Autism Interview #86: Austin Jones on Art, Advocacy, and Socialization

Austin Jones is an Autistic artist, art teacher, gamer, storyteller, and advocacy writer. He graduated with an illustration degree from the Art Center College of Design. He loves Magic the Gathering, Spiral Knights, and Mexican Food. This week he shared advice for helping to advocate for individuals on the spectrum and encouraging safe socialization.

You have lots of art for sale on your website. How long have you been drawing and painting? What do you enjoy most about making art?

“Alice’s Tea Party” available at austinjohnjones.com

I have been drawing and painting since I was 5 years old. What I most enjoy about making art is being able to make the impossible become real. I really enjoy thinking up stories and characters that would never be possible and making them real based on what my ideas are. 

In one of your articles, you discuss feeling different, and how even though people say it okay to be different, this is difficult to believe. I’m sure this is a complex effort, but are there any specific behaviors you can point to that prove this feeling of acceptance is real? Or, on the contrary, what do people do or say that make you unsure their acceptance is genuine?

A lot of times in my life when I’ve let people know that I’m on the spectrum, a regular response I get is, “I didn’t notice.” Common feelings that I feel when I’m not accepted are anger, frustration and annoyance. It offends me. Like the other day, this guy didn’t seem to understand me, and he looked at other people, and he angrily said “Am I retarded?” He was making fun of me and that hurt my feelings.

Your article with video clips of sample repetitive behaviors is extremely helpful. You’ve mentioned your repetitive behaviors help you relieve stress and help you focus. Do you stim only when you are uncomfortable, or also when you comfortable?   

I only do them when I’m uncomfortable.

You’ve written about taking the risk to socialize because even though it can be scary, the rewards can be great. What advice do you have both for autistic individuals who are having trouble taking this risk, and also for neurotypicals who want to help relieve this stress for the autistic loved ones in their lives?   

For people who don’t want to socialize, I just tell them to try a small social situation with a group of people you have something in common with.  You can do this online, and it feels pretty safe. For a neurotypical, I’d say be supportive and encouraging of the person’s interests and passion and help to feed that passion and interest in a healthy way and help the person find these groups of people.

What mistakes do autism advocates make?

That’s a tough question to answer, but sometimes I feel like what advocates do is very forced.  I understand it’s for a good cause, but I’ve met a lot of people on the spectrum who don’t want people to know they are on the spectrum and so people who promote autism awareness don’t get that. 

Any advice for Magic the Gathering newbies? Parents who are trying to learn because they have children who are interested, or for young kids interested in playing, but new to the game?

The rule book is very long, so you can consult, but it’s better go to your local game store and ask one of the store owners or other players to teach you. 

“Self-portrait” available at austinjohnjones.com

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