Some of the most common reactions to the neurodiversity movement I see online revolve around who the movement is about, and who it applies to. About how it portrays autistic people and autism in general, about how it reflects the lives of autistics, and the people who may care for them. It is a common claim from some that autism acceptance is just for parents of kids who “aren’t that bad” (whatever that means), and it simply isn’t true. Neurodiversity is for every autistic person. It is about every autistic person, and its advocates are made up of every different kind of autistic person. Even the ones that are dismissively and cruelly labelled as “that bad”.
At its heart, the neurodiversity movement is about fighting for respect and dignity for all neurodivergent people, including autistic people, in a society that does neither of those things. And when people in the neurodiversity movement talk about society adapting, most of us (I can’t speak for all, we aren’t one giant homogenous group) are talking about the same kind of adaptations and accommodations extended to others who need them – accessibility for wheelchair users, libraries supplying books in braille, events requesting no flash photography or strobe lighting and so forth. Things that these days we wouldn’t think twice about agreeing with, because there was some point in the past where those communities also fought for acceptance and accommodation. When we say “accept us, let us be who we are”, that is in direct response to an overwhelming expectation from most people that we should be trying to be something we are not, with little support for our own needs. It doesn’t mean “let us do whatever we want”, it means “don’t judge us for not being the same as you, and respect that our needs are different.”
One of the big things the neurodiversity movement tackles is the role of therapies and intervention that aims to make autistic children and adults “pass” as neurotypical. And that of course means critiquing different styles of therapies (and the quality of the research that supports them, which is often shockingly biased) and the value of different interventions. That can be challenging for parents at times, because who wants to hear that something they’ve chosen for their child may not be as supportive as they thought it was? It can be hard sometimes to see past that, and it can be easy to lash out at the people who are fighting to be respected. These conversations are amongst the hardest. Parents want to do the best they can by their children. And parents are not perfect, we don’t have access to every bit of information or knowledge out there. I’ve made my share of mistakes, and had to say I’m sorry to my children many times. But part of being a person is learning and growing, and understanding when I need to expand my knowledge base. That is a big part of the purpose of the neurodiversity movement. To expand the knowledge of what it means to be autistic, and how being autistic is supported (or not) in our communities. And the best people to listen to when learning that? Autistic people.
When autistic people push for an understanding of neurodiversity, and for acceptance rather than awareness, we’re not expecting special treatment. We’re expecting the same access to supports and accommodations that others have – as well as being able to determine which of those are valuable, just as others do (no one would tell a wheelchair user that they don’t understand what they need when it comes to ramps, but that very same thing is told to autistic people all the time – how could we possibly know what things could support us? The only reason people can have for not listening is because they think we aren’t capable of recognising our own needs, which is a very closeminded attitude towards an entire group of people, right?). We’re expecting people to treat us with some dignity. We don’t want to be given a free pass to do whatever we want – that would be infantilising, and give the impression that we can’t function as members of a community. We just want a space made for us that doesn’t treat us like children, and that respects our ability to speak for ourselves and our community.
And that is what the neurodiversity movement is fighting for. For autistic people to be recognised as and treated like valued members of our community. To have our ability to determine what is right for us respected. To be treated the same as the other humans in our lives. Because we deserve that right. And we deserve for our voices to be heard, especially when we are talking about our own lives.
**This post is a re-working of a reply I gave in a discussion online. **