Author Archives: femmefrugality

Avoid These 5 Gross Banking Fees

This post is part of a sponsored campaign with Radius Bank. Radius Bank has not directed my content or my views.

I didn't even know I was paying half of these bank fees! Definitely time to switch!

I get that banks have to make money.

And I’m totally cool with them making money off of my auto loan or balance transfer fees.

What I’m not cool with is banks making money off of my deposit accounts like checking and savings. When I put that money in the account, they turn around and use it to invest in other assets, which is why I earn a small amount of interest on the money I keep in there.

It’s advantageous for banks to have my business in this way. Even if they don’t make an incredible amount of money off of my not-jumbo-sized deposits, they do open a door to market their lending products to me as a warm lead.

And it’s advantageous for banks to have your business, too. With that in mind, make sure you’re not keeping your money with a bank that charges one of these gross fees.

Maintenance Fees

Some banks will charge you a monthly fee just to have a checking account with them. It’s disgusting and unnecessary. If a bank is charging you for a deposit account, ditch them like a bad date.

Minimum Balance Fees

Other banks will charge you a fee if you don’t keep an average daily balance of $X,XXX in your account. This is exploitative, especially when we’re talking about checking accounts, which get many American families from paycheck to paycheck without a whole lot leftover.

Minimum Deposit Fees

You incur this fun fee when you don’t meet a certain threshold for direct deposits every month. I resent this fee as a freelancer with irregular income who doesn’t always get paid through direct deposit.

I also resent it because it’s a poor tax. You’re punishing people who don’t make a lot of money by taking more of their money. It’s super unethical in my opinion. So not with it.

ATM Fees

I’ve been doing online banking since 2006. One thing I’ve always liked about that is that the financial institutions I’ve worked with have never charged me an ATM fee for using an out-of-network cash machine.

They’ve also always refunded my ATM fees if they are charged by the owner of the ATM. So let’s say Bank XYZ charges me for using their ATM while I’m on a road trip. I have to pay $2.50 to get money out of my account. At the end of the month, my financial institution would refund me that $2.50.

If your bank is charging you money in order to access your money, it’s time to call your relationship quits. You can do better.

Overdraft Protection Transfer Fees

Most banks won’t charge you to set up overdraft protection, which links your savings account to your checking account. Should you ever spend more than you have in your checking, overdraft protection pulls money out of your savings account to make up the difference. If you don’t have protection, you’re usually charged a hefty fee for overdrawing your account.

However, some banks are sneaky and will charge you when you need to use that protection. These charges are called transfer fees, and they’re ridiculous. They allow banks to say, “We don’t charge you a fee to enroll in overdraft protection!” while still charging you should you ever have to actually use overdraft protection.

Which is shady as all get out. Find a bank that treats you better.

Find Someone Who Treats You Better

These are all common fees, believe it or not. You may even be paying some of them without realizing. I’d encourage you to get out your latest account statement and check.

If you are, know that there are other fish in the sea. Credit unions are a great place to look, but I also recently became aware of Radius Bank’s Hybrid Checking Account, which does not charge any of these fees. On top of not being sketchy with their fee structure, they also allow you to deposit cash at certain ATMs–even though they’re based online. Which is pretty cool.

Make sure your bank doesn’t charge you gross fees. And if you discover they’re a little grimy, walk out the door and don’t look back.


Children, Medicaid & Autism: State-by-State Guide

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, Femme Frugality will be hosting a series of Monday articles that focus on the financial challenges and triumphs that people with autism face and achieve. When they are children, these things also tend to affect their family’s finances, as well.

Pinning for my nephew. They don't have Medicaid coverge in his state and it's really hard because of the services he needs with autism. Maybe another state could help them out better.


When you’re raising an autistic child, the largest expense you shoulder is healthcare. You learn that “healthcare” isn’t just doctor’s visits and the occasional dramatic visit to the ER. It’s therapy. Adaptive equipment. Communication devices. And more.

None of it’s cheap, and if you don’t have a good healthcare plan, a lot of it’s not going to be covered.

Even if you do have a good healthcare plan, some benefits will still not be covered. In many states, the most comprehensive way to get your child the services and equipment they need is through Medicaid, and many states allow disabled children access to Medicaid even if their parents’ income exceeds eligibility limits.

Want to find out how to shelter some of your savings from asset tests? Check out ABLE accounts.

Medicaid Coverage Saves Everyone Money

Medicaid coverage keeps kids out of institutions. Until the 1980’s, one of the only ways to get children with complex needs the services they required was through an institution. Whether a parent wanted to part with their child or not, they were often forced to.

This was also extremely expensive. Providing a child Medicaid benefits so they are able to live and thrive at home is far less costly than having them live in an intermediate care facility or nursing home.

Luckily, things have changed, but not all states are equal. Today we’ll be looking at Medicaid coverage options for children with autism across all fifty states–and Washington, D.C.

Before we get started, there’s some vocab I want to review.

State Plan

“State Plan” simply refers to the Medicaid coverage that anyone gets if they apply for benefits with their state. Eligibility is dependent on income limits–not disability or lack thereof.

ABA Therapy

ABA therapy, or Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy, is the most proven method for successful early intervention for children with autism. There’s just one problem: it’s insanely expensive.

Until recently, most insurers denied the evidence in favor of this therapy. Some still do because of its cost. But most states have enacted laws recognizing, and forcing insurers to recognize, it as an evidence-based therapy.

That doesn’t mean all states provide coverage. There was a mandate issued by the Federal government in 2014 that arguably required its coverage under Medicaid, but some states have interpreted this mandate differently.

I want to take a minute here to acknowledge that not everyone is behind ABA–even within the autistic community. There are some autistic adults who are opposed to ABA therapy when it’s practiced with extreme rigor. However, there is also a general acknowledgement that there are ethical and non-ethical ways to practice ABA from the autistic perspective. You can get both sides of the argument here.

Level of Care

Required “level of care” indicates where a child would have been cared for prior to our culture’s shift towards keeping autistic children with their families. There are three levels commonly recognized in most states. In order from the least care needed to the most:

  • Intermediate Care Facility– Many parents may be surprised to learn that their child would have been institutionalized not so long ago. This level of care can, in some cases, be equivalent to the child who goes to outpatient therapy several times a week and has behavioral therapists in their home or community setting.
  • Nursing Home– This level of care would require skilled nursing/medical care on a regular basis. Today, you may have a nurse come into your child’s home and/or school to help provide these services.
  • Hospital– This level of care is required when you need more than a nurse. There may be monitoring of a condition or simply more advanced care needed on a regular basis.

In this guide, the lowest level of care required is listed. For example, if a state lists the required level of care as an intermediate facility, that will typically mean that those at a nursing home or hospital level of care are eligible, too.

Conversely, if the listed level of care is “nursing home,” those who are at an intermediate care facility level of care would not qualify for the listed program.


A Medicaid waiver is simply a program that grants specific services to those who do not typically qualify for the State Plan. There are also waivers that provide services in addition to and including what’s available on the State Plan.

Wait List

You may notice that for most states, there is no reference to the wait list. This is done for two reasons.

  1. Medicaid programs are in flux at the moment. A wait list–or even a waiver–could change suddenly. It’s information we don’t have the capacity to update continuously.
  2. We want you to get in touch with the agencies that provide these waivers. Even if the wait list is too long for your child, state agencies may know of other programs or community organizations that could help in your unique situation.

Download Your Free Copy of Children, Medicaid & Autism: State-by-State Guide

In an attempt to make this guide thorough for all 50 states plus D.C., it is much longer than typical Femme Frugality content–11,000+ words. As such, we’ve turned it into a PDF for your browsing convenience. You’ll be able to find your state in our table of contents and easily jump to the appropriate page to get the information you need.

>>Click here to get your free copy of the PDF<<



This information in the above PDF is accurate to the best of our research as of April 22, 2018. It will be reviewed and updated annually. Intensive research was performed for each state program. The majority of states had a governmental agency or independent advocacy group provide information regarding their programs.

How I Stayed in Tokyo for Free

She stayed at some REALLY nice hotels for free. Definitely pinning for the trip to Japan I'm planning!

Oh, man, guys. I just got back from a huge trip to Japan, and it was indescribably amazing. As one Belgian tech guru told me one night as some of us were sitting around a fantastic meal:

“I think coming here has changed me.”

I have so much I want to tell you, and I’m going to take several weeks to do just that. Every Friday, we’ll talk a little about saving money while exploring this breathtaking country. We’ll start with accommodations.

How I Stayed in Tokyo for Free

Originally, we were supposed to fly into Osaka, but that involved a long, complicated layover in Tokyo anyways, so I called and lopped off that leg of our flight. My sibling and I spent our first night and last nights in Japan in the capital of Tokyo, and we did it for free.

Westin Tokyo

westin tokyo review

I had built up some SPG points from business travel. I had enough for one free reward stay at the Westin Tokyo, which I was pretty psyched about.

I wasn’t nearly psyched enough. We took a bus from Narita to our digs. When we walked in the entry way, my sibling dropped their jaw and said, “Holy sh!t, Femme.”

The lobby was gorgeous. Dark wood colors lined the walls accented with gold. I’m pretty sure our footsteps echoed off the sky-high ceilings as we walked back to the check-in desk, where we were greeted by the sweetest and most generous host ever. She treated me like royalty even as I stood there in my yoga pants and tee, surely reeking of the 29 hours of straight travel I had just endured.

Not only was she nice, she upgraded our room–which already would have cost hundreds upon hundreds of dollars without points–to a suite. A gorgeous, two-room suite with one and a half baths. I took a rainfall shower that night before we went out to find some food, and soaked in a pink, cherry blossom bath the next morning before we set out on our journey.

view from westin tokyo

That night, we gazed out over the dazzling city with views of Tokyo tower gracing our window. The next morning, we grabbed some breakfast in the club lounge and kind of sort of talked, but mostly just sat there in awe as we took in yet another astonishing view.

The neighborhood, Ebisu, was super nice and just about my speed. There was shopping and dining, and a tasteful amount of nightlife. We walked by ice cream shops and bakeries as we stumbled upon gardens full of vibrant flowers–including one such garden directly behind the hotel.

Staying at the Westin was definitely the right way to start our trip.


shinjuku mural

Our last two nights in Japan, we stayed in the heart of Shinjuku. We found an Airbnb that would have run us about $200 for both nights if I hadn’t had Airbnb credits that cancelled out all the costs. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, I highly recommend it as a great way to save money when you travel. You can get your own $40 travel credit when you signup here.

I wasn’t as big of a fan of Shinjuku. I’m pretty sure most people would consider that blaspheme. Part of my disenchantment undoubtedly had to do with the fact that I spent a good portion of my time there holed up in the Airbnb as I had caught a cold.

But from the walking around I did do, it was full of high-end shopping, tons of night life and at least one series of hotels where people go to have sex. I get that all that excitement is enticing for a lot of people. I’m just not super into high-end clothing and clubbing.

Also, I may have missed massive parts of the neighborhood and be passing unfair judgement. Because sick.

Where did you stay the rest of the two weeks?

Great question! I was originally going to title this post, “How I Stayed in Japan for 2 Weeks for Under $400,” but I decided against that because it would be a little misleading.

This entire trip was spurred on by the fact that one of my longest friends is a native of Osaka. We went to Japan to visit her and her family. We stayed with her family in Osaka, Wakayama, and Nachi Katsuura. I hadn’t seen my friend in seven years, and her family in 22. They are such wonderful people *trying not to cry right now* and made us feel so welcome in their homes.

But most Americans probably don’t have a family friend waiting for them in Japan ready to open up their home to them, so my situation was unique and fortunate.

The Guest House in Kyoto

kyoto guest house

We were there for a while, though, and people gotta work. So we spent about five days in Kyoto on our own, exploring the ancient city. I was planning on using Airbnb for that, too, but it turns out that if you’re in Japan for cherry blossom season, waiting to book an Airbnb three weeks prior to your arrival in Kyoto is not a great idea. In fact, it’s a crazy expensive one.

After some panicked searching, I found something called a guest house through–where I’m currently only a couple nights away from earning yet another free stay.

Ours, the Yuraku, was Japanese-owned and geared towards Japanese guests. One room with bunk beds ran each of us $385, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t plan on getting that number down further by applying some of the credit card points I earned during our sojourn to that purchase in the next couple weeks.

When a guest house is geared towards Japanese guests, they will ask you to be very quiet. Everything will be super clean and peaceful.

We learned from our host that when the place is geared towards Westerners, it tends to be a bit more rowdy and sociable.

Different strokes.

We enjoyed our stay at the Yuraku. I had booked it because it was available and somewhat affordable, but I would book it again because unbeknownst to me, it was in a great location in a beautiful neighborhood with a ton of amenities–like good food, a famous bathhouse, and coin-op laundry–just steps outside the door.

Get more Japan Pictures!

A lot of people have asked me to post my Japan pictures on Instagram. Just one problem: twenty-four hours ago, I didn’t have an account!

But I got so many requests that I have now set one up so I can share all the beauty I beheld while I was away. I know I shared quite a few images in this post, but I’m going to be sharing more exclusively on that channel throughout the week.

Everyday at 1pm Eastern time, I’ll have a new one up there for you guys, so be sure to give me a follow!

In exciting Twitter news…

Financial literacy twitter chat

Also, want to let you all know that I’ll be co-hosting a Twitter chat on Thursday with my friend Tori from Tomorrow! You can join us at 8p Eastern on April 26, 2018 to discuss financial literacy.

Come whether you have questions on how you can improve your financial literacy or ideas on how others can get improve their money knowledge. It’s the first one ever, so I’d be so psyched to see you using the hashtag #TomorrowTalk!

We’re Going to Coachella!

Today’s author is Liz–a personal finance nerd who loves to talk all things money-related. She firmly believes that it’s not about how much you make, but rather how much you keep, and is always on the lookout for ways to hold on to more of what’s earned. A native of New York state, Liz now happily lives in Chicago but maintains that deep dish is NOT real pizza. You can find more of her money (and life) thoughts on her blog Open Mouths Get Fed.

Holy, wow. She's doing Coachella for under $1,000! These are some insanely good savings tips--for Coachella or any time you travel.

Tickets are $500.

Hotels will be price gouging.

You don’t have a job.

You’re too old for all that.

All thoughts that crossed my mind when I read the Coachella 2018 lineup for the first time. The Weeknd. SZA. Cardi B. Beyoncé. I repeated my earlier thoughts as I perused the event website. I admonished myself that all of my friends were too married and parental to go with me when I posted on Facebook, “Anyone down for Coachella 2018? I’m so sincere.” And I definitely compared my back fat to the cellulite free thighs plastered across last year’s Instagram Coachella hashtags.

It turns out that all I needed to cast aside my reservations were a willing friend who is parental but not spousal, a well funded blow money account, a half-assed commitment to diet and exercise between January and April, and the scant hope that Jay-Z would join his wife onstage.

Besides, if a 43-year-old Bridget Jones can sleep with Patrick Dempsey at a music festival, why can’t I do the same? Armed with my Chase Sapphire Reserve and the confidence of a mediocre white man, I logged onto the Coachella site, waited for my turn in the queue and purchased two tickets for the second weekend of Coachella 2018.

Adulting 101

Some might say that my decision to go to Indio, CA for a three day music festival is immature and irresponsible given the fact that I’m closer to 40 than 30 and have been (f)unemployed since November due to a layoff. Being without a steady, sufficient income for months should mean that cash is to be kept as closely as possible and I cannot afford to spend what could be thousands of dollars on a concert–not when there is a mortgage that needs to be paid and a student loan that’s still in repayment.

However, I can’t get behind that perspective. While some may call it responsible, I see it as accepting a scarcity mindset. I see it as an acceptance of money being a scarce resource of which I would be unlikely to find more.

To that I call bullsh!t.

I have been making money since Dubya’s administration. If by this point in my professional life I can’t figure out how to make a dollar out of fifteen cents then I’m doing something wrong. While going to Coachella is not a necessity, it is definitely an experience that I would highly value. I have learned the best way to be responsible with our finances is to allocate them according to our values, spending less on what we could care less about and more on what we do.

Since I could listen all day to SZA sing about Broken Clocks, have never met a vacation I didn’t want to take, and will take any opportunity to boost my melanin before summer, then I would say going to Coachella is the epitome of fiscal responsibility.

Figuring It Out

With this mindset the statement, “I can’t afford to go to Coachella,” gets flipped to the question, “How can I afford to give myself an experience I will value and remember forever?”

There is  difference between not having wage income and not having money. Prior to being laid off, I’d saved six months of post-tax income in addition to stashing cash into several sinking funds–including a blow money account. True, I could have taken the dollars from that account and transferred it to my savings. But who is to say that my blow money account wasn’t so nicely flush precisely for a time such as this?

Did I mention Cardi B is going to be there?!

The Tickets

A couple of years ago I’d decided on a whim that I wanted to go to Coachella and tickets were upwards of $1000 on Stubhub. That wasn’t my ministry back then.

This time I made the decision to go before any tickets went on sale. The first step in answering the question of how I was going to afford this excursion was ensuring I purchased my tickets at face value. Easy enough. I channeled my inner 16 year old who used to call the radio station every night trying to be caller ten, and got on the Coachella website the minute tickets went on sale and got a spot in the sales queue. Thankfully, all servers were a go and I was able to get tickets for me and my friend the first day of the sale.

A Place To Lay My Head

Even more expensive than the tickets is the lodging for 3-4 nights in a town overrun by thousands of tourists. A quick perusal of AirBnB showed that even with a 4 person occupancy I would still be looking at a bill well over $600.

I did not want to pay that much money so I explored other options. I contacted several hotel chains and pitched article ideas in exchange for discounted room and board during Coachella’s second weekend. I got pretty deep into talks with one hotel chain before it all ended in, “We are totally booked that weekend.”

Luckily AirBnB came to my rescue when a cute ranch resort at $130 per night caught my eye. Sometimes it’s good not to know an area’s geography. I fired off an email to the host inquiring how far his listing is from the venue. He quickly responded that his place was more than an hour away. However, before I could dismiss the location as unfeasible, he informed me that he works at Coachella every year and offered free shuttle service to and from the festival grounds every morning and evening.

I knew it was meant to be when he eliminated the need to rent a car by offering a $100 round trip shuttle to pick us up and drop us off at LAX, which is more than two hours away. And that brings up another cost to afford…

Getting There

I have a good amount of credit card reward points and frequent flyer miles, either of which I could cash in for a free flight from Chicago to L.A. However, I’m hoarding points and miles to cash them in for a first class ticket the next time I fly back to West Africa to be with my family. Since I didn’t want to prematurely use this resource I decided to use another of my sinking funds for the purpose for which it was created. Every month I save for travel expenses.

To mitigate that expense as much as possible I chose to fly as a mystery shopper. Companies like SQM offer travelers a 50% refund on roundtrip ticket purchases for simply staying awake before take off and snacks and evaluating the airline experience from airport to the airplane. This option will bring the already low price of my airfare down to $144.50 once the refund hits my credit card. While I do forego earning miles, it is worth it to me to earn the straight cash.

Adding It Up

I am all set to live it up for three days in the desert. I have my event tickets, flight, and lodging. When all expenses are totaled and rebates factored in I managed to put together a trip that can cost thousands of dollars for the bargain basement price of $937.50. If I don’t buy new clothes for the occasion, take public transportation to and home from Chicago’s airport, and prepare and pack my own meals while in California, I may even be able to keep the total cost right under $1000 for the entire three days.


Final Thoughts

I will not concede that there are better ways I could be spending my money while I am without income. Not spending $1000 on Coachella will not buy me another month of living expenses and could potentially cost me years of regret when I am not long as free to use my money and pick up and go whenever I please.

One of the best things about making the decision to go to Coachella is that it has reinvigorated my creative juices on finding ways to earn money outside of a traditional 9 to 5. I am actively pursuing ways to use my everyday skills and resources to bring in enough to replenish my blow money and vacation sink accounts.

Best of all, I am challenging limits whether they be internally or externally imposed. It is up to me to determine where my funds should stretch. It is only I who can tell myself, “F#*k your cellulite, put on some short shorts, and dance your ass off to your favorite singers.”

How Disableism Has Affected My Finances

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, Femme Frugality is running a series of Monday articles focusing on the triumphs and challenges autistic people conquer as related to their finances and careers. Today I’m so happy to introcude to you Kristine–a Norwegian money blogger at Frugasaurus–who is here to give us first-hand perspective on what it’s like to face disableism in the workplace as an autistic woman.

Didn't realize autistic people faced so many barriers to entry in the workplace! Passing on to my HR rep so my employer can be more aware of these issues.

Hi, there! My name is Kristine, and I mostly write about frugality, sustainability and personal finance over at I am also autistic–diagnosed in my early twenties with what was then known as Asperger’s. A classic middle child in many ways, my two siblings demanded attention, so my parents were overjoyed to have a child who mostly sat in a corner reading books or solving jigsaw puzzles.

When Femme approached me about writing a post for Autism appreciation month, I was honoured. I had recently written a post about autism and personal finance, but to be honest, I also felt a bit apprehensive. As I do whenever I poke my head out about my diagnosis. I was only diagnosed as an adult, after all. My condition was not such that it warranted special education or speech training.

Still, my experience is also a valid one, so here follows some of my experiences regarding disableism.

Getting A Foot Inside

It starts with the most obvious yet insidious of adult milestones: Getting a job.

I had done “everything right.” At least as far as I understood it. Society and my family told me school was important, so I attended school. They told me science was a safe profession (they were non-specific as to what kind of science), so I studied science. Environmental chemistry, to be specific.

I was told my degree was highly relevant and sought after–it had been requested by the industry after all–and I had several relevant internships. I had followed the rules. Surely, a meaningful job would follow?

That is not what happened.

Privilege & Disableism

While the job market is challenging for everyone at the moment, it is even more so for people with disabilities. I am privileged in that I am white and educated, but lack privilege in that I am autistic.

It can manifest in multiple ways. For instance, my thinking can be rigid. I have internalised that lying is bad, so I do not embellish my CV. In a world where “everyone” embellishes their CV to get ahead, this puts me at a disadvantage before it even gets to the interview.

Once at the interview, if I am lucky enough to get one, there is the risk that I might come off as a little off. No matter how much I practice social skills, I still struggle in high-stress situations with unexpected questions.

In many ways, disableism means I have had to accept that I am never the preferred candidate, unless the job involves a windowless archive with near-zero social interactions (in which case you’re probably one of the only qualified candidates).

No Data, No Answer

As an example of this, I once dropped a grade at an oral maths examination, because the teacher wanted me to calculate the weight of the air in the classroom.

I told him I did not know the weight of a cubic meter of air, and asked if he could provide an estimate. He told me to guess.

I had absolutely no frame of reference for how much a cubic meter of air weighs. I had no way to guess. He insisted I guessed, and I told him I could not. I could have calculated the volume of the air in the classroom if that was what he wanted, but the way he framed the question meant I was missing a variable, and that made me shut down.

That is how my mind works. Trying to “help” me in quiz or Trivia Pursuit just annoys me. I either know, or I don’t.

Keeping Your Financial House in Order

Nearly four years after graduating top of my class, I still do not have a permanent position. People seem to like me just fine, and they compliment my work, but I lack that knack for “chit-chat” and water-cooler talk that makes for great networking. People bring their newborn in to work and I try to compliment them as protocol dictates, but really, I just want to know if they’ve had time to look at x and y work-related subjects yet.

This means I do not feel financially secure in my employment. I hoard savings for the next time a contract will expire and I’ll be back hunting for jobs. In the end, I realised that I would never feel safe with someone else in charge of my paycheck. If I wanted financial peace, I would have to build it for myself.

If you are disabled in some way, but do not receive social benefits, you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you don’t look out for your own financial well-being, no one else will.

Note from Femme: In the US, if you are disabled and receive social benefits, the government hardly watches out for your financial well-being. Only recently have ABLE accounts allowed disabled populations to save without losing benefits. Other countries have more logical and less discriminatory social policies.

Oh, Brother of Mine

Mine is the story of autism from a highly educated and reasonably observant point of view.

My brother, on the other hand, might fit better into a different autistic stereotype. He lives a lot in his own world, doesn’t get the greatest grades, and really just wants to get on with his own life as a factory worker somewhere with rigid routines, playing video games at night and minimum amounts of fuss.

He is generous to a fault. More than once has he spent all his pocket money on gifts and tokens of affection, giving no regard to the fact that he has to eat tomorrow as well.

And I see the same struggles as he is trying his best to get a job. When and if he manages to get an interview, he is honest to a fault, and does not understand that an interview is a place to show off your best qualities.

I do hope he gets a job eventually. He may not be the most independent, but once you teach him something, he will work until you or the clock tell him to stop. In the right environment, he will be a great asset.

Just Pull Yourself Together

Probably one of the most hurtful comments to anyone with a disability–mental or physical–is the idea that it is all just in our heads, and that we can simply imagine away our obstacles with enough willpower.

If you feed off social interaction and feel invigorated at parties, that’s both incredible and alien to me. But please don’t try to assume I can do the same if I just “loosen up” or “let myself go.”

Social interactions with more than the select few people I feel comfortable with, can and will exhaust me. The office Christmas or summer party is my idea of a special hell, and no amount of practice can remedy that.

Act Natural

On a lighter note, I would suggest not trying to tell autistic people to “act natural” or to “be themselves.”

That might work for you, but myself and the other autistic people I’ve met laugh at this notion.

Acting natural for an autistic person might be sitting naked on the floor (because clothes itch or feel weird,) eating jello (smooth texture) while rocking back and forth or groaning repeatedly (“stimming”–repetitive behaviour that calms your down or shows joy/excitement.)

Trust me, I do not act “natural” in public, and you’re probably glad I don’t.

How Can You Create A Safe Space?

If you are hosting or employing autistic staff, hooray! Here are some easy tips to make them feel welcome and safe:

  • Make sure there is a retreat option. A place where we can be alone if we need a break. For most, this can simply be a bathroom that locks.
  • Many autistic people struggle with physical touch and eye-contact. Please do not force this.
  • Do not assume anything is “common knowledge.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made an ass of myself because no one thought to teach me the most rudimentary of behaviour.
  • Many autistic people appreciate honest, clear feedback on social mishaps. If you are in a position of trust, this could be relevant, but make sure it is in private and unambiguous: “Please welcome clients with a firm handshake,” (and then show them) not; “You’re greeting people a bit weird.”
  • If they want their work space organised a specific way, does it hurt anyone if you let them?
  • Educating yourself is great, but take the time to get to know the person in front of you as well. Meeting one autistic person means exactly that. You’ve met just one.
  • And please, do not make a public point out of behaviour you might find weird or if we excuse ourselves early. It’s not you–it’s us.