To be autistic is to live as an outsider. The social standards that come naturally to others seem foreign and strange. These social skills that are innate for some take learning and practice for us to assimilate. While many, particularly allistic, people view this as a negative thing, there are benefits to not understanding.
Because we live outside these norms, we see them in a different light than allistics. By having to learn these skills rather than simply having them, we gain a different perspective. This varied perspective can be a huge benefit, particularly when it comes to social justice activism.
Social justice activism is a field that has been growing in strength in recent years. More and more people are becoming aware of the injustices in our society and have begun to fight back against the systems that perpetuate these injustices. Of course, social activism is by no means a new phenomenon. Marginalized people have been fighting back against their oppression long before these ideas gained more mainstream popularity.
Activism spans a wide range of oppression and marginalization. From race to gender to disability, there are a multitude of aspects to intersectional activism. For those of us involved in activism, our identities often are comprised of both privileged and marginalized identities. For instance, I am white (a privileged identity) but also disabled, bisexual, gendervague, and perceived to be a woman (marginalized identities). These intersections of privilege and oppression color our activism from which aspects of activism we are most involved in to which areas of oppression we may have difficulty understanding. Someone who is white will have a harder time understanding race issues while a cisman may have more difficulty understanding sexism.
Difficulties in understanding the experiences of a marginalized group to which one does not belong typically stem from our socialization. The multitude of messages we are ingrained with from birth work together to disguise systems of oppression. Whether it’s the myth of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps (which ignores the reality that many can work their hardest and never advance while others advance simply through privilege) or the extreme gendering of children from before they are even born, various cultural myths and ideas influence our ways of thinking which can make it hard to see the overarching systems of oppression that dictate our lives.
While there haven’t been official studies done, anecdotal evidence suggests that autistic people seem to be more likely to become involved in social justice than the general population. I think this has a great deal to do with the experience of living in this world while autistic. Our differences in understanding social norms can make it easier to question those norms. While many allistics simply accept social norms as just the way things are, autistics must learn these norms the way others learn math. Because we must learn these things, much in the way of someone learning math, we are more likely to question what we are learning.
The outside perspective we gain by having to learn what comes naturally to others makes it easier to question these social norms and systems of oppression. This is not to say that all autistics are socially active or that there aren’t other factors that affect a person’s ease of questioning these systems. Certainly, people with multiple oppressed identities will also be more likely than the general populace to question and fight against these systems. However, one of the benefits of autism is that this outsider perspective helps us to see these systems for what they are rather than just accepting them as the way things are.
Living as an autistic in an allistic world certainly has its challenges, but there are also good things that come with being autistic. Our ability to see the world in a different way is definitely one of them.
To my fellow autistics, do you think that being autistic has influenced your participation in social justice activism?