Autism and the Concept of Neurodiversity

In this issue of Disability Studies Quarterly, we foreground the political activism of self-advocates in order to show that the neurodiversity movement is indeed a movement, which may come as a surprise to some in the field of disability studies. Just as people with physical disabilities have insisted on the right to self-representation and determination, so, too, have people with autism — and not just those who are termed “high-functioning.” As it advances a notion of “a complicated, ambiguous impairment,” the special issue tries hard to embody the principle of self-representation. Half of the nearly forty contributors are on the autism spectrum; any number of them carries the label of “severely autistic.” Some do not speak, or speak in a limited way, and instead type or write to communicate. The work of these contributors appears in every section of the special issue: refereed articles, cultural commentaries, reviews, interviews, and roundtables.

When we talk about autism, let us dispense with rigid binaries: either difference or disability. As Phil Schwarz argues, “The mainstream speaks of autism primarily in the medical language of deficit, and cannot see, as many of us on the spectrum do, that once the right kinds of support, accommodation, and mitigation of specific handicaps are available, there are desirable aspects to autism that we would not want to live without.” Or as Tito Mukhopadhyay puts it:

So what if a Theory
Says something
It doesn’t change for sure
Any — Thing.
I may be that
And I may be this…
Who Cares anyway?
I am a Proud Autistic.