24 Jul Introduction to the blog
Welcome to the Autstanding blog, the place where understanding autism and autism understanding come together!
After first coming across the concept of autism just a couple of years ago and then receiving a diagnosis in July 2016, I’ve become pretty obsessed with trying to understand everything I possibly can about autism, both in terms of how it relates to me specifically, as well as in a much more general sense.
Society has learnt a lot about autism over the past few decades, but there is still so, so much we still don’t know. This includes some rather basic questions such as: How can we best help autistic people? What causes autism? What actually is autism? And even (very controversially perhaps) questions around whether autism actually exists (as a biomedical category outside of a socio-cultural construct) at all!
Personally, I feel driven to understand autism largely out of pure curiosity – learning how and why certain brains work differently and the implications this can have fascinates me. But, of course, there are often strong political impetuses behind efforts to increase basic understanding, and these can differ wildly (i.e. pro “cure” advocates vs. neurodiversity advocates). Unfortunately, in many contexts, current attitudes and realities surrounding autism are often quite negative. But, hopefully, working towards increasing understanding – if harnessed in the right way for the right ends – can go a long way towards bolstering the levels of awareness, acceptance and appreciation autistic people experience in society.
In short, this blog seeks to merge two aims: 1) Curiosity-driven discussions about autism rooted in a) scientific theories and research and b) the lived experiences of actually autistic people, and 2) More political aspirations geared towards changing attitudes surrounding autism for the better, with the hope that this will greatly help improve the lives of autistic people everywhere. (Not at all overambitious then!)
What’s with the name?
“Autstanding” is a merging of autism + understanding. These two terms can be combined in both directions:
– Understanding autism – addressing basic, yet still largely unanswered (perhaps unanswerable) questions, such as: What is autism? Why is it here? How does it manifest in different ways among different people in different environments and at different times? What does it mean – for the person, for those around them, for society? What can we do to help? And so on…
– Autism understanding – understanding that autistic people a) exist(!), b) should have the same rights as everyone else, c) should be valued for their difference, all in a bid to improve the lives and status of autistic people in society, for the ultimate benefit of all.
Efforts are being made to bolster autism awareness and acceptance (and there’s even a burgeoning autism appreciation movement), but how do we achieve these admiral goals? I’d argue that the number one way is through improving understanding. You don’t necessarily have to understand to be aware of, accepting or even appreciative towards autistic people, but it certainly helps. Though it may seem deceptively simple, understanding is quite a powerful concept. If you do it properly, with real commitment to finding out what things are like from another person’s perspective, I’d argue it’s almost impossible not to lead to positive things.
You probably haven’t failed to notice that Autstanding looks and sounds a lot like the word “outstanding”. This is coincidental, but a happy one I feel, because of some of the following potential implied meanings…
Most obviously, it might suggest that autistic people should be thought of as outstanding in the sense of being above and beyond non-autistic people in a positive sense. This makes me feel slightly uncomfortable (autistic pride gone too far), but still, it’s so far removed from most people’s conception of autism, perhaps it’s useful to be slightly disrupting in this way. Another (and I think more useful) perspective is to take a more literal meaning of “outstanding” in terms of “standing out”, which autistic people often do, whether they intend to or not. Many autistic people can’t help but stand out, and this shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, in an ideal world it would be encouraged. We’d certainly benefit from more autistic people standing up/out to get their voices heard. Additionally, “outstanding” can be thought of in terms of an unresolved issue still requiring a lot of work, which certainly applies to autism at this current point in time. Finally, as “aut” comes from the Greek meaning “self”, Autstanding could be read as “self-understanding”, which is surely a valuable thing for autistic people to achieve (and all people in general of course).