Why Neurodiversity is Important to Feminism (The Autistic Feminist #1)

This week on The Autistic Feminist, we talk about the reason this series was created in the first place: why neurodiversity is important to feminism.

Anyone who is an active feminist knows how the old saying goes: “if you don’t fight for all women, you fight for no women.” But for one reason or another, many neurodivergent and disabled women are not getting too much attention.

Most of the time, many can be unaware of this fact, so I can’t really look down upon these people. The least I can do is educate them about it.

The official definition of “neurodiversity” is the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits, regarded as part of a normal variation in the human population. It’s mostly used within the context of autism spectrum disorders. So, basically, neurodiversity fights for those whose brains don’t function “normally” in society.

A good chunk of mainstream society considers autism a disease, but the neurodiversity movement pushes the fact that we’re not “broken” or “diseased,” we just need help sometimes, some more than others. Many people also think that disability rights are not a social justice issue since disabilities have been associated with the medical field for the longest time, but it actually has a lot more to do with social justice than most people think.

As you all know, feminism is about equality and justice for women, and many women out there are disabled or neurodivergent, so if we exclude them, we’re missing a massive part of the population, just like if we excluded women of color and LGBTQ women.

The neurodiversity movement can be a way to challenge the stereotypes that feminists have been challenging for decades. The most common example is how many girls on the autism spectrum tend to go undiagnosed for years because most girls tend to not show the “stereotypical symptoms.” I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in 8th grade for those exact reasons.

Feminism is about choice, and the neurodiversity movement has the same principles as far as the wiring of the brain goes.

Many people tend to not bring up the neurodiversity movement when talking about human rights because there are a lot of common misconceptions about it, such as not viewing autism as a disability. The neurodiversity movement actually doesn’t say that our lives are amazing. Our lives can be difficult, and out difficulties vary depending on the person, but that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with us. Plus, fighting for disability rights means fighting for better accommodations to lead a more successful life. Believe it or not, needing help and deserving basic human rights are not mutually exclusive.

Neurodiversity doesn’t just cover autism spectrum disorders. The term “neurodivergent” was coined to give a broader definition that did not center autism spectrum disorders. Neurodiversity can also cover other disorders such as OCD, ADHD, schizophrenia, and many other mental disorders that doesn’t have a “normal” wiring of the brain.

With that, when we exclude neurodivergent women from feminism, we’re excluding more than half the women that need to be fought for.

“The Autistic Feminist”: Coming to WordPress and YouTube June 9th

Hey, guys! It’s Nikki! And did you know that I’m starting a new blog in June? Yes! I am starting a new blog! But I know what y’all are asking yourselves right now.

Nikki, what is this blog? And what will it be about? And why haven’t you done anything with your pathetic life yet?

I can’t answer that last question, but I can answer the former two for you.

This new blog is going to be called The Autistic Feminist, and it will be a fun little blog that will educate y’all about the neurodiversity branch of feminism from an actual autistic and will be published every fourth Friday.

But wait, you may be asking yourself. Will there be any other ways to access this blog other than as a blog?

I’m glad you asked that because The Autistic Feminist will also be a YouTube series!!

Yes, I am planning on making this both a YouTube series and a blog to educate the masses about a subject so near and dear to my heart.

Well, you better prepare yourselves, because the first “Autistic Feminist” blog is going to be published on June 9th!

An Open Letter to Autism Speaks

I am here to tell you that what you are doing may seem “helpful to autistics” to you and your supporters, but what you are doing is really damaging. Many of the ads and videos produced for you depict harmful stereotypes that can increase the stigma of Autism in the long run. But before I dissect you as a “charity” (and I use that word very lightly), allow me to introduce myself and why I write this.

I am an autistic college student who was diagnosed at age 14. I grew up in a cliquey, shallow, and judgmental town where I was scared to be myself for a good chunk of my life. Even my own mother would tell me to stop doing certain things because “the other children would think I was weird.” Grant you, this was long before my diagnosis and she didn’t know, so I really don’t blame her entirely, but it still left me confused because I was told to hide parts of who I was just to impress the other children. This has stuck with me throughout most of my high school years; I was scared to even talk to someone for the first time unless they approached me first. This feeling stuck with me until the beginning of college, where I was able to find the right people and open up more. I am writing because there are many people out there who believe that you are doing “good” for the autistic community when in all reality, you are doing the complete opposite.

I’ll start with the obvious thing about you that everyone points you: that you seek a cure for autism. Your mission statement is “We are dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and a possible cure for autism.” First off, it is impossible to cure autism. It is a neurological disorder that is ingrained in one’s personality, not a life-threatening disease. Attempting to cure it would be erasing part of who they are. Second of all, that cure that you are so desperately trying to find would be forced to young children, and most autistics do not want to be cured. If a cure was possible, it should be considered a choice for that child later in their life when he/she/they are able to make decisions for themselves, not for the parent or caretaker of that child.

Now for the second most obvious thing about you that people bring up: the fact that you do not have a single autistic member on your board. When advocating for autism acceptance, it is critical that autistic people are heard in the process. Everyone can agree that men making decisions about women’s rights is an outrage to everyone with at least some common sense, but for some reason, neurotypicals making decisions about disability rights is not met with that much outrage. Many people would argue that “autistics aren’t capable of making their own decisions, so how would anyone think that they are capable of making decisions about their own rights?” All I can say about this is how dare you believe that every autistic is clumped in the same category. How dare you believe that every autistic person is the same.

Which brings me to my final and favorite point, how you reenforce degrading and stigmatizing stereotypes about autistic people. One of the biggest misconceptions about autism is that it’s a visible disorder. As someone who has gotten comments from people saying that I’m “not disabled enough” to talk about this topic, I can say that it’s not. What you need to realize is that autism is not a one-size-fits-all disorder. The only thing that every autistic person has in common is that they all want to be accepted and deserve the same rights as neurotypicals. Like the saying goes, “if you met one person with autism, you met one person with autism,” but you seem to throw that out the window. Your two short films, “I am Autism” and “Autism Every Day” (links below) say those stereotypes are true in order to make people believe that autism is a disease, and that is absolutely disgusting and stigmatizing. You have the nerve to defend a mother who contemplated murdering her autistic daughter and committing suicide while her daughter was still in the room within earshot. I had to stop watching the video because of that due to how disgusted I was after hearing that.These kinds of messages can severely lower one’s self-esteem and can cause internalized ableism, which is difficult for a child with any kind of disability unlearn.

Skip to 6:10 to see the most horrifying part.

Many people have asked me if I want to be cured. If you asked me this when I was still in high school, I would’ve said yes. I would’ve said that more people would’ve wanted to be around me and would’ve invited me to outings, and wouldn’t have been as easily manipulated if I wasn’t autistic. I did have friends that I would talk to in school during rehearsals, but never really hung out with anyone outside of school. I attempted suicide shortly after my diagnosis in eighth grade and was generally unhappy. But if you asked me today, I would say no. I may still have trouble respecting other people’s boundaries, my bullshit signal may still not be as good as most people’s, and I may still have the tendency to be upset over petty and trivial things, but I soon realize that my best qualities in me are because of my autism. My love for theatre, film, art, and music (the former two pictured below) wouldn’t exist, I wouldn’t be friends with any of the people I’m friends with today (in fact, they would probably think I’m a bitch), and most importantly, I wouldn’t be me.

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Photo courtesy of MSU Players

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Photo courtesy of Inclusion Films and Marblejam Kids

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Photo courtesy of MSU Players

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Photo courtesy of MK Productions

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Photo courtesy of Tom Russo Photography

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Photo courtesy of MSU Players

I have potential, and I can accomplish great things. I have the ability to change the world, and I will not let bigoted organizations like you silence me or bring me down. My disability does not reflect my true abilities. To quote a one act play by a close friend of mine, “We are here. We are not less than. We are real. We are people. We struggle to perceive the world just like you do, although our struggles are different. But we are here. We are strong. We are here.”