Review by Katie Munday (they / them)

Dr. Chloe Farahar explores the creation and importance of Autistic identity, culture, community, and space for well-being in their chapter of the same name in The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Autism Studies. Chloe has a PhD in social psychology specifically attempting to improve the dominant discourse surrounding “mental illnesses” (neurodivergences). They are currently engaged in post-doctoral research on the Oxford-led ATTUNE project, exploring young neurodivergent people’s experience of mental health and adverse childhood experiences, through participatory arts-based research.

Autistic identity, culture, community, and space for well-being explores the importance of self and community identification, belonging and connectedness. Chloe posits that many Autistic people distance ourselves from the pathology of ‘autism’ therefore distancing ourselves from the protective factors of community. This leaves many Autistic people in limbo – many of us feel that we do not fit into the neuro-normative world or the Autistic community, which can lead to isolation and poor self-esteem.

Chloe appreciates that ‘the culture of autism’ creates internalised stigma, shame and ableism. The ideas which have formed the foundation of knowledge on “autism” are based in deficit, negativity and hopelessness – no wonder so many of us want to distance ourselves from such an awful fate.

Through Autistic identity, culture, community, and space for well-being Chloe suggests that in the creation of safe spaces – such as their own ‘So You’re Autistic’ community group – Autistic people can find ourselves. In these spaces we can create meaningful connections with others and understand our Autistic embodiment in neutral terms: being Autistic is neither good nor bad, it simply is.

Autistic spaces and communities can be places of growth and healing. They can allow us to combat discrimination together, improving collective and individual self-esteem. These spaces could also work as a way for Autistic people to realise our neurodivergence without needing a diagnosis based in deficit and disorder.

Autistic identity, culture, community, and space for well-being is a great exploration of Autistic culture and a summary of the ongoing move from the pathology paradigm to the neurodiversity paradigm. Adding to work from Botha 2020, Kapp, 2019, Chapman 2020, Dekker 1999, Walker 2020, and many others. This is a must-read.

This chapter can be read for free here.

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