Autism and Neurodiversity
By Zur Institute
Autism is in the news a great deal these days. Is it an epidemic? How should non-autistics educate autistics? Is it bad news to have an autistic child? Will being autistic ruin their lives forever?
Unfortunately for autistic people, most media attention and information in the medical field pathologizes autistics and teaches non-autistics to be afraid and wary of the autistic mind.
For those of you familiar with the struggles of ethnic minorities to gain equality and respect, it is easy to identify the protestations non-autistic people often have about autistics as a simple diversity issue. However, to get to this point, understandably, a lot of mis-information must be aired and cast aside.
Sadly, even many of the supposed “here to help” groups do more harm than good.
- Some seek to actively eliminate autistic fetuses.
- As manifested by the DSM, most experts, therapists, educators simply pathologize autistic people.
- Some training groups seek to force autistic people to act like non-autistic people by suppressing their natural movements and processes.
All of these harms, and many more, are done under the guise of being “helpful.”
Autistics do not need to be feared and managed any more than ethnic minorities or LGBTs. Curious what the best setup is for an autistic student or client? Ask them. Chances are, they have a lot to offer on the matter.
Autism is not caused by any one gene. Rather, it is a collection of traits where – if enough of them are present – it is called Autism. While there is a great deal of variation among autistic people, there are some defining characteristics:
- Lack of filtering of sensory stimulation. This means two things – one, enhanced sensory experience that is pleasurable and interesting. On the other hand, it can be quite overwhelming. Loud noises, bright lights, and crowded social situations can trigger some autistic people faster than non-autistics.
- A logical way of thinking. Without the social cues that provide subtext for all ways of thinking, autistic people take questions, answers, and statements at face value. This can cause communication problems between autistics and non-autistics, but results in clear and unfettered communication among autistics.
- Empathy and a wide emotional range. This is probably not what you’ve heard about autistics. But autistics are sensitive – some would argue, overly so – to what is going on around them. Sometimes, social situations are too intense to handle because autistics have “too much” empathy for what is going on with their fellows.
Did you know that…
- Autism is more than a list of deficiencies.
- Speaking of autism as an unfortunate condition is patronizing and seeped in non-autistic perspective.
- Autistics are often brilliant.
- No one “has autism.” They are either autistic, or are not.
- Many famous scientists and inventors have been autistic.
- There is no real distinction between “Asperger’s” and “Autism.
- The label “Asperger’s” has been used to separate members of the autistic community, and pit those who “pass” (sound familiar from civil rights era, anyone?) against those who cannot.
- The high-stimulation environment of this technology-driven society is overwhelming for many non-autistics, and even more so for many autistics. The so-called behavior problems non-autistics observe in autistics are often simply the result of sensory overwhelm.
- In the right environment, autistics can thrive.
- The best way for non-autistics to support their autistic children, friends, students, and clients, is to allow and encourage natural autistic expression while providing an autistic-friendly environment – this can mean cutting back on our use of fluorescent lights; allowing a math genius to pace and study at her leisure; allowing room for limited eye contact; and much more.