The autistic culture is a culture based around
autistic patterns of thought and interests. Adherents of the culture
are almost exclusively on the autism spectrum, unlike the Deaf
culture which includes many people with no hearing impairment. Fundamental
to the culture is the view that autistic traits are a valuable variation
in neurology, not a disorder. This view, and participation in autistic
culture, is not universal among autistic people. The controversy
about this viewpoint is related to the autism
Beliefs and interests
Autistic culture holds a concept that autism,
as a valid and unique way of being, should be embraced and appreciated,
not shunned or cured. This is sometimes called neurodiversity or
the anti-cure perspective.
Autistic people tend to appreciate mathematics,
science, science fiction, music, and computers, so these are common
areas of interest in the autistic culture. There is also a focus
on anthropology, based on the common autistic experience of living
among beings (non-autistic humans) that have radically unfamiliar
thought patterns and a correspondingly strange culture. Many autistic
people describe a feeling that they are aliens or that they understand
what an alien must feel like.
Some autists report choosing to live in rural
areas not only to protect themselves from the overstimulation of
an urban environment, but to avoid irritants like pollution and
chemicals to which they may be sensitive. In publications such as
Aquamarine Blue 5, a collection of essays by autistic students,
a few have described feeling closer to animals and nature than to
people, and a preference for outdoor life. However, there is no
documentation on the percentage of rural to urban autists, partly
because so many autists learn to simulate non-autistic behavior
and so might go undiagnosed most of their lives.
Through The Eyes Of Aliens by Jasmine O'Neill
(ISBN 1-85302-710-3) is a book by an autistic woman who writes but
does not speak. O'Neill describes autism as a way of perceiving
and being in the world, rather than as an illness. This is the view
shared and promoted by autistic culture. There are several other
books by autistic people expressing their viewpoint, aimed at both
autists and neurotypical (non-autistic) people.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
is a novel whose main character is a communicating autistic. This
book is slightly controversial, as the author himself is not autistic
and based his character on an admittedly small sampling, plus using
Simon Baron-Cohen's "theory
of mind" idea which is not accepted by all researchers,
let alone by autists themselves, and which Cohen himself no longer
believes in. Other autists describe the book as "wonderfully
accurate" in its depiction of how they experience life. The
young man in the story is portrayed as being able to think, feel,
and reason. He methodically creates and carries out plans to uncover
the truth about his family. He attends a school whose programs enable
him to interact with others and accomplish basic life skills without
forcing him to pretend to be "normal" or make him ashamed
of who he is.
Not Even Wrong (ISBN 1-58234-367-5) is
an autobiographical account by Paul Collins, a historian who views
his autistic son as a happy, healthy child and resists the mainstream
idea that autism is a crippling disease. Educating himself as well
as the reader in the history and background of autism, Collins searches
for (and finds) a school where his son's strengths as an autistic
will be encouraged rather than suppressed. He points out that autistic
people can and do communicate, even when they do not or cannot speak.
He also emphasizes that many autists go unrecognized as such because
they do not fit the stereotypical profile, particularly if they
are successful in their careers; their autistic traits are often
simply passed off as eccentricities. The book is as much intended
for autistic people as it is for parents and others who need to
know that autists are not vegetables.
Aquamarine Blue 5 (ISBN 0-8040-1054-4)
is a collection of essays by autistic college students, edited by
Dawn Prince-Hughes. The students come from a variety of backgrounds.
Most were not diagnosed autistic as children and have worked out
their own ways to live in a society that seems very alien to them.
The essays describe the advantages and disadvantages of autism to
a person trying to succeed at university, and how outsiders can
misinterpret a simple autistic preference as a mental disease. One
girl, for example, reported the not uncommon autistic experience
of having to eat only two or three food items and ordering the same
thing every day; anything else made her vomit. She was mistaken
by friends and university staff as having an eating disorder. Dr.
Prince-Hughes tells her own story in Songs of the Gorilla Nation
A science fiction novel, C.S. Friedman's This
Alien Shore (ISBN 0-88677-799-2), envisions a future in which
states of mind currently thought of as mental diseases, among them
autism, are accepted as valid lifestyles, and the cultures on many
earth colonies have adapted to allow these persons to fit in and
contribute to the economy and to society. People paint their faces
with distinctive designs letting others know what to expect. Masada,
one of the key characters, is clearly meant to be autistic, of a
form often described as Asperger syndrome.
Margaret Atwood's novel, Oryx and Crake,
has a university labelled Asperger's U, where almost every student
appears to have Asperger Syndrome or autism in varying degrees of
severity and form. People in the university refer to non-autists
as neurotypicals and seem to view them as something altogether different
(and perhaps inferior) to themselves. The end of the human race
is brought about almost entirely by the character Crake, who attended
Asperger's U and was no exception to their rule. He believed that
the human race was, by the end of the novel, doomed to extinction
simply because of its overuse of resources and the corruption of
the social elite.
The oddizms website has artwork that
presents the anti-cure viewpoint. Other artwork with this perspective
include Autistic Pride Virtual Greeting Cards (2006-01-26: Scripts,
including this artwork, are down due to DOS attacks). Some autistic
people are artists, and some are art savants. autisticculture.com
has links to websites many aspects of autistic culture including
the arts. A group called Aspies for Freedom produces short films
and presents them at AutTV, which they describe as "the autism
TV channel". Other autists have created videos for Youtube.
Another autistic artist whose poster art and accompanying explanations
contribute to autistic culture is Jessica Park.
Although autistic culture doesn't have its own
language, some jargon is commonly used by those in the autistic
community. These words are often coined by people on mailing lists
or other discussion forums, then the usage spreads to other forums
and throughout the community. Some words, such as aspie, are used
by more in the culture than others. In addition, many of these words
are specific to the anti-cure autism culture. These words include:
* Asperger autism/Half-autism - Alternate names
for Asperger syndrome. Asperger syndrome is also frequently abbreviated
* Aspergian - Used by many aspies to describe themselves, emphasizing
the idea that autism is a culture.
* Aspie - A short-hand way to refer to a person with Asperger syndrome.
First used and then made popular by Asperger syndrome author Liane
Holliday Willey. Some people use it to refer to those on the whole
autism spectrum rather than just those with Asperger's, even though
there are differences betweenAspergers syndrome and other types of autism, such
as language delays. There is controversy about whether or not the
differences between autism andAspergers syndrome are significant enough to be considered
separate conditions. To some degree it has become a slur by NT's
towards Asperger autists. It is also used as a
slur for an NT who has a friendship or romance with an Asperger
* Autie - A short-hand way to refer to an autistic person. Popularized
by autistic author Donna Williams. Sometimes used only to refer
to those specifically diagnosed with classic or Kanner's autism
instead of Asperger's or PDD-NOS, and sometimes it refers to the
* Cousin - A cousin is someone who is not technically autistic in
the clinical use of the word, but is still similar enough to autistic
people to be as much a part of autistic culture as someone officially
diagnosable with autism. Sometimes these people are similar because
they have a similar condition (although a cousin doesn't have to
have any psychological conditions) such as schizoid personality
disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, social anxiety disorder,
or hyperlexia. AC is often used to stand for "autists and cousins.".
This description was also popularized by Donna Williams and may
have originated with her.
* Curebie - A derogatory term referring to a person with the desire
to cure autism - more to the point, one who believes that a cure
is the only answer, and tends to an evangelistic attitude on this
subject. These people are usually viewed in a negative light in
* Neurodiversity - A concept of tolerance of people regardless of
* Neurotypical - Usually abbreviated NT. Refers to a person who
is not on the autism spectrum, although the technical meaning
of the word is a bit ambiguous.
* Uncle Tom aspies - Applied by some aspies to those who kowtow
to the whims of NTs, particularly the curebie mindset.
Modes of communication
Autistic people who cannot speak often can communicate
by writing, and those who can speak are often more comfortable writing.
Also, many autistic individuals prefer being alone to socializing,
so prefer online communication to face-to-face meetings. Many also
report that they tend to shun real-time communication media such
as the telephone when possible, and may prefer email over chat rooms.
These are merely tendencies, however; all types of communication
preferences are found in autistic people.
The rise of the Internet has been of great benefit
to autistic people, providing communication opportunities that would
otherwise not exist. Autists have been present on the Internet from
an early date, as there are many autists in the scientific and technical
occupations that had first access to the Internet. Author Paul Collins
speculates that autistic people were among those instrumental in
the development of personal computers and the Internet.
Tendency to marry within the group
Popular misconception has it that autists never
marry because they haven't enough social perceptiveness or ability
to interact intimately or fulfill the demands of a marriage. In
fact, many autists do pursue relationships and commitments. Even
those who do not feel the desire to have a sexual relationship might
pursue marriage out of a need for companionship. Among those who
do not, it is as likely to be through choice as through lack of
There is a tendency for an autistic person to
choose an autistic partner, because shared interests and similar
personality types are more often found within the group. Multi-generational
autistic families are not uncommon. For instance, Paul Collins in
Not Even Wrong describes traits in himself and his wife,
and in various family members, which might today be described as
characteristic of autism. While Collins reports being very happily
married, such unions don't always work out; Donna Williams writes
extensively in her autobiographies of her brief marriage to an autistic
man, and how it did not work out because the "defenses"
each of them possessed - psychological adaptations to having grown
up autistic in a non-autistic world - were detrimental to the other's
happiness or autistic needs.
There are several autistic organizations, with
a variety of objectives. Some aim to facilitate the community by
helping autistic people interact with each other. Others are more
concerned with promoting awareness and tolerance of the autistic
culture, and the anti-cure viewpoint, as part of the autism rights
movement. There are many mixtures of these objectives.
Autistic organizations exist both online and offline.
On the Internet, autistic communities consist of networks of websites,
forums, and autism chat rooms, and sometimes mailing lists. There
appears to be a tendency for the autistic community to favour online
The social limitations of autism make it difficult
to make friends and establish support within general society. For
these and other reasons, the online community is a valuable resource.
The autistic culture is so far not a universally
accepted phenomenon. There is some work in the community on raising
awareness among neurotypical society, but the very nature of autism
makes self-promotion difficult for autistic people.
Proponents of autistic culture include Martijn
Dekker, who has written a paper On Our Own Terms: Emerging Autistic
Culture, and Dawn Prince-Hughes, who credits the rise of autistic
culture to the Internet.
Autistic Pride Day
Autistic Pride Day is a celebration of the neurodiversity
of individuals on the autism spectrum which is celebrated on June
18 of each year. The event started in 2005 in order to promote the
belief that those identified as autistic are not suffering from
a pathological disease any more than those with different coloured
skin are suffering from a form of skin disease.
Autistic pride advocates believe that medical
science is permeated by the notion of racial purity, in terms of
the human race as a whole. In their opinion, this concept seems
to reflect a belief that every human brain should be identical.
Advocates of autistic pride claim that the notion that there is
an ideal, and thus desirable, structure to the human brain leads
many practitioners of psychiatry to assume that any deviation requires
a "cure" to achieve conformity to the neurotypical norm.
Some supporters believe that advocates of a cure for autism are
actually promoting a form of ethnic cleansing. All believe that,
at a bare minimum, there should be greater consideration shown for
members of the autistic community as unique individuals.
Advocates of autistic pride point out that homosexuality
was once classified as a form of mental illness that could be treated
medically with libido-reducing hormonal therapy. Only after the
gay rights movement achieved its goal of social tolerance towards
diversity of sexual orientation did this classification become obsolete.
One of the enduring expressions of this movement is gay pride. The
Autistic Pride Day hopes to start the same process of education
of this view and activism, with the goals of promoting the basic
human rights of autists and finding a valued home for their individual
voice and talents in modern society.
Autistic Pride Day, June 18, is an initiative
by Aspies For Freedom. This autism rights group aims to educate
the general public with such initiatives to end ignorance of the
issues involved within the autistic community.
The theme for 2005 was "Acceptance, not cure".
The theme is changed annually. The main event of 2005 was in Brasília,
capital of Brazil, and the theme was "Acceptance, not cure".
For 2006, the event was held the weekend of June 18 in New York
City, with the theme "Celebrate Neurodiversity". Many
other events including a trip to the London Science Museum were
held in England and Israel that same weekend.
Relation to geeks and nerds
The "autism as a world view, and way of thinking"
view is sometimes associated with aptitude for technical pursuits.
Some people see geeks and nerds as having some characteristics in
common with autistic people. However, many autistic people have
difficulty with the amount of group collaboration needed in the
workforce; many believe the strong desire for "team-working"
makes things very difficult for autists.
Some autists who have actually held down a technical
position report that, though they are often shunned (or manipulated/misdirected
and unfairly criticized) by ambitious types, they are generally
well liked by their colleagues, who appreciate their candour, technical
ability, and general willingness to help others. They also report
that they are frequently held to be disruptive or not "team
players" (in the sense of being cooperative), which can feel
like a foreign concept to many autists. In addition, many autists
tend to think of competition as against self or against challenges
(seeking to excel) rather than against others.
Unlike the Deaf culture, which recognizes and
accepts many people who are hearing, the Autistic culture generally
shuns neurotypical people (NTs). Some people in the autism rights
movement consider people who have self-diagnosed to be part of a
fad which considers autism/Asperger's as a mere personality type.
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