Image: Vicky leta / mashable
Forget what you've heard — autism isn't something to cure. In fact, it's a condition we should embrace and celebrate.
About 1 in 68 people in the U.S. are autistic, meaning they communicate and experience the world in ways not typically expected. There isn't a "missing piece" to their cognitive puzzle. And they definitely don't need your pity.
Autistic people thrive because of their autism, not in spite of it. And the community will be the first to tell you all the glorious things being autistic brings to their lives.
For Autism Acceptance Month, we asked activists to share with us the best thing about being autistic. Their answers challenge the idea that autism causes any sort of "suffering," and instead celebrate autistic pride, community, and passion.
Cyrée Jarelle Johnson, poet, essayist, and poetry editor at The Deaf Poets Society
Image: Courtesy of Cyrée Jarelle Johnson / Nicole Myles
"Autism scholarship characterizes folks on the spectrum as 'black and white thinkers' — and that's quite true for me. What I love, I love with verve and fervor. What I hate, I hate with verve and fervor. There's very little in between.
"Best of all, I can't fake it. While both extremes tend to overwhelm neurotypicals, not enough time is spent praising autistic people for our lack of pretense, our ability to be radically genuine. It takes too much energy for me to put on airs, so I don't. This can manifest as tactlessness or as 'an overshare,' but I'm not afraid to say what I feel needs to be said."
Lydia X. Z. Brown, writer, activist, and creator of Autistic Hoya
Image: Courtesy of Lydia X. z. Brown / Shain Neumeier
"Being autistic has always given me a strong sense of justice and fairness, and a burning drive to do the right thing and to fight for it, even when it seems like struggling against the weight of the world. This seems very related to my extreme empathy, which is also tied to my experience of being autistic.
"If I were not autistic, I am certain I would not have the same drive as I do now."
"From the time I was little, I wanted to put a stop to violence of any kind, and I have carried that passion with me to all of my work now against state-sponsored violence against multiply marginalized folks.
"Knowing that injustice or violence exist anywhere is deeply painful for me, whether it directly targets me or not, and I believe that I must do anything within my capacity to work for a world where none of us have to be afraid anymore. If I were not autistic, I am certain I would not have the same drive as I do now."
Finn Gardiner, community educator, activist, and organizer
Image: Courtesy of Finn Gardiner
"The best things about being autistic for me are learning deeply about different subjects through hyperfocus, full immersion in sensory experiences like listening to music or watching a film, and noticing things others may not.
"When I'm focusing on something very strongly — from disability history to video games — I start amassing all manner of facts and theories and interpretations associated with the subject. It helps me get up to speed on a given topic pretty quickly.
"Music and movies and TV shows can be immersive experiences for me, where I’m soaking up the sensory experiences of the vocals or beat or cinematography or the characters' emotions. If I'm interested in a show, then I'm fully into it."
Shain Neumeier, autistic attorney and activist
Image: Courtesy of Shain Neumeier
"The best thing for me about being autistic is the level of passion I have about my areas of interest. It drives and enables me to learn and memorize large amounts of information about a specific subject, or to become very good at a particular skill ...
"The best thing for me about being autistic is the level of passion I have about my areas of interest."
"I got into disability and youth liberation advocacy work by reading about abuses at behavior modification facilities. Because of this interest, I started working in a disability rights office the first semester I was in law school, and began reading investigative reports and other documents going back decades on specific facilities, as well as more general books about the subject. I now have an encyclopedic knowledge of the history, and use this in writing and speaking about this subject.
"This drive and capacity for memorization that I have because I'm autistic is one of the best tools I have for actually being able to stop these sorts of abuses."
Morénike Giwa Onaiwu, autism and race committee chair at Autism Women's Network and activist
Image: Courtesy of Morénike Giwa Onaiwu
"For me, the best thing about being autistic is a tie between two things. One is liberation. Once I became aware that I wasn't 'broken' or 'deficient,' it freed me of the sense that I had to operate and define myself by a standard of being that has not, does not, and will not ever apply to me.
"I need to be accepted and included, not cured, fixed, or changed."
"The other is authenticity. Being autistic means being real rather than playing a role. It compels me to communicate my thoughts, move my body, and engage — or not engage — in a way that is fully genuine rather than a clumsy caricature of the status quo.
"Being autistic is just as much a part of who I am as being black, as being a woman, as being me. I need to be accepted and included, not cured, fixed, or changed."
Image: Courtesy of Julia Bascom
"It's important to recognize that autism is first and foremost a lived reality and internal experience for autistic people. We tend to talk about autism as a list of external deficits, but many autistic traits have strong, positive effects for autistic people ourselves.
"The joy associated with ritual, intense interests, and other 'obsessive' characteristics of autism is frequently an important and vibrant part of our lives. Recognizing that there is joy in autism — and that this joy is a core and defining part of our disability — helps us talk about autism and autistic people more authentically."
N.I. Nicholson, writer, poet, editor, and neurodivergent activist
Image: Courtesy of N.I. Nicholson
"It is hard to name just one 'best' thing about being autistic, as I feel I benefit in a variety of ways.
"In short, being autistic is an integral part of who I am and my daily life."
"For one, discovering that I am autistic helped me unlock a deeper understanding of how I cogitate and process the world around me. While my sensitive neurology does make it difficult to filter out and discriminate among different pieces of sensory input, I also credit it for how rich my poetry, fiction, and other writing becomes as a result.
"In both my personal interactions and as an editor, I have come in contact with a diverse community of supportive, innovative, and truly remarkable people who fight for justice and equality with a very palpable passion. In short, being autistic is an integral part of who I am and my daily life."