Normalizing Neurodiversity

Andrew Yang’s older son, Christopher, blows bubbles at the Iowa Science Center.

Andrew Yang has a son, Christopher, who has autism. Christopher has inspired Andrew’s platform, leading Andrew to become the biggest advocate among the candidates running for President on the behalf of non-neurotypical people. Ori Simon Bechtel explains the significance of this from a non-neurotypical perspective.

I was diagnosed with autism at four years old. I struggled in school for many years, for a litany of reasons. I was classed as “gifted”, so partly because I was supposed to be naturally “smart,” my struggles with certain aspects of learning both educational materials and behavioral standards were invalidated, pushed to the side, and dismissed by many figures I was supposed to be able to rely on, including myself. This was because on paper, I wasn’t struggling. My grades were fine. But as I’m sure you the reader are probably aware, grades don’t tell the whole story.
For many years, I did not have the resources I needed, and when they were eventually placed in front of me, I felt a certain stigma around using them. I had—and still have, although I’m trying my best to suppress it—this desire to be “normal”, i.e. not autistic. Obviously, that wasn’t going to happen. But I was sick and tired of being different from everyone else. I had it in my mind—and once again, this is something I’m still trying to shake as I go through college—that using resources dedicated to special needs students was bad, and that it somehow made what I achieved count for less.

In addition, I thought it was personally wrong for me to use them, because I wasn’t really “struggling hard enough.” I could skate by on just being naturally good at other aspects of learning and school-related things, and get passing grades, and I thought because I was high-functioning enough not to need them to pass, that I shouldn’t use them anyway. Furthermore, I thought other people would judge me for using them when I wasn’t obviously struggling as much as what others would think was typical of a student with autism. I thought they would think I was somehow abusing the system and getting an unfair advantage, even though I received medical diagnoses stating that I was autistic.

Andrew Yang has once again differentiated himself from the pack of Democrats vying for the nomination by capitalizing on a much-neglected subject in US politics—autism. According to the CDC, 1 out of every 56 children in the United States is autistic. That’s nearly 1.5 million autistic minors alone. Them, their families, and the legion of autistic adults represent a major underserved demographic in this nation.

To quote “One of my boys is on the autism spectrum—I know how invaluable resources and intervention can be, particularly if adopted early on. Families struggle with this in very personal ways. As a country, we should provide ample resources to parents to be able to intervene to support the development of children with autism or who are exceptional in other ways. These children have something unique to offer.”

Andrew has made good on his word by being the only candidate in the field to dedicate a policy plank specifically for autism intervention and destigmatization; establishing a national destigmatization program for non-neurotypical people, and making the Department of Education implement programs to identify and treat autistic children. It is common sense to include this as a policy plank—and yet he is the only one who has done it. Why? I’m honestly baffled. It’s not an issue that has much of a downside at all if a candidate was to stand up for it—and it could grab the attention of millions of voters, as many adults are out there fighting for their own autistic children. It’s a stand that we as a nation have to take. Autistic and other non-neurotypical people, no matter how high or low functioning, should be able to live up to 100 percent of their full potential, and they should feel good about doing so.

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