I was first diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome only in the last two years, at age nineteen. This was also the first year I participated in Krampuslauf Philadelphia: Parade of Spirits, a processional arts event organized by a family member, Amber Dorko Stopper. For this event, over the last three fall and winter seasons, I have made masks, lanterns, and costumes, for myself and others. I participate in the procession as the Scottish winter deity known as the Cailleach, in an effort to link back to my own ancestry, though my interpretation and portrayal of this figure continues to change each year.

I have been making art in a variety of media, including drawings, ceramics, and carvings over the years, though I never considered displaying them for anyone other than myself. Given my own natural tendencies to just place my artwork aside where it will be seen by few, I recognize that as someone who wants to see the artwork of more autistic people being shared, and to have more of such artwork available for others to see, that I too need to be reciprocal in such efforts. As public as masks and costumes are, creating and sharing these is -- to me -- a lower-risk, less stressful way of sharing artwork. To me, processional arts produce an environment where there is the freedom to present anything you have to offer, and where the only barrier to entry is participation.

The event itself is more challenging in some ways than the preparation. There are both sensory and social components to these challenges. The first year, I made a large mask which hung over my chest, veiling my head so I could produce the illusion of a hunchback. While I have comfortably worn masks for years in nonsocial contexts, I had not known until the night of my first Krampuslauf how difficult it would be for me to interact with my face concealed. The veil served as an additional barrier to connection beyond the normal challenges afforded by small talk.

My second year I faced a new challenge. Though I opted to make a headpiece that would not conceal my face, it involved a bunch of sticks projecting upward from my head as tall as 3 feet, with nylon rope hanging down for hair, while my face was painted blue. The tall headpiece had a significant impact on my proprioception, though, as I could not sense where I was with respect to other objects and obstacles—awnings, tree limbs, Christmas lights.

During the procession itself, you are walking in a more or less straight line while, though somehow, I have found myself walking amongst many others than those with whom I started the procession. The arrangement of the group is as a big organism, while retaining its ancestral fluidity. In that moving organism, I feel I can engage people socially, even just to say things like, "I like your walking stick." It feels easier to do this while moving en masse than chatting when everyone is waiting around in the park.

For me, seeing this joy and relief in other autistic individuals resonates with the same artistic parts in me, almost like a signal booster serving to amplify my own connectedness with things I am passionate about.

Processional arts have really worked for me as a way to process not just my feelings about my autism but to empower me to tackle other big emotional issues in my life. Even though there are challenges, there are also more opportunities for my creative work to be out there in the public, and I am wondering if this is true for other autistic people. I think we could make something amazing happen in Philadelphia, and give kids some great role models -- plus it could be a really great time.

* 1. Please rank these characteristics of public processions or parades in the order of importance you assign to them, one being most important, four being least important:

* 2. Please consider the following six statements, and indicate whether each of them might make a processional event something you'd be MORE or LESS likely/able to attend (even if the creative content was primarily created by people on the autism spectrum):

  I would be much MORE likely/able to attend
(1)
2 This wouldn't make a difference
(3)
4 I would be much LESS likely/able to attend
(5)
It would happen at night
It would happen in the day
It would be noisy
There would be a lot of people
No one I know would be present
I would not know what to make/do to take part

* 3. Please rank your interest in the following activities related to a Neurodiversity/Autism Acceptance-themed procession. Please use one (1) for the description that would make you most comfortable participating, and five (5) for the description that would make you least comfortable participating.

  Most comfortable
(1)
(2) (3) (4) Least comfortable
(5)
making neurodiversity-themed banners, costumes, puppets etc. at my own home to bring to a procession
attending group workshops with many people (up to thirty people) to make neurodiversity-themed banners, floats, puppets, costumes, etc.
being involved in planning a neurodiversity-themed procession, but not necessarily attending
attending small group workshops (five people or fewer) to make neurodiversity-themed banners, floats, puppets, costumes, etc.

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