What I Mean When I Say I’m Autistic

by Annie Kotowicz

When I read We’re Not Broken I felt like I understood more about autism as a public health issue, but not necessarily what it means to be autistic. It turns out this book is what I was looking for.

Through the lens of science and her own experience, Annie Kotowicz describes what it means to be autistic.

Autistic people process information differently, because our brains are hyper-connected in some places and less connected in others.

I miss what others catch, and I catch what others miss.

What I Mean When I Say I’m Autistic, pages 15 and 19.

I don’t want to tell anyone what to read (yes I do), but if you have an autistic person in your family, workplace, or circle or friends (you do), I think this book will be really helpful. Maybe that person would even be willing to read it first and circle the parts that especially apply to them, and cross out the parts that don’t, as Kotowicz suggests.

We’re Not Broken

by Eric Garcia

Someone close to me was recently diagnosed with autism and asked me to read this book to better understand them. I’m glad they did, because I didn’t realize how little I knew about autism or how to think about it.

Some takeaways:

  • Autism is not actually on the rise—alarmingly or otherwise. Basically, we were really bad at identifying it and now we’re better at identifying it.
  • Autism is fairly common. According to the CDC about 1 in 36 people is on the spectrum, making autistic people one of the largest minorities in America.
  • Autism is a disability, not a disease. It probably can’t be cured because, as advocate Jim Sinclair said, “it is not possible to separate the person from the autism.”
  • High functioning and low functioning are misleading, unhelpful terms. People with autism have different support needs, and the amount of support someone needs does not necessarily correspond to their ability to function.

And most important of all, autistic people must have their own say in their support options and autism policy. Even well-meaning parents and other neurotypical advocates are not a substitute for self advocacy.

The book reminded me of another disability rights advocate, Haben Girma, who I interviewed on The Lawyerist Podcast in 2019. Both Girma and the author of this book, Eric Garcia, advocate for the social model of disability—that it is society’s job to remove barriers to access by disabled people, rather than seeing them as broken people in need of mending.

Seems right to me.