Autistic and proud of it

  • 18 June 2005
  • Bijal Trivedi
  • Magazine issue 2504

ROY, a high-functioning 28-year-old autistic with a blond military buzz cut and a wide disarming grin, lives on society's edge. At his dojo in Takoma Park, Maryland, where he has lived for the past six-and-a-half years, he leads an essentially monastic existence immersed in his two passions: martial arts and Buddhism. For Roy, who didn't reveal his last name, contact with the outside world has to have a purpose. He agreed to an interview only because he felt his message might be helpful to others. "It's OK not to be interested in socialising, to live quietly on the borders of society," he says. "It's OK to be alone."

Roy has good reason to want his voice heard. With autism diagnoses rising steadily, talk of an "epidemic" and a growing search for a cure, Roy feels threatened. "I feel stabbed when it comes to 'curing' or 'treating' autism," he says. "It's like society doesn't need us."

Many autistic people are starting to agree. They have had enough of being treated as a medical problem, arguing that autism is not a disease that needs to be cured but just a normal part of human diversity. This emerging "autistic rights" movement hopes to launch an international campaign akin to Gay Pride, encouraging autistic people everywhere to embrace their "neurodiversity", and persuading wider society to accept them as they are.

Autism's self advocacy movement began in the early 1990s, though for obvious reasons - autism is a neurological disorder that affects ability to communicate and socialise - the movement has been slow to acquire momentum. "An [autistic] friend of mine says that organising autistics is like herding cats," says Valerie Paradiz, an autism rights campaigner who runs the ASPIE (Autistic Strength, Purpose and Independence in Education) School in Boiceville, New York. However, she says, "we are at a wonderful turning point where all these isolated grass-roots efforts are beginning to congeal." This week, on 18 June, the movement will find its fullest expression yet with the first annual Autistic Pride Day. The slogan: "acceptance not cure".

The event is the brainchild of Aspies For ...

The complete article is 2651 words long.
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