(This photograph was taken during my commission by Aidan Moesby for the Thresholds Online Exhibition at MIMA, but doesn’t form part of the final selection for my photographic series Safe as Houses.) 


How does it feel to be an artist who’s output is misunderstood and therefore mis-framed and often overlooked in mainstream arts?

I’m certain autistic artists are not alone in feeling this. The so-called mainstream is a highly competitive, not to say fickle, world. There are trends and any artist can feel marginalised by falling outside current directions. Relevance can be a hugely problematic criteria for selection, for instance, but my blog post isn’t about this.

My post has nothing to do with sour grapes either, though the above image was recently ‘not selected’ for an open call. I never thought it would be. I’m more than aware that the autistic rapture contained within it quite possibly doesn’t translate. The vastness of space I discern in such a close shot may well not register in minds that don’t share my sensory world. So be it.

Yesterday someone told me that statistics are increasingly showing the prevalence of autistic people is nothing like what was thought, and that a recent presentation from the University of Birmingham quoted 1 in 54 in 2020.

I expect at some future point in time generations will look back at our ignorance in wonder, yet autistic people must and do live now.

This takes me back to my initial question about swimming against a perceptual tide. A phenomenon which places a significant number of us at great disadvantage not only because we face so many socially embedded barriers, but because our art (and what it signifies to us) is invisible. This may be simply expressed as ‘not cool’ or ‘edgy’ as understood in neurotypical culture.

This is frustrating and soul destroying. Often we’re expected to be savants, outsider artists or in need of art therapy. Sometimes we’re consumed for our exoticism; our AMAZING perceptual words glamorised for neurotypical tastes. To be seen we must bare our psyches or be exceptional and inspiring. We can be forgiven for suspecting that if we don’t tick any of the above boxes we better just disappear. If we can’t thrill you we’re not worth the attention span, sort of thing.

In my sector support work I meet a lot of autistics and other neurodivergent creatives. I’m hearing from arts organisations that neurodivergent artists are forming 50-80% of those seeking professional support offered through programmes and mentoring schemes.

Progress in our understanding of autism and neurodivergence at the level of lived experience is allowing us to identify ourselves in ever greater number. At grass roots level this is a literal tidal wave. My inbox is stuffed with enquires, and daily I encounter more creatives who’s profiles are multifariously atypical.

Progress in the sector feels slow when you’re at the coal face. It feels especially slow for the late diagnosed creatives who’ve been held back for a lifetime, and are only just finding their way. We may seem old (and thus irrelevant to some ) but we are young diagnostically speaking.

We’re also tired of not seeing ourselves reflected and of being overlooked because we can’t be seen.

I’ve long sat on the fence about whether our cultural output is distinct, because we are yet to be adequately surveyed or critiqued by those who know what they’re looking at. But this is much needed and our work is currently not being framed as usefully to us as it could be, in my view. We are not freaks, amateurs, or outsiders to ourselves. Conversely neurotypical culture quite often feels irrelevant, and not interesting to US. I feel such insights should be the starting point for vital conversations across neuro-types.

My considered feeling is that the sector needs to catch up before we face another major crisis of conscience about the damage done to a minority group. We’re an emergent culture facing huge challenges in organising concertedly, but the evidence about our lived experience  and our growing numbers is compelling. There’s simply no excuse for sector thinking not to be ahead of the curve.

Yes, we have reached sector consciousness to an extent, but a sector which focuses on helping us fit the current professional mould is of limited value to us. What we need is opportunity shaped in our own image, and for that we need radical perceptual change.











(First published on The Other Side)

This post is about the sheer emotional labour of managing neurotypicals’ cognitive styles and preferences. This is heightened when autistics find themselves in a minority of one in almost any situation where our own cognitive styles and preferences are not yet understood. It is a serious issue due to the ongoing trauma of cultural suppression of autistic perception and sensibilities.

I rarely look back at old blog posts, so I may have written about this before. I feel I can’t be blamed for repeating myself, as it really doesn’t matter how many times we articulate our lived experiences we will always find ourselves outnumbered and misunderstood at some (usually unexpected) moment. It’s long been my belief that autism and so-called neurotypicality are like mirror worlds, sometimes a literal horror hall of distorted glass. We see each other’s faults and ‘superpowers’ through the lenses of often polar opposite lived experiences. For example, I am sometimes quite appalled at neurotypical behaviour, but rarely feel empowered or emboldened enough to say this out loud. This does not stop me believing in the inherent goodness of the majority of neurotypical humans. I just wish they could look outside their own experience as autistics are forced to do all the time.

I’m sure that many other humans belonging to minority groups will feel acutely the issue of number bearing down on them in their daily lives. Oppressions come in many forms when a majority culture doesn’t fit you or even attempt to fit you in. But autism is a singular disability and a unique difference – the ability to decode non autistic human behaviour is variable among us. Our social antenna are not the same. This makes us not lesser or greater, but it means that those of us who learn to get by to some degree in neurotypical spaces are probably relying on years of practice and an archive of memories. Our presence among you when we’re ‘passing’ is hard won. The battleground on which our skill has been honed is beyond painful. I need to tell you now that I bear the deepest of wounds to be so fluent in your company. When I transgress your norms it is quite possible that you have also transgressed mine. The injustice of this situation goes beyond simple annoyance.

When I acknowledge this truth my ‘resilience’ astounds me. The ability of autistic people to survive the emotional harms of (what I’m sure are unwitting) neurotypical oppressions is astonishing – though of course many of us don’t make it.

The influence of this majority culture can be so overwhelming and our enforced passing so habitual that navigating neurotypical spaces contains inherent risk for those who venture there. You never know when an emotional booby trap will plunge you downwards, or when the next psychological landmine will blow. Days can be lost in recovery. The blow is always familiar, you reel with incomprehension and lick your wound. Some time later comes the work of analysing events and rebuilding your inherent right to be alive.

Anyone living with trauma will recognise this process. It is visceral fight or flight territory. Cortisol surges wildly. The barbs are electric. We are always wrong until we can right ourselves again. If it sounds exhausting and a little dangerous, it is.

Passing for any group will always be fraught. Passing is an enforced state, a perilous training in avoiding bullying and worse. I would not have survived my secondary school (now demolished, thank god) without extreme passing/ code switching and other wildly self-injurious strategies.

I don’t want your pity, what I want is consideration. But what I know is that to get anywhere close to this I must lay myself bare, which represents more emotional labour.

Looking back over recent times I realise that I’ve found myself in a lot of new situations where I’ve had to work out what’s expected of me. This can take autistics a lot longer. One survival strategy is to observe, pick up clues, and seek the patterns. This comes so naturally to me I don’t even know I’m doing it. What I feel is anxiety, I know I don’t yet know what the dynamics in the room mean. They’re all fuzzy interference until I’ve observed them for long enough. The pressure to pass before this process is complete is almost intolerable. I can feel at my most klutzy.

With all this pressure to pass – usually as the lone autistic – I’ve been forgetting myself. I’ve been skirting round the booby traps and feeling almost immune. Passing confers great privileges. It can really take the edge off util it’s payback time.

So I write with a renewed sense of my identity as an autistic person who doesn’t want to spend her life passing, which is a bitter sweet moment. There’s a real rub to it, which is that ‘feeling more autistic’ is often a result of being more disabled. But until more progress is made in the wider world, anything else is a mirage.

The emotional labour involved in navigating non-autistic spaces has a huge impact on our life chances and our mental and physical health. We need to start building more honest bridges between us NOW.

What is good about my renewed sensitivity is that it will make me a better advocate, a role I’ve missed. It also prompts me to seek autistic spaces for new ventures. I’m tired of being the lone autistic in the room.