to understand how different cultures talk to each other and what they’re saying that’s on the Spectrum list of identifiers. And how you can pick it out, you know because they’re like “Oh she’s just a good girl. I don’t have to redirect her, she does what I ask.” and don’t recognize that overcompliance is an issue because we should have some for of mischievousness, you know.
CB: We should be getting into trouble more and looking into stuff more. We shouldn’t be just sitting quietly, sit alone and not touch nothing and not go into nothing. That doesn’t mean I’m a good kind. That should be a symptom. For a lot of parents, it’s “Oh, that’s my good one.”
CB: And you know it’s there just so much imaginative play and just mischief that we don’t get into as a part of growing up on …
CB: … because to them it’s work.
HM: And we’re just taught compliance.
CB: But it’s all especially girls. It’s all we’re taught is compliance so …
HM: Exactly. It’s to be a good girl, not to disrupt anyone, to do this and to just mind your p’s and q’s and you don’t wanna be, you don’t be loud, you don’t wanna be this, you don’t wanna be to opinionated.
CB: That’s right.
HM: You have to be a certain way.
CB: And they stay on us. It’s not like we have that wild urge to be …
HM: It’s just the way we’re forced to be socialized.
CB: We’re forced to be we’re overly socialized, so how can you recognize I have symptoms. So that’s a part of the culture too. Whether we are black or white or whatever. It’s like if you’re constantly trying to remind her to stop doing this maybe it’s a symptom. It’s not a choice, you know. So that’s …
HM: Yeah. I wish that’s how my executive disfunction was a choice.
CB: Yeah. And a lot of times, culturally, we’re treated like it’s a choice. So I was like …
HM: You have to be you have to be like, like I’m a human tornado right. My apartment is usually a mess like my, I can’t executive function well enough to remember to put stuff away and all that stuff. And then I’m told “You have to do this thing. You have to do it because that’s how you’re socialized.” And like, you know, you have socialize, especially as women in a certain way, like you are in charge of the home, you like that that’s almost how we’re socialized. And I’m like “I just, I wished that I could do this those things.” and also like “I want to be compliant.” because I feel like that’s also how I’ve been raised to and obviously I want to care about my living space but like, my brain won’t always let me do it.
CB: And that to me, that’s important. Well you know, culturally it’s like the culture of being a female, you know what I’m mean. Like there’s certain things you need to look at. If she’s saying she’s really trying it, let’s let’s not assume she’s lying, she’s had this problem since she was a kid. And she really wants to and maybe it’s not ADD.
CB: And maybe she really can’t do it. It’s not an attention deficit because she can obviously focus cause if there’s something she’s lacking, her focus is on point. But if it’s something she can’t grasp, you know. I just really think the culture of it and I think really.
HM: Exactly. And it just messes with your self-esteem and also just internalizes ableism because I know for a long time, because I struggled with some of those daily living things, I just thought I was lazy. Like, I know that I can’t …
HM: I know that I can’t, I know and what happens. You start believing what people are thinking and saying and you start to realize, and you start thinking that about yourself …
HM: … Even though you know you’re not a lazy person and it’s just like your brain just won’t do it, and that doesn’t mean that you’re lazy. And having to unlearn that, so I’m in my mid to late 20’s at this point, and I’m like, I’m still unlearning that and I realize that you’re not just lazy, you’re not just stupid, you’re not any of these things. It’s just that you’re brain is just does things differently. I know I was aware of this. I’ve known I was Autistic for a very long time but I’m still unlearning some of that stuff especially based on how woman are socialized.
CB: Well you know, the this saying really got me. “If everyone is saying the same thing about you then the problem is you.” That was the worst in trying to figure out what the problem was cause when you’re on the Spectrum, you do get the same complaints from completely different people. You see what I’m saying?
CB: A lot of different people think you’re strange. A lot fo different people who don’t knwo each other will say “You’re quiet.” or “You’re too this.” or whatever. They’ll all say the same thing so then you’ll say “Oh God, if other people are saying it, everyone is saying it, then it must be true.” If they don’t know each other. So, a bow like this, that’s a disservice because we’re not supposed, we’re not supposed to look at that like symptoms. Those are symptoms. If everyone is saying that we need to figure how we gonna look at this, that why is she having this interaction everywhere she goes, is it a personality disorder? That’s what they first go with it. But it’s not. It’s a symptom of something that we’re not even considered for most of the time. So, you know, that’s why the culture of Autism is so important to me. Because there’s cause there’s so many little things that we do as a culture, that we’re accustomed to, that the Autism symptoms just don’t fit. You know and and if you’re not hyper-aware of “Okay, if she’s been saying this, but she’s not the type to getting people’s business and bother them, but they don’t like her, then who …” that’s one of the ways I broke it down for me, ” … who doesn’t like people who never bother them?” I said “Dang. People on the Spectrum.”
CB: Well, they don’t like them and they don’t bother other people. Those were the that’s the only group I knew like that. After the whole diesa(?), that’s the only group …
CB: … that don’t bother not one person and people don’t like them. And that helped me break down what my issue was. But, culturally I was just being funny and acting funny and being unsocial. So …
HM: So now we just got to get to that point where we accept that and people are better at accepting that and people can help close some of these disparities we see especially with girls and women.
CB: Yes. And we have a thing we have to be the ones that can’t being that, cause if they’re going to make it work for them, you know? They’re going to always make it work for them, so we have to make it work for us. That’s that’s my thing.
HM: Absolutely. And I think that’s a great note to end on and I know that you’ve given me so much to think about and I really appreciate that. So thank you again to Catina Burkett for joining us today. You can definitely follow all that she’s up and learn more about the culture of Autism Spectrum and all that she does on catinasway.com. If if you’re looking for the rest of us, be sure to check out differentbrains.org and check out their Twitter and Instagram at DiffBrains and don’t forget to look for them on Facebook. If you want to find me, I can be found on all major social medias. So I do Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at haleymossart, or you can visit me at haleymoss.net.
LB: I can be found at cfiexperts.com. Please be sure to subscribe and rate us on iTune. And don’t hesitate to send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s keep this conversation going.
Spectrumly Speaking is the podcast dedicated to women on the autism spectrum, produced by Different Brains®. Every other week, join our hosts Haley Moss (an autism self-advocate, attorney, artist, and author) and Dr. Lori Butts (a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist, and licensed attorney) as they discuss topics and news stories, share personal stories, and interview some of the most fascinating voices from the autism community.