I worked as a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) for about three months, delivering ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy to autistic children. During that time, I got a Facebook message from a friend. “ABA is abuse,” they told me. “You need to check out ASAN [Autistic Self Advocacy Network], or talk to autistic people about it.”
The subject of ABA being abusive is a topic for a whoooole ’nother article (running soon!). But I realized that I didn’t know much about autism, aside from what I learned as an RBT. I decided to interview the Neurodivergent Rebel, who runs a popular page on Facebook, to learn more.
What’s your background? Tell me about yourself.
I was born autistic. I’ve been autistic my entire life. And, I will die autistic – but I didn’t know it until I was almost 30. When I found out I was autistic at the age of twenty-nine, my entire world view was turned upside down.
After my diagnosis there wasn’t a lot of information or resources given to me, other than a few book recommendations… so I went to Google and typed in “autism” and was horrified by what I saw. Frustrated with the heavily medicalized, gloom and doom narrative – that was focused on Autistic weaknesses – I started the Neurodivergent Rebel blog less than a month after my diagnosis in the fall of 2016.
For my “Day Jobs” I’ve done many things, from fast food, to retail, customer service, to administration, management, marketing, and executive leadership. I currently work as an independent contractor, educator, and Career/Life Coach to neurodivergent people.
2. What is the most common reaction you get when you disclose that you’re autistic?
Often people react with disbelief when I first tell them I’m Autistic, but it really depends on what the person I’m talking to already believes about autism. If they have a lot of preconceived notions in their mind already, they probably won’t believe me – because I don’t fit the stereotypes.
That’s because Autism is an invisible part of who I am. Also, Autism isn’t what most people think it is. There are many people my age and older went undiagnosed throughout childhood and are just now being discovered. We’re everywhere – hiding in plain sight.
My childhood best friend, who has known me since pre-school’s reaction was more along the lines of “OMG EVERYTHING MAKES SINCE NOW!!!!”
3. What are your thoughts on identity-first language?
I am an autistic person. I am NOT a person with autism. You can NOT remove autism from me – if you did, I would no longer be me. I would be an entirely different person – my personality and everything about me would be different.
4. How can neurotypical people be good allies?
Autistic people are often under or unemployed. We have a big employment problem in my community, so this request is specific to employers.
I wish employers would be more willing to accommodate ALL their employee’s needs, whether or not they have a medical diagnosis on file to request accommodations at work. If someone comes to you and says “this is what I need to do my job better” – as long as it’s not a hardship on the company – why not give them the tools they need to be successful?
Many of us have been told we can’t get the help we need without a diagnosis, but diagnosis is a privilege… if we even know we are autistic. I didn’t know for almost 30 years.
5. What else do you want the public to know?
Neurodiversity is a fact. Brain diversity isn’t something you can deny – there are many different types of brains and ways of thinking from Autism to ADHD, Dyslexia and BEYOND. For many years people with disabilities and cognitive differences have been treated as if they were “broken” or “second class citizens” but every life has value.
When empowered neurodivergent people are able to live happy lives and often bring unique talents and fresh perspectives to the world. Diversity is essential to the survival – bio diversity, genetic diversity, thinking style diversity, human diversity. It’s a beautiful thing if we honor and respect everyone’s abilities and limitations.