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Monday, July 4, 2016

Autism, Politics, and Culture

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the neurodiversity movement. 

Robert Chapman writes at The Establishment:
Consider here how politics, just as much as scientific advancement, has affected our understanding of what it means to be autistic. When Dr. Hans Asperger first used the term “autism” to categorize a distinct group of patients in Vienna during the 1930s, for example, his key aim was not merely to locate some underlying physical disease. Rather, it was to save those with this idiosyncratic way of being, which he argued was valuable due to autistic creativity, from extermination by the eugenicist Nazi occupiers. The baptism of the syndrome was thus itself a deeply political act—a humanitarian response to fascism—rather than a medical one, despite being framed in a medical vocabulary.

Today, largely due to the internet, autistic people have been able to meet and communicate with each other. In this context, the political weight of our diagnosis has broadened: It protects us not only from eugenic extremists, but from a normative society that is liable to misunderstand and judge us. We are no longer isolated eccentrics surrounded by “normal” communities; we have our own communities, norms, and practices, in which things like collecting fruit stickers make perfect sense. Autism, in other words, has begun to develop into a culture, and this culture opens up the space for autistic behaviors to begin to manifest as meaningful.