Autistic Future
November 1st, 2016

Autistics Speaking Day 2016

November 1, the anniversary of the successful disruption of a neurotypical-run day of silence ‑because no Autistic people communicate- by Neurodiversity activists. This is my fifth Autistics Speaking Day and this site’s first.

We are winning the existential struggle over the narrative of what autism is and what should be done about it. This has been true for at least a couple of years. People and organizations are realizing that they have to at least pay lip service to the idea of inclusion, rather than elimination, to stay relevant. Eugenics is one of those tenacious ideas that won’t go away overnight, but there isn’t momentum in that That makes me less inclined to write on one of the traditional themes of Autistics Speaking Day posts, i.e. anti-cure, stop harassing us when we form our own communities on the internet, the autistic life can be a pretty good one, etc. It looks more and more like we have a future, so I want to talk about that. What is our community going to be? How do we make it a good one?

Grow­ing num­bers of peo­ple are find­ing us and choos­ing some lev­el of involve­ment with our com­mu­ni­ty. What can we do to help new­com­ers inte­grate suc­cess­ful­ly? I ask this ques­tion at a time when events in the wider world are mak­ing the inter­net angry and errat­ic. In the ambiance of dis­qui­et, seg­ments and fac­tions of our com­mu­ni­ty large­ly dri­ven by anger are more active. Vul­ner­a­ble indi­vid­u­als’ moods may be sig­nif­i­cant­ly altered by the ten­sion in the air. There are expe­ri­en­tial­ly bet­ter and worse ways to be part of our com­mu­ni­ty. There are Autis­tic spaces where warmth and col­le­gial­i­ty pre­dom­i­nate, where peo­ple want to get along, make friends, and fig­ure out how to live well togeth­er. There are Autis­tic spaces that exist, basi­cal­ly, as ongo­ing ide­o­log­i­cal puri­ty con­tests. Any­one who fails the polit­i­cal lit­mus test of the week is brand­ed ‘prob­lem­at­ic’ and cast out like scape­goats, as if they can car­ry all human flaws away. I’ll reserve moral judg­ment, for the moment, and sim­ply aknowl­edge that the lat­ter way of inter­per­son­al rela­tions is unpleasant.

No one is per­fect. An envi­ron­ment in which a sin­gle mis­take, no mat­ter how small, typ­i­cal­ly leads to per­ma­nent social exclu­sion has a cli­mate of fear by def­i­n­i­tion. A com­mu­ni­ty like that does­n’t add much val­ue in peo­ple’s lives because the sense of belong­ing does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly out­weigh the fear. Anger can be a healthy moti­va­tor for change, but Autis­tic spaces that are con­sis­tent­ly dom­i­nat­ed by anger are a drain on our com­mu­ni­ty. The con­stant shout­ing makes them extreme­ly vis­i­ble. They may be the first thing a new per­son sees. Some peo­ple may turn away from the Autis­tic com­mu­ni­ty imme­di­ate­ly sim­ply because they don’t like it. Oth­ers, often peo­ple who want to advo­cate for accep­tance and inclu­sion, are drawn in. Once assim­i­lat­ed into a social norm of explo­sive anger, their ener­gies are divert­ed into angry rants and bick­er­ing instead of the mix of care­ful­ly tar­get­ed online activism and com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing that usu­al­ly works for us. They don’t become the capa­ble activists they could be. Often, they are even­tu­al­ly exclud­ed because they say or do some­thing ‘prob­lem­at­ic,’ or they burn out and leave our com­mu­ni­ty alto­geth­er. Peo­ple, with or with­out an activist bent, feel­ing pushed out or get­ting fed up and leav­ing does­n’t bode well for our future. The mod­els of com­mu­ni­ty we have to chose between, and which new­com­ers find, are very dif­fer­ent from each oth­er. The friend­ly one that leaves room for imper­fec­tion is inher­ent­ly bet­ter because it leaves room for flawed human beings. It’s the kind of com­mu­ni­ty most peo­ple want, but it may be hard­er for new­com­ers to find.

It can be hard for those of us in health­i­er parts of the com­mu­ni­ty to reach out to new­com­ers pre­cise­ly because the anger-dom­i­nat­ed fac­tions are out there, always look­ing for some­one or some­thing to try to tear down, nev­er actu­al­ly doing much to make things bet­ter for Autis­tic peo­ple. Being vis­i­ble tends to mean expo­sure to slan­der or out­right harass­ment, but we have to do it. Some of the exist­ing out­reach and intro­duc­to­ry efforts are a good start, but our com­mu­ni­ty will best grow through rela­tion­ships. Autis­tics Speak­ing Day seems like a good time to com­mit to talk­ing to some­one, any­one, who is new in the com­ing year. Com­fort some­one who is strug­gling with Autis­tic iden­ti­ty or a tough day. Cel­e­brate good things that hap­pen in some­one’s life. Add new peo­ple to your Face­book group and make a point of actu­al­ly talk­ing to them. Help a new advo­cate make plans and learn the ropes. Tell some­one that [affil­i­ate link] Loud Hands is well worth a read. Han­dle new peo­ple’s mis­takes gen­tly. Remem­ber that they’re try­ing to fig­ure out how an entire­ly new cul­ture works. Online or IRL, a lit­tle effort to help some­one assim­i­late in a pos­i­tive way isn’t just a kind thing that you do for one oth­er per­son. It’s one of the best things you can do to make our com­mu­ni­ty a wel­com­ing place, some­thing to which peo­ple want to remain con­nect­ed through­out their lives. It’s one of the best things you can do for the longevi­ty of our cul­ture and community.