Fact sheet on Autism and Asperger's syndrome culture for adults on the autism spectrum


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 rights movement.


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 (ISBN 1-4000-5058-8).


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 as "Asperger's."
* 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 autistic.
* 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 whole spectrum.
* 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 autistic culture.[2]
* Neurodiversity - A concept of tolerance of people regardless of neurological wiring.
* Neurotypical - Usually abbreviated NT. Refers to a person who is not on the autism spectrum[1], 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 ability.


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 textual forums.


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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An increasing number of adults on the autism spectrum say that Autism is a fundamental part of who the autistic person is and that Autism is something that cannot be separated from the person