Autistic Future
April 22nd, 2018

April the Opportunity

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.