The Cognitive Distortions that Feed Neurodiversity Radicalism
A young woman on the spectrum sheds light on some forces behind anti-parent cyberbullying.
By Lucy Kross Wallace
A year ago I was en route to becoming the type of “neurodiversity activist” who cyberbullies autism parents in the name of tolerance.
I had every hallmark of such an activist: a recent ASD diagnosis, a desire to partake in the social justice that surrounded me, irrational self-confidence, ignorance of the more severe end of the autism spectrum, and a Tumblr account.
Clearly, if I’m writing this blog post, a lot has changed since then. While I don’t wish to excuse my former self or the behavior of anyone who harasses parents or trivializes autism, I do want to elucidate a series of cognitive distortions that accelerate radicalization. Eventually, these distortions can motivate extreme behavior, including harassing autism parents online, calling them “MaRtYr MoMmIeS,” and accusing them of wanting to murder their children. Disturbing as these actions are, my experience as a former ideologue shows that there’s a way out of this rabbit hole.
Autism as an identity
The path toward neurodiversity radicalism begins with the adoption of autism as an identity and the perception that being autistic grants a person authority on all autism-related matters. My slide into this mindset started innocently enough. After years of mental illness and unsuccessful treatment, I finally had a diagnosis that explained my impairments and idiosyncrasies, enabling my doctors to help me transition from psych ward patient to college student. Reading about autism online gave me a vocabulary to describe my experiences and reassurance that I was “different, not less.”
But of course, in classic Asperger’s fashion, I took this useful framework to an unhealthy extreme. “Autism is a part of who I am” became “autism is a critical part of who I am,” which then became “autism is who I am.” I was inspired in particular by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, whose slogan — “nothing about us without us” — invoked a sense of urgency, suggesting that any failure to insert oneself aggressively into conversations about autism constituted a…