Intersectionality in Autismland
R. Larkin Taylor-Parker
This issue is about systems, so I thought I would share some news from my own conflictual corner of the Internet. Autistic people, especially in America, have been trying for years to get say in the use of charity dollars collected in our names. This is part of a larger struggle over who will control the money or the narrative, nondisabled parents or autistics ourselves. Lately, there has been significant progress toward a united coalition that centers disabled voices and excludes one group that autistics largely despise. Autism Speaks, centralized, paternalistic, expensive in its administrative costs, an institution founded in 2004 along 19th century lines, is hurting. Autistics and parents are making the organization controversial.
The trend of centering autistics and wanting resources to follow need, instead of a master plan in New York, is part of the neurodiversity movement, which is interesting for any number of reasons. A successful, recent outgrowth, Boycott Autism Speaks, is a vivid display of disabled agency, the power of social media, and a loosely-organized, grass roots effort that works. A quick scroll down the boycott Facebook page reveals what may be the most interesting feature of the autistic freedom struggle. Women are creating most original content. The writers, bloggers, and makers of memes are often disabled, the mothers of disabled children, or both. Women and, in a few cases, nonbinary people, garner followings and set the agenda. Men are present, but most of them like, reblog, and retweet.
Recently, a self-identified feminist blogger was ableist. Autism moms, some galvanized the boycott and new to activism, attacked. When I asked them to stop raising a bigot’s pageviews, it was with friendly laughter. I learned that lesson in brushes with them before they were allies. Whatever the sides were, men were rarely the ones striving hardest for the perceived best interests of their children or clamoring loudest for recognition as fully human. One of the most bitter conflicts on the Internet, now winding down, has been women’s work from start to finish. The ascendent faction that is the neurodiversity movement is full of women, has significant, queer-identified leadership, and, despite the problem of underdiagnosis, a growing number of strong voices that have arisen from communities of color. The overlap of disability and poverty in our society goes without saying.
How that happened is a question for scholars. What I know is that things here are increasingly going right. This is a diverse movement with a fair track record of supporting justice for all. Women, sometimes others who are not men, at the forefront of making change. Neurodiversity and its fruits, like the boycott, are centered on supporting vulnerable people to be as free as possible. This movement prizes children and their parents, especially mothers. I have no romantic notions about feminine or maternal moral exceptionalism, but I hope these features will let us make something more right, more humane than what has been. The potential here is rich, its development worth watching.
About the Author: R. Larkin Taylor-Parker is a student, performer, sometime activist, and shadowy presence on the Internet. Larkin can usually be found along Atlanta’s I-20 corridor.