Tag Archives: Disability Advocacy

A Call to Revive the Concept of “Cousins” in the Autistic Community

Today, I was rejected from a Dutch autistic women’s forum. I had already been kicked off last August for having lost my formal autism diagnosis, but had reapplied because I am in the process of getting a second opinion. Back then, my losing my diagnosis had stirred up a lot of commentary as to why I’d been presenting as autistic for six years – the time that I’d been a member of the forum – if I wasn’t. Well, for one thing, that’s just one professional’s opinion that I’m not autistic, while three others said I am. Not recently, but since when does one lose an autism diagnosis as one ages? However, the fact that the admins doubted I’d get anything but suspicion and hostility if I came back, prompted them to reject me for good. Thankfully, people in other autism groups, especially international ones, were still welcoming and supportive.

Then I read Mel Bagg’s blog post from last month, which was on the subject of autistics and “cousins”. A “cousin” is someone who is not autisitc, but who has some significant experiences that are similar to those experienced by autistics due to a related condition. For example, Mel Baggs tells the story of a person with hydrocephalus who could relate to many of the social and communicative difficulties that autistics experience, but wasn’t autistic. As I have hydrocephalus myself, this struck a chord with me.

Mel Baggs”post is a call to revive the concept of “cousins” in the autistic community. I applaud this, for it’d finally mean I could fully feel in place in the autistic comunity again. I mean, autistic communities used to ask that no neurotypicals join or participate. now they’re asking allistics – a term I’d never heard of but which means non-autistics – to keep out. Though most internatoinal communities who state allistics are not allowed, welcome self-diagnosed autistics, I still feel a bit left out.

Like Mel Baggs says, the autistic community can be very excluisionary. An example is the Dutch forum I got kicked off from. I didn’t know this until I lost my diagnosis, but apparently it has the rule that people who suspect they’re autistic get a year to get a formal diagnosis and if they don’t get it, they’re out. I mentioned this is a women’s forum for a reason, because women have a particularly hard time getting formally diagnosed. The other main Dutch autistic community, open to all genders, doesn’t ask for a formal diagnosis. Another act of exclusion applied by autistic communities is the assumption that Aspies (people with Asperger’s Syndrome) are somehow fundamentally dfferent from other autistics, and subsequently the creation of Aspie-only spaces. Other groups allow “high-functioning” autistics in only. This, obviously, perpetuates the division of the autistic community, which perpetuates discrimination. For example, if Aspies are fundamnetally different from other autistics, people can use the idea that Aspies are not really disabled, which is populated by some, to exclude anyone they see as an Aspie from protection by laws like the ADA. They can also continue advocating for harmful “treatments” against autistic people’s wishes based on the idea that autistics who can advocate for themselves are not “autistic enough”. I don’t say that the autistic community is responsible for discrimination by non-disabled people. I do say that those who exclude some people from the community based on being “not really autistic”, “not autistic enough” or too “low-functioning” or “high-functioning”, do contribute to it.

Back to “cousins”. The criteria for autism keep changing over time. I easily met DSM-IV criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome. I probably meet DSM-5 criteria for autism spectrum disorder too. However, I also have hydrocephalus, which according to my current psychologist, means I can’t be autistic. I believe DSM-IV might agree, though DSM-5 definitely doesn’t. Does the fact that I meet the criteria for an autism spectrum disorder, mean I’m legitimately autistic, or does the fact that I have hydrocephalus, mean I’m not? Really, that shouldn’t matter, if “cousins” are welcomed into the autisitic community again. After all, what counts then is not diagnosis or self-diagnosis, but whether I relate to the lived experience of autistic people. It also means the community can no longer be divided along the lines of stereotypes, formal diagnosis or the lack thereof, or suchlike. Everyone who shares the experience of social and communication problems, is welcome. This in turn means we can form a better front against discrimination, because we no longer fall into traps like being accused of not being disabled enough for protection.