October 8th, 2017
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.
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.