Published in Solidairty 434, 29 March 2017:
Can Marxism can help us to understand autistic experience in modern capitalism? How might Marxism inform our struggles for equality and liberation?
There are different approaches to understanding autism. Perhaps the dominant approach is a medical one: seeing autism as a disease or tragedy, and autistic people as being broken and needing fixing. Over recent years, a more progressive approach has developed. It stresses acceptance of autistic people rather than simply “awareness”, and demands rights, equality and support rather than abusive “treatments”.
This approach is based on the concept of neurodiversity: the recognition that the human species is neurologically diverse; that different people have different brain wiring. But this more progressive approach, while welcome, does not necessarily locate autism and neurodiversity within the social, economic and political structures of society. It is important to do this — firstly, because all disability exists in a social context; and secondly, because autism is largely an issue of how people interact socially. We are all expected to follow social rules, but who makes those social rules, and how?