I attend an autism support group, and I see this all the time among the younger set. They use medicalized terms, and lament their sorry state of affairs.
How can we reach the younger autistics?
At various times in history, civil rights activists have had to deal with similar issues. Feminists often found themselves unable to convince other women that they were deserving of property rights, the vote, and equal employment opportunity. Gay rights activists struggled to persuade their closeted brethren that they were not evil or mentally ill and had no reason to be ashamed. Black activists worked to bring hope to many people who had spent their lives in the most appalling poverty and degradation, never expecting to see anything better.
There's a stark description of these feelings of worthlessness in the book The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, which is actually a historical novel and not an autobiography. The main character, an elderly black woman, explains why a young civil rights activist named Jimmy has been finding it so hard to persuade others to join his cause:
You talk of freedom, Jimmy. Freedom here is able to make a little living and have the white folks think you good. Black curtains hang at their windows, Jimmy: black quilts cover their body at night: a black veil cover their eyes, Jimmy; and the buzzing, buzzing, buzzing in their ears keep them from 'ciphering what you got to say...
...they don't understand nothing you telling them. You see, Jimmy, they want you to cure the ache, but they want you to do it and don't give them pain. And the worse pain, Jimmy, you can inflict is what you doing now—that's trying to make them see they good as the other man. You see, Jimmy, they been told from the cradle they wasn't—that they wasn't much better than the mule.
For autistic youths who grew up hearing that they were sick and defective, the buzzing pervades every aspect of their existence. Even their most personal thoughts are not their own, but are disordered manifestations of a malfunctioning brain. Every idle activity is a stim, while every productive interest is an obsession. Any natural talent is a splinter skill or a symptom, and any area of weakness is evidence of an overall lack of ability. Conversations can't just be exchanges of information but, instead, are verbal minefields where speech and social skills are constantly tested and found wanting. Even the simplest of hopes—a meaningful job, a home of one's own, someone to love—are met with pity and a patronizing insistence that these things are impossible. Having a crisis of the soul? Better go take some meds...
Our young people's inner selves are dying slow, silent, ignominious deaths, with no news cameras to bear witness to the destruction of their dignity and their dreams. They have no protest songs, no chanting crowds of demonstrators, no voices loud enough to be heard over the buzzing.
How can we reach them? Not with words alone, but by transforming the world around them, as other civil rights movements have shown. Change the social environment to one that is more respectful and offers more opportunities, and those who have despaired will begin to feel hope.