Nick Walker vs. the idea of the autistic community
Nick Walker is the author of many essays that have influenced the development of the autistic community. (Note that "community" in this context means "subculture.") So it was a shock to see her put down the very idea of the autistic community, recently on Twitter. When I asked for clarification, she wrote:
One bad result is that autistic identity politics tends to artificially increase autistic people's sense of alienation & difference from their non-autistic fellow humans, in ways that curtail opportunities for growth and connection.
I've always known that I was very different from the vast majority of people. I didn't need the autistic community or any other subculture to tell me this.
But, throughout my adult life, I have sought out a variety of oddball subcultures as places to find fellow outsiders of one kind or another. I am quite sure that I would have been MUCH lonelier without these subcultures.
In my opinion, the autistic community satisfies real needs and could potentially satisfy even more needs, of many more autistic people, if it were bigger and better organized than it is now.
I don't consider full-blown autistic separatism to be a good thing. But, while autistic separatists do exist, they aren't very common, as far as I can tell. Among the autistic adults I've gotten to know via the autistic community, most are still doing what they can to live their lives in the neurotypical world and to get along with neurotypical folks as best they can, but use the autistic community as a place to find people who can understand them much better than anyone else can.
The relatively few autistic separatists and Aspie supremacists in the autistic community are not, in my opinion, sufficient reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
On the other hand:
Another bad result is that bullying is widespread in autistic communities, and many victims of autistic-on-autistic bullying are so stuck in their sense of autistic identity that they think their only options are to stay in abusive autistic communities or to have no community.
These are indeed real problems.
But I think these are problems that can be solved or at least mitigated. They are not, in my opinion, a reason to give up on the very idea of the autistic community.
I've been involved in a variety of oddball subcultures throughout my life, and I've studied the early history of some of them. As far as I can tell, most small subcultures go through phases in which there is an extreme amount of bullying and general drama. Typically these phases happen when a growing subculture is still very small and stigmatized.
A few of the examples I'm aware of are:
1) The feminist movement in the late 1960's. See Jo Freeman's famous essay Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood.
2) The Pagan community in the 1970's. Back in the late 1970's, I remember seeing a newspaper called Earth Religion News that was full of really nasty infighting.
3) The lesbian subculture around 1980, especially in cities other than New York City. My impression was that the infighting wasn't nearly as bad in NYC as it apparently was in a lot of other places.
... and a variety of other, more recent examples I won't name.
About 15 to 20 years ago, I remember remarking that subcultures in the throes of extreme infighting were going though what I called an "underground sleaze phase."
The important point here is that a subculture's underground sleaze phase can be just a phase. A subculture can grow beyond it, once the subculture becomes big enough, diverse enough, and well-organized enough.
In order to outgrow its underground sleaze phase, a subculture needs to consist of a wide enough variety of groups (both in-person and otherwise) and services so that people have choices about which group(s) to join and which services to use. So, if people get badly treated in one group, they can easily find another, better group.
Once a subculture gets big enough and diverse enough, group leaders must earn their right to lead by actually being good (or at least decent) leaders, and likewise service providers must actually provide good services in order to earn money from the community. In a sufficiently large and diverse subculture, neither leaders nor service providers can get away with being bullies merely by virtue of being the only game in town, nor can they have any chance of gaining a monopoly by merely dissing the competition.
Another thing that can help a lot is for people in the subculture, especially leaders, to develop an appreciation of the need for dispute resolution procedures and conflict resolution skills.
As I see it, the two main underlying problems of the autistic community, as a subculture, are: (1) we are still too damned small and unorganized and (2) too few of us have any appreciation at all of the need for well-thought-out dispute resolution procedures, or of the need for widespread training in autistic-friendly variants of conflict resolution skills such as assertiveness (without being aggressive) and active listening.
Both of these problems are fixable. They can't be fixed immediately, but they can be fixed over time if enough of us see the need to do so.
What will NOT help to fix them is leading figures in the autistic community dissing the very idea of an autistic community.