Transcript for Katrina Frank

Kelly Bron Johnson (00:00)

Hi and welcome to this episode of the Intersections on the Spectrum Podcast. The intersections on the  Spectrum podcast is the brainchild and passion project 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 hope that by seeing yourself  represented in the community allows you to feel seen. 

Doug Blecher (00:37)

And today we're thrilled to have Katrina Frank, join us. Katrina, thanks so much for making time to talk  with me and Kelly. 

Katrina Frank (00:46)

Of course, I'm so happy to be here. <laugh>, 

Doug Blecher (00:49)

We, we always like to start off by learning the identities of our guests. So what would you say are the  identities that you connect with? 

Katrina Frank (01:00)

Yeah, so, um, how I describe myself and my identities are I am a Jewish, Afro-Asian indigenous Latina. I  am also autistic, uh, with ADHD as well. <laugh>. Yeah, I, I guess that I, I try to come up with ways that  can describe myself in a very brief but impactful way. So I'll, I'll stick with that <laugh>. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (01:32)

So something that is very important to us, um, is intersectional storytelling. And along those lines, you  recently wrote a book called Late to the Game, Early to the Practice, the diagnosis of an autistic Afro  Asian Indigenous Latina. What do you hope people take away from reading your story? And, and  congratulations on writing the book as well, cause I know that's a huge endeavour. 

Katrina Frank (01:54)

So, Yes, thank you so much. Well, to be honest, when I first was writing this collection of poems, it was  really just a way for me to cope with a lot of the postpartum anxiety and all of the other feelings I was  having after just having a baby <laugh>. 

Katrina Frank (02:15)

So initially I wasn't writing to publish anything, it was just really to get by, I would say <laugh>. And then  eventually I started to notice, um, that there was a little bit of a story and a documentation of my  journey not only into motherhood, but as a, I guess as a 30 year old woman <laugh> at the time,  <laugh>. And interestingly, once I had my son, that's when I discovered that I was autistic. So it all kind  of just blended in together. So even though I didn't, you know, come into this thinking that I would have  something to say, I think the biggest takeaway is to show that for us who are intersectional and for us  who are autistic or neurodivergent we all have a voice. And I think the more that we can share our  stories, the less people can feel alone in their own diagnosis journeys.

Katrina Frank (03:22)

And yeah, I think too, when, you know, growing up I just didn't see a lot of people like myself, whether  that be the way that I looked or the experiences that I had. So maybe just, maybe this might help those  who are in need of seeing someone like themselves in either stories or in other forms. So, yeah. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (03:47)

Well, there's, there's two things that you brought up too. Like a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot. I don't know how  many, but a lot of us get diagnosed after our children are diagnosed <laugh>. And that's like, it seems to  be a common phenomenon. And I don't know what your experience was like, but I, for us, it was kind of  funny because after my son got diagnosed, the psychologist said, you know, she looked at my partner  and I, and she's like, you know, normally it's in the family somewhere, <laugh>. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (04:15)

And I kind of looked at my partner and I'm like, Well, it's not me, obviously, it's supposed to be you  <laugh>. It's like, and then it, it wasn't until later where I started to read more, more stuff written by  autistic women that I was like, Oh, it's me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> <laugh>. Ok. So I dunno if that was  kind of like what happened with you, or if you wanna talk about it a bit about that. 

Katrina Frank (04:36)

Sure. Yeah. So, I, to be honest, it wasn't like that, but I, that's very, I've heard that a lot from you know,  moms who are also autistic <laugh> is that it was through their kids. For me, it was, I had so much  anxiety that I just worried about everything. And one of my big worries was, is my son autistic? Even  though he was only two months old. 

Katrina Frank (05:01)

Like, I just had this, you know, this worry about that. And I think a lot of that contributed to, you know,  the media that I've consumed since I was young and what autism looks like, You know, that's typically  male. It's typically these five specific traits that you can see in a toddler, you know, doing these specific  things. And, so of course, you know, with my anxiety and I'm, I also have a degree in librarianship, so I  really begin to research. I went away at researching autism and what that looks like, how it presents.  And I came across a video as well that was like, Are you autistic? And it, I just related to it so much that I  realized, Oh my gosh, I might be autistic <laugh>. And so from there, I really just, you know, that became  my special interest and I learned everything that I needed to know and sought out, some help and a  diagnosis. I didn't have the best experience, unfortunately, when it came to doctors at first, but then I  found one that seemed like they're up to date on <laugh> on everything in terms of the diagnosis. And  that's how I, I started that whole process. But yeah, so in a way, through my child, it <laugh> I did, learn  more about myself, but, it wasn't directly through a diagnosis from him. Yeah. 

Doug Blecher (06:34)

And Katrina, I wanted to go back to something you were just talking about, like initially you didn't feel  like, you know, you had something to sa in terms of writing your book. Um, how did that process like  change for you to give you the Did you need the confidence to, um, or, or what did, or what, what  happened that made you like feel like, Okay, I do have something to say? 

Katrina Frank (07:03):

Yes. I think, to be honest, it, it kind of started with where I work. I work for Kalamazoo College, and I'm a  web services specialist there. And you know, during this time, it was when George Floyd was murdered.  So across campus, you know, there's this big movement for diversity, equity, and inclusion. And with  that, I jumped on that train and decided to learn more and understand more, even though, I am, bipoc,  it's just, you know, there I realized how much I didn't know about, you know, the different cultures that  I'm a part of. And also I think I was, I just didn't have the, the experience. I didn't have the, I would say  such as a harsh experience. I think growing up when it came to how I look and how I present to the  world, I, I was, I grew up in LA County where it's very diverse. 

Katrina Frank (08:13)

But then I moved to the state of Michigan. I lived in Austin, Texas for a while, and that's when I started  to really discover you know, and experienced racism and bigotry and all those things that are a part of  that. Not to say that the place that I work with like that, however, it opened the door and provided  opportunities for me to have more self-discovery. And I ended up becoming more in touch in with my  African heritage while in Michigan of all places, <laugh>. I give it up to, um, Regina Stevens Trust. She's a  wonderful woman professor. <laugh>, you know, I could describe her in so many different ways, but she  really encouraged me to not only connect with my roots, but also to share my story. And she often talks  about how we are not monoliths in this life. And so I think through putting, applying, you know, my job  to diversity, equity, inclusion, it just all kind of worked well together. It was like the perfect storm  <laugh> of, you know, finding my voice, during this time of also being diagnosed and learning more  about myself. So 

Doug Blecher (09:40)

Now you were talking about, how your book has a lot of your poetry in, in it. And I read a poem you  wrote called My Hyper Focus, in which you wrote about finding, your stride can feel limited, until  something just clicks , <laugh>. So, so I'm wondering how much of your hyper focus played, a factor in  writing, your new book? 

Katrina Frank (10:09)

Yes. I think it played a large part at points and both, you know, as a benefit, but also sort of as a curse  sometimes. So like I said before, uh, you know, I was writing these poems really to, you know, help with,  to help cope with anxiety. So at that point, yes, by hyper focus, once I started writing, I didn't wanna  finish because it was, helpful to me. And each of these poems, I probably wrote one of them a month,  maybe two a month. So, you know, it's kind of like, I had all this time to feel these things, and then all of  a sudden I had the words <laugh> and I could, you know, put them into my phone. So in that sense,  that's where hyperfocus was really part a part of the writing process. And then in terms of compiling the  book, that's where it was difficult because, yeah, I feel like my experience with hyper focus is I really  have to wait for things to percolate a little bit before I can get started. 

Katrina Frank (11:17)

And I don't know if that's more of the ADHD <laugh> part of my diagnosis where, you know, I can't really  get started until it's time to get started. So, yeah, I hope that answers the question <laugh>. That was  my experience. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (11:34):

No, I relate to that. I relate to that. For me, like writing is cathartic. It's a processing way. It's a, I write  every day and like and then that hyper focus part, like, I wrote my book in two evenings, and people are  always like, What <laugh>? It's kinda like if I sit down and I, and the same thing, like some of my, I'm in  like, some anthologies and my anthology contributions were written when I was out to dinner and I told  my, my partner, I'm like, Well, I'm gonna go write this contribution and I'll be back and <laugh>, I go , I  walk myself in my office and I, and I write, and I cry and I go through it. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (12:13)

It, it's like a process. And then it's like, and then it's done, and then I don't look at it again and I submit  things and I'm like, The editor can deal with this, and I'm not gonna look at it until somebody gets back  to me. And that's what I do. And then I really don't even wanna look back at it, to be honest, unless the  

editor makes me out. Like, I don't want to. So it, so it's like it just has to come out and, and when it's  gonna come out, it's gonna come out. That's it. 

Katrina Frank (12:35)

Right. It feels like a form of release. Yeah. You know, I, yeah. I guess I do have a question for you, Kelly.  So how, how do you manage that with, and do you have children? I have two as well. 

Katrina Frank (12:46)

Yeah. How do you manage that? Because that was my hardest part is like, I just want to get this done  and to finish this. 

Katrina Frank (12:52)

But of course, you know, life and kids sometimes you can't always do that. So give me some tips. How  <laugh>, how are you able to? 

Kelly Bron Johnson (13:00)

So it helps, I think it helps like the age of my children at this point. Um, my, my youngest is almost seven,  and my, my eldest is 13. And so I wrote the book two years ago, so they were like, would've been like  four. And like, I love them. There we go. Thank you. Okay. That's in my head. Um, <laugh>. And so, like,  at that point they're, you know, they're easier to manage a little bit. They're, they kind of understand  some boundaries. If mum's going in the office or whatever, I have the most amazing partner in the  world. You know, and everybody can get like upset about that if they want to, but I honestly have the  word, I have the best, best absolute best partner in the world who, who really holds down the fort. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (13:40)

And, and does, you know, when people talk about equal share of things, it's, it's not even equal. It's, it's  beyond so <laugh> like, we're not. 

Katrina Frank (13:48)

That's how I feel about my partner too. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (13:49)

Yeah. Like we're, you know, we don't score and stuff like that. And there's things that, because, because  he's willing to pick up that slack that I'm able to live the life that I live. So I never want to try to minimize 

that or pretend that I have some sort of secret formula. I do not get up at four o'clock in the morning. I,  sleep at, you know, like I'm not that kind of person. I, I'm not gonna advocate for people going like, Oh,  well just, you know, get up at four o'clock, run a while and eat some almonds, and then it's good  <laugh>, I don't do that. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (14:20)

Right. So, Right. So, um, yeah, like I, it, it doesn't happen alone. Um, and even then, like I always love  how Maya Angelou used to write, I know d have you heard her story, but how she used to write? 

Katrina Frank (14:32)

Oh, not how she wrote. No. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (14:34)

Oh, so she, cuz she was taking care of everybody. She was taking care of sick parents, she was taking  care of children, she was taking care of everybody. And so when she wanted to write one of her books,  she would go to a hotel, lock herself in a hotel room for a weekend when bring a bottle of bourbon and  <laugh>. And that's what she did. She sat in the bed. She did, and that's all she did. So that's how she  wrote her books like in those weekends. Oh. And that was it because she couldn't get any other time  away. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (15:01)

All that to say takes a village. It's, it, it takes a cooperation. And I think if my kids had been younger, this  wouldn't have happened. There's a certain, you know, they need to have a certain amount of self sufficiency and independence at some point, um, for you to be able to do things in some sort of normal  way. But even then, like I can't guarantee I'm never gonna get interrupted. In fact, I get it, of course, like  all the time. So <laugh>, 

Katrina Frank (15:33)

Yes. Yeah. Well that, that is helpful because for me, you know, my kid just turned three not too long ago,  so I do, that's what I hear often is like, when they get older it gets easier. So hopefully that's true  <laugh>, That's true for us at least. I'm sure it will be. And um, I, yeah, I just, I totally relate to the,  especially you talking about how you just write it and you're done, You know, I feel like that's that same  way. 

Katrina Frank (16:02)

It's like I've, I've already spent time on this thinking about it, feeling it. I don't wanna feel it anymore. I  don't wanna think about anymore. So yeah. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (16:10)

Yeah. The process is done. The, uh, what I needed to get out was out and that's it. And so I don't re  relive it, it's done. I wanted to also ask, Yeah, I want to ask, how can people find your book? Where can  they find late to the game, early to the practice? 

Katrina Frank (16:22):

Absolutely. So this my first adventure into, I don't know if venture is the right word, that's sometimes  have, has a negative connotation, but this is my first experience with, self-publishing. So they can find it  on Amazon, to search the title or my name and it should pop up. 

Doug Blecher (16:38)

Excellent. iNow you were talking, uh, earlier that, working at Kalamazoo College and, you know, earlier  this year you wrote an article on their, their website about accepting Tom Haggins and hashtag autistic  Black Pride. So what did you learn? Cause I do a lot of researching, um, you know, when I'm, when I'm  writing, What did you, so I know there must have been some researching involved. What did you learn  in this research and writing this article? 

Katrina Frank (17:11)

Yes. So yeah, at Kalamazoo College our, Hhm team, they have a series called 19 and every 19 of the  month, <laugh>. Every 19th day of the month we publish or they publish a story about someone notable  in black history. And, for April I really wanted to do something related to Autism <laugh> and, yeah, so  that, that made me research. And I found Thomas Green Wiggins, who is, um, a renowned black and  blind autistic musical mastermind of the mid 19th century. So, I learned so much about him and his  story. I think the bigger takeaways, that I got from that was despite him being non-speaking, he had a  voice, you know, through his music and, through his interactions with people. There were a lot of folks  that talked about how he moved them in a way that was so unique. 

Katrina Frank (18:17)

And, and I just saw that he was excellent and he was intersectional too. So that was something that was  very meaningful to me. I also discovered that with sort of a non-traditional voice, right? So even though  that there may be folks that are non-speaking, they still have a voice, there's just, they might go about,  

sharing that voice in a different way, but that paired with being black and also being enslaved at the  time, he was really taken advantage of even after the emancipation so of, the Civil War. So it's just, I feel  like that that is still echoed a lot today. You know, in today's society, especially here living in the States.  It also had me reflect a lot on how being disabled and a bipoc are, how I'm treated and viewed in  society, and how that's different than maybe someone who is white. 

Katrina Frank (19:27)

So it, you know, it, it really helped me process a lot <laugh> of these really heavy realizations. So, I also, I  guess too, you know, that that article also talks about notable, black people in the states who are doing  such great work, in terms of autism research and also those who are just really a part of, you know,  different movements. And so I have to give a shout out to Kayla Smith, who is the person that started  black Autistic Pride Day. So if anyone's interested, they should look into that too. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (20:09)

Nice. And also, I think this is good, segway in the sense that some of your writing seemed to have a  common theme of, of resilience. So what has been, or what have been some of the most impactful ways  you think you've developed your own resilience? 

Katrina Frank (20:29)

So I have to take a deep breath for that one because it's, it's a good but very difficult question for me to  even think about because based off of my lived experience, you know, I just always feel like I'm in 

survival mode, <laugh>, you know, so to stop and think, Wow, you're resilient, you know, that's, that's  not something that I do often, if at all. So <laugh>. But I would say that, you know, my personal  experiences have really shaped me and in turn my resilience. To be completely honest, I came from  very, like I came from poverty and also experienced abuse as a child. 

Katrina Frank (21:13)

So I think those experiences really do shape you know, how resilient you can be and how resilient you  are. In turn though, with that, I also received a lot of guidance from a lot of people including, you know,  family members and so forth. And I feel like that also contributed to my resilience cuz I was able to see  success and, you know, a better life than one that I was living. So, overall, I would say that you know,  resilience has come from my lived experience and as I've gotten older, I've also started to reflect back  more about generational trauma and, you know, all of that and how that plays into, you know, you as a  person if your, you know, if your ancestors have experienced that. And I think in a way though, even  though that, you know, a lot of, I don't know, negative things can be passed down from one generation  to another. 

Katrina Frank (22:18)

I also feel the sense that resilience is also passed down from one generation to another. So, as I've  gotten older, I've just, I tend to appreciate that a lot more, and where I've come from. And as you can  see, you know, there's, I've, I've coming at this from so many different angles and <laugh>, so, to circle  back to kind of, you know, neuro divergence and autism, I've spent a lot of time thinking about this and  I've just known so many autistic come to know so many autistic individuals who are resilient. And I think,  again, that has to do with our lived experience and maybe how much we've been understood or  misunderstood. So, there's also that aspect up to it, but I'll have to reflect on that more in terms of how,  you know, being autistic has played into my resilience. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (23:13)

Yeah, I think there's, uh, somebody that said, you know, I don't want to, I don't know if it was strong or if  it was brazilian, but you know, she's like, I don't wanna be strong. I don't wanna have to be strong. You  know, and imagine if maybe we didn't have to have, Well, resilience is beneficial in some ways, but  imagine if we didn't have to go through traumatic events in order to build resilience, because there are  other ways to build resilience. Part of it is also just practicing and doing things over and over again. We'll  build resilience. But it'd be nice if we didn't have to go through the crappy parts <laugh> in order build  the same crappy said, you know, I think it's something important you said too about those protective  forces in your life. You know, that's something that, I was able to recognize in my, you know, through my  therapeutic journey, that there were people who were not great for me, but then there were some  other people who were basically, were able not a hundred percent balance it out <laugh>, but, um, who  were yeah. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (24:11)

Who were positive forces in my life. \That, that were good examples and were able to help keep me  from going down a path that, that could have been self-destructive or, or dangerous for me. So always  that balance. 

Katrina Frank (24:27):

That's so true. Yes. Yeah, I've, I've really come to rethink a lot of my youth and the small things that I  would notice that would keep me going. And a lot of them started with people that, you know, were,  weren't exactly involved in my life all the time, but just cared about me so much when I did see them  and showed me it believed in me. I think that's the thing. It's like, you know, they believed in me and  

believed that I could, could do it. So, um, yeah. Yeah. Thanks for asking that question. That that's  definitely one that I will continue to <laugh> think about post podcast <laugh>. 

Doug Blecher (25:15)

So Katrina, beyond, being a writer, you've created some beautiful illustrations and one of the  illustrations that I saw was for a family recipe journal, my Jewish cookbook. It's a journal to capture  family recipes and memories in kind of one convenient space. So I've gotten older, I've taken much more  of an interest in my own ancestry. You know, when I was younger I didn't have any interest. But, I'm  wondering, with a project like this, how much of an impact being con being connected to past and  future generations played a role in the creation of this cookbook? 

Katrina Frank (26:01)

Yes. Well first I'd like to say like, uh, congrats, I guess on like, looking into your ancestry, I felt that that  was a very, big step for me. I don't know about if, if you feel the same way, but it was definitely starting  a process and opening a door that I didn't think I would get answers to. I think I mixed a bunch of  different metaphors, but, I, yeah, I, I just feel like it's, it's so rewarding to learn to just continue to learn  about yourself. And, I found, at least through my ancestry research that I have come to know more  about myself through that process. Relating to, you know, your question, I would say that, being  intersectional for me, it was really difficult to feel like I completely belonged in any one particular  culture or heritage, just because I don't feel like I got the same experience or the same community  experience than most have. 

Katrina Frank (27:15)

And I guess so this whole cookbook was really important to me because I think through all of my  cultures and probably through every culture, right? Food is such a really, really big part of your culture.  It says so much without using words, you know, it's, it brings community. There's just so many different  things that food does. And for me, I, I've come to realize that I will never know the full story of my  ancestry and my ancestors, especially being indigenous, you know and that breaks my heart often to  think that, wow, I, I won't get that. But to break that cycle, it's important for me to start with myself and  with, you know, my closest relatives in writing that and documenting <laugh> you know, our, our  experiences and our lives for the future generations that come. So you know, being Jewish, I'm actually  a convert. 

Katrina Frank (28:23)

I, that was something that I did right before my son was born. My husband is Jewish, so, but I did feel a  really strong connection to that culture. And so, yeah, and something that's really big, a part of the  Jewish community, of course is food and <laugh>. Not just that, but the memories around it. You know,  what like, you know, just noting down different things like how they specifically braided the challah or  how they, um, you know, what ingredients are in there because some people may be kosher and some  people might not. So just documenting all of these things, you know, became very important to me, in  terms of capturing, our current and future generations.

Doug Blecher (29:12)

Well, Katrina, you know, we really appreciate your time today. Thanks so much for, uh, taking the time  to, uh, talk with us. It was great to learn more about you. 

Katrina Frank (29:23)

Thank you so much. I'm so happy to be here and more about you all as well. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (29:28)

Thank you.