We often discuss anxiety and depression amongst the Autistic population. Some such as myself and Autistic and Living the Dream have pushed to get lesser discussed mental health concerns into the zeitgeist, but there is a problem with how it is framed in a more general sense. When most people discuss Autistic mental health, they discuss the individual experiences, I feel it is necessary to look at the bigger picture.
One of the reasons we centre our conversations on individual experiences is because of the medicalisation of acquired neurodivergence. Medical models of psychological wellbeing centre the experience of distress as the defining feature of what is then described as a disordered mind. It teaches is that acquired neurodivergence is the source of our suffering, placing the responsibility on us to adapt to an unchanging environment.
This is where Autistic mental health becomes complicated. In general, Autistic people favour social models of disability and neurodiversity-affirming approaches, and yet we are taught that further neurodivergence is a disorder. It directly conflicts with our understanding of our Self. It partitions off parts of ourselves and teaches us to eliminate them rather than co-exist. What we actually need is to recognise that distress from traditional “Psychiatric conditions” is as much of a reaction to our environment as an Autistic meltdown is.
The environments that exist in our world are inherently traumatic for Autistic people. Trauma alters the way the brain functions, and we are then taught it is our responsibility to recover from that. In truth, the responsibility lies with the environmental factors that cause our distress. You are not suffering because of “illness”. You are suffering because the world is not made with your needs considered. When the world consistently abuses us, crosses our boundaries, and fails to meet our needs, we suffer.
Autistic people need to be allowed to co-exist with themselves. We need a world where the experience of distress doesn’t require us to get better but requires the world to do better. Lack of accessibility and invalidation of people’s lived experiences might well be one of the biggest causes of psychological distress in our society.