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The autistic culture is a culture based around autistic patterns of thought and interests. Adherents of the culture are almost exclusively on the autistic 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, 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.
Through The Eyes Of Aliens by Jasmine O'Neill is a book by an autistic woman who writes but does not speak. Miss 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 autistics 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 autistics themselves. Other autistics 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 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 autistics 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 autistics are not vegetables.
A science fiction novel, C.S. Friedman's This Alien Shore, envisions a future in which states of mind currently thought of as mental diseases, among them autism, are accepted as valid lifestyles. Masada, one of the key characters, is clearly meant to be autistic, of a form often described as Asperger syndrome.
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. The autistics.org web links has links to websites on the arts in autistic culture. 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 -- Alternate name 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 between AS and other types of autism, such as language delays. There is controversy about whether or not the differences between autism and AS are significant enough to be considered sepearate conditions.
- Autie -- A short-hand way to refer to an autistic person. Popularized by autistic author Donna Williams. Sometimes it is used only to refer to those specifically diagnosed with classic 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 "autistics and cousins."
- 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.
- Neurodiversity -- A concept of tolerance of people regardless of neurological wiring.
- Neurotypical -- Usually abbreviated NT. Refers to a person who is not on the autistic spectrum, 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 or the NT 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 shun real-time communication media, thus preferring 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. Autistics have been present on the Internet from an early date, as there are many autistics in the scientific and technical occupations that had first access to the Internet.
Tendency to marry within the group
Popular misconception has it that autistics never marry because they haven't enough social perceptiveness or ability to interact intimately or fulfill the demands of a marriage. In fact, many autistics 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.
Some autistics find supportive non-autistic partners. An example of a marriage of a man with Asperger Syndrome to a non-autistic woman is that of Christopher Slater-Walker in the UK and his wife Gisela..
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 is a tendency for the autistic community to favour online textual fora.
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.
Some specific autistic groups are listed in the external links at the end of this article.
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
- Main article: 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 dark 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 autistics and finding a valued home for their individual voice and talents in modern society.
Autistic Pride Day 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.
Representations of autistic culture
- Main article: Autistic community
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 autistics.
Some autistics who have actually held down a technical position report that, though they are often shunned (or manipulated/misdirected and unfairly criticised) 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 autistics. In addition, many autistics tend to think of competition as against self or against challenges (seeking to excel) rather than against others.
Is autistic culture a real culture?
Not everyone agrees on what a culture is, or what should be its defining characteristics. However, most cultural anthropologists as of 2006 define a culture as follows: (1) Culture is based on symbols, abstract ways of referring to and understanding ideas, objects, feelings, or behaviors -— and the ability to communicate with symbols using language. (2) Culture is shared. People in the same society share common behaviors and ways of thinking through culture. (3) Culture is learned. While people biologically inherit many physical traits and behavioral instincts, culture is socially inherited. A person must learn culture from other people in a society. (4) Culture is adaptive. People use culture to flexibly and quickly adjust to changes in the world around them. (Source: Encarta article on culture.
According to these definitions, autistics are perhaps in the beginning stages of forming a real culture. Many features of what are commonly called cultures are visible in the autistic culture. There are shared beliefs, organisations, language, and art that are specific to the group, and there is a tendency to marry within the group. Autistic culture can be learned via the growing number of books and websites, and through gatherings such as Autreat. An ability to rely on other autistics for emotional reinforcement or pragmatic support may allow autistics to adjust more easily to the world-at-large. Jim Sinclair's history of Autism Network International includes an explanation of autistic culture.
Nevertheless, there are some who dispute the existence of an autistic culture. More discussion of this issue is required.
- Wrong Planet - Online resource and community for those with Autism
- Aspergian Pride - 'Celebrating the accomplishments of autistic people'
- Aspergia proposes that people who have Asperger syndrome think of themselves as belonging to a separate culture, originating on a mythical island
- Aspergian Island was established by refugees from Aspergia when the latter became inactive
- SpectrumHaven - 'Information and chat for all people on the autistic spectrum'
- Autism Network International - 'Self-help and advocacy organization'
- Autistic Pride Day - 'Official site'
- Autistic Culture - 'An informative community site, relating to Autistic Culture'
- Aspergers NZ - 'A web site attempting to bring together people with aspergers in New Zealand'
- Aspies For Freedom was established by two members of Aspergia based on ideas first proposed on that site
- Graphic Truth is very political and contains newswatches, reviews, editorials and commentary on a variety of controversial subjects not limited to autism
- Asperger's Syndrome World Community helps to establish online autism communitieshe:תרבות אוטיסטית
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