Autistic Future
January 18th, 2017

New Year’s Resolutions for the Autistic People

Ominous clouds gather and darken above a landscape.

A storm is com­ing. Are you ready?

We’re head­ed for hard times. Our move­ment is on the defen­sive. The ideas that ani­mate these times don’t bode well for us. That had me think­ing about what our absolute neces­si­ties are, what we have to have and do to remain our­selves. I only came up with two things:

1) Protect vulnerable people; and
2) Protect the internet.

If we fail to protect our own vulnerable people, we’ve lost our collective soul. If we don’t take care of our own, there is no ‘we,’ no shared existence worth protecting. If we lose an open internet where ideas move freely, we’ve lost the ground on which we stand. I can’t think of anything else we really need to get by, so we should be able to protect our essentials.

The way to do it is to stay engaged. Sign up for action alerts from orga­ni­za­tions that deal with issues like dis­abil­i­ty rights, ben­e­fits, and net neu­tral­i­ty. Act on them. Con­tact your elect­ed offi­cials when some­thing impor­tant is hap­pen­ing. Get or stay reg­is­tered to vote. Help oth­ers do the same. Edu­cate peo­ple about the issues impor­tant to us. Rec­og­nize that you will dis­agree with some decent peo­ple, and don’t let the per­fect be the ene­my of the good. Some­times, a per­son or group will have dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties or val­ues and may only be a good ally on one issue. On that one issue, work together.

Don’t get dis­cour­aged. Remem­ber what we’ve already accom­plished. We know how to do this, how to build and sup­port good orga­ni­za­tions, keep show­ing up, and leave any­one who threat­ens our com­mu­ni­ty swamped in out­raged calls and emails. We know how to grind down our prob­lems for as long as it takes to get rid of them. It’s hard because it requires com­mit­ment, months or years of sus­tained effort, but it isn’t com­pli­cat­ed. We have the skills we need to effec­tive­ly nav­i­gate what­ev­er the rest of the world thinks it’s doing. My fear for us isn’t that we can’t. It’s that we won’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I see the peo­ple who always do our heavy lift­ing hard at work. They’re doing all they can to pro­tect the ACA. When they need warm bod­ies to throw at a prob­lem, though, when cir­cum­stances call for chaos on the inter­net or phone lines tied up for days, will peo­ple show up? Will we orga­nize around these issues, which may be more exis­ten­tial­ly threat­en­ing, as deter­mined­ly and con­sis­tent­ly as we did against eugen­ics? I don’t know how suc­cess­ful­ly we’ve incul­cat­ed new­com­ers with the sense of duty to respond. We have a lot of warm bod­ies now, far more than we did when we were suc­cess­ful­ly under­min­ing the med­ical mod­el of dis­abil­i­ty as applied to us. I’m just not sure enough of them will par­tic­i­pate. Will we put aside our dif­fer­ences where our com­mon inter­ests are con­cerned, or will some of us ignore good ideas rather than admit that a rival is doing some­thing right?

We’re a young com­mu­ni­ty. We don’t have enough strong insti­tu­tions to pro­tect us from the odd self-serv­ing indi­vid­ual. Our unique rela­tion­ship with the inter­net serves us well in some ways, but it’s part of our strong ten­den­cy to fall into infight­ing. With the extrem­ist right ascen­dant in West­ern nations, we’re at a cross­roads. We have a choice to make: are we a sub­cul­ture, or are we a peo­ple? Are we some­thing like a fan­dom or a clus­ter of Face­book groups that lasts for a while, maybe pro­duces last­ing friend­ships, until a cat­a­stroph­ic implo­sion, or are we some­thing more endur­ing? Are we more about our­selves or each oth­er? We don’t have much time to make up our minds. If the Autis­tic com­mu­ni­ty grows up and behaves like a peo­ple, there is no prob­lem or threat our deter­mined efforts can’t even­tu­al­ly, suc­cess­ful­ly address. Oth­er­wise, all of us, from the most self-suf­fi­cient to the most vul­ner­a­ble, are on our own. I hope we make the right decision.