The neurodiversity movement got its start in the early 1990s, when a few autistic people got together on mailing lists and dared to imagine a day when they would be seen as equals in society. Their conversations were, at that time, largely unknown to the world. The prevailing stereotypes about autism were so extreme that the very existence of autistic people who were capable of having such conversations was generally thought impossible.
It took another decade, and the advent of blogging, before pro-neurodiversity sites burst onto the Internet in large numbers. Some of these sites had modest aims, looking to dispel the worst of the prejudices by simply showing the public that autistics could indeed write coherent articles and have intelligent conversations. Others had more ambitious goals, posting specific, in-depth criticisms of society’s attitudes toward autistics and setting forth a detailed civil rights agenda. Most fell somewhere in the middle.
The Aspergia.com forum community, active from 2002-2004, embraced the social model of disability and sought to reframe cultural views of autism in terms of accommodating a minority group’s needs. Members of that community were instrumental in launching the neurodiversity movement, in which autism and other neurological differences are seen as a valuable part of human diversity. Aspergia.com sought to address autistic culture and civil rights issues at a time when very little public discussion of autism existed outside the medical paradigm. Although its name was derived from Asperger syndrome, a now-outdated diagnostic term that meant autism without a speech delay, the site was not limited to those so identified. It welcomed all autistic people equally.
One of the articles posted on Aspergia.com, entitled The Aspergian Mythos and Ethos, was a fictional origin myth that described autistic people as the descendants of a dispersed ancient tribe. This short story, in combination with the site’s other articles, posed a speculative question for readers to ponder: How would society treat autistic people if, rather than being defined in medical terms, autistics were seen as a minority race?
A condensed version of the story appears below:
THE MYTH OF THE ASPERGIAN DIASPORA
Very long ago, on a distant, fabled island whose true name and location have been obscured by the passage of time, there dwelt an isolated race known for gazing out upon the ocean and seeing, far beyond its billowing mists, visions of great and mysterious things. Although history contains no record of what they called themselves, their island has been described in mythical tales as Aspergia, a land of colossal towers and wondrous inventions.
It may be that Aspergia was lost in the great flood, or perhaps an earthquake caused that proud land to sink beneath the waters; the true tale will never be known. The survivors scattered in a vast diaspora to far-flung countries where they intermarried with, and soon became assimilated by, the other races they encountered. Within a few short generations, their history and culture had been almost entirely forgotten. Only fragments persisted in legend.
The migration of the Aspergians contributed to advances in human society as their inquisitive, determined minds explored the mysteries of the natural world, developed new technologies, and created epic works of art and literature. Some tribes revered these forthright, far-seeing people as prophets and shamans. Humanity’s emergence from the caves and mud huts of the ancient world was not without conflict and fear of the unknown, however. Always there were some who clung desperately to the old ways and sought to destroy the bringers of change, declaring them to be heretics or hunting them down as witches.
During a particularly benighted period in the modern era, many young people with strong Aspergian traits were stigmatized as less capable than other children. Their keen intellectual curiosity, perseverance, truthfulness, creativity, and passion for discovery were described as symptoms of a mental disorder. Then, like other minority groups in recent times, the Aspergians came together as a proud and united community to demand equal rights, social tolerance, and respect for their differences.