A Change in the Air
Another very welcome change that I've noticed recently has been in the mainstream media's discussion of autism and neurodiversity. When journalists first noticed the neurodiversity movement a few years ago, they wrote a few articles presenting us and our views as a curiosity. Even when their tone was sympathetic, it was clear that they believed themselves to be dealing with a tiny fringe group of Internet activists, rather than witnessing a significant cultural change.
Now, even though they and most of their stories still are chock-full of ignorant stereotypes, mainstream journalists seem to be figuring out that the neurodiversity viewpoint is a lot more commonplace than they originally realized. Instead of just writing an occasional story explaining the concept of neurodiversity, as they once did, it looks like some of them are getting the message that curing autism is a controversial idea and that any story along those lines had better discuss the neurodiversity view as a matter of fairness and balance.
Take a look at this Newsweek article. The author obviously started out to write about the lack of scientific knowledge about autism and the widespread fear and ignorance among the public, but the story ends up discussing the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and the belief that autism should be accepted as an intrinsic part of an individual. Although the author doesn't advocate the neurodiversity point of view herself, she apparently decided to mention the issue because she recognized that she couldn't present a complete discussion of autism in today's society without it.
I think we've just about reached the tipping point—that is, the point where we are seen as part of the mainstream, rather than a largely unknown group of outsiders. We've gotten here as a result of the hard work of many people in our community over the past several years, including Ari Ne'eman and Kristina Chew (who were interviewed in the article) and many bloggers and others who might not have had any direct contact with professional journalists but nevertheless have contributed—in a very meaningful way—to the change in social attitudes that we are beginning to see. Your efforts have made, and are continuing to make, a tremendous difference. Give yourselves a hearty Bravo! and then open the window and take a deep breath of that springtime air.