Autistic Folks Awareness Month!

(1) I am not a puzzle piece, so let’s get that settled right now. I may be puzzling, but that’s just because You Can’t Pin Me Down [link to a great Marina and the Diamonds song!]

(2) ‘autism’ is not a thing; it describes our queer neurology. I don’t have autism. I am autistic.

(3) Yes, (2) is slightly pedantic, but only slightly. The words we use frame our perceptions of reality. And sure ‘I have autism’ is a shorthand for ‘the way that I perceive, feel and think is more intense and is characterized by medical professionals as a “condition” called “autism”’—but while I get that this is a shorthand now, how many others do? I didn’t understand this shorthand until two or three years ago. I was well past 30. On the other hand, ‘I’m autistic’ would have conveyed to me that being autistic is a way of being, not a thing. I can’t help but wonder how much earlier I could have known myself had I known this identity model instead of the gruesome misinformed view I grew up with of a “disease” in need of curing, a thing like cancer that a person has in their body.

Over time I’ve come to realize most people don’t think very well in abstractions. To be honest as I wrote that it occurred to me that I definitely still don’t understand the full range of effects. We look for patterns, by nature, because our brains are pretty lazy (to be fair it takes a lot of energy to power the brain). We want the simple truth, and we tend to resist the truth that nothing true is simple. So we essentialize—that is, we think of abstractions as things—just as the Greeks personified essentialized abstractions into divinities. It is difficult for most people to think of democracy as an abstract organization of relationships within a community; so we speak about ‘democracy’ as a thing, and these days (to my irritation) ‘the soul of democracy’—an essentialized abstraction containing an essentialized abstraction! Just so, “autism” is an essentialization of what various medical professionals observe as ‘different’ in our ways of thinking and feeling; ‘different’ in how we carry ourselves (our hexis, for my fellow Bourdieusians); and ‘different’ in how we react to and engage with the world around us. We don’t need essentializations. I am autistic.

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