Changing the Conversation About Autism ‘- The Oxford Student

Image Description: Eric Garcia, in a suit and tie, sits on a bench and poses for the camera.

Like many others around the world and at this university, I have autism. My official diagnosis came shortly after my 22nd birthday this year, and in my desperate attempt to navigate this newfound knowledge of myself and the world around me, I came across Eric Garcia’s book at the time. ideal. “We’re Not Broken: Changing the Conversation About Autism” , was released in August 2021, and it chronicles the experiences of many people on this very broad spectrum – of autism and our various human experiences.

After having to postpone our initial interview due to my sudden and unexpected affliction with the horrors of Covid-19 (despite being fully vaccinated), I finally had the opportunity to have this conversation with Eric Garcia – virtually, of course, while still in quarantine. In a very conventional way to break the ice, I started by asking Eric to briefly introduce himself, “Because that’s usually how I always start these interviews… if you don’t mind?” “. I refrain from making a joke about being autistic and the preference for repetition and familiarity.

“Okay, my name is Eric Garcia, I’m the senior Washington correspondent for The Independent. I live in Washington, DC, my pronouns are he / him, I’m 30 – I’m going to be 31 in two weeks I am a journalist and author of the book “We are not broken: Changing the conversation about autism”, right here! ” Eric responds by enthusiastically waving a copy of his book.

“So how long have you been working on the book, and is it something you’ve always thought of writing?” “ I continue.

“If we were to go back it started in 2015 when I first wrote this magazine article, and I had been working at the National Journal (formerly a DC-based publication) for a few years. I wrote stuff in my college journal about autism, but never disclosed that I was autistic. It was meant to be a fun, chatty little article about life in Washington as a person with autism. But my publisher at the time thought this piece needed to be more ambitious.

“So I said, ‘Well, maybe we should make the point that we should stop trying to cure autistic people and focus more on helping them live more fulfilling lives.’ So this piece happened. It was December 2015. Then, in March 2016, an agent contacted me and asked if I wanted to write a book… finally, I submitted the final manuscript in December 2020 on Christmas Eve.

“I hadn’t (initially) considered writing about autism, to be honest. I wrote about economic policy, and was happy to only cover politics and politics and run for “cheesy insider DC publications.” I was covering the 2013 and 2016 presidential campaign and interviewing Bernie Sanders, trying to interview Elizabeth Warren, and I would have been as happy as a clam to do that for the rest of my life. I thought about writing a fictional novel when I was in community college, but never the idea of ​​writing a bestseller or anything. Oh, and my book isn’t a bestseller, by the way, ” Eric laughs.

“When you look back to 2015 when you first wrote this article, compared to who you are today, how would you say that all this experience changed you? “ I ask.

“Hmm… I think there is this impulse among journalists that we are supposed to be ‘detached’ – separate and detached from the issues that we cover. But write on anything changes you. You should change your mind about things, and as you learn more about something, you should be able to explain things better. You should have better information, better understanding, and that should change you. There are things that I come back to and read, like my early writings that I no longer agree with, for example. But I don’t think I could have built that sense of community with more people with autism, or the sense of self I have gained (if I hadn’t written this book).

Every time someone asks me, “What has the internet done for autism?” nuance in a world that does not celebrate nuance.

“As an autistic journalist, do you find yourself struggling in certain situations, especially when interviewing people? From personal experience, I know that I often take things literally and that I can sometimes be a little naive ”, I add, laughing.

“Oh yeah? Me too! I don’t quite understand sarcasm either. Sometimes I will have to ask people if they were real to me. After doing some interviews (there are times when) I think to myself: “Okay, was that person telling the truth, or was they just playing with me?” I guess it’s always a balance in the same respect, that i’m more willing to be blunt and direct when talking to people and that helps not to water it down. Sometimes it gets in my way because I can say something offensive without realizing it. But other times I I’m just going to get right to the point and I always try to do it on a regular basis.

“I think just as social niceties can be a hindrance or a barrier, my lack of respect for social norms can sometimes be an advantage as well, because it means I’m not taking any bullshit. If I see people hiding behind social norms to avoid telling the truth, then I will challenge you. Last week, for example, I interviewed this congressman who pretended not to understand my question, but (because of my persistence) I finally got a really good quote from him.

While Eric’s book aims to highlight the many different voices of the autism community and the depth of each individual experience, it also addresses the issues surrounding the widespread misinformation about autism in recent decades. It can be argued that each generation faces unique and different challenges, especially with more effort to raise awareness of what autism is (and isn’t) and how diagnostic criteria have as well. changed over the years. This leads me to ask Eric what he thinks about platforms like Tiktok and Twitter where people keep talking more about neurodiversity. Like a double-edged sword, the role of social media in raising awareness can also lead to the spread of misinformation, especially among impressionable young people who can get information from unreliable sources.

People with autism should also be allowed to grow, regress, succeed and fail, and not view their success or failure as a reflection of the autistic community as a whole. You want to be judged individually on your own merits, and not have the burden of feeling that your individual successes or failures are a reflection of the community.

“Yeah, I think it is, it is, it has pros and cons, right?” ” he says. “Because on the one hand, it’s democratized. Social media has democratized diagnostic labels, they’re democratized communities, and they’ve created that kind of community as far as I can talk to you when I’m in Washington DC while you’re in Oxford. But there are no guards either. In the same way that it allows people to connect, who otherwise would not have this opportunity – the fact that there are no gatekeepers means that said information may simply not be filtered. Every time someone asks me, “What has the internet done for autism?” I say he accelerated the trends that were already happening… I think it can be incredibly difficult to explain nuance in a world that doesn’t celebrate nuance.

Likewise, we continue to discuss how autism and other disabilities are still often seen as binary, and how these infantilized and / or romanticized representations of autism continue to be harmful. I joke that people with autism who are conventionally successful are often hailed as an ‘inspiration’, while those who have not been so fortunate (most often due to systemic and societal failures and a lack of appropriate support) are often patronized and unrewarded. the same respect.

“Human beings are not black and white. Human existence is incredibly complicated, and in the same way, I think people with autism should also be allowed to grow, regress, succeed and fail, and their success or failure should not be seen as a reflection. on the autistic community as a whole. You want to be judged individually on your own merits, and not feel overwhelmed by the thought that your individual successes or failures are seen as a reflection of the community. But I guess the same can be said for any other marginalized group – like people of color, religious minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ people, etc. and always feel stereotypical or supposed to represent certain ideals,Eric answers.

“And when we talk about support systems for people with autism, it’s also about having sufficient support systems that allow you to try and fail at different things,” he keeps on. “Having the right support system also means having the right people around you, who let you miss out and try different things, and support what you want to do. But people with autism have much less leeway to “screw up” because of the way society judges them, and their competence is automatically called into question. Like, for example, if a person with autism fails a certain task, it is assumed that they cannot be independent or that they cannot have a job – rather than thinking that it was just that specific thing that does not. didn’t suit him. ”

Before our conversation comes to an end, Eric points out how autism is “A condition which has been so criminally misunderstood for so long, and which requires even more understanding.” In the end, that’s also why I wrote this book. Autism is incredibly complicated, and people with autism also affect the way we view autism, just like autism affects the way we view other people. It’s still a two-way street.

In a salutary and affirmative conclusion, he adds: “I was wondering ‘where does my autism start and where does it end?’ But I realize it doesn’t start or end like one thing or another, it’s just a part of you. It doesn’t necessarily make things good or bad, it’s just like that.

You will find more information about Eric Garcia on his website,‘. We’re Not Broken: Changing the Conversation About Autism ”aims to demystify common misconceptions about autism and show that people with autism are everywhere. The book is a compelling illustration of how people with autism struggle with education, work, and health systems that weren’t designed for them. Most importantly, it puts in writing how autism is part of their identity and that they don’t need to be fixed. The book is available for purchase here.

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