leo in bloom magazine


Ask Danny, Issue 02

This is Danny’s regular Q&A column, where he welcomes questions of all sorts and shares his insights as a minimally-speaking autistic man, mixed race immigrant, social justice advocate, and ever-curious soul always seeking greater mindfulness and understanding in the world! Submit questions for future issues here.

Question: Hi Danny! I have a question. I’m curious as to why you chose to call your magazine “Leo in Bloom”? I love the name as it speaks of growth (bloom) and “Leo” makes me think of “Leo the lion”, which makes me think of courage and gentle strength.

That is a great question! It is a title with multiple meanings. Tara wrote a beautiful backstory here. The book Leo the Late Bloomer has meant so much to me since she shared her story of its meaning for her. And I am also a Leo in terms of my astrological sign. I am actually fascinated by astrology, as silly as it can seem. I do feel that the moon influences my mood and body, so I am open to learning about how other heavenly bodies are thought to influence us. And I am feeling very much in bloom since gaining communication fluency!

Question: Dear Danny! I’m learning so much from your journey and all that you share. I’ve been hearing about sports venues and museums having special events with lower stimuli for people on the autism spectrum so they can enjoy. Are there any sports or activities you’re interested in that might not yet be accessible or welcoming to you? Big love to you and your family!!

That is an excellent question! For myself (as just one individual), I actually love high sensory inputs! It is more when my basic needs and general sense of safety are not secure that I become dysregulated. So, easy access to bathrooms, snacks, and drinks, as well as an atmosphere of acceptance, and even a place to rest are the big “Danny friendly” accommodations that I wish for! Not many places have all of these. So we do have to plan ahead of time, and be vigilant about monitoring my status, e.g., am I hungry, thirsty, needing to pee, etc. This is complicated a bit because my interoception (how I process my body’s signals) is often weak or delayed, so I might not realize that I am hungry, etc., until my physical condition pushes me into intense dysregulation. So quick access to food, toilets, etc., is needed to avoid meltdowns.

As for stimuli, I am not so overwhelmed by intense sounds or lights. Mostly, it is an atmosphere of stress that gets me. So, an anxious or upset crowd, or a feeling that I am being judged, is the most unpleasant feeling when I go out. This is unfortunately difficult to avoid, and I rely on my family and friends to comfort and defend me.

Of course, I still get dysregulated even in the comfort of home. The difference is the stakes. In public, we are so worried about me being attacked by bullies or even the police if I start having a meltdown. So it is more urgent to prevent or mitigate dysregulation as soon as possible when out and about. This can be challenging without a safe place to rest and address my needs.

This is a bit simplified, and many things can make me dysregulated. But having access to food, drinks, toilets, and resting areas can ameliorate a lot of my stress at events and activities.

Question: Hey there Danny! I am so very proud of you and your family and all the amazing things you are doing! My thoughtful question is “What is your idea of happiness?”

Wow! Big question! I will try my best. Happiness is the feeling of being at peace, not absolutely but in that moment, and having something light up your heart. Maybe a fond memory, or a beautiful view, or a shared experience with someone you care about. It can be fleeting, or an upwelling that lasts for days, but it is all happiness regardless of duration. And it is ephemeral, but we can cultivate long-term conditions that allow for happiness to arise and last more frequently. That is, mindfulness of the beauty and wonder around us, perspective of our own inherent value and our miraculous existence, and understanding and empathy. If we can cultivate appreciation and peace, happiness can bloom!

Question: Do you ever lie on your back and just watch the clouds passing by and try to discover what shape they take or what animal they look like?

You know, I actually don’t do this! But I think I should try! I generally take a big picture view of the sky, and allow myself to soak in all of the patterns and movement and colors. It is like watching art unfold. But I am eager to try looking for shapes in the clouds!

Question: What are clouds made of?

So I know it is water vapor, but that in itself is an immense idea. Water that has cycled around the planet for eons, through the ocean’s depths, the snow-topped mountains, the rivers through dense primordial forests, a fountain gloriously spouting in a bustling city square, a bowl of water that my dogs eagerly drink from on hot days, my tears from my first time crying, the dew on the flowers in the early morning, the tea my sister drinks and just started coughing on when it went the wrong way. Clouds are the vapor of that and so much more.

Question: Could you write a poem about clouds?

Yes indeed, and I am sharing it here! {link to be posted soon!}

Question: I’d love your inputs and advice on raising two non-speaking kids. I’d love to talk to you especially about growing up, being happy, and your memories from growing up and what stuck with you.

This is a hugely important question! The main thing I cherished from growing up was the feeling of being loved and worthy of inclusion. And having the opportunity to see and experience new things. I was unable to communicate beyond basic phrases and gestures, but still relished being a part of the fun and excitement and even daily bits of enjoyment. Those experiences helped me cope with the many substantial hardships in my life.

Another important component of my upbringing was the staunch support of my family. They knew I was more than what awful special education teachers said I was, they defended and advocated for me, they taught me and exposed me to enriching activities even though I couldn’t express myself, and they surrounded me with love.

My advice is to never let your kids forget that you love them, to accept autism as an important (if often seriously difficult) part of their identity, and to be kind to yourself as well. You will not be perfect. But you can be perfectly loving to them.

You might also enjoy listening to the Uniquely Human podcast.

Question: How can we make school a better situation for autistic folks?

Oof, this is a tough one! First I want to highlight that the Spellers & Allies Advocacy Network is launching a campaign to improve communication access in schools for nonspeakers. Then, I will be pragmatic: yes, the whole special education system needs to be overhauled, but I know this won’t happen anytime soon. In the meantime, I would focus on three things: improving teacher training on autistic students; sensitizing other students to better interact with autistic peers; and providing meaningful activities that autistic students can actually enjoy and learn from. This means presuming competence, and also truly caring about the students beyond acting as a babysitting service.

Because many of us cannot afford private schools, we are often stuck in subpar public special education programs. For me, it was horrible. It was dehumanizing and humiliating and also frustrating. My family was so disrespected and my rights so disregarded. It was the worst time of my life. I lost so much potential and felt so hopeless.

Even without good funding, teachers can make a positive difference in our lives. Kindness and respect and empathy are powerful. If I had special education teachers who saw me as human, even without a strong curriculum or fancy devices or an aide for each kid, they could have at least made school a welcoming and safe space.

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We welcome submissions from nonspeakers and will consider submissions from speaking allies. Our issues come out every 2-3 months; the next issue will be on TRAVEL for July 2023. Please feel free to contact us here to pitch a submission!

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