Hi, and welcome to this episode of the intersections on the spectrum podcast. The intersections on the spectrum podcast is the brainchild of Doug Blecher and Kelly Bron Johnson created to discuss intersectional issues within the autistic community and give visibility to commonly marginalized, repressed, underrepresented, or erased identities and issues. We aimed to introduce you to the people and stories you didn't know about, but needed to hear and hope that by seeing yourself represented in the community, allows you to feel seen.
Doug Blecher (00:39):
We are thrilled today to have Franci Hernandez. Join us. Thanks so much for joining us Franci.
Franci Hernandez (00:47):
It's great to meet you guys and to be on here.
Doug Blecher (00:49):
Absolutely. We wanna start by just getting to know you a little bit and learning about your identities. What would you say are the identities that you're mostly connected with?
Franci Hernandez (01:01):
For starters, I am autistic and ADHD. I do have a couple other diagnoses like bipolar and OCD and as well as C PTSD, I'm Latinx and I'm indigenous Mexican as well. I am also part white, so that's important to recognize that I do, I do benefit from a lot of white privilege in society. So I think that's very important to recognize.
Kelly Bron Johnson (01:34):
I just actually did a post today on, um, on LinkedIn about, about, um, light skin privilege. You know, and I think it's, um, it's not discourse that happens so much with white people, but I know that when I bring up racial issues, they see me as like the safe person that it's like, oh, you're the safe person of color that we can, we can adjust these things with. And then they kind of gloss over a lot of the more serious issues that, lot more serious, just more there's there's a lot more, I think, danger and violence.
Kelly Bron Johnson (02:13):
That's directed towards darker skinned people in general. And so for me, it's important that I can't speak to those experiences, but I can open the door and pass the mic to those who, who do live with those experiences. So it's always important, I think, to recognize our privilege. So I'm so with you on that.
Franci Hernandez (02:33):
Exactly. And I guess it really depends on like, you know, the people you're around, like you said, like some people will be like, think they can get away with saying certain things, just because to them, I might seem lighter or or in, uh, communities in my like ethnic community, the Hispanic community, or like the native community, like sometimes my identity is kind of dismissed a bit, but it's still important to recognize that I don't, I don't experience a lot of issues that those who have a different complexion do exactly.
Kelly Bron Johnson (03:13):
So going on that, on that vein, you know, we know that many autistic people are underrepresented, um, and that includes indigenous and Latinx. So for those who are looking to learn more or hear more stories from indigenous and Latinx, uh, autistic, do you have any suggestions aside from you? Of course.
Franci Hernandez (03:36):
Well, my platform isn't very large, but, um, I do a lot of, um, I like to go on Instagram and TikTok. Those are like my favorite social media, social media that I go on. I really like, uh, the chronic couple on Instagram and then there's a creator on TikTok Mary post. And I really like them as well. For some reason I can't think of like other creators, there's actually not a lot of indigenous creators that I can find on TikTok. And it's, I feel like the algorithm does kind of like silence them a lot.
Franci Hernandez (04:14):
So it's hard, it's actually hard to find people to follow, but I encourage people to actively like follow comment. And in addition to supporting their content, it's really important to not just do it. It's important also like deconstruct to listen and to work on your privilege as well.
Kelly Bron Johnson (04:37):
We just had that conversation. Um, last guest actually about, you know, having to go and seek out, people and topics that are, you know, it's not that they're not even mainstream because the fact is that BIPOC people we represent the global majority. So, but that's not what the media is really focusing on or showing us. So we actually have to go and really seek out, you know, into the corners of the internet to find all these creators and, and amazing people that we're often missing out on. And I think that's why our podcast, you know, that's part of the point of this podcast too, is to really like, make sure we're shining a light on those people who are not often seen or heard of.
Doug Blecher (05:25):
And it, and it's interesting that you bring up the algorithm because whenever I come across, an indigenous creator, particularly an indigenous and autistic creator, I'm excited to find them cuz it seems like it's not as easy to find those accounts.
Franci Hernandez (05:44):
Yeah, definitely. I agree. I do, I see more, um, like black creators than I do indigenous creators and it's not that there's not many like indigenous or Latinx creators out there. It's just, it's really hard to find them.
Doug Blecher (06:04):
Now you recently graduated with a masters in forensic science, blood stain pattern analysis. So I don't think I've talked to anyone with, with this degree before. So I'm very interested to learn where did kind of your interest in this area, this field, uh, of forensic science come from?
Franci Hernandez (06:25):
Yeah, so, , I'm not completely done. Basically I'm finishing up my dissertation and once I submit that I'm completed the program, but, um, I'm completing it pretty soon, but my passion for forensics it's kind of been like a lifelong thing. It's one of my special interests and it kind of just derives from loving crime shows. Like some of my favorite is criminal minds, Dexter of course, law and order SBU, CSI, Miami. And that's just a few of them. I grew up watching like a lot of true crime with my mom and I don't know, just from a young age, we were always watching like snapped and deadly women. And we also listen to like audio books and I really just love science in general as well. So it kind of just became like this passion of mine. And since I was about like 13, I always said, I wanna be a forensic scientist. And everyone's always like, well, what are you gonna do with that? And I love small details and comparing things. And so bloodstain pattern analysis was just right at my alley.
Kelly Bron Johnson (07:47):
I have, I have a bit of a theory about why, I would say a lot of times autistic people are really interested in criminals like in just that criminal mindset. My theory is that it's our way of analyzing like human behavior and it's, so it's such extreme, I guess, human behavior that we like wanna try and understand it. Not, not to like get in that person's head necessarily, but to understand their motivations because it's important. I think for us to keep ourselves safe in social situations to know, okay, what's the difference between somebody who's going to be a murderer and somebody who is, I don't know, at my grocery store. And I think there's something like really deep about that, about trying to understand the motivations behind why people do things. Because I think as autistic people, we're not really not great at figuring out people's motivations and their intent. I think that's like one of the big struggles socially. That's, that's my theory.
Franci Hernandez (08:53):
Yeah. I, I absolutely agree that, for me, I feel like I'm always because of masking and always having trouble like communicating it's I always feel like I'm really trying to like gauge what someone's like true intentions are. And I feel like I'm always like, I'm really in my head and overanalyzing even like just physical behaviors when people are talking when they're doing something. And, I've always, always, always wanted to do like criminal psychology or like forensic psychology because my absolute dream job is to do, be in the FBI and be, a criminal profiler. And, if I could do my PhD, I would do my PhD in forensic psychology because I, I love psychology. That is another one of my interests. And I definitely feel like just indulging in psychology really helps me just understand people that I don't understand and why people say things, why they do things and, how people just interact with each other in world as well. And I think that definitely comes from my autistic brain.
Doug Blecher (10:28):
Well, I guess what I was thinking, I just, because one of my, one of my focused or special interests are TV shows. And nowadays there's, I, you know, every genre has a lot of them, but it seems like there's like true crime is like the most popular genre right now. Do you have a sense of why you think that might be?
Franci Hernandez (10:58):
I think, in general I do have like a strong sense of justice and that is very common with a lot of autistic people. And I've always just had like this inner need to like want to like help people bring justice to victims. And, I am, I'm really passionate as well about special victims and that field differences, being somebody who has survived domestic violence and a few crimes myself, it is, it's just become very, very ingrained in me that like, I want to seek justice. I want to see these people get help. And it's just something that I've always been passionate about as well.
Kelly Bron Johnson (11:51):
So like, like, well, me and Doug as well <laugh> and many of the people that we've interviewed did not get a diagnosis until we were adults. So how have you felt since you received your diagnosis and did it help you when your study, like in your studies, did you get accommodations in university? What has it done for you?
Franci Hernandez (12:13):
Um, yeah, so I did, um, I didn't get diagnosed. I didn't get my autism diagnosis till just this past November, but it is some it's something that I had been seeking for like the past two or three years, I'd say. But several years ago, like five years ago, it was probably more like four years ago when I was in undergraduate school. I'd already had like a few accommodations, for my PTSD and anxiety and, these accommodations are actually really helpful for ADHD, but, I had, they were centered around the concept of time.
Franci Hernandez (12:50):
Like you have twice as much time for quizzes and tests, which really helped with my anxiety and like ADHD paralysis and dissociation, because that was a big one during test. I just sort of would panic and just zone out. But after my autism diagnosis, the accommodations that I really appreciated were that I was given like frequent sensory breaks in case I was over stimulated. I could leave the classroom if I wanted. I could run to the bathroom. I got to like pick my seat, cuz I mean, in, in college there was a lot of like big lecture halls. So I would either get to pick like a seat near the exit. So I have to leave quickly and be like the whole rush of people before I kind of have a panic attack. And, another thing that is very, very helpful is that my instructor instructors, they were, they were required to give me like the outline for the week ahead of time. And if there were any changes in the schedule and the task for the week, they had to give it to me in written form, which was really helpful because I could always go back and reference it versus like hearing it in class. I might forget it or I might lose the paper that I wrote it down. And so I found that to be extremely helpful.
Doug Blecher (14:22):
Now I, I definitely, could talk a lot about the assessment process for adults. The autism assessments, many of the things that I don't like about it. But I think something really important is the person that does assess you. So I'm wondering in what ways, from what I understand, the, your assessor was autistic, how did that help you in that process?
Franci Hernandez\ (14:51):
I think it was, it was a very cathartic experience and I was really happy with it because usually I'm a very like anxious person and I was really nervous and awkward, but the thing is that he was too. And so it kind of, it was easier to kind of get past that initial, like introduction stage. And I felt like I was talking to a friend that I relate to and the thing is like his view was that, oh, of course these are autistic traits. I could spot you from a mile away. Like he said that I had an autistic accent that he could understand and he really understood the concept of like special interests and how it affects you socially. And he just had that internal experience. So I think like a lot of people really don't get the privilege of, getting when they have an, a neurotypical assessor because you know, sometimes you hear like these assessments aren't always super accurate or, they don't really describe what it, what the internal experience is like, but when you have an autistic assessor, they can understand it on a deeper level.
Franci Hernandez (16:13):
So they can pick up on like the smaller things that they're like, oh, I do that too. I completely understand why you do that. That's also my process. Oh, I have that sensory issue as well. And it just makes it such a more welcoming experience cuz it's also like, oh great, I'm meeting another autistic person. And I feel like most autistic people that I meet, it's easier for me to vibe with them cuz I'm really awkward. So it, it makes it a lot easier to just not be as embarrassed and because I wasn't as embarrassed or scared, I would say it made it easier for me to give more intimate details about my experience.
Kelly Bron Johnson (17:05):
I really love what you said there because so much of, of the assessment process and the way that they like created these diagnostic criteria, it's how the outside world experiences us. It's not how we experience the world. It's how other people perceive us. So it's an outside expression of autism. But when you have somebody who actually lives it, they're able to go deeper, you know, and, and not just look at the outwardly thing, especially cuz all of us, especially as adults, if we've gotten to adulthood without being diagnosed, it's because we've been masking the whole time. And so like I find it's hard for neurotypical professionals to see past the mask and because they're only looking at the outward expression and that's the way that the criteria's been created. So it's a huge, huge problem. <laugh> huge issue in diagnostics. <laugh>.
Franci Hernandez (18:04):
Yeah. Cause it's like a lot of, um, even like the questions, um, that they ask you, it's like how much do you bother other people?
Franci Hernandez (18:15):
How much do you bother other people around you? How much of a burden are you to like your friends and family?
Kelly Bron Johnson (18:20):
Franci Hernandez (18:21):
But when I, with the assessor had, it was more like, how does this affect you? How does it make you feel when this happens? What is your, what is your internal process like? How much distress does it, does this cause you.
Doug Blecher (18:38):
Yeah. Some of the questions I just, just laughed out loud about because like I remember there was like one question that said like, do you script or think about conversations with people before you have them? And then I, I said, well doesn't every human <laugh> and the assessors said, no, actually not. And I, I can't even like my brain can't process that how <laugh>.
Kelly Bron Johnson (19:06):
Yeah. Cuz if you don't like you pick up the phone and you're like, I don't know, I've done it. Like I've, I've introduced myself as the person I was talking to. I've done also some weird things. <laugh> um, so, so what other kind of interesting things have you learned about yourself since you, um, got your diagnosis? So I know you have other diagnosis, um, but how did like the autism diagnosis help you and what have you learned?
Franci Hernandez (19:34):
I mean it, really, everything kind of really came into perspective instead of like viewing myself as just these like few things. I started view myself as like this bubble and all these other things are intertwined with it. And I mean, I had the same experience that a lot of other autistic people have where they say like I stopped hating myself. Like I learned to accommodate myself instead of beating myself up about everything that I struggle with because I seriously would like every day have like these existential crises of like, why am I like this?
Franci Hernandez (20:15):
Why is this a struggle for me? Why can't I do this? And now I've kind of like been going over that bridge and like just giving myself, like, even if it's a small accommodation, I've started to really acknowledge my support needs and give myself the tools to live. And I don't, I try not to beat myself up about it. And honestly, just knowing that I have an autistic brain and that I struggle with executive dysfunction because of my ADHD and all these other things. It's um, really just given me the tools that I need to, to have a better life and to be happier. And, one big thing is that I've noticed a lot of my anxiety has gone down. I don't even take, I used to take, like anti-anxiety medications, but now I don't. I take an ADHD medication because as a lot of people say, the SSRIs weren't working for me, I had to start taking stimulant and my internal monologue, my misophonia and all of that really stemmed down and my anxiety has to decreased as well. And also unmasking. I've kind of started to allow myself to unmask and I've started to release a lot of that shame that society instills on you for your autistic grades.
Kelly Bron Johnson (21:53):
That was me a hundred percent. A lot of that. I, you know, my anxiety when I was having panic attacks because I was mm-hmm <affirmative> in sensory overload and I didn't know that that was sensory overload. And with my diagnosis, I was able to learn that I need to kind of, learn how to regularte and figure out, okay, well, if I'm too hot, I could take off a sweater rather than going into a panic attack. Whoa, what a concept. But it was like, I didn't, you know, I didn't realize, oh, the lights are, the lights are seriously stressing me out. So I, I need to either get out of this place or whatever, but like all my anxiety went away when I realized what was causing it and that I could change it and that I could accommodate myself and that I could say no to things that don't work for me.
Kelly Bron Johnson (22:40):
It was fantastic. It was liberating.
Franci Hernandez (22:42):
So yeah, that's, that's a good word. Liberating is very, it's very good word. And I totally relate with you on the sensory aspect of things. Like, I would just force myself to wear these like popular in style clothes because you know, other people are wearing them now I wear what's comfortable. I don't buy fast fashion, like thrift. I'm not embarrassed about that anymore. I like the sun is a huge thing for me. Like I'm almost like completely, my sight is really bad like in the day, if it's really sunny. So now I have like prescription lenses and stuff like that. And I've really like, I've gotten sensitive toothpaste, sensitive teeth toothpaste that helps as well. But all of these like sensory issues that I had, I like stopped forcing myself to be uncomfortable. And once I did that, I noticed a lot of like my anxiety and overstimulation went down a lot.
Doug Blecher (23:47):
Now you had mentioned, earlier in our conversation about your Instagram and, uh, TikTok accounts and you know, in following your TikTok account, I, I saw a definite pattern that I picked up on. I think I'm pretty good at picking up on patterns. So, at one of those is that, you know, music, and also stuffies or stuffed animals may be important things in your life. So I'm wondering how did, how do these things make your, your life better?
Franci Hernandez (24:20):
I do, I love, I love collecting stuffed animals. Um, my special interest, I love a lot is care bears. Like in my tik toks, you'll see, I have like a carer wall, which I've taken down now, but at some point, I, I really love car bears. It's just like nostalgic connection I have with them. It kind of really connects me to my inner child. I remember I had the V the movies on VHS tape and I just rewind it and watch it over and over and over again, as I'm sure a lot of autistic children do with their favorite movie, or show, they just keep repeating it and repeating it cuz it's, it's not new and it's something that isn't giving you anxiety, cause it's not, it's not, uh, what's the word unexpected, I guess <laugh> but I love to like reward myself with, stuff, animals and a big part of it for me is it's like healing my inner child.
Franci Hernandez (25:32):
And , in general I call myself, like to my family, I call myself the collector because for me when I like something, I start collecting it and it really doesn't matter what it is if I really like it, then it's, I have to have it in every color where I have to have every model of it. And, um, I also, I'm really big into collecting stuff. Drafts. I have a whole collection in storage, honestly, but, um, in regards to music, I really love like heavy metal and classic rock. And then I also love like modern hip hop and rap and a big thing about that and why I like it is because it's easy to stim to. And it like, it's really, really satisfying to memorize lyrics because from a young age I was extremely hyper verbal. And so in my head, I would just love to like kind of guess the next lyric.
Franci Hernandez (26:36):
And then I would also love to memorize it and then play the song and repeat and get it where was matching new lyrics perfectly with a song. And music's a big part of my life as well because, I played the saxophone in high school. I was in marching band. And even though like, it's really hard for me to learn how to play an instrument because I'm autistic. Once I had really learned it, I was exceptional and I just have a huge connection with music as I'm sure a lot autistic and probably ADHD people do as well. I have like really good memories associated with like care bears and, certain music and songs and genres and I really just dive deep into it. And, it kind of brings me back to this place of like peace and happiness and like my autism specialist said, he said, it's, that's how we live. It's like a lifeline of times, like if I'm having the worst day and I'm overstimulated and , I feel like nobody understands me and I feel misunderstood. Music's always there. Stuffed animals are always there. So it's kind of, it's regulating and grounding at the same time.
Kelly Bron Johnson (28:03):
I think that, um, the best description, you know, some people used to call me childish, but I like to say I'm childlike or childlike. I think, that concept of play never gets old. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I think it keeps us very young. I think also like if you look at a lot of autistic people, we look younger than our age. A lot of the time, I'm not saying it's because we kind of preserve that, that, childlike being that doesn't mean that we're naive. It doesn't, again, it doesn't mean we're childish. It's just, we, I don't know. I think it's a more, it's a more relaxed way to kind of enjoy life. And rather than being like, yes, we have to adult, but like, we also can, can relax too. Right. We can also calm ourselves and soothe ourselves and, and, and why not be happy?
Kelly Bron Johnson (28:56):
Like why not just chill and be happy <laugh> with like fun kid stuff.
Franci Hernandez (29:02):
Yeah. It's like a, it's a really good way to like balance yourself with all of the other like heavy things of like that you have to deal with when you're adulting, like all the phone calls and like having to actually like talk to people to get your bills paid, get your, your pay stub or whatever it is. Like those childlike things are so reliable for me just to kind of like escape and it's not as like draining or heavy, like a lot of, uh, a lot of, um, adulting stuff is.
Doug Blecher (29:42):
And, and I, I wanna say with your TikTok account, I think as long as, it can be safe for the person to share their focus interest. I think that it's, it's great to do because you sharing about your stuffies or your music videos, gave me joy, cuz I could see how much joy it was giving you. So thank you for that.
Franci Hernandez (30:07):
<laugh> no problem.
Doug Blecher (30:09):
Well, well, Fran, it was wonderful to talk with you today. Thanks for making time to have this conversation with us.
Franci Hernandez (30:18):
No, um, I really enjoyed it. I've never been on a podcast before and you made this like a really, really good experience. <laugh> let it go off my really long tangents. <laugh>.
Kelly Bron Johnson (30:32):
no, it's great. We love it. That's what, that's what this whole podcast is for really. So it's all about you and, and all the amazing things that you have to share with us. So thank you so much.