Autistic Future
October 8th, 2017

Reaching People

lighthouse in the fog

Are Neu­ro­di­ver­si­ty’s Most Crit­i­cal Ideas Easy Enough to Find?


This may be remem­bered as a par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing moment in Autis­tic cul­ture. Unlike four or five years ago, we are not locked in a sin­gle, all-con­sum­ing strug­gle. With less to tie us all togeth­er, things are more cliquish, but the prob­lems, solu­tions, projects, and endeav­ors on which peo­ple spend their time are more diverse. Peo­ple are mak­ing promis­ing for­ays into art and lit­er­a­ture. Inno­v­a­tive plat­forms like NOS Mag­a­zine and Psych Ward Reviews are meet­ing needs by fill­ing impor­tant infor­ma­tion­al gaps. There is growth and devel­op­ment. New ideas are cir­cu­lat­ing, and grow­ing num­bers of peo­ple are will­ing to take the risk of writ­ing a nov­el or launch­ing a website.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it isn’t clear that every­one is reap­ing the ben­e­fits. If any­thing, the divide between those of us enjoy­ing the full rich­ness of our young cul­ture and peo­ple out­side of those cir­cles may be grow­ing. In places that are more periph­er­al, Tum­blr and the big, sup­port group Face­book groups online, small­er towns in the real world, peo­ple are strug­gling. Autis­tic peo­ple who believe in the old­est and most patent­ly false stereo­types are still all too preva­lent because many haven’t encoun­tered bet­ter ideas. After every mass-shoot­ing, like clock­work, there is spec­u­la­tion about whether the mur­der­er fell some­where on the spec­trum and whether his dis­abil­i­ty was the cause.

The basic assump­tions of the Neu­ro­di­ver­si­ty Move­ment have not ful­ly per­me­at­ed the places where Autis­tic peo­ple gath­er. That isn’t entire­ly a prob­lem because peo­ple go to dif­fer­ent places, dif­fer­ent kinds of mee­tups and asso­ci­a­tions, dif­fer­ent Face­book groups and web­sites, look­ing for dif­fer­ent things. Peo­ple should­n’t be pushed to accept an ide­ol­o­gy they don’t want. Not all spaces are about the big ideas. There are Autis­tic peo­ple who aren’t inclined to spend their lim­it­ed spare time play­ing with abstract con­cepts, and our com­mu­ni­ty should have that much room for diver­si­ty. How­ev­er, the absence of the basics remains a problem.

Most of us, when we were new to the Autis­tic com­mu­ni­ty, found the sim­plest ideas the most lib­er­at­ing. It was the small ones, the idea that Autis­tic peo­ple are not inher­ent­ly cal­lous, uncar­ing, vio­lent, most of all the idea that we are not inher­ent­ly infe­ri­or, that made the dif­fer­ence. The ideas that dis­abil­i­ty is not worse than death, that forg­ing con­nec­tions with oth­er peo­ple is pos­si­ble, and that, where we can’t or won’t change our­selves, it may some­times be pos­si­ble to change the world to fit us bet­ter are what set peo­ple free. These are the things that set peo­ple on the path to feel­ing com­fort­able in their own skins, stop hat­ing them­selves, and flour­ish, what­ev­er that means for a giv­en indi­vid­ual. For some peo­ple, the par­a­digm shift from

"I'm broken and can't be fixed."


"I'm different, and the world and I have to work to come to a mutually-agreeable compromise."

is lit­er­al­ly life-sav­ing. The insuf­fi­cien­cy of the research on men­tal health in Autis­tic adults makes it impos­si­ble to say how many peo­ple who might live if they learned to think of them­selves as some­thing oth­er than prob­lems. Most peo­ple who have inter­act­ed with the Autis­tic com­mu­ni­ty for any appre­cia­ble length of time prob­a­bly sus­pect that the rate is not zero.

That gives those of us who have the ideas a respon­si­bil­i­ty to throw oth­ers a life­line. If we care about Autis­tic peo­ple out­side of dis­abil­i­ty rights and dis­abil­i­ty jus­tice cir­cles, the peo­ple in small­er towns where there are sup­port groups but not advo­ca­cy groups, peo­ple who have trou­ble find­ing a clique, elders who are not dig­i­tal natives, teens with inad­e­quate sup­port reach­ing out on well-worn lap­tops, we will make the ideas that save lives easy to find. We will make the basics easy to find for some­one grop­ing around in the dark after a for­mal diag­no­sis or a per­son­al sense that autism might explain a lot.

We will not assume that the most basic tenents of the Neu­ro­di­ver­si­ty Move­ment have reached every­one just because all of our neu­ro­di­ver­gent friends have learned about them and thought them over. We will try to be vis­i­ble. We will remem­ber that, while we have con­vinced most major dis­abil­i­ty orga­ni­za­tions to at least pay lip ser­vice to the way we want to tell the sto­ry of autism and Autis­tic peo­ple, our strug­gle for the nar­ra­tive may not be com­plete among the peo­ple we most want to reach.