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Writing and Autism: A Privileged Voice?

Pencils
Pencils (Photo credit: snowblink)
Writing well does give one a louder, more effective public voice than other individuals. We know Temple Grandin, Dawn Prince Hughes, Stephen Shore, Lars Perner and others because they are autistics with books. Like most writers, these men and women work with editors, publicists, agents, and others to refine their works and reach out to the public. These are not normal autistic experiences, but they aren't normal experiences for anyone.

It isn't that autistics who write memoirs are rare, there are dozens of autistic memoirs and essays in print and in digital forms. But, these are not the voices of all autistics or even most autistics.

That's really no different from any other group with a few noted writers or public figures. Writers are unusual, period. Feminist writers don't represent all women. Black writers don't represent all African-Americans or other people of color. Gay writers don't represent the entire LGBT community. Having the ability to write about anything is unusual, and writing well is a skill that doesn't interest everyone.

And so, when the parent of an autistic child mentioned that I have a "privileged" voice as a writer, I didn't deny it or try to persuade the parent that my views were representative of anything beyond my own experiences.

I can write. Even when I have trouble speaking, I can write, however slowly. I have been writing short stories, essays, poetry, plays, and whatever else I can since I was in elementary school. That's a lot of practice with words, and I continue to practice writing on a daily basis. It is what I do.

Writing reaches more people than some forms of self-expression. That's unfortunate (though good for me), because there are autistic composers, painters, sculptures, photographers, and so on. If there is an art form, there is a talented autistic person we should celebrate as much as the autistic authors.

I live for words, and I wish I could help more people learn to write effectively. It is a tool for advocacy and understanding. It is also, like any other art, a skill that must be developed and practiced. Few people are natural storytellers, just as few people have perfect pitch and innate musical talent. But, many of us can learn to be "good enough" at something if we invest the time and energy. That includes the time necessary to be good writers.

Autism impairs communication. There are studies exploring how autistic writers differ from other writers. But, I find that writing is easier than speaking to groups or trying to advocate in other ways.

Am I privileged when compared to a non-verbal autistic? Absolutely. Am I representative of the autistic community? I very much doubt it. Admitting that my skills are rare among the general public and among those with disabilities is a part of my personal advocacy: reminding people that everyone is different.

I cannot "write for" other autistics, as that parent rightfully suggested. I am privileged to have graduated high school, earned college degrees, and to be married to a wonderful partner. There was a mix of working hard and taking advantage of opportunities that became available to me. My words can only be mine, and I know that.

Once I admit that, there's no need to continually remind me that I'm only writing from a limited perspective. Every writer is doing the same.
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