I’m a recently diagnosed autistic man, and in the years since I wrote the article, Autistic Uprising: a Neurodivergent Rebellion of Hearts and Minds, I’ve invested my organization deeply in the service of engaging, equipping, and encouraging autistic and other neurodivergent persons, seeking through one-on-one life coaching transformative growth for those who seek help. The work has been rewarding, witnessing powerful stories of transformation for many autistic persons, their families, employers, and many others.
Still, as a trailblazer, ambassador of the Neurodiversity Movement, I’ve not forgotten for a moment why no gains matter if we do not see the day of true neurodiversity understanding, acceptance reached as a culture. Until we reach the break-point, the moment, all will be colored by struggle. To echo the closing words of my friend and colleague Steve Silberman, in his brilliant book, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity; “There is much work to be done.”
Indeed, there is much work to be done before we can hope to claim the crown of equality, acceptance, understanding, and full engagement of all minds in the day of true neurodiversity. Yet, those of us who are called to labor forward in this movement cannot work blindly, willfully oblivious to the many troubles, challenges, and obstacles now in our way. We will need to face them, overcome them, or we will fail. And not just a few persons fail, but all of us – all of us together.
There are many sources available to be found regarding the Neurodiversity Movement, and I’ll spare readers the long walk through those particular woods. Still, perhaps a brief description of the Neurodiversity Movement would be helpful for those who may be unaware of its origins and gains as a social change movement.
Judy Singer was the first to coin the term “neurodiversity,” and since then, the move towards taking it from a philosophy to an actual instrument for social change has been unfolding steadily.
The Neurodiversity Movement is a progressive human rights initiative powered by neurodivergent persons and their true allies. It is based upon the core belief of all minds, autistic and otherwise at neuro-variance from other neuro-typical minds, having the right to cultural acceptance, dignity, fair opportunities in all aspects of human existence. In the shadow of significant civil rights movements throughout human history, it is both the subtle, hidden movement and the one encompassing all others. Why would a movement founded on the full acceptance of all human minds as relevant be the one true and defining human rights movement? The answer is quite simple.
If the balance of our culture reaches the point of acceptance of all human minds as equally valid, worthy of fully dignified inclusion, then it follows the Neurodiversity Movement in effect, pulls all other movements behind it in its powerful current. To embrace every mind, everywhere, and yet to deny full humanity, validity, rights to human beings in reflection of individual’s race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and other human attributes is profoundly illogical. Indeed, to have a mind, regardless of its neurological condition, is to be human. While undeniably, other creatures have brains, human beings have minds which are unique to us as creatures. The Neurodiversity Movement is a fully human movement.
Unfortunately, like its predecessor movements, the Neurodiversity Movement is now fragmented, grasping for positive forward momentum in the face of a great storm of challenges to its integrity, a unified vision for the future. And like social change, social justice movements before it, it is beset with enemies both externally and sadly, internally.
What follows is probably going to be painful to some. Some persons reading it will take these words very personally and may respond with malice. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also necessary to speak about these things. After all, the Neurodiversity Movement is not about any one person but rather encompasses each human person, and we must attempt to speak to the broader landscape of change and what affects it.
Some years ago, as I was driving my family through New Mexico towards the Sacramento Mountains, across the low hills south of Clovis, I nearly hit a tractor-trailer truck head-on. The situation was a split-second reaction, as I topped a small rise to see a huge pipe hauling truck in my lane coming straight at my car. With only single lanes, either way, the truck driver made the terrible decision to pass a line of at least ten other oil field trucks approaching the hill. My own choice was to hit him head-on in my rental car or drive off the side of the road. I chose the latter, and though rocks, dirt flew, people in the car yelled out in surprise and fear; I did what I had to do.
If the Neurodiversity Movement continues on its current trajectory, it is going to become unglued, lose its momentum, and relevancy for cultural change. And though I don’t particularly appreciate grabbing the wheel and would happily give it away, for the next few miles of words, I’m going to swerve out of the way of a potential disintegration of the movement and hopefully get our tribe, our allies, back on the roadway to change.
Yell if you need to, be angry if you must, but I’m going to take us into the gravel right now in hopes of dodging the oncoming hulk of setback for the Neurodiversity Movement. There will be rocks thrown, dented metal, scraped paint, but it is the only way forward. Get angry if you must, but understand this very clearly, autistic persons are my family, my tribe, and make no mistake, I will die for my tribe, as I’ve devoted myself to the success of the Neurodiversity Movement.