Based on the incredible potential of autistic people and the progress in social justice, I believe that I am part of the last or second-to-last generation not growing up in the Autistic Renaissance.
As a 17-year-old autistic person whose identity has become very centered around being autistic in the last 14 months, I have hopes for the progress of neurodiversity that may seem naïve. But I think that they’re in-line with the continually-shifting ideas of humankind.
While I’m not a historian, I’m part of the autistic community and have ample experience with a variety of autistic people. I can vouch for our diversity and capabilities. And based on the incredible potential of autistic people and the progress in social justice, I believe that I am part of the last or second-to-last generation not growing up in the Autistic Renaissance. (The idea of generations is flawed, but I think it’s a useful tool for discussing the timeline.)
By Autistic Renaissance, I mean a resurgence of autistic people in popular culture. But this time, the people are openly autistic instead of “posthumously diagnosed by psychiatrists to have autism.” They are accepted and embraced as neurodivergent.
First of all, allow me to cite my personal experience. While I’ve heard others’ corroborating stories, my knowledge of my own story is the most detailed.
I was placed in special education in middle school on account of me being autistic. In the middle of seventh grade, after having achieved straight A’s for the semester (in addition to the previous two semesters), I was pulled out of special education and allowed to take the full breadth of classes that I wanted to take.
This continued until the end of middle school. But then, at the beginning of my freshman year of high school, I received two special ed classes in my forecasting sheet. It took someone else advocating for me by phone– my mom, whom I don’t know how to repay– for my special ed classes to be dropped from the forecasting sheet.
Lo and behold, I didn’t need the special education classes in my high school career at all and probably greatly exceeded the forecaster’s education. This is not because I am exceptional. I’m not. This is because their expectations of me were low.
Prejudice and Assumptions
Whether or not my autistic traits helped me with this is debatable, but I think that a few things are clear from that. Most obviously, the forecasters exercised an ableist prejudice against me in their decision. They underestimated the abilities of an autistic person based solely on the fact that they’re autistic.
Secondly and closely related, they assumed that the autistic community is neurologically homogeneous when we are, in my autistic opinion, more neurologically diverse than the neurotypical “community.”
Most likely, the uncritically-examined assumption that being autistic comes with having academic difficulties that necessitate a special ed plan and the subconscious view of us as a neurologically homogeneous group of people precipitated the lack of evaluating me as an individual.
It’s entirely possible that some other rubbish was used to justify their decision, but that other rubbish would most likely have reduced to the beliefs that I stated above.
Stereotypes and assumptions in the education system about autistic people reinforce internalized ableism. And I hypothesize that they also result in lower academic performance. It’s been widely confirmed that instilling a negative stereotype and a feeling of inferiority in an oppressed group of people makes that stereotype more prominent.
The Negative Potential of Stereotypes
Take Jane Elliot’s experiments as a third grade teacher in Illinois. There was a significant drop in the test scores of blue-eyed kids when they were told that they were inferior to brown-eyed kids from when they were told that they were superior to brown-eyed kids. The same was observed for the brown-eyed kids. And this was consistent across all of the years that the experiment was done.
When the data was informally reviewed by psychologists at Stanford University, it was found to illustrate the decrease in performance of a group of people once it has a negative stereotype and inferiority instilled in them.
This obviously applies to autistic people in the first respect. But inferiority is instilled in autistic people both subconsciously and consciously by popular culture, both as a result of the negative stereotypes about and attitudes towards autistic people and the implicit ableism in labeling autism as a disorder.
Thus, Autism Awareness and acceptance has contributed to reducing stigma. Neurodiversity in education can allow autistics to ascend to their potential through less stereotyping and the allowing of autistic people to have the education that they deserve.
The second main point that I want to make is that autistic people are beginning to rise up faster. Many autistic adults already live “functional” lives as scientists, teachers, engineers, etc. But autistic people rising up isn’t about ascending to the toxic label of ”functional.”
It’s about autistic people claiming their dignity as a group and upholding it through neurodiversity, leaving their proud mark on culture, science, politics, etc. It’s also about ableism becoming as stigmatized as racism and sexism. The rise of Kodi Lee (the winner of America’s Got Talent), Greta Thunberg, and Joshua Collins all point to this.
In the first case, I’d argue that America favored the underdog in their vote for Kodi Lee and that Kodi Lee’s presence at the end was a product of and facilitated the increased acceptance of autistic people. While the story is often framed as someone triumphing against their autism, it’s evident that Kodi Lee was talented not in spite of his autism but because of it. His autism led to his gravitation towards one passion: music.
Music for Lee is an orderly and melodious comfort in a chaotic and cacophonous world. It’s inevitable that many more factors led up to his win, but the aforementioned are a few. His win will inspire more autistic people to pursue careers in entertainment as they shed their internalized ableism.
In the second case, that of Greta Thunberg, an autistic person rose up to a position of political power because they’re autistic. And with that increase in political power came inspiration.
Joshua Collins is running for Congress for several reasons. But what may have tipped him over the edge, according to the article The Hill published about him, is that he was inspired by Greta Thunberg. Both Joshua Collins and Greta Thunberg arose out of an innate obsession with justice and thus partially because they’re autistic.
An Autistic Renaissance
And this is only the beginning. I predict that there will be an Autistic Renaissance. Openly autistic people will rise to political positions, careers as mainstream artists, and other positions of leadership.
We will assert our capabilities through action in a snowball effect beginning now and quickly speeding up during the latter half of this century. Pop artists, actors, mayors, and writers begin to represent us more, and that representation will inspire more autistic people to rise up.
Art about the autistic struggle and experience will be birthed by openly autistic artists, and this will inspire an exploration of autistic art.
Disability will become a more mainstream topic in intersectional feminism. With that, the topic of neurodiversity will inevitably be brought up. In the supple soil of the LGBTQ+ movement and the embracing of ethnic diversity and multiculturalism, neurodiversity will become more widely adhered to. It is an admittedly vague idea, but it will be refined as the literature pertaining to it exponentially increases.
In conclusion, an Autistic Renaissance is highly possible and feasible given our current political climate. I’d even venture to say that it’s likely to happen.
- My Dream as an Autistic Youth: An Autistic Renaissance — May 24, 2020
- Why You Should Debate Neurodiversity — May 22, 2020