Autistic people have long talked of a world that is not designed for them. There are countless tales of the way that society is set up to be actively hostile to anyone who can not meet the neuronormative standards of their surrounding culture. This has led to a growth in online spaces of a separate culture which is broadly recognised as Autistic culture. These cultural spaces offer a vital reprieve from the hostility of the world, and yet we still find ourselves being penalised for existing as ourselves.
A colonial model of the cultural suppression of Autistic people
When I consider the cultural differences between Autistic and neurotypical people, I imagine it like a linguistic difference. Autistic and neurotypical people speak a different language. When we enter each other’s spaces we are perceived more as the obnoxious tourist than the valuable diversity of a given society. The issue is that through the proliferation of colonial ideals and subsequent neuronormativity, neurotypicals have invaded many of the spaces we may not have historically shared with them. Once they have entered our space, they place the burden to assimilate into their culture on us, rather than allowing us to respect our own cultural practices. Autistic culture is effectively colonised by neurotypical society.
Cultural suppression through autistiphobia and ableism
Ableism and autistiphobia have been growing exponentially alongside the rise of capitalism and neoliberalism. Autistic people may not have always been a recognised cultural group, but we have been recognised for a long time as “the other” that burdens society with its presence. Much of the rhetoric surrounding Autistic people can be attribute to autistiphobia, or to go further, autistimisia. Difference is detested in this world; and there is a special place in a hateful world for those of us whose difference precludes us from engaging in neuronormativity.
“No, there is no renaissance for ableism. It’s here, and it’s always been here.”Gray-Hammond (2021)
Ableism and autistiphobia/autistimisia are not just the outcome of a society that does not understand. They are a weapon of those whose power relies on our cultural suppression. If those in power can suppress or even eliminate our culture they can then ignore our rights. The quickest way to do this is through the systematic dehumanisation of us. Culture is a uniquely human experience, and if Autistic people are disallowed from having a culture, part of our humanity can be denied.
The double empathy problem and cultural suppression of Autistic people
The double empathy problem explains the difficulty to empathise with people who have different cultural and life experiences us. For Autistic people, this represents a large portion of the world. The issue is that due to power imbalances between Autistic people and neurotypical society, we experience systemic oppression through the suppression of our culture. This leads to increased minority stress and the belief that Autistic people should meet neuronormative standards, rather than a give and take relationship where we meet somewhere in the middle.
Effective communication and co-existence is undermined by the forced assimilation of Autistic people into these neuronormative standards. While we may learn to operate within neurotypical culture, we have somewhat of a cultural accent that still declares us as different from the majority. To consider it another way, we are unable to win, no matter what we do.
Neurocosmopolitanism as the pinnacle of cultural thriving
Such neurocultures as the Autistic community need a level playing field. While society continues to privilege one group over another, we will continue to see cultural suppression. We need to work towards building a world within which our culture has a place, rather than it’s current counter-cultural existence. We need our cultural spaces to be respected and protected rather than invaded and restructured into something that is antithetical to Autistic experience. We have a right to our existence, and it is time that the world caught up with that fact.