Autism and the Intersectionality of Race, Class, Gender and More

autism community mental health neurodiversity parenting self-care Feb 27, 2024
Autism and the Intersectionality of Race, Class, Gender and More

When it comes to demands and expectations, everything is intersectional.

The core concept of Intersectionality comes from the experience of Black women being systemically marginalized in a work context, but being denied recompense from the court system, which was unwilling to look at their identities as both women and as Black. We cannot pull our identities apart and look at them in a vacuum.

Intersectionality impacts us all. It is the reality that we occupy many identities at once, which all touch and mutually inform. We hold privileges and marginalizations, empowerment and disempowerment. Everything touches. There is no “universal truth,” no one-size-fits-all. No “just autistic” without considering race, class, gender, sexuality, education, nationality, culture, language, physical ability, communication style, and so much more.


Intersectionality is true for my identity, for low demand, and for all of us who teach and share and encourage and advocate online. I am setting a public intention to do better at transparently sharing the ways that my particular intersectional lived experience impacts the wisdom I have to offer. And the places where this wisdom may not resonate or apply. 


I have been doing what I can in this area, and I also recognize that it is vastly insufficient. Those who occupy multiple complex marginalizations have let me know that much of what I have to share resonates and much does not. I want to validate this reality. 


My wisdom comes from my own intersectional lived experience. I have many privileges, including my whiteness, cis-presenting marriage, stable employment for my partner, higher education, and many more. I have many marginalizations, including parenting three disabled children, chronic illnesses, C-PTSD, mental health disabilities, my complex neurobiological disability, and many more. I do not name all of the challenges we face publicly, which is intentional.

But here’s the rub of a hidden disability, people do not see that conversations online can leave me so incredibly stressed that I cannot do the dishes, cannot feed myself, cannot talk to my kids. With a hidden disability, power and privilege is easily seen, but disability and marginalization can be much more challenging to see.


As a voice in the neurodiversity community, I want to do better at naming the complex spaces where privilege and marginalization meet. I want to hold intentional space for the members of our community who cannot simply drop demands for fear of Child Protective Service, criminalization, or risk of bodily harm, incarceration and even death. I want to bring more of the fullness of my experience forward, naming my own intersectional experience from a more honest and transparent place. I want to probe into more complexity in my own thinking and more honesty and advocacy in the wider community.


Brave and lovely people message me daily calling for more in my grappling with whiteness and calling for a more intersectional approach. I attempt to reply to all of them because they are completely right; I am doing what I can, and also it’s not enough. It’s all true, all at once. 


As a fawning PDAer, the accountability side of having a bigger impact/louder voice/more followers is really hard for me to manage. The fawn response is a stress response, closely linked to dissociation. It is an unconscious move to separate from my core self, my needs, and my identity, a merger with the needs and desires of the other. To fawn is to loose oneself in the wants, needs, and desires of others. 


I don’t have this figured out. I am in the midst, on the path. 


I often wonder if it is only because of my intense privilege that I can do this at all. There are so few Black or brown PDA voices, but how could they speak up or out with the complex multiple marginalizations, the risk to their families and safety? If it feels this unsafe to me, how much more so for others?


It is also important to me that, as a white woman, I do not speak over or speak for people of color without direct explicit consent and collaboration. My wisdom comes from lived experience. I will not attempt to speak from a life I have not lived, a reality I have not faced. I can name my privileges more honestly and transparently, but I will not pretend to know what it is to be Black or brown and disabled in America. In the hidden places, away from the public stare of social media, I am listening and learning from such voices all the time. 

Why is everything so hard?


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