Transcript for Iqra Babar

Kelly Bron Johnson (00:01):
Welcome to this week's episode of 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 aim to introduce you to the people and stories you didn't know about, but needed to hear and help that by seeing yourself represented in this community, allows you to feel seen.
Doug Blecher (00:33):
Iqra is joining us today. Iqra is a digital artist. Thanks so much for joining us.
Iqra Babar (00:43):
Thank you for having me.

Doug Blecher (00:43):
I wanted to start out and learn. What are the identities you would say that define you?

Iqra Babar (00:49):
I am a Muslim Pakistani, autistic women with ADHD.
Kelly Bron Johnson (00:56):
So we've talked to people all around the world on this podcast, which is really, really fun and really exciting. So we're interested in hearing about what life is like for people who are autistic and perhaps even what it's like being autistic in Pakistan. How do you see the experience of people there?

Iqra Babar (01:14):
So the whole concept of neurodiversity and mental health in general has often been seen as a taboo, not just within Pakistan, but just within south Asia. It's always been seen as a topic that people either be not educated about, or they see it as something negative. Like for me, for instance, I remember when I first got diagnosed and I was telling my, coming out to my friends about being autistic and having ADHD and I specifically remember two of those people who went along to say, but I don't look autistic.

Iqra Babar (01:54):
I'm like, oh, you are like the last person who I think would be autistic because when you think of autism, you don't think of muslim Pakistani women to be autistic. You would much rather think of someone else most likely like a caucasian person over a Pakistani person. I definitely think that the knowledge that Pakistani people have on autism in general, I think it's right now very limited. And I think something that sincerely needs to be improved on or worked on, from what I've sort of learned from other Pakistani autistic people as well, is that when you mention autism, that people will either not know what it is or whatever sort of knowledge they have on it is a very inaccurate representation of what autism actually
is. And I think that's something that definitely needs to be worked on within my community. Like within my household.
Iqra Babar (02:57):
I'm very grateful to have a very accepting and understanding family. They're always learning with me about autism them every single day, but I know that that's not the same for everyone. And it makes it unfair for other autistic Pakistani on people who might not have the same experiences I do. So I think that the, yeah, the knowledge of autism in the Pakistani community, I think there's right now very
limited. And I think that's something that really needs to be worked on to fully understand autistic Pakistani people, and that, you know, autism is not attached to any specific culture or ethnicity, you know, we're all, we're all diverse. We all come in different shapes and sizes with different backgrounds.
And I think that conversation really needs to start happening within the Pakistani community.
Kelly Bron Johnson (03:52):
Absolutely. And that, you know, this is something that is world wide. It's not something that, you know, only certain people have brains like this. So, super important.
Doug Blecher (04:03):
Iqra you were met, you know, you were talking about, you know, there needs to be a lot more learning, in the Pakistani community. Are there currently many learning opportunities? Are there organizations trying to do that type of work there?

Iqra Babar (04:19):
I think I've had one community I'm not aware of many, but I would hope that over the years, that more and more will start to develop. I know, of a few Pakistani neurodiversity like online, for instance, I think I've heard of one actual community there, but that's about it. And I guess that sort of shows how much really needs to be done to develop an accurate understanding of autism.

Doug Blecher (04:48):
Now there's lots of certainly lots of myths and discrimination towards autistic people, but also Muslim people as well. How do you see the intersection of those identities for you specifically?

Iqra Babar (05:04):
So I love being muslim and autistic and that's something that I take great pride in. I am very proud of my identity when it comes to autism. I remember it took me quite a while to not only actually grasp what autism actually is, but to fully accept it. Because I remember when I got diagnosed initially I was as relieved as I was to have the answer to certain behaviors that I have. I also felt like, you know, does this make me, this is still making me outcasted, does this, you know, this is really part of who I am. So it definitely took in that perspective, it took time to fully accept it along with being Pakistani and being Muslim. Because again, my knowledge back then on autism was very limited to what it is right now. And
back then, my understanding of autism was that you're going to, how does someone like me?

Iqra Babar (06:07):
How someone like me autistic, because you don't often, like I said before, you don't often seen Muslim autistic people just out in the open. Right. And especially like with the media and things, you don't often see a Muslim autistic person, if there is any people like that, at all. Yeah. So it took quite a while for me to accept the autistic sort of side of me along with, me being Muslim and Pakistani. In terms of that, I think media is partly to blame for sort of the discrimination and stereotypes that me along other people like me would encounter because the stereotypes that the media brings, isn't very helpful, especially when you come from a marginalized community like myself and from a minority, you know, compared to like a, an autistic person who is Caucasian and male, I think me compared to an autistic person like that, there's a lot more sort of stigma and stereotypes that I have to sort of navigate myself through as well as on top of that being autistic.

Iqra Babar (07:25):
But like I said, at the start, I am very proud of being autistic and muslim, I'm very proud of both of my identities. I think since I've been diagnosed, when it comes to like certain misled practices, I've definitely had to sort of sit down and think to myself, how can I sort of adapt the way I do things? So like praying for instance, I always find it difficult to do it five times a day, and I'm still developing ways on how I can achieve that, how I can achieve fulfilling the five daily prayers for instance. And it's a learning curve. It's, it's definitely a learning curve on how I can sort of adapt different things I do within my religion, that sort of support my autistic traits and my needs. Um, yeah, I think every day is a learning curve in that respect, but it's a good learning curve and it's beneficial not only for myself, but just how I behave and interact with myself and my faith in general.

Iqra Babar (08:32):
It's a good learning curve.
Kelly Bron Johnson (08:34):
Yeah. I think also I've seen different ways in terms of how religion can ostracize people who are different and at the same time, they can find ways to accommodate and welcome. It's great that you're finding different ways to make things work for you, right. That still fits within your faith and still find ways to, to
be comfortable and to at least, thenyou know, do it your way, but do it in the, uh, in a way that is yeah. Still fulfilling. I think that's, that's really cool. So you're also a comic book creator. Where do you see the genre present day for women, especially considering that historically comics have had a large majority of their characters being white males?

Iqra Babar (09:15):
I think recently there's been a change in how many white male characters there are in comparison to female characters, but also practice of kind a of people from ethnic minorities.
Iqra Babar (09:30):
But that being said, I still think there's an overwhelming large amount of time and comics being printed out of characters that are white males. And often whenever I go to the comic store, that's mostly what I'll see on like when I walk in is someone like, for instance, Thor or captain America, I'll see those. And then if I want to get like a miss Marvel comic and she's Pakistani Muslim, like me, I have to dig through
the shelf like at the back. And I think that sort of speaks for itself is that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in putting, people of color, to the forefront and people from different ethnic minorities, because I think people are so used to characters like captain America, Superman, Batman, Iron man. And I feel like people because they're so used to that they have some sort of a difficulty to
grasp that, you know, other characters exist that are not white males, but that doesn't make them any less interesting.
Iqra Babar (10:44):
In fact, I think so many of the characters who are not white males have, if anything, more interesting plot lines, then people like iron man or Superman. And I think that that is really needs to be brought to the forefront. So for example, like Ms. Marvel in the Marvel comics, I mean, she has, I think she was one of the most groundbreaking things in the past decade that Marvel have created. I know that the woman who initially designed her, she's also Muslim herself, which I think is absolutely amazing. And I think more characters like that need to start really sprouting because, you know, the world is so diverse and it's unfair that we can't see that enough in comics. And like when I was growing up, even though I didn't
read many comics at the time, I still like love like superheroes and especially from movies and things.
Iqra Babar (11:43):
And I remember I never felt like I saw someone who looked like me in a comic or a magazine or a show. And the closest thing I had was Spiderman. And he looks nothing like you, but it was sort of in terms of his behavior where I found a sort of connection, but you know, as I've gotten older, I see myself so much in Ms. Marvel and she looks like me and I don't think people understand how important that is, you know, because like I said before, we are such a diverse species. You know, humans are so diverse and that will be needed to be shown more. Yeah. And Ms. Marvel is a great example of someone challenging what we're so used to and being in something completely new, but just as interesting and just as important, there are other characters like Cassandra Cain from DC comics who is a woman of color, but it's also about the bat family, but she's got her own story.
Iqra Babar (12:46):
She's not just connected to Batman. She's got her own story to tell. There's people like Shuri from the Black Panther series theres the Agents of Atlas, which is an entire team , which I think is amazing. And that's, I think only the beginning, there's definitely a lot more needs to be done, but it's a start. And I think just understand that there is so much more to people than just, and just so much more superheroes than just seeing the average white male superhero. There are so many different people and I'm hopeful that we'll get better as far as it's come best and a long way to go. But I'm hoping that the face of comics, we get to see more women in fact, get see more people from ethnic minorities on front covers than just what we used to, but I'm hopeful that constant change will come about soon.
Doug Blecher (13:46):
You know, hearing you, hearing you talk about that makes me think about comics in the sense that there's quite a large number of comic characters with the, the end of their name being man. And I'm just wondering like, you know, what affects you? Like you think that, that has, like, why is that the case? And, how does that affect maybe inspiring female comic writers?

Iqra Babar (14:16):
I think hearing man a lot at the end of like a superhero's name, especially like younger people and kids can sort of get them used to the idea that as the super hero has to have man at the end of the name, otherwise they're not a super hero or are they a superhero? And I guess it sort of raises questions like that. I think in terms of present day heroes and like the new heros that are coming about, there's less of that, but I know that like the classic superheroes, you know, I am man, Superman, Batman, their so incredibly popular and, you know, kids love them, but at the same time, it's like, if you mentioned someone like, I don't know, like super girl, or Batwoman, they'd just immediately think of Batman or Superman, they wouldn't know as much about as bat women or super girl.
Iqra Babar (15:22):
They probably refer to the more popular, I guess, superhero in that regard. Yeah. I don't, it is kind of sad that a lot of them on a lot of the really popular heroes, I was just kind of have man at the end because superheroes aren't just, you know, they're women, they're men that they can be absolutely anyone. But I think from what I've read anyway, in recent comics, I haven't seen as many heroes that like a man at the end, but I guess it's something moving forward. And I guess it sort of detaches from the idea that the superhero has to have man at the end of their name. And that kind of, connotation to the idea that superior I just meant, which is not true. They're women that there are anyone, absolutely anyone, but I think,
yeah, I think in terms of using man, at the end of a hero's name, it's getting better from what I've seen. I haven't seen as many, but I do think that the very popular superheroes who we also think of a hero, they still obviously have that connotation at the end of their name, but I'm hopeful that people will start
thinking of the other heroes other than that man, or Superman or Spiderman.
Doug Blecher (16:54):
So in doing research to, to talk with you, you know, I came across something cool in that you're doing a, a comic with characters of all disabilities, you know, one character who is autistic and has ADHD another with the vitiglio. Uh, I don't think I pronounced that right, but, uh, and anxiety, uh, I think I butchered that, uh, one who's dyslexic, a blind character and a non-speaking autistic character. Why was it so important to create characters like this? And what was your process in doing so?

Iqra Babar (17:36):
Well as someone from a minority background I know how it feels to barely be if at all represented in media and know how awful it feels to be represented incorrectly, or just, you know, the representation that Muslims get for instance, media right now, if we get any eight or nine times out of 10, it's not positive representation of us, autistic representation. It's very up in the air because most autistic representation that's in media right now, most of it will be played by non non-autistic people, which doesn't make sense to me because, you know, nobody understands autism better than an autistic person. And so I know how it feels to be misrepresented in media, which is why it was so important for me as someone who was already working on it on their digital art and has always wanted to like make a sort of comic or some sort of series to really represent people that you just don't see in the mainstream media, in terms of developing the characters, it's been a long, but really fun sort of process.

Iqra Babar (19:04):
I always say that whenever you want to learn about autism, the best people you can go to are actually autistic people, right? Because we're living it daily. We live daily as autistic people. And so we would have the most type of information to give you an, to tell you about. Obviously I'm not blind. Nor am I dyslexic, and so writing about those characters, I was scavenging through the internet, finding articles,
posts, just anything written like from like all those and bloggers and people who are, who are blind and from that community, because it's the same principle that you can only really understand something so well from that community. And so that's what I done with writing my character who was blind. And my
dyslexic parents, even though dyslexia and autism have their sort of overlap, they're not the same. And so it was very interesting reading about the different sort of the similarities, but also differences between dyslexia and autism, what this lets people go through every day in terms of their traits and their behaviors, certain triggers that they might have.

Iqra Babar (20:26):
And the same with blind people and also reading about common stereotypes and stigmas that blind people face within media. I was reading an article the other day, actually from a writer and author, sorry, who is blind. And they were talking about the stereotypes that they could stand not in the media. And I remember one of them being the fact that so many blind characters in media they're blind, this
will be caused by a tragedy like it has to be something that's tragic or something caused by an accident. And I remember them saying how overdramatized that was, and that it's not realistic because blindnesss, can be caused by cataracts or glaucoma. For instance, it's not, it doesn't need to be so overdramatized. And I found that really interesting, but it also helped me understand as an autistic
person and a person who's not, who's not blind, you know, the scars and stigmas that they have to deal with in the media and things that they wish that writers could just stay away from.

Iqra Babar (21:35):
So it's been very educational as well as very interesting writing and learning about all of these different disabilities and also as an autistic person, I'm not non-speaking. So that was also really interesting to really indulge myself in. I found a ton of people online by influences who are autistic, who are non-speaking. And it's so interesting because now I know how it feels when people will approach me and ask me about things that autism, it felt really good to do the same thing with non-speaking autistic people and dyslexic people or people who are blind, just getting information from them. Yeah. It's been a very fun process, but also very educational and every Sunday I'm you would just see me with at least like 20
tabs open, just like with articles, people from all these different communities, just reading about everything, just so I really have that really good understanding from said communities, but it's been a wonderful experience writing these characters and they hope that everyone else has fun reading about them.

Kelly Bron Johnson (22:49):
Right. And I'm sure people are going to be happy to see themselves in it in the end as well. So where can people find your art? How can people, uh, see what you're doing?

Iqra Babar (23:00):
So I'm mostly active on Instagram. My Instagram is actually coach roles. I'm mostly, if I'm not posting on my feed, you'll just see me spamming things on my story. I've also got a website where you can see some of my artwork and, profiles on my characters in my comic and sort of get to know them. And they're a bit more of that. Those are my two main sort of platforms is my Instagram and my site, but I
also have Twitter, but I don't use it a lot, which is bad and I should, but I don't, but yeah, it's mostly Instagram. The, you can find me there.

Doug Blecher (23:40):
I think you're like, you're such a great person for us to have on intersections because you know, you've been seeking out story, all these greats you know, diverse stories, just like we are as well. So I'm just curious, moving forward. What types of stories would you maybe like to learn more about or see highlighted on the intersections on the spectrum podcast?

Iqra Babar (24:07):
I think for me, probably stories from autistic people who don't communicate verbally, maybe, maybe non-speaking autistic people, partially speaking autistic people and definitely just autistic people from minority backgrounds, because our experience, I think differs a lot from like white autistic people. And I think that those are stories that reallyd as much as they can because, you know, just autistic people also so diverse. And so our stories and so it's what we have to offer. And yeah, I definitely think that maybe I think that's what I would like to see. I think going forward, it's just a lot more stories from ethnic minorities. And if it was possible who people who are partially speaking or non-speaking, or might just
communicate differently. Cause not all autistic people like myself, not all autistic people communicate verbally. So I think that would be really interesting.

Doug Blecher (25:17):
Well Iqra, uh, we really appreciate your time today. Thanks so much for joining us.

Iqra Babar (25:23):
Thank you for having me.

Kelly Bron Johnson (25:24):
Thank you.