Sunday, January 4, 2015

Neurodivergence and Representation: Magic Maps, Musings, Farewells 1

The magical Leah Kelley blogger, speaker
educator, awesome parent of H
Leah Kelley, who blogs at 30 days of Autism, created an amazing people map for her son, H, who shows every indication of becoming a great voice for the next generation of autistic adults. She writes about it in her post Gathering At TASH and the Magic People Map. Leah has been kind enough to let me use her people map to feature some of those voices who found creative and out of the box resources to help afford the trip to Washington D.C., speak out, and participate for those they represent. Read about them while I try to gather my thoughts on various points regarding divergence in neurology and representation. I'm going on a hiatus, a sabbatical if you will, and narrowing my focus. I'm not quite sure how it will all work out. Hopefully placing this beautiful map of people cards throughout the post will help outline a path for my thoughts on where I am now and how to move on from here.

Leah's deep love and respect for her son H, her strong background and experience as a special education teacher, along with a keen understanding of what supports divergent people need to navigate public spaces, shine in the concept of these cards and made her latest great idea very much worth sharing. It is the definition of what autism parenting with love and acceptance entails.

30 Days of Autism  also hosted an excellent quick assessment of  the TASH 2014 conference from Cara, who blogs at That Crazy Crippled Chick, and you can read about that here. I actually recognized Cara from the I Am Norm Campaign's first Youth Summit! She has gone on to graduate school and outstanding activism.

My son Mu. My living example that nonspeaking
autistics deserve the same respect that the rest of
 the spectrum is fighting for
The Bad: I do want to be clear about my frustration at my  failure to bring about what was to be the most important contribution I could have made at TASH. I wrote about that on the I∩tersected blog, which you can read here and I may expand on it when I hurt about it less. My main job as a parent activist who works to be an ally is to use my parental privilege to create opportunities for disabled disability rights activists representing marginalized groups to be able to take the podium and speak on what matters to those they represent. My being there, or me being able to speak for or in place of two great activists who were Black and disabled was never the goal or the point. Had I wished to address people alone I would never have asked them to join me.
I was unable to garner the support to succeed in helping two important disabled activists afford the cost for the accommodations and supports they needed to have their voices heard at TASH 2014 in the moment when harm to disabled people of color needed to be spoken about the most. It was the latest in a series of events that marked my decision to withdraw from everything except blogging. I am now simply a blogging autism parent.

I realize now that the organizational aspects of disability rights activism as they are currently structured, are constrained by the same institutionalization of privilege, hierarchal discrimination based upon degree of disability, layers of intersecting factors which are othered by organizations lacking equal neurodivergent representation, and the racial discrimination that is polarizing our country in general. The voices of marginalized groups within disabled populations are already muted  (as defined in muted group theory by E. Ardener,  S. Ardener, C. Kramarae, and M. Orbe). Institutionalized disparities in representation and support for marginalized subgroups in disability advocacy made my task as an independent activist seeking grant funding for direct support of disabled activists who advocate for said groups impossible.

Me, retired activist, glasses perched on
on the end of the nose I inherited from
my ancestors, proud mom to
neurodivergent Mu.
These recent events, combined with what I have experienced over the past few years when trying to seek help for our son or other intersected neurodivergent individuals in need, have brought me to the point where I feel the need to step back from activism and try to work out fresh approaches to how intersected people of color can be fairly represented beyond tokenism and appropriation of content and ideas. I  also see sharp differences between how individuals in the dominant religion and those who speak for populations with high incidence disability are responded to when they reach out to our community to request assistance for themselves or others and when activists for marginalized groups request the same help and support. I therefore don't see any point in pushing against this wall of discrimination alone when such effort is unnecessary for those who fit a more acceptable intersected constellation. That privilege of limited intersectionality achieves whatever outcome they wish. I'll expand on this later as well.

I truly believe that with the exception of neurodivergent families of diverse races who conform to the dominant culture in every other way, the autism conversation will continue to be dominated by white privileged parents with the financial means to provide ample supports for the 'therapy' and education of their children. We will continue discussing what those children need and policy will be dictated by that group rather than by neurodivergent adults whose needs are underserved or heavily intersected populations who are both underserved and overshadowed by the dominant group. This is true across organizations. If someone of color is in a decision making position, that person must be from a class position that disassociates itself from those in poverty and silently allows the dominant voices to dictate autism policy, because when they have reached a place of power, they tend to forget that their true purpose is to serve their people. Instead they stay silent and do as they are told and think of their own gain. They justify this by the old myth that somehow they must accept the role of token in order to make history so that others can follow.

The Good: A chance to meet and have lunch with the next generation autistic disability rights voices was a great gift
H, son of Leah Kelley, autistic activist,
speaker, student and incredibly cool dude.
during the brief moments I was at TASH.  Henry Frost was unable to attend, but his example and presence were felt. Renee (see magic people card after Emma's  and Henry's below) invited me to lunch with her wonderful kids and H.  As we were having lunch with these amazing young people,  a great deal of self doubt and self loathing, the self directed ableism that haunted previous generations of autistics, was not there. Both speakers and typers were at peace in their own diagnoses, and this more than anything made me feel the online community may be having a direct positive influence on the new generation of tween and teen neurodivergent youth. This confidence and comfort with who they were, the relaxed way in which conversation flowed from neurology to gaming, from there to interests of the moment was uplifting and almost made my bitter disappointment with the underrepresentation of diverse voicesat the conference itself dissipate.  While we were having lunch I realized that a group of African American disabled activists were having a working lunch and discussing strategy for what was clearly their panel which would be occurring after lunch. Roughly 10 to 12 activists sat, ignoring everyone else in the retaurant. An opportunity was there to gain community involvement in their panel and simply network. It was heartbreakingly sad that their self imposed isolation was happening when we were all there, smiling and more than willing to listen had they reached out to us. But that is the state of activism now. We, activists of color, are burnt out and tired of a great deal.

Emma Zurcher-Long,  Autistic Activist,
Performer, student, advocate for non-
speaking autists who type to communicate
I recently ran across a trailer to an upcoming documentary on autism that begins at a short conversation with Temple Grandin. Because we have not reached a moment where our community has true representation in it, documentaries about autism will always have Temple Grandin in them, and will in many cases mention the movie "Rain Man" when discussing level of visible divergence. So Dr. Grandin states she is concerned about what she terms "too many smart kids, on the real fully verbal end of the spectrum, all they want to do is talk about their autism." Apparently, they spend more time discussing their autism than they do discussing their intense interests. I would say that it is a good thing that autistic youth discuss autism since their autism is part of who they are. It is quite impressive to me that young people know themselves well enough to discuss their support and accommodation needs, how their diagnoses give them advantages and challenges, and feel comfortable doing so. In fact Dr. Grandin has made a serious amount of money and gained great fame talking about her autism and writing her opinions about autism, when autism is not her area of academic specialization but is in fact part of who she is. So I was a bit surprised at her statement of great concern. If autistics start directly discussing their neurologies at such young ages, they will be able to advocate for themselves and others without self doubt or shame. That self advocacy is the goal, and a giant step towards having them direct the autism conversation and by doing so, direct their own futures. Reaching such a goal would give voice to hundreds of individuals across neurology,  rather than the present narrow field of voices limited to well intentioned autistic 67  year old Ph.D. s of animal science speaking in such a way as to obliterate the voices of those who type to communicate.
Henry Frost - Autistic Activist,
student, advocate for full inclusion, public
speaker and activist for non speaking autistics

Meeting some very confident young people at TASH left me hopeful despite my sadness for my own people. I would think Dr. Grandin would be proud of young people who self advocate about their own neurologies. Her statement also excludes very young activists who type like Henry Frost and Emma Zurcher-Long, able to communicate eloquently at such young ages with AAC support. Her insistence in seeing the future of our community only in kids on the spectrum with verbal speech when such powerhouse young typing activists are making names for themselves is not just sad. It is a very good example of hierarchy of disability by presumption of competence based upon what is visible rather than what is possible. Independent young typing activists leading their own generation are the role models for nonverbal autistic presumption of competence. Dr. Grandin speaks as if there was never a groundbreaking documentary called Wretches and Jabbers that changed the global conversation about communication and nonspeaking autism, and as if Naoki Higashida never wrote "The Reason I Jump". The reason Emma Zurcher-Long is a public speaker (note the word speaker meaning communicator - she types through most of her presentations that is her primary communication method) is because of the impact of these nonspeaking people.  Probably one of the strongest voices in our community is Amy Sequenzia who also communicates by typing. Dr. Grandin is a privileged
Amy Sequenzia, Autistic Activist and
Poet, advocate for nonspeaking autistics
users of AAC to communicate
voice in our community and she sets up an ableist hierarchy of disability, immediately feeling the need to insure that the listeners understand that she's excluding nonspeaking children when she discusses "the really smart kids". If she has this ableism, and she is speaking to audiences filled with parents hoping to learn something to help their children, what is she teaching them about my son and his peers? I have no soapbox that will equalize the reach of my voice and allow me to counter such ingrained prejudice. Her fame has given her a large platform but she is using it to segregate autistics who type or need supports to communicate from those who appear to have verbal speech and may not require supports in the classroom or have less visible expression of divergence in neurology.  I've tried to counter this attitude, with little success. I now need to step back and think of new ways to approach these kinds of tremendous obstacles within our community in addition to continuing my son's homeschooling and fighting the wars we must fight for representation of our loved ones outside it.

Renee orchestrated lunch with young autistics
as a conductor would a concert. 
I am also sprinkling this small gift to you of magic cards of people as I write, because the people in them are so dear to the autism wars for driving representation beyond acceptance and the incorrectly used "awareness" term. They give hope to our community because they lift others up rather than simply promoting their own careers in disability rights advocacy or activism. They act with the community in mind. They are refreshing voices in a sea of self serving organizations crushing those they are pledged to serve underfoot while wondering why the very members they harmed are not building community or volunteering for them any longer. I'm doing this so that should someone happen upon this post while I'm gathering thoughts and on my hiatus, they can google and find their way to the words and works of said folk, and learn from them. I want them to share my joy and marvel at strong voices in the very young and the not so young. I would like to see tweens and teens of diverse constellations on similar cards next year. The internet has strong neurodivergent poets, artists, graphic artists, singers, and authors, who are incredibly young. Others were around when Ari Ne'eman was too young to know what his future would hold. Please learn about these people, learn from them and tell them your stories so we can hear your voices and learn from one another. I hope the cards give everyone heart, make their burden's light and guide them towards the understanding that whether my voice is here or gone,  the potential for a powerful community in the neurotribes is strong,  can be united, and if united could overcome any obstacle.

In case you missed the link in the first paragraph 30 Days of Autism can be read at (

This is  the end of part one of a ridiculously long post divided into three parts.  Part II is next


  1. Thank you so much for this Kerima. Really. Just thank you. And beyond thanking you profusely, all I can say is - YES! Exactly. Yes. This. :)

  2. (((Kerima)))

    Sending you love and appreciation for all you are and all you do ♥

    Thank you for you powerful words that point to failings and things we need to do better at the same time they lift us up in love and hope....and guide us like the light of Eärendil...

    And I agree we need more magic people cards ♥

  3. I couldn't be at the TASH conference because of money and health. But it didn't bother me so much not to go, given I knew people like me (white, speaking Autistics and white Blind people) are already well represented — *over* represented.

    I am sad and angry that the community did not come together to fund the attendance of the two people you'd hoped could be there. I feel terrible that I didn't repost the funding page again and again and again and again... I don't know if it would have made a difference, since I didn't have a huge number of friends, but even if I never get internet famous, I made a commitment around Thanksgiving (just a few weeks before my facebook account got shut down by the name police) to do everything I could to promote the voices of Disabled PoC and in other ways to be a better support than I had been. Ironically, now that I'm no longer on facebook, I suddenly have more than enough time to stay current on several platforms, which will make this task much easier.

    And I completely agree with you about Dr. Temple Grandin's silly criticisms of young Autistic people and the pride we take in who we are! Thanks so much for your validating words. :) (smilie)

    1. I don't believe it is at all your fault. Organizations need to be aware of the fiscal and logistical disparities that bar equal participation in conferences and work to fund them. I should never have had to crowdfund in an attempt to help others get there.
      <3 to you.

  4. (((Kerima)))

    Sending you love and appreciation for all you are and all you do ♥

    Thank you for you powerful words that point to failings and things we need to do better at the same time they lift us up in love and hope....and guide us like the light of Eärendil...

    And I agree we need more magic people cards ♥


  5. Good stuff! I appreciate all you have done and all we do to help others. I agree the internet and social networking online is changing life for us and enabling autistic and other self and group advocacy like never before. This allows us, both young and old, to finally feel proud of ourselves as human being who can now achieve all we are capable of in welcoming environments. Sharon, 49 year proud self diagnosed Aspie, ADHDer and mom of creative aspie and non kids who are my greatest pride. Perth, Australia :)