There are two ways to think about autism. As a disorder and as an alternative mind. Both ways encourage different kinds of questions about autism. The former assumes the autistic to be a broken person. The latter assumes the autistic to be equally capable of contributing to society. If you’re a regular reader and know what I’m about, I’m sure you can guess which paradigm I prefer. However, this is not a matter of preference. This is a matter of basic humanity.
The idea that autism is a disorder suggests that there is something wrong with us. Wrong in what sense? What of all the good values that you hold dear does autism inevitably contradict?
The disorder lens invites nothing but an ambiguous mix of scorn and (misguided) compassion and gives all our actions a decidedly negative character. We become guilty of existing.
Autism stands on its own and lives according to its own values, more of which overlap with yours than you’d think.
Here’s a fact: Autism diagnoses are on the rise. The stats show that 1 in 50 people are autistic. Not considering why this happened, autism will become common before you can say, “I like trains.” There’s no use fighting against it. No number of missed vaccine appointments will make autism go away. We’re here to stay and, much like how the burden is upon us to understand you, the burden is upon you to understand us.
Your job of understanding us will be made much easier, however, if you learn to ask the right questions. Instead of asking “what’s wrong with them?” try asking “what’s right with them?” regardless of what position on the spectrum we occupy. A negative question creates a negative answer, which inspires a negative understanding. Likewise, a positive question creates a positive answer, which inspires a positive understanding.
Neurodiversity isn’t just an idea. It’s a humanitarian imperative. It’s a call for a radical but much needed change in thinking about mental disability.
P.S. Neurodiversity doesn’t just apply to the autism spectrum. Even though the idea was originally designed with autism in mind, it could easily apply to other conditions such as dyslexia, ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Tourette’s, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc.