Autism Pride Day & Why I think the flag BLEW instead of “flew” in 2018

Autism Pride Day & Why I think the flag BLEW instead of “flew” in 2018 720 960 Todd Simkover

Today is Autism Pride Day, however due to the need for physical distancing in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, autism advocates and self-advocates including myself are celebrating it “slightly” differently this year. The reason I am saying it’s only “slightly” different this year is because the main way Autism Pride Day has been celebrated prior to Covid-19 has engagement through social media posts and discussions, in addition to some in-person gatherings which are obviously predominantly cancelled this year.

I wasn’t planning on publishing today, however I remembered that it’s Autism Pride Day this morning upon receiving an email from my Montreal childhood friend and fellow autism self-advocate Julian Rodriguez, to whom reconnected with me in adulthood and became huge proponent of autism acceptance!

So how does this all connect to the actual title of this post, as some may be wondering? Well, on May 7th of this year I launched this blog with an article entitled “The Day the Autism Pride Flag Blew in Toronto & Why Neurodiversity Matters,” however I was later asked by Julian and another fellow self-advocate named Janna V. whether I meant the flag “flew,” as is conventionally said. Realizing the double irony of the exact same question coming only from other neurodiversity proponents, I responded by explaining that I actually perceived the flag as “blowing” in the wind, and since neurodiversity is about acceptance of difference I chose to keep it as “blew.”

Another reason why I’m re-sharing the original post below is because I forgot to include a very important aspect of the flag raising event; the DATE it took place, which was Monday June 18th 2018! Please enjoy the below original article which includes this correction and a portion of my soon-to-be published Master’s thesis entitled “Addressing Barriers to Rewording Work…”:

“The Day the Autism Flag BLEW in Toronto & Why Neurodiversity Matters”                   (Originally published May 7, 2020):                                                                                             

As visitors to my Autism Self-advocacy Services business website can observe, the Home page displays a photo of me beside a gigantic flag consisting of a multi-coloured infinity symbol, with the Rotunda (platform area) of Toronto City Hall in the background. While this symbol is very familiar to virtually all hard-core autism self-advocates including myself, I’m dedicating my FIRST EVER post in this brand new blog to the meaning of this symbol and the significance of the event to which it took place.  That symbol represents neurodiversity, which emerging from the 1990s Autism Rights Movement, asserts that autism is simply another form of human diversity and as such, calls for Autistic individuals to be appreciated and accepted the way we are, as opposed to being viewed as in need of so-called “normalization,” “rehabilitation,” or “correction,” as has been broadly seen in society.  However, the symbolism of that photo goes deeper, and the event,  organized by the strictly Autistic-run organization Autistics 4 Autistics (A 4 A) and took place on Monday June 18th 2018 , was the first ever time the neurodiversity flag was raised at at Toronto City Hall, which is a powerful turning point for the autism community! In addition to admiring the flag being raised, the approximately 50 or so attendees, many to which identified as on the spectrum, enjoyed a humongous gluten-free neurodiversity themed cake, which was provided by A 4 A and was delicious! It was a day which I’ll never forget and I hope after the physical distancing measures due to the pandemic are lifted, results in more such gatherings.

Since neurodiversity is described at length in the unpublished portion of my soon-to-be-published 2014 Critical Disability Studies Master’s thesis “Barriers to Rewarding Work: employment issues among people on the autism spectrum,”, I am including the following excerpt from the introductory chapter to contextualize the significance of the subject:

Neurodiversity is constructively and productively used to contextualize and understand the  lived experiences and perspectives of individuals with autism.  In contrast to deficit-focused approach prevalent in the medical and scientific literature, neurodiversity frameworks on autism present autism as an aspect of human diversity and a ‘way of being’ not in need of correction (Baker, 2011; Murray, 2008; Straus, 2010).  Baker (2011) observes that the concept of neurodiversity was originally influenced by autism-related activism during the 1990s, but has recently expanded to include individuals with various neurological differences, such as those with learning and cognitive impairments.  It was a response to “largely negative publicity and public discourse surrounding perceived growth in autism incidence,” much of which “focussed almost exclusively on finding a cure” (p. 20).  Baker further adds that these responses were heavily influenced by application of essentialist understandings of disability, which unlike constructionist views, “considers disability to be entirely located within an individual” (p. 7-8).  Neurodiversity therefore is politically and culturally motivated and seeks to redefine autism and other neurological differences as an existential valued form of human diversity.

Neurodiversity perspectives seek to redefine autism and rebuke the deficit-focussed approach to autism.  Promoting the strengths, abilities, and talents commonly associated with autism, Robertson (2010) argues the neurodiversity perspective portrays autism as “a form of human diversity with associated strengths and difficulties” (p. 1).  Likewise, O’Neil (2008) points out that the strengths in intelligence among individuals with autism suggest that autism is not a disorder, but rather a difference with associated benefits.  Similarly, after analyzing published accounts by people with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), Allred (2009) opined that AS is not a mental disorder as claimed in the DSM IV but rather a “socially constructed human difference” (p. 343).  Finally, noting that A.S. is a neurological difference that has been socially constructed as a disorder, Molly and Vasil (2010) argue that the special education system plays a major role in shaping this construction as their primary goal, which is to rehabilitate or normalize children with differences.

Culture is another area of focus explored through neurodiversity perspectives.  Noting that culture affects how autism is viewed, Grinker (2007) argues that recent improvements in accuracy of statistics on autism are a sign of increased acceptance and understanding of “a kind of human difference that [society] once turned away from and that many other cultures still hide in homes or institutions or denigrate as bizarre” (p. 5)  Highlighting that there are varying representations of autism, Murray (2008) observes that autism is “ configured, understood, and discussed in vastly different ways in different parts of the world (p. 16).  He challenges the traditional idea of disability as an absence and argues that autism is “a way of being in the world” (p. 6) that does not require treatment.

Another way culture is emphasized by perspectives on neurodiversity is identity, pride, and community.  Stressing that autism is a “valued social and political identity” (p. 537) consisting of a “distinctive and valuable style of thinking and imagining” (p. 542), Straus (2010) highlights the various forms of autistic high culture exhibited among this population, including writing, music, and art.  Referring to remarkable achievements among individuals with autism, he argues “for a new generation of people with autism, it is not about what they can do despite autism (not about overcoming), but about what autism enables them to do, what they do through and with autism” (p. 550).  Hence, employment success among individuals on the spectrum is both correlated and connected with development of autistic culture, pride, and community.

Neurodiversity not only gives insight to the cultural perception and redefinition of autism, but also constructively informs its policy formulation.  According to Baker (2011), there are four primary agenda types with regard to autism policy: cause, care, cure, and celebration.  She argues that both neurodiversity and neurological disability reflect rising public sector challenges and that future policy development must include all stakeholders including perspectives of individuals on the spectrum (Baker, 2006b).  Another element of policy informed by neurodiversity is promotion of awareness and acceptance of autism.  Baker (2006a) highlights the significance of dedicating specific times of the year to commemorate autism and argues this enhances rights-based policies for this population.  She observes that this both promotes general awareness of autism and encourages education of public management of autism.

Simkover, T. (2014). Introduction (Unpublished portion of Master’s thesis), “Barriers to rewarding work: employment issues among people on the autism spectrum,” (pp. 8-10)

REFERENCES:

Allred, S. (2009). Reframing Asperger syndrome:

Lessons from other challenges to the Diagnostic and statistical manual and ICIDH approaches. Disability & Society, 24 (3), 343-355.

Baker, D. L. (2006a) Autism as public policy. In: D. Pothier and R. Devlin (eds.) Critical

disability theory: Essays in philosophy, politics, policy and law, Vancouver and Toronto, UBC Press

Baker, D. L. (2006b). Neurodiversity, neurological disability and the public sector: Notes on

the autism spectrum. Disability & Society, 21 (1), 15-29.

Baker, D. L. (2011), The Politics of Neurodiversity: Why Public Policy Matters. Boulder,

Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc.

Grinker, R. (2007). Unstrange minds: Remapping the world of autism, New York, Basic Books

Molloy, H., & Vasil, L. (2002). The social construction of Asperger Syndrome: The

pathologizing of difference? Disability & Society, 17(6), 659-669.

Murray, D. (2008). Coming out Asperger: Diagnosis, disclosure and self-advocacy, London,

Jessica Kingsley Publishers

O’Neil, S. (2008). The meaning of autism: Beyond disorder. Disability & Society, 23(7), 787-

799.

Robertson, S. M. (2010). Neurodiversity, quality of life, and autistic adults: Shifting research and

focuses onto real-life challenges. Disabilities Studies Quarterly, 30(1). Retrieved from  http://www.dsq-sds.org/article/view/1069/1234

Straus, J. (2010). Autism as culture. In: L. J. Davis (Ed.), The disabilities studies reader

(pp. 535-559). New York: Routledge

Todd Simkover

Todd Simkover

Todd Simkover has an M.A. in Critical Disability Studies from York University in Toronto. Driven by his own lived experiences on the autism spectrum, he understands first-hand what the life challenges are. Todd is a strong advocate for creating greater acceptance of those with neurological differences and promotes a neurodiversity-based model of autism, focussing on strengths and talents as opposed to deficits. In addition to being a motivational speaker with international aspirations, Todd’s completed Master’s thesis entitled “[Addressing] Barriers to rewarding work: Employment issues among people on the autism spectrum” is soon to be published in an upcoming book co-edited by Dr. Kevin Stoddart and Dr. Anne Fudge-Shormans.

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