Valley Voices

Proud autistics belong ‘in the room where it happens’ when mental health policy is topic

Eve Hinson
Eve Hinson

I’m the whitest minority I ever met.

Recently, at the state capitol in Sacramento, in honor of Bebe Moore Campbell Minority Mental Health Month, I spoke to legislators as an autistic born into white culture.

I spoke as an autistic person about my peers, my people, our community and autistic culture; and communicated about needs of our no-served/underserved community, lack of resources for all autistics and the utter devastation that our kids are facing upon adulthood.

Also, about how the cure culture robbed our community of the ability to be recognized as more than pathology and stigmatized stereotype – how the money raised by nonprofits (Autism Speaks, yes, you) to find the impossible cure was siphoned out of our communities ($220 million at least) and left us high and dry.

Today, the very kids who wore blue in the 2000s on fundraiser walks, have been abandoned, stigmatized, demonized, marginalized and demoralized – and if female, existence denied.

Often we’re homeless, incarcerated, suffering severe poverty, and victims of gaslighting, physical, emotional and financial abuse. Death-by-suicide or murder is far too common. (When we’re killed by caregivers, they get the sympathy and lesser sentences because it’s so difficult with autistics.)

Adulthood has no autistic support. There’s no help for us now. The autism awareness gig was a sham. A call for autism acceptance and support by the actually autistic went ignored, belittled and even threatened with prosecution.

In response, the Autistic Civil Rights Movement was launched. (We don’t light it up blue, we are #REDinstead.) That movement has expanded to include neurodiverse brains of all types, and is the driving force behind Neurodiversity Civil Rights Movement #nothingaboutuswithoutus.

So how does all of that make me the whitest minority I’ve ever met?

When I applied to be considered to participate in the Minority Mental Health Month advocacy talks, I wrote my race as “autistic.” That’s right, my race and minority status is autistic. Like the deaf, blind and left-handed, we think differently and that’s our identity, not the color of our skin. Our differences are invisible.

Social skills are patterns to be learned, and bounced back appropriately (mimicked), so even the cultures we’re born into are a learned skill. Your language is our second language, always. My first language is not one I can explain completely, but it is visual and multi-dimensional. I have to translate that into English when I communicate.

Autistics have a strong culture. (Oh goodness, what a relief to be with others like me and not worry about integration skills, social skills and just be myself, all quirks, tics included.) Autistics have a history of incredible achievements that are vastly understated or entirely ignored in typical history books.

Autistics are people who need to be heard. It’s long past time for others to sit down, shut the hell up and let us talk. I’ve claimed my inheritance and started marking my race/culture/identity box as autistic.

Guess what? When you speak about autistics, those words aren’t going into some great expanse of space to people unknown. Dude, we’re right here. We can hear you. Hello?

I am now proudly autistic first, and the rest follows. It was a very hard journey to self-acceptance. Now I’m campaigning, telling the world, that we are a people and deserve a far better quality of life. NAMI California has given me the opportunity to do so as an autistic minority.

When I checked that box on the application, NAMI leaders took the time to read – and they listened. Really listened.. Then they recognized and honored our minority status.

I was able to walk right into the capitol, talk to the people in power about intersectional needs of our community. Fore example, I discussed how often autistics are turned away from psychiatric wards in times of crisis because staff members aren’t qualified to help us. We’re pushed into emergency rooms and back out again. In the end, too often, we’re left with no help at all.

Each legislator (and representative) took the time to listen, really listen. We discussed autistic community challenges and the importance of lived experience and peer voice in areas leadership acknowledged and supported. Greatly supported.

Already in areas of health and community, peer voice is being sought for inclusion. We’re wanted at the table with the big-wig providers, health industry professionals and others of great importance to collaborate on solutions.

I’m in such awe and feel incredible honor at being included as an autistic activist in NAMI California’s advocacy effort. In every meeting, our first ask was for the continuing support to honor Bebe Moore Campbell Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. I asked for the continuation as an autistic minority.

Mental illness is an equal opportunist of the purest form. It doesn’t discriminate on race, culture, social class, or religion. It doesn’t care what side of the tracks you grew up on. However, every culture is different in its response to mental illness. The need for breaking stigma, education and advocacy efforts are specific to each community.

I’m still in such awe. Earlier this year, an investigative reporter, Lilia Luciano of ABC10 in Sacramento, spotlighted the challenges and the civil rights movement. Now it’s legislators in Sacramento taking note.

Folks, we’re being recognized and invitations to leadership and collaboration are coming. For now, #stayloudandproud. Be very proud.

For sure stay #badassandproud, too.

It’s human to think differently.

Eve Hinson of Fresno is an autistic activist, speaker, writer and artist. She is the founder of AmericanBadass She shares her experience with post-traumatic stress disorder and functional neurological disorder in training sessions for first responders and students.

Hinson has been trained by Each Mind Matters and NAMI on advocacy and how to help break the stigma of living with a severe mental illness.

She’s also a current board member for Resources for Independence Central Valley, a past board member of NAMI Fresno, and Area 8 Board California State Council on Developmental Disabilities. Connect with her at eve@americanbadass