Autistic History Month 2013: The History Post That Never Was

21 Nov
November 21, 2013

I’m happy to be contributing once again to Down Wit Dat’s, T-21 Monthly Blog Hop! This month’s topic: Autistic History Month



Autistic History

I thought this post would be easy to write. I had such great plans: I’d color it with stories of Autistics past and present; who we are; where we came from. There would be so much information, too much! So I thought to myself, how can I possibly fit it all into one post?!! The ‘idea’ of our history is a big deal. Huge in fact! I proceeded to ponder the directions such a topic might take me: General history overview, specific topic, biographies… Where to begin?! It didn’t take long for the glow to fade and the excitement to dim. The more I thought on Autistic History, and what I’d like to share, I realized

I had nothing to say.



Yes, me, a 41 year old Autistic, parent to Autistic children has absolutely nothing to say about her history…

* * because she doesn’t know it * *

Well, that’s unsettling, so I thought: I’ll Google ‘Autistics in History’ and read up on some interesting facts and people of note and ‘wow’ everyone with my exciting finds! Then I reconsidered. It dawned on me that sharing Google-searched information (that I didn’t know beforehand) was no longer the point of this post, which immediately rendered this piece…

The history post that never was.

The point I need to make is that I don’t know our history, and I’m willing to bet many of you don’t either. It’s not as if you’re going to learn about it in school. And unless you had an amazingly open-minded professional during the diagnostic process, they didn’t point you in the direction of our history either - unless you were looking for a medical history of ‘autism the disorder.’ My conclusion?

Autistic History Month is a must, because it acknowledges and celebrates Autistic People and our contributions past and present.

I’ve only known that I was Autistic for about 5 years. And I only became aware of our presence online over the last year (I had always been terrified of social media and talked about that here). Our history, which I know is out there, is unknown to me. That is sad and it needs to change. I realize that falls on me, I need to educate myself and my kids.

In the meantime, Autistics should be honored for blogging about our lives, writing books and poetry about our experiences, creating beautiful works of art that tell our story, photographing our visions, filming documentaries, working toward policy changes, protesting inequities and educating people in a variety of ways about Autistic lives. It is through all of this that our multidimensional history is being written. We must continue to strengthen our Autistic presence,

And celebrate it!


We The People

I want my children to know Our Community, which is made up of Autistics, our families and friends and our Allies. And even more importantly, I want my children to know Our People. The most important thing that came from writing this piece was the realization that I couldn’t write a single thing about our history because…

I Didn’t Know It.

What better reason to have a month dedicated to celebrating Autistic people than to learn and share our history? Autistics didn’t just start speaking out, and logically I realize that. They’ve been doing it (writing, blogging, protesting, etc…) for years, well before I began advocating. Years before I knew that I, or my kids were Autistic - years before they were born.

I am thankful for every single person who spoke out, who communicated in some way on our behalf, because they cleared the way for newcomers, who are sharing Autistic experiences now.

I am joining these pioneers in their efforts because it’s important, and because it’s the right thing for me. But to continue on, I feel it’s imperative to know how far we’ve come, to understand just how far we have to go. It all means something: The people, the organizations, where we’ve succeeded and where we’ve failed. All of the hard work that has gone into ensuring that Autistic people are supported and accommodated, respected and included, and treated as valuable human beings (as well as all of the hard work that continues in that same vein),

Needs to be acknowledged and celebrated. 

I want my kids to understand and take pride in the fact that they are not disordered, but Neurodivergent! I don’t want them to look back and see the same clinical rhetoric that’s been regurgitated a thousand times: Red flags, symptoms, deficits, functioning labels and diagnoses. While speaking of us on those terms gives me a hell of a reason to advocate, it says nothing about US. It says nothing of our feelings and experiences, and it doesn’t describe us as the living, loving, capable people we are. Every Autistic person is a part of Autistic History and it’s up to us to learn, share and add to it, because as long as Our history remains invisible,  

It’s easier for others to ignore Our existence.

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17 replies
  1. Down Wit Dat says:

    This is such an important movement. The grief and suffering rhetoric has to be eliminated once and for all. xox

  2. Angel says:

    Excellent post!! I love your last paragraph!

    Your words help confirm some of my feelings that I shared in my latest post, one being how I took on the “negative expectations” of our society in regards to autism mostly because that was all I could find about autism nearly seven years ago when I went into my research mode.

    I am thankful for all of the people who have shared and continue to share their lives in our community – it has helped me in so many ways.

    Thank you for writing this!

    • srsalas says:

      Thankful is so right, but you’re a big part of the sharing, too, ya’ know? You most definitely came to mind when I mentioned ‘writing poetry.’ Thanks for reading!! :)

  3. Jenn Owen says:

    Another great post. I recently read and reread a book called My Autism Heroes to my seven year old son. It’s about famous contributors who were probably autistic. After each chapter we googled the person to learn more about them. He absolutely loved it.

  4. Ben Belek says:

    Hi Renee, great post. There are quite a few excellent books about the history of autism, if you’re interested. Adam Feinstein’s “A History of Autism” is probably the most detailed one.

    • srsalas says:

      Thanks for that, Ben, I really appreciate it. Is the author Autistic as well, or is he writing with/about Autistic people?

      • Ben Belek says:

        No, Adam is not autistic, but I guess he’s what you would call an ally. He runs Autism Cymru, Wales’s National Charity for Autism, and he organizes monthly online conferences that bring together autistic people and autism researchers. I think most importantly, his book is just a really good, detailed and meticulous piece of work, and on my opinion, very respectful of autistic people, and sufficiently critical towards the medical and scientific establishments. Unfortunately I don’t know of many autism researchers who are themselves autistic… Do you?

        • srsalas says:

          I don’t know of any openly Autistic researchers, I’m sure they’re out there. Maybe they’ll begin to disclose – that would be helpful, wouldn’t’ it? How’s the PhD coming along? Very well, I hope :)

  5. Cynthia Kim says:

    I’ve been facing this same dilemma all month. I know so little about our history, in part because I’ve only been aware that I’m autistic for such a short time. And it’s hard to find much in terms of research. I’m so thankful for all the people who have come before us too. Each person who speaks out makes it a little easier for others to do the same.

    • srsalas says:

      Me, too. The idea of trying to learn our history is overwhelming to say the least. I can’t tell you how much I have learned and been helped understanding myself through other Autistics. I’m new to all of this, too, but I thought you should know you are one of the voices that resonates with me, and I’m beyond grateful to have ‘met’ you <3

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