Appreciating Autistic Chosen Families

found family artwork of three orbs with vaguely human silhouettes against a backdrop of space

As a queer autistic adult with physical disabilities, I’m no stranger to the concept of Chosen Family. I have been estranged from my family of origin for about half a decade.

It’s no exaggeration to say that my chosen family has more than once saved my life. This past week, I dove down a rabbit hole trying to find out more about how people speak and think of chosen family. I searched for this idea in relation to it’s origins within the queer community. I got a lot of good articles and thought pieces on the topic, like this one on the value of found families for LGBTQ youth.

Editor’s note: The featured image was supplied by Autistic artist and illustrator Naessly’s Art Space

What surprised me was when my focus shifted to the Autistic part of my identity. I could find very little written about this topic from the perspective of Autistics. A Google search found nothing relevant published about this—only a lot of articles speaking about how hard having an autistic in the family was on parents and siblings (biased, much?).

I’m sure most of you have watched a TV show or read a book that utilized this now-famous “Chosen Family” trope. Whether it’s Uncle Bobby in Supernatural, almost everyone ever cast in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the study group of Community, we’ve all seen an example of chosen families in movies or series.

Finding so little from the perspective of Autistics themselves, though, was really surprising for me. I know a lot of Autistics who are living in dire circumstances who would be dead if it wasn’t for their chosen family standing up for them.

Why was nobody writing about this?

I felt it was important that someone try to explain why the found families in autistic communities were something special.

Here are 5 things you may not know about why found families are important to the autistic community:

1. We are more likely to experience homelessness, addiction, and abuse.

For reasons that are not well understood, but definitely which include a lack of social welfare support for autistic adults, our community has a higher rate of homelessness. We are more likely to get stuck in destructive cycles of abuse, too. While we are less likely to try drugs or alcohol, we are more vulnerable to addiction if we have tried.

These devastating life factors lead to instability that causes us to be estranged from our families of origin. For us, chosen family is a way to find healing and support and safety, to get us off the streets, and to ensure we have adequate access to treatment and/or care services.

2. Autistics die young.

Our median age of death is just shy of forty, and our leading causes of death are accidents or suicide: which indicates that somewhere along the line, our families of origin and the medical fraternity are not taking very good care of us.

The Autistic community has been fighting for years for more awareness of the needs of adult Autistics and to offer support and services to people in our demographic so that we can fight this statistic. Finding support as an adult Autistic from one of the Autistic communities and forming a chosen family from the friends you make there can save lives and improve our chances of living well.

3. We might not always fit into our families because we are neurodivergent.

Found families support us through rejection from our families. Even if we have a generally-supportive family of origin, being Autistic can mean being the odd-one-out. It can be hard to be fully heard and understood when you are the only Autistic family member.

Regardless of how hard they try, some families just don’t understand how to care for us because they are not autistic.

4. We have a lot in common.

Because our chosen families are often neurodivergent people like ourselves, we can enjoy their advice and experience and learn tips and tricks for survival and happiness that other people who try to support us might never have thought of because they don’t think the way we do.

Autistic ideas and solutions are often more accessible and more applicable than solutions neurotypical people suggest for us. Because we have a lot in common, our advice to each other can be validating and life-changing, especially when we are being misunderstood because we are neurodivergent. It can also really be of great support to our families of origin to have someone who understands us to ask for advice and support! 

5. We’re more often queer.

Research shows that autistics are more likely to identify as being part of the LGBTQ+ community. Often, we are estranged from our families not just because we are autistic, but also because we are queer, which is certainly true for me and for others in my chosen family.

Having others I can relate to who have both intersecting identities as part of their experience has been extremely helpful in figuring out how I should go forward coping with the challenges both these issues have caused for me. 

It’s obvious when you think about it, but autistic found families are something unique in the world. While other kinds of found family typically arise only because of abuse or shunning, Autistic found family can be something that autistic people need even when they have fully supportive families who love them and want to support them.

In fact, it’s really important for all families who have an Autistic member (or two or five) to try to support their autistic loved ones by helping them find their autistic chosen family by connecting to the Autistic community near them or online.

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3 Responses

  1. I’m astounded that you didn’t refer to “chosing a new family”as the most popular YA(Young Adult) trope ever.

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