Every year, toward the end of March, the Autistic community braces itself for April. People who subscribe to the neurodiversity paradigm don’t enjoy the usual cavalcade of inspiration porn, offensive fundraising tactics, photos, videos, and written storytelling violating the privacy of un-consenting children and adults, and requests to do the frequently unpaid and demeaning work of speaking to crowds of neurotypicals and sometimes answering very personal questions.
For those of us who have done this advocacy for a while, April sometimes feels like a reprise of the time before paying lip service to neurodiversity had become somewhat fashionable even among people who don’t really live out what it means. Those of us who live in the southeastern United States tend to analogize April awareness efforts to the thick pine pollen that turns nearly everything outdoors yellow, and makes nearly everyone sick, around the same time. It’s an unpleasant but inevitable part of spring.
However miserable April can feel, however, it may be a month of opportunity to help people who are on the cusp of finding the Autistic community reach it. April is when things get loudest and most chaotic. While most Autistics prefer order on a daily basis, chaos has its uses. It can be what inspires people to slip the bonds of the status quo and try something else. April, as thunderously reclaimed by Autistic activists, may be the month when it is easiest for Autistic people on the outskirts of the organized community to find their way home.
There are still a number of Autistic adults hovering close to the community who haven’t yet. They may go to conferences. They may participate in neurotypical-sponsored events, attend the local support group if one exists, speak on panels, and may even be an assertive self-advocate. However, there may not be much local Autistic community going on around them, or they may never have had occasion to learn about it. They may not have imagined Autistic people in groups that aren’t neurotypical-led support groups. They may be interested in making things better for Autistic and otherwise disabled people but not have found an outlet for it yet besides, perhaps, the kinds of personal overcoming narratives most neurodiversity activists don’t find useful.
The difference, the tipping point, between persons meeting that description really finding the community or staying on its outskirts and possibly becoming one of the much-derided ‘professional autistics’ might be all the noise of April. April is such a loud time in autism issues between the offensive material created by some neurotypicals and the vociferious Autistic response. It’s more like the noise level of four or five years ago and the struggle to make neurodiversity mainstream than the other eleven months of the year now, when the sheer amount going on made the community easy to find. The fever pitch blogging and social media might just make it the moment a person who doesn’t know what to Google or how to find us runs across a bit of information and breaks through. Many of us find April deeply unpleasant for good reason. The old rhetoric about the world being better off without us comes back. The noise level brings back bad memories for people who were there when it was a constant, when fear drove more infighting than we have in the community now. Despite all the discomfort it causes, we should try to remember that April is also a glowing opportunity.
Our terminology is everywhere now, but it doesn’t always have the substance it did when it appealed to a narrow audience. There are plenty of people paying lip service to neurodiversity without understanding what it means, what it meant, the fierce, wide-open inclusion we were talking about. This may create all the more confusion for those people on the edges of the community. Finding someone who says the right words was never completely enough, but the right words are less of a guarantee every day. In April, things seem a little more stark and clear. People who know what neurodiversity and Autistic community should mean get louder. That might just be the difference between someone continuing to live on the outskirts and finding our community. For that reason, our struggle to reclaim our month has a powerful upside. If you’re new, especially if the annual April commotion is how you found us, welcome home.