What makes a people? For the last two decades, the Autistic community has struggled with that question. As a community first defined by doctors and researchers, portrayed to the public mainly by outsiders, and often born to non-autistic parents, it can be hard to sort out who we are and how we should relate to each other.
Despite these difficulties, the last few years have found us starting to figure things out. Thanks to an active blogosphere, advocacy organizations like ASAN and AWN, and a strong coalition of leaders young and old working to build our grassroots, the Autistic culture, community and identity is stronger now than it has ever been. In the words of Jim Sinclair, the neurodiversity movement’s earliest leader, “Our community is still young, but a generation of autistic children has already grown up having experience and familiarity with autistic togetherness.”
The Autistic identity has grown strong enough to attract admirers from elsewhere within the disability community, as others in the developmental disability community – along with many of our friends in the mental health and learning disability worlds – begin to work out their own ways of relating to the idea of neurodiversity, the simple and important concept that there is more than one kind of acceptable brain to have. “Different, not wrong,” is a powerful rallying cry for many other parts of the neurological disability community.
Many of those communities are grappling with the same questions we have in recent years, facing thorny challenges such as how to reconcile the diverging experiences of those identified in childhood as opposed to those who discover their identity as adults. Whether they’re trying to figure out the right terminology to describe themselves or determining the appropriate way to navigate competing access needs, a growing number of disability activists are looking to the Autistic community’s example, just as early Autistic activists sought inspiration from their predecessors in Deaf culture and the independent living movement.
With that in mind, it is more important than ever that we find a way to bring together the disparate threads of the neurodiversity community into a common conversation. That is why I am so excited to see the launch of NOS Magazine, one of the most exciting new initiatives of the neurodiversity and self-advocacy movements. We’ve needed a publication for neurodiversity news and commentary for a long time now, and I am grateful to Sara Luterman for embarking on this project to help further build our shared movement and community. I am hopeful that NOS will be a home for some of the many exceptional writers that are contributing to the vibrant neurodiversity culture, online and off.
Our community has always strived to build a culture that affirms all of our rights. At its best, the neurodiversity movement is broad and inclusive, including people with a wide array of different experiences, strengths, challenges and types of impairment. Rights and self-determination should never be limited because of a functioning label or diagnosis. One of the ways we affirm that solidarity is by fighting to ensure the services and supports that can sustain and empower the members of our community with more complex needs continue to receive public support. Writing this amidst a challenging time in my nation’s political life, I am hopeful that NOS will serve as a source for valuable commentary on the political and policy challenges facing people with neurological disabilities in the 21st century. As NOS seeks to build a culture of solidarity and mutual support among different parts of the neurodiversity movement, I believe we will learn a great deal about each other’s advocacy needs within its pages.
And yet, the most important task that lies before us is not in how we shape the culture, but in how we build a culture that can shape ourselves. As other parts of the neurological disability community arrive at the common-sense solution that we are better served being supported as who we are rather than being pushed to become something we are not, our movement will only grow. We have a chance now, to define who we are to each other, and who we shall collectively become. With your help, NOS Magazine will be an important part of that conversation, now and for years to come.