50 Inspiring Autistic People of 2011
This is wrong.
I will be ending the year with a series of posts that list 50 autistic people I found inspiring this year. Before beginning, I want to explain my reasons for doing so.
My inspiration here was the Out100, a list of outstanding LGBT citizens produced yearly by Out Magazine. Being openly autistic, and not ashamed about it, is as revolutionary a concept today as Gay Liberation was in the 1970s. Each of the people on this list has come forward and said in public, "I am autistic." If you've never done that, you don't know how scary it is. You have probably not experienced what it is like to be ridiculed, marginalized, or ignored because you have been honest about your own brain. Most of these people do, and they deserve to be recognized for their bravery.
Autistic people are routinely left out when people talk about autism. I think one of the most important reasons for this in the media is that writers and producers simply do not know how many of us there are who can speak eloquently about what having autism is like. They rely entirely on neurotypical organizations like Autism Speaks not out of malice, but out of ignorance. This is a fledging effort to give news organizations a list of autistic sources they can talk to when they write about us.
The biggest problems with lists like these is that they are arbitrary and exclusionary, by their nature, and people's feelings are bound to be hurt. Who am I, after all, to declare these are the most inspiring autistic people of the year?
So please note the lack of a superlative. These are not the most inspiring autistic people. They are autistic people who inspired me, Landon Bryce, and who I think will inspire others. There are many, many more people I could have included. And there are many, many inspiring autistic people who I've never heard of.
But doing thAutcast means spending hours every day reading and watching media about autism, and that does give me a knowledge base that is both substantial and unusual. And it has taught me many things.
One of those things is that I was wrong when I came up with the thAut for the Day above. If you want to know about autism, you can't just ask "someone autistic." You need to ask autistic people. You need a range of opinions, both because autism affects different people in different ways and because our beliefs about autism vary so widely. I do not think many people speak more eloquently than Temple Grandin, but you do not understand autism if she is the only autistic person you have ever heard. By making this list, I also want to ask even those who are veterans of the community to broaden their perspectives and find some new voices to listen to
And I apologize to the people who are not here. I hope that readers will send in their own suggestions for inspiring people who talked publicly about being autistic this year. I will publish those suggestions in a follow-up piece. My point here is not to be exclusionary or cliquish. There are no rankings.
What I want to do more than anything else to show you that autism pride is not an abstract concept. I am proud of my autism because of specific autistic people-- their accomplishments, their brilliance, their compassion. I am proud of my community because it contains individuals like the people on this list: celebrities and activists; parents and kids; writers, musicians, and YouTubers. They are all remarkable. They are autism.