A segment of a conversation I had with someone around six months ago has stuck in my head ever since. They were trying to encourage me to apply for writing jobs and referenced this blog as one of the reasons why I’d be good at that. In this process they said something along the lines of “well, you seem to consider autism the main aspect of your identity” – not in a negative way or anything, just as a statement of what they considered fact. Yet I did not agree with this at all, and I’d like to expand upon why.
I write a lot about autism on here. It’s the predominant theme of this blog, it’s something I do a lot of campaigning on and talk about frequently. Yes, I’m autistic and perfectly accepting of that fact. I think it’s important to raise awareness of the issues affecting autistic people and push for further acceptance and liberation for the autistic community alongside all neurodivergent people. It’s something important to me. But is it the main part of my identity? Not really.
In fact, I’d probably call myself an activist and campaigner first and foremost. Not just for autism issues, but climate issues, general politics and social justice campaigns. I write a lot about autism not because I view autism as my primary identity, but rather because as an autistic person AND an activist, this is a cause where I have lived experience and can contribute to improving society which is my general aim in all my activism. If I was not an activist in general, I probably wouldn’t write so much about autism (or anything).
Autism affects the way I think. It’s part of my brain, and my thoughts and feelings are what shaped me into the person I am today. It’s important, but no more or less important than other aspects of my identity, such as my political beliefs (which have also shaped me), what activities I enjoy and who I want to spend my time with. I am a person, created by my experiences, my thoughts, my emotions and all the things which have influenced those. Autism is one influence; not the sole one.
I believe in creating a world where people can thrive regardless of their neurotype. A world which accommodates sensory differences, cognitive differences and all the varying accessibility needs as much as possible. I don’t believe in creating a long-term segregated autistic community where autistic people do not engage with neurotypical people, or otherwise neurodivergent people, at all. For me, my involvement in autistic communities is around activism, to make life better for people like me.
As members of a marginalised group, autistic people can be forgiven for wanting our own spaces away from those who try to force us to conform and punish us for our differences. These are important spaces, and sorely needed in our culture. Yet they should not be the end goal; our goals should not be to create our entire identity around ‘being autistic’ and no other aspects of our personalities. It should be to create a world where we are accepted and no longer disadvantaged by our thinking style.
I don’t believe in making one influence on my development as a person my entire personality, or the one thing everyone should know about me. Reducing a complex human being to one term is never going to work out long-term, and identity only goes so far in creating a better world. We need justice for neurodivergent people, not merely awareness, or even acceptance. Publicly identifying as autistic, writing about my autism and how it affects me are good awareness and acceptance raising tools. Yet they will not alone change our society into one where autistic people can thrive.
We need to be allowed to have our identities and our terms for how we wish to describe ourselves, but in activism we need to move beyond identity towards societal change; towards changing the system. Our present system entrenches discrimination; we can push for inclusion into the system but as long as the system still exists some people will be marginalised. It may be a different group tomorrow than it was today, but it will still be someone. Neurodivergent identity is important, but neurodivergent justice is far more so.