It’s Autism Positivity Day 2014, which seems to me the ideal day for launching this blog.
This project started in a battered spiral notebook I keep next to my bed. When I started writing, I wasn’t sure I wanted to blog something as intensely personal as an autobiography. And I’m still not sure.
But there is something wonderfully positive and affirming about writing, specifically, about my autism. I’m not alone in this; by writing about my autism, I join a community of writers and bloggers of which I’m proud to be a part.
There’s also something wonderfully affirming about autobiography, or memoir, or life writing. This is particularly true when one is autistic. It is a persistent irony that so many researchers of autism – themselves neurotypical – continue to believe simultaneously that autistic people are fatally self-absorbed and that autistic people are incapable of writing meaningfully about their own lives. For instance, in An Anthropologist on Mars, Oliver Sacks writes:
When I first read [Emergence], I could not help being suspicious of it: the autistic mind…was incapable of self-understanding and understanding others and therefore authentic introspection and retrospection. How could an autistic person write an autobiography?
By the time Dr. Grandin’s second book, Thinking in Pictures, was written, Dr. Sacks’s view had changed…somewhat:
In 1986 a quite extraordinary, unprecedented and, in a way, unthinkable book was published, Temple Grandin’s Emergence: Labelled Autistic. Unprecedented because there had never before been an “inside narrative” of autism; unthinkable because it had been medical dogma for forty years or more that there was no “inside,” no inner life, in the autistic, or that if there was it would be forever denied access or expression; extraordinary because of its extreme (and strange) directness and clarity. …She provided a glimpse, and indeed a revelation, that there might be people, no less human than ourselves, who constructed their worlds, lived their lives, in almost unimaginably different ways.
Dr. Grandin’s books have been in print for years, and she’s since produced another one. Other autistic writers have written their own blogs, autobiographies, memoirs, poetry. Yet we are still treated as if our work is “extraordinary,” “unthinkable,” “a revelation,” “unimaginably different” – often, and especially, by those whose life’s work depends on our pliancy to their “unimaginable” theories.
When I read Dr. Sacks’s comments on Dr. Grandin’s life writing, I am reminded of these lines from Thoreau’s Walden:
I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.
To blog – to start a project that focuses specifically on my life as an autistic academic, an autistic woman, an autistic person – remains a radically positive move. I have a voice; I have had, have, and will have, a life. These things matter; these things are, too often for autistic people, not heard. I write about my life because it matters. I write about my life because I matter.
Happy Autism Positivity Day, everyone.