ASAN statement on neurodiversity

 It’s been disappointing to see neurodiversity so blatantly mischaracterized recently, especially when the facts are so easy to check. Neurodiversity is a part of the disability rights movement. For example, ASAN has been a disability rights organization since its founding. People who say we don’t believe that autism is a disability are going out of their way to ignore what the neurodiversity movement has been saying for decades.


The self-advocacy movement was founded by people with intellectual disabilities living in institutions who were considered “too severely disabled” to attend general education classes, live and work in their communities, or make their own life decisions. They fought for their rights to access community services, leave sheltered workshops and institutions, and lead self-determined lives. The neurodiversity movement grew out of the self-advocacy movement and both movements are still fighting for those rights. A lot of the core policy issues of the neurodiversity movement are issues that affect people with the highest support needs -- for example, inclusive education, AAC access, personal care supports, ending restraint and seclusion, police violence, and more. There is also an emphasis on cognitive access and making policy issues accessible to people with intellectual disabilities -- for example, ASAN does a ton of work on Easy Read resources developed specifically for people with intellectual disabilities.


In terms of the support needs of autistic people in the neurodiversity movement, let’s take a look at ASAN as an example. ASAN is led by staff and board members with a variety of support needs. Some of us live on our own with minimal support, and others need round-the-clock support. Some of us are institution survivors. Some of us can speak most of the time, some of us need to use AAC all the time, and some use both. Some of us have intellectual disabilities, others have been given an ID label at some point in our lives, and many of us have other disabilities in addition to autism. And our membership includes autistic people with all kinds of support needs, with intellectual disabilities and without, as well as parents, family members, and supporters of autistic people with all kinds of support needs. 


The disability rights movement broadly is a diverse movement, and our partner organizations also reflect this diversity. We work on policy with organizations serving people with intellectual disabilities, people who are nonspeaking, and people who have the highest support needs, and these organizations share our belief that all people with disabilities are entitled to universal human rights, including self-determination and community living.


Attacks on self-advocates and the neurodiversity movement are not truly about who we are as people, or about our disabilities or support needs. The attacks are a distraction. People learning about the neurodiversity movement need to know the facts and the history of self-advocacy, and not be misled by those who seek to speak over people with disabilities rather than letting us speak for ourselves.


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