Archive for the ‘Social Activism’ Category

I’ll admit I’m a few days late to this, so perhaps the news has already gotten around and this post is unnecessary. But for those of you who haven’t heard, it seems that the saga that has been called Cockygate has reached its resolution. And you know what? It’s really good news.

Now if you haven’t heard, Cockygate got started around late April/early May in response to the actions of Faleena Hopkins (or as I prefer to call her, Lady Voldemort). Hopkins, a romance writer who wrote the “Cocker Brothers” series, tried to get a trademark on the word “cocky” when used in book or series titles. Now this word has, not surprisingly, been used in book titles well before Hopkins applied for her trademark, but that didn’t stop her from applying for it, and then going after independent authors that can’t afford lawsuits to either take the word “cocky” out of their book titles or take them off Amazon (seriously difficult either way you look at it) or they could face legal action.

And you wonder why I call her Lady Voldemort.

Two things happened after news of this broke: several authors and companies tried to copy Hopkins, and the majority of the author community rose up against her, with the hashtags #cockygate and #ByeFaleena (get it?) going viral within days. The Romance Writers Association started looking into legal action. Kevin Kneupper, a novelist and retired lawyer, came out of retirement to fight Hopkins on this and force her and others imitating her to back down. He was joined by romance writer Tara Crescent and Jennifer Watson, a promoter for the CockTales anthology, whom Lady Voldemort had named in a lawsuit.

And so for about three months, this thing has been going on, with lots of authors wondering if, in a world where you can trademark any single word in a title, if it’s even worth it to write.* There have also been a slew of stories published with the word “cocky” in the titles in protest, and they’ve done quite well for themselves. And of course, everyone’s been watching the courts to see how this will play out.

Well, for the past few weeks, there’s been talk of both Hopkins either accepting a settlement or getting her butt handed to her by a judge. And this past week,  we got news. Hopkins agreed to an unspecified settlement and has withdrawn her trademark on the word “cocky.” If you go to the US Trademark and Patent Office’s website, it’ll say “invalidation pending” on Hopkins’s trademark.

Make no mistake, this is a victory for authors to be able to title their stories whatever they want without fear of legal repercussions. There are still plenty of imitators trying to get their own trademarks through, but Hopkins is the original, and this victory sends a message to her imitators and her opponents. So while there are still legal hurdles to get through with the former, us in the latter know that with enough people caring, we can overcome these monsters and get our stories out there without fear of being sued for using a simple word.

And as an author who could’ve easily been affected by this (seriously, type into Amazon the words “Snake” or “Rose.” If someone did this to me, I could be in trouble), I’d like to thank Mr. Kneupper and all the authors, lawyers, Twitter activists, and readers who lent their time and energy to putting up this fight against Lady Voldemort. You did the creative community a huge favor, and I hope we can always count on your love and strength when we need to fight assholery like what we’ve experienced this summer.

And to Ms. Hopkins herself, I hope she’s happy. The terms of the settlement aren’t known, but whatever they are, I hope she’s satisfied. Because this saga has led to her reputation being shredded. She set herself up as a bully and manipulative monster who went after authors without money or legal mettle. And during these three months, she’s only dug herself further into a hole, calling people who use stock photos after she does “copycats” (WTF?) and alleging people who call her fans and supporters stupid are equating them with having autism (um, excuse me?). Now she’s become a byword for a monster, a nasty character who tries to take advantage of other writers, of being greedy and willing to use underhanded tactics to get ahead.

And while I try not to wish bad things upon people I disagree with, I really hope that Lady Voldemort’s writing career goes like the GIF below from now on.

Thanks for reading, Followers of Fear. Hopefully this is the last time I ever have to mention Cockygate or Lady Voldemort ever again (though if I have to, I will). In the meantime, I wish you a good weekend and warn you to expect more from me this weekend.

Until then, pleasant nightmares!

*I mean, imagine if instead of proper titles like “Harry Potter” or “Star Wars” getting trademarks, someone could trademark a word like “the.” Just “the” in any title, and it holds water. You run into all sorts of trouble from the get-go!

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I was hoping I’d be under better health when I talked about this, but unfortunately I’m dealing with a summer cold right now. Forgive me if this post isn’t as eloquent as I wanted it to be, but it had to be written today. Otherwise, I’m not sure I’d write it at all.

So since about December last year, I’ve been dealing with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). What this means is that I get anxious about a lot of things in my life, or sometimes I get anxious about nothing at all. I just feel this awful feeling of dread, like something under my skin is itching my nerves and making me afraid of everything. I have my ideas about what stressors, the event or events in my life that set it off, but these days I’m less concerned about stressors and more about triggers, what makes me anxious now that I have this condition. These days, that’s mainly the writing career: how will Rose be received; can I make it successful; will it be laughed and hated to the point that I can’t write ever again, etc. Those may seem like issues every author worries about, but in this case, it’s less of a small worry and more like an overriding wave, taking up all my thoughts and making it difficult to think or breathe because you’re just considering the many things that could go wrong.

That’s my GAD.*

The good news is, I started treating this almost as soon as I realized what I was dealing with. I moved up my appointment with my psychiatrist, and she prescribed me medication. I’ve come up with strategies to take the bite out of my triggers, and I’ve been talking with a counselor to further help me with that.

And I’m not alone. I recently came out to a bunch of people that I have GAD. Not only did I get an amazing amount of support and love, but I heard from all sorts of people who have the same sort of issues or know someone who does. We commiserated on the struggles, and were glad that we weren’t so alone. This is such a common disease,** much more common than even I thought, and it affects people in a variety of different ways. Knowing that there are so many other people out there dealing with the same thing made me feel better. It seems like that the opposite would be true, but it’s not. We may have anxiety, but we find peace in our shared struggle.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some strategies I’ve been using to fight my anxiety. If you have this issue, you might find these strategies just as helpful as I do. Maybe even more:

  • Recognize your anxiety for what it is. For whatever reason, people often deny that they have an anxiety issue. I think this might be because of the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. However, the sooner you acknowledge you’re having anxiety, the sooner you can start fighting back. I recognized this for what it was early on, and I’m so much better for recognizing it in the first place.
  • Don’t be afraid of medication. I know a lot of us don’t like putting anything more than Tylenol into our systems, but taking medication can help. My first day taking medication for my anxiety, I felt freer and lighter than I had in weeks. My anxiety could not touch me that day! And if one medication doesn’t work for you, there are many others available. You just have to be open and honest with your doctor, and they’ll help you find the prescription that’s right for you.
  • Talk to a counselor. Sometimes it’s just good to have someone to talk to about what you’re worried about. I saw a counselor, and they’ve been helping me find more ways to deal with my anxiety. And honestly, just spending forty minutes in that office and talking to someone really helped me out with my fears and made them harmless again. I’m really glad I decided to talk to someone.
  • Logic your anxieties to death. This is something I started doing the moment I realized I had anxiety. Every time I had a fear come up, I would use logic to render it harmless. I would look at all the ways this anxiety made no sense, and argue these points to myself until I felt better. It really works, and I’ve managed to kill most of my anxieties with this.
  • Keep an anxiety notebook. This is something my counselor recommended to me. He said that by keeping a journal and writing down your anxieties, your brain is somehow able to process them and render them mute. I’ve done something similar when it comes to writer’s block, so I know this variation on the theme can work. I even recently bought a notebook to write in the next time I’m feeling anxious. And although I hate being anxious, I’m looking forward to seeing the results.
  • “Follow your happiness.” This is something I came up with. I have no idea why it works, but telling myself over and over, “Find your happiness,” and playing upbeat music either in my head or on my iPod really blocks out the negative thoughts. I’m really partial to “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie (my theory is that we’re all fans of his, whether we know it or not).
  • Hypnosis, meditation, and ASMR. I know what you’re thinking, but these really do help. I’ve done hypnosis, meditation, and ASMR (see this video for a fuller explanation of what that is) for years, and they’ve always helped to relax me. If you open yourself to them, they may just help you deal with these issues.

While I may never be totally rid of my GAD (for some people, these things come and go), the important thing is that I recognize what it is, and that I’m dealing with it in a healthy manner. And if this post helps others recognize their anxiety and deal with it, I feel like I’ve accomplished something good. Because while this disorder is common and can be debilitating, it can also be treated. And if it can be treated, we can make our days a little brighter.

What strategies do you have for dealing with anxiety or GAD?

*So for those of you keeping score at home, I have autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, acid reflux, partial albinism, allergies, and anxiety. One more with an “A” prominent in the name, and I should receive a set of steak knives or a gift card or something!

I’m also farsighted and have back issues. And I have a cold right now. I’m a hot mess!

**And this is a disease, no different than diabetes or a number of other disorders. It’s just a disease affecting our mental state. Anyone who says we just need to learn to chill out or says we’re just imagining it doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Might as well tell someone with crippling arthritis to just move more and ignore the inflammation.

For my earlier posts on Cockygate from May 5th and May 28, click here and here, respectively.

I’m just going to skip over all the preliminary stuff and just get to the good news: the Romance Writers Association and the Authors Guild won a court ruling on Friday against Faleena Hopkins, the notorious romance author who put a trademark on the word “cocky” and then sent letters to authors who had books with “cocky” in their titles, threatening legal action if they didn’t take their books off Amazon or change their books’ titles.

Now, if you read my post from last week, you may remember that Hopkins’s lawyer had sent Kevin Kneupper, the novelist and retired lawyer who’s leading the fight against Hopkins, along with author Tara Crescent and publicist Jennifer Watson, a letter with intention to sue them, as well as filing a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the Petition of Cancellation for the trademark. Since then, it’s also come out that Hopkins was asking for another TRO against the publication of a collection of stories called Cocktales: The Cocky Collective, which was named as an obvious protest against her trademark (Jennifer Watson was incorrectly named by Hopkins as the publisher of the book in the papers filed for the TRO).

On Friday June 1st, several things happened:

  1. Kneupper was dismissed as a party to the lawsuit Hopkins’ lawyer filed, meaning he’s free to continue fighting against the trademark.
  2. Hopkins did not get her restraining order, so the petition and all the other legal battles against her can continue.
  3. Finally and most importantly, for the moment books with the word “cocky” in the title can be published, including the Cocktales anthology.

In other words, Hopkins lost, and she lost big. And while there’s another court date in September, and presumably this is when the decision on her trademark will be decided once and for all, it’s still not looking very good for Hopkins. As stated in the article the Authors Guild put on their website:

In ruling against the author Faleena Hopkins, who claimed exclusive rights to “cocky” for romance titles, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York, stated that he did not believe that Hopkins was likely to succeed on the merits.

In other words, the judge says that Hopkins’s trademark is on pretty weak legs.

Now, there’s still a lot of work to do. For one thing, while people can still publish their books with the word “cocky” in the title, the final decision won’t be made till September at the earliest. That gives Hopkins, her lawyers, and her supporters (yeah, there are some out there) to come up with legal strategies for the trial and for any potential appeals, both from her side and the other side. And unfortunately, there are a number of copycats out there trying to get trademarks on common words used in titles. It’s a hot mess.

But this is a bright spot in the ongoing saga of #Cockygate. I’ve heard from many authors who have expressed fear over the outcome of this controversy, and what it could mean for them if they couldn’t write because they could incur legal repercussions for using an everyday word in their story’s title. Hopkins’s defeat on Friday gives us all a little bit of hope that we can continue to not only write our stories, but give them almost any title imaginable and not have to worry about getting sued for it.

So with the trial not till September, what can we do now as authors? Well, we can continue to show our support for Kneupper and the legal team fighting Hopkins, as well as the RWA and all of the authors who’ve been affected by Cockygate (remember, if you’ve received a letter from Hopkins, contact carol.ritter@rwa.org for assistance and guidance). This can be something as casual as sympathetic messages online, or buying, reading, and reviewing the books of those involved/affected (a single sale and review can do an author a ton of good, believe me), or even donating your time and skills to the legal battle.*

You can also spread the word on Cockygate and any developments in the scandal. The more people who know what Hopkins is doing, the more we can rally against her or anyone else trying to copy her. The louder our voices, the stronger we are, and the better positioned we are to affect positive change.

And finally, if you’re a writer, continue writing. Don’t let fear get in the way of telling the stories you were born to tell. Like the people behind Cocktales, when we decide to put something out in defiance of bullies, we make a statement that we’re not going to take this sitting down.

That’s all for now, everyone. If there are any other significant developments, I’ll post about them. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

UPDATE 6/3/18 @ 7:18 PM EST: Erica Unsophisticated Blood Thirsty Wolf Fisher (@monet5280) informed me over Twitter that both Ms. Crescent and Ms. Watson’s lawyers are working on a motion to dismiss, which will be due in on June 22nd. In addition, Ms. Hopkins has to respond to the Petition of Cancellation from Mr. Kneupper no later than June 23rd. So it looks like things will be heating up longer before it starts to get cold again. Here’s hoping the end of June brings more good news like what we saw on Friday.

*Just be careful before you donate to any legal fund for those affected or claiming to be for any legal teams against Hopkins. There are a ton of people out there who have no qualms against taking advantage of those suffering in order to make an easy buck.

I wasn’t planning on writing another post about this subject, but I got so many updates about the subject, I felt I should chime in. And I would’ve published this post earlier, but I had a family thing to attend, so that took up a bit of time. Well, no time like the present. Let’s talk Cockygate.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, or don’t have time to read my last post on the subject, let me give a bit of background: Faleena Hopkins is a romance author who writes a series of books called the Cocky Brothers series (though apparently it’s gone by several names in the past). Recently she applied for a trademark for the word “cocky,” with somehow got approved by the Patent & Trademark Office. Technically speaking, this only allows her to have control of the word using a particular kind of font on her book covers, but she’s taken this to extreme levels, and has sent cease and desist letters to authors who use “cocky” in the titles of their books, telling them to either change the names of their books, take them off Amazon, or face legal action. The authors targeted are mainly self-published writers who can’t afford a legal battle, and changing a book’s title is hellishly hard (imagine the insanity that might come from trying to change the name of the Harry Potter books, for instance). This puts them in a really difficult position.

As you might expect, when word got out about this, things escalated quickly: authors quickly called out Hopkins on this move, calling it extortion and bullying; the hashtags #cockygate and #ByeFaleena (ha! that’s still funny) started trending on Twitter; the Romance Writers Association asked anyone affected by Hopkins to send proof to them and started consulting with an IP lawyer; and Hopkins, who apparently once said that anyone who uses stock photos after she uses them is copying her (that still boggles my mind), posted a video online trying to defend herself and instead dug herself deeper into a hole.

Among other things. Yeah, this is one screwed up situation. And this has not only people angry at Hopkins, but afraid of the future: if you can trademark any word in a title, it’s possible no one will want to publish stories because they’re afraid they could get sued by a trademark owner for using a common word.

However, people have been fighting this, and keeping the story alive. And as time has gone on, there have been further developments in this case. Here are just a few:

  • A novelist and retired lawyer named Kevin Kneupper has come together with a bunch of other authors/lawyers to try to get the Patent & Trademark office to toss out Hopkins’ trademark using a petition for cancellation, which I applaud them for doing and hope they are successful.
  • The creator of the font Hopkins uses for her books came out and stated that anyone who uses his fonts isn’t allowed to apply for trademarks using his font. So, Hopkins is telling people they’re infringing on her trademark while at the same time breaking the rules of usage for the font she uses. Someone needs to read the fine print before telling someone else to do so.
  • Amazon has stated they won’t kick books off its website that have been targeted by Hopkins while they wait to see how this whole thing unfolds.
  • A company called Rebellion Games tried to get a trademark on the word “Rebellion,” (just the word, as far as I can tell), and Mr. Kneupper apparently convinced them to reconsider (and suddenly I want to interview him for my blog and/or name a character in my next novel after him).
  • Hopkins uploaded a video that’s since been taken down (but this is the Internet, so nothing ever goes away), where she said people were calling her and her fans stupid, and then said that meant they were calling her and her fans autistic. Um, say what? As far as I can find, no one brought up autism being mistaken for stupidity before you did. And as someone who’s on the spectrum, would you kindly leave my community out of this? IT HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT YOU’VE BEEN DOING!!!
  • In the same video, Hopkins also said someone had insinuated that she was part of the KKK (proof please?), and said she would never be a Klansman, as she’s descended from a slave. Again, what does that have to do with you trying to trademark a word? And from what I’ve been hearing, some of the authors that have been targeted by the cease and desist letters are writers of color. And you’re not immune from criticism just because one of your ancestors was a slave. Heck, some of your critics may also be descendants of slaves.
  • Hopkins’s books have apparently slid from the bestseller lists. Apparently there are consequences to doing something like this. Who knew?
  • And most recently, Hopkins’ lawyer has sent Kneupper, along with fellow authors/lawyers Jennifer Watson and Tara Crescent, a letter stating that he’s going to be filing a lawsuit against them and seeking a Temporary Restraining Order against their Petition of Cancellation.

Now, this last one happened on Friday apparently, so with a three-day weekend, I have no idea what might develop before Tuesday, if anything. The legal process for this sort of thing can be frustratingly slow. However, this latest development just goes to show just how far Hopkins will go to try to keep her trademark and the power she feels this has given her. She’s determined to make herself seem like an innovative businesswoman who’s being victimized by a mean gang of authors trying to protect her brand.

Well, let her. She may have some supporters (some, but not many), but the longer this drags on and the more she tries to make herself seem like the victim, the more we’ll see her for the bully she is. And with the movement against what she’s doing growing and gaining allies every day, even if God forbid she does succeed in getting her copyright, she’ll just find herself isolated and hated. And in the end, that’s a victory no one wants.

I would like to applaud everyone who’s come forward about Hopkins targeting them. Your bravery is a true testament to your resiliency and spirit. Remember, if you’ve been targeted, email carol.ritter@rwa.org and share your story. Together, we can protect your hard work from what’s happening.

I’d also like to applaud all the other authors and readers out there who have said they won’t stand for this chicanery, and are fighting it every day, on and offline. And I’d like to give an especially big hand to Kevin Kneupper, Jennifer Watson, Tara Crescent, and the other writers/legal experts lending their talents to this case. Words cannot express what you’re doing to defend authors and fiction writing in general. Thank you for all you’ve been doing.

When further updates come along, I’ll likely put out another post. Until then, keep your eyes peeled for more chicanery, and remember, we do have the power to fight back against this. We just have to be brave enough to use it.

I’m sure that a lot of people are going to be confused by that title, and probably find it funny. Unfortunately, this is a serious topic that requires some discussion, so I thought I’d take a couple minutes to spread the word on what’s been going on.

Recently, it’s come to light that a romance writer named Faleena Hopkins placed a trademark on the word “cocky” (as in…you know), and has allegedly been sending cease and desist letters to authors who use the word “cocky” in their book titles. Of which there are many, and according to the letters, this is a form of copyright infringement, and authors should change the names of their stories or face the consequences. From what’s been going around, most of the authors who have received these letters are not big enough to actually take on a legal battle with other authors, rather than any big names in the romance field.

This is some grade-A bull. You can’t just copyright a single word and tell people they can’t use it in their book titles. You can copyright a specific word or words using a specific font (like nobody can use the word “Potter” with the Harry Potter-title lightning bolt script or the words “Star” or “Wars” with the Star Wars script without incurring the wrath of JK Rowling or Lucasfilm’s representatives), which is normal business practice. However, you can’t just copyright a single word, no matter the font, font size, or context, and say anyone who uses it in a story’s title is committing plagiarism or copyright infringement. Which is why nobody can sue me for naming my novel Snake, or why when Rose comes out, nobody can sue me for naming it that way.

And you know who else agrees with me? Lots of other authors, apparently. When I saw this trending on Twitter, I got curious and found plenty of other writers who were willing to explain to me what was going on and point me to links which went further into detail about this issue, which has been dubbed Cockygate, and who have also made the hashtags #cockygate and #ByeFaleena (get it?) trending topics. Thanks to them, I was able to find this article from Pajiba, as well as this video from author Bianca Sommerland, one of the first to break the story open. And the consensus seems to be the same as my opinion of this situation: it’s grade-A bull, and kind of sounds like bullying or blackmail.

I mean, imagine if this was allowed to happen. We could copyright all sorts of words, and anyone using those words would owe me money. I mean, imagine if I trademarked the word “the.” So many people would owe me money, it would be ridiculous! I’d have good friends and big names who would be liable to legal action for a commonly-used word. It’s ridiculous.

And apparently the Romance Writers’ Association is getting involved now, because they’ve been consulting with an IP lawyer and are asking anyone who’s received one of these cease and desist letters to send information and screenshots to Carol Ritter, their Deputy Executive Director (carol.ritter@rwa.org). That’s how seriously this is being taken.

Hopkins herself, who in the past has also claimed that anyone who uses stock photos (so everybody, basically) after she uses them is copying her (say what?), has taken to social media to defend herself. She hasn’t denied that she’s trademarked “cocky,” but has said that she’s done it because some of her readers have downloaded ebooks with the word “cocky” in the title thinking it’s related to her Cocky Brothers series, only to find out it’s someone else’s book. She’s also called those calling her out as “bullies.” First off, you can return downloaded ebooks and purchase the right one. And I’m sure the majority of your readers are generally intelligent people. They can figure that out for themselves. And second, if you really are doing something shady, then the people who object to it aren’t bullies. They’re legitimately upset.

In a way, this reminds me of Lani Sarem, the author who tried to game the New York Times bestseller list and fell hard (you can read my articles on Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors about that little incident by clicking here and here). She too engaged in something that rang of dishonesty in order to ensure the success of her work. People online found out and started investigating and spreading the word, leading to her book being removed from the NYT bestseller list, and her name becoming something of a joke. We’re seeing something similar here, only what Ms. Hopkins is allegedly doing is even worse, because it affects the most vulnerable authors out there by threatening them with legal action.

As this is still the early stages of this controversy, we’re bound to see further developments. And whatever happens, I hope a message is sent far and wide. We authors are usually a supportive bunch. But if we find out one of our own is doing something awful for the sake of money or fame, we will not take that sitting down. We will push back, and the offenders will not like that. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword, is it not?

Please contact Carol Ritter at carol.ritter@rwa.org if you or someone you know has received one of these cease and desist letters. You don’t have to live in fear of legal action. You can take the power back.

So that lovely and occasionally terrifying thing known as the Internet has informed me that April is Autism Awareness Month, and as someone who is on the spectrum, I felt I should contribute something.

The only question is, what should I contribute? I haven’t had any experiences like when I was asked to give advice on how to help someone’s autistic relative; I haven’t been prompted to record a video or anything like the one below, detailing a specific issue involving disability (by the way, that video recently passed the one-year anniversary of when it was uploaded, and also passed five-hundred views soon afterwards. I find that pretty cool); I haven’t had any revelations about my relationship with my autism; and no one’s asked me point-blank if I’m autistic recently. What’s there to talk about? What can I say that not only needs to be said, but I feel strongly speaking my mind about?

 

Well, I guess one subject I can broach is how autism affects adults, especially in terms of job searching and job security.

A lot of people associate autism with children. When they associate it with adults, I think the popular image is low-functioning adults who are being taken care of by their parents or at facilities. And while there is a segment of the adult autistic population that do need that sort of care, the popular image ignores the segment of the population who don’t require full-time care from facilities or parents, those who can and seek to live independently. And they face their own unique challenges and issues.

Now, I”m just going off my own experience and the experiences of others who have or are related to people with ASD, but the fact that we’re either experiencing or hearing about this says something.

I’ve mentioned before how, between October 2015 and about March or April 2016, I was on the worst job search I’ve ever experienced. Every day I would send out resumes and applications, only to either not hear anything back or to be passed over after being interviewed. One reason this may have happened is because I was open to my potential employers about the fact that I have ASD, and that it sometimes made social situations awkward. I have no proof, but it’s possible that knowing my diagnosis may have scared them off. People have this association with people with disabilities in general that we’re unable to do anything. And even if we’re skilled at something (sciences, writing, mathematics, painting, music, whatever), our needs are too much for them to handle as employers.

The reality, I assure you, is much different. At work, part of my job is being a disability advocate, and I can attest that people with disabilities not only do things, they do them very well. Not only that, but employers who treat disabled employees well find that not only are these employees hard-working and loyal, but several times less likely to turn over than the general population. Not only that, but accommodations for their disability usually aren’t burdensome: a quiet or obstacle-free workspace, or flexible schedules, or leave for medical appointments. And when it does cost money for accommodations, it’s usually not expensive. Seriously, I help handle accommodations at work. I rarely see the cost get anywhere near five-hundred dollars.  My own accommodations cost the organization nothing: I just listen to my iPod or audio books while I work (I pay for any new music or audio books) and I have a chair designed to ease my back pain (we already had the chair to begin with, so it didn’t cost any money to give it to me).

But still, a lot of employers are wary of employing the disabled, especially folks with ASD. They have this idea of a Rain Man-type character, someone who may excel at one very special skill, but needs all sorts of help in every other area of life and can’t do anything but certain tasks. For many autistic adults, this simply isn’t the case. Each of us may present our diagnosis differently, but it doesn’t affect each and every one of us that badly, and we are suited for a variety of tasks.

I’m lucky that I was able to get a job in an office where everyone is kind and gets that I’m not always the savviest person socially, in an organization that emphasizes disability hiring, accommodation, and inclusion. But not many people like me are that lucky. They have trouble finding jobs because employers see their disabilities as a huge barrier. I’ve heard from friends who’ve had this experience, as well as from others. And not just with jobs: I’ve heard from people who have told me that they or their relatives had had trouble finding services that help them cope with their ASD once they reach adulthood or when they’re diagnosed in adulthood. There’s plenty of help for minors, but for adults, it can be a challenge.

So this Autism Awareness Month, I’m writing a post urging people not only to support autism awareness, research, and therapy, but also to rethink how we approach adults with autism (and disabilities in general). The majority of us aren’t helpless individuals. We’re hardworking and want to be part of society. You just have to give us the opportunity, whether that be funding for programs that offer counseling, education, and job training to autistic adults, or actually giving a job to someone with autism. Quite possibly, you’ll be amazed at what you receive in return.

Thank you for reading, and have a good month of April.

Those of you who’ve followed me for a while know that I am on the autism spectrum, and that I’ve had opportunities to speak about it a couple of times, including a widely-circulated video which I posted back in March. I was able to get my job partially because of my autism, and a lot of the work I do involves working with, accommodating, and advocating for people with disabilities in the workplace, including but certainly not limited to autism. I don’t go around everywhere broadcasting my diagnosis, but it does come up on occasion.

One of those recent occasions was for my organization’s newsletter. I was asked to write a short essay, about a page long, about having a disability, about the program that helped me get a job in my organization, and what that’s been like. That article was published recently, along with a couple of other testimonials, and it’s been getting around. A lot of people have been coming up to me and thanking me for being so open with my story.

Today, I got an email from someone in my organization who had read the article, and had contacted me asking for advice. His adult nephew had been diagnosed with autism a couple of years ago, well past the point where intervention can be at its most effective. And in the  years since his diagnosis, his life has not gotten easier. I won’t go into details, but it was heartbreaking to read the man’s email and to hear about his nephew’s suffering.

At the end of the email, he asked what could be done for his nephew, and if maybe the program that helped me get my job could help his nephew.

What do you say to something like that? What sort of comfort can you give when there’s already so much pain?

I don’t know if I ever meant to be an advocate for people with disabilities. But over time, that role has kind of been molded around me. A good part of this has been because of my job. As I said, I have to advocate for people with disabilities in the workplace. To that end, I’ve learned how to market to people who are able-bodied why they should hire more people with disabilities. I can tell them that people with disabilities have a much lower turnover rate than the general population, 8% compared to 45%, that getting them accommodations rarely gets anywhere near the $500 mark, and then back all that up by talking about my own satisfaction with my position, and how the only accommodation I’ve needed for my ASD was permission to listen to my iPod or audiobooks while doing certain tasks. I’ve also been asked to do essays, like I did for the newsletter, and the video I recorded back in March. And sometimes it just comes up, like when explaining how I got my internship in Germany (yeah, my ASD played a part in that), or using it to illustrate a point in conversation, or a hundred different scenarios.

One way or another, it seems like I was meant to be an advocate, especially at this point in my life, when I’m doing so well at work, living on my own, and even as a writer.

But as a giver of advice? I’m not sure I expected that. And I get why it’s happening. Autism is a scary diagnosis for anyone to get, as well as for the loved ones of those diagnosed. It’s a disorder that varies widely from person to person, it can never be cured, the cause is still unknown,* the number of people being diagnosed with it has grown exponentially with improved diagnostic tools. Depending on what traits are present or what other disorders are present with autism can also affect everything from therapy to school choices to possibilities in adulthood. And when the diagnosis is made in adulthood, as happened with the young man whose uncle emailed me, it can be a sort of terrifying that no horror story can tap into. With all that in mind, hearing from someone who not only has the same diagnosis, but is successful in the real world, can be a soothing balm for the mind and soul.

I just wish I had all the answers. Or that I was more confident in the answers I have to give.

But if I’m going to give any sort of advice, it’s that we shouldn’t deny or try to hide our diagnoses. We shouldn’t try to be “normal,” because normal doesn’t exist, especially not for us. We process the world so differently than everyone else, but that doesn’t mean we have to be ashamed or afraid. I’m able to succeed and do the things I do every day because I process differently. So embrace your different. It may be called a disability, but it can be an asset too. Some of the greatest innovators and creators the world has ever known have been on the spectrum. And once we learn to work with the issues we have, we can learn to become those great innovators and creators.

And don’t be afraid to look for or ask for help. Even if you’re diagnosed later in life, there’s still plenty of resources for you. Many states, including my beloved Ohio, have programs that offer help and direction for people with disabilities and families, whether they be children or well into adulthood. Many schools have or are adding programs to ensure the disabled can take full advantage of their educations. More and more employers are recognizing the importance of hiring people with disabilities, and what they can contribute. We’re not being left alone like a ship in a storm. There is help.

Living my life strong, no matter what my diagnosis is.

And it’s important to be open about your diagnosis, especially with your friends, family, coworkers and teachers. Keeping it a secret has never helped anyone get by. It’s better to be open, so that those around us are better equipped to work with us, and join us on our journey as we work our way through life. I know it’s scary, and you don’t want to be any different than anyone else. But remember, there’s no normal. We’re all different, and many of us wear it on our sleeves. Might as well display this different too, if only to make life a little easier.

I hope you find this helpful. I hope the man who emailed me today found my advice helpful. And if you or someone you know has autism, I hope that no matter what, you or your loved one is able to hold their head up high and know this: you are great the way you are.

*And if you’re about to comment saying some bull about vaccines, let me tell you a story, since anti-vaxxers seem to value testimony more rather than scientific consensus: my mother has told me a few times that I was different from the day I was born, well before I received my first vaccine. I was nothing like the baby books predicted I’d be, and it wasn’t until my younger sister was born that she saw any of that stuff. I trust her word, so that means vaccines had nothing to do with the way I am. And if you still insist that vaccines had something to do with the way I am, you may be calling my mother a liar, and them’s fighting words.