Neurodiversity soon became something that I intimately understood as the all-inclusive acceptance of every neurological difference without exception.
I further came to appreciate that neurodiversity didn’t leave anyone out. Even the opponents of this concept reaped the benefits of the work by neurodiversity activists. It didn’t matter whether they agreed with the concept or not, they personally benefited. Furthermore, their children did as well, as the specific premise of neurodiversity is full and equal inclusion.
It wasn’t too long before I reached out to the ASAN, and over the next couple of years I developed friendships with ASAN’s founders, Ari Ne’eman and Scott Robertson.
One of the most influential youth activists for disability rights during that time was Savannah Logsdon Breakstone. Savannah and I developed a close friendship which eventually led to the ideas that ultimately influenced the beginning of Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network (AWN) in January 2009.
One of the greatest life lessons that I learned during the early years of my involvement in the autistic community is that we are no different than any other community of people; though we are linked by a familiar neurology, we are still individuals in our own right, with differing opinions, contrasting ideas, and conflicting access needs. When you put all of that together with different personalities, it makes for a brilliantly vibrant and sometimes challenging community.
By 2008, I had developed friendships with several other autistic women through online groups. Savannah and I, as well as many of our friends found it difficult to fit into many of these groups, and we found ourselves searching for a community of women with powerful, balanced, and non-hierarchical leadership that shared our core beliefs of autism acceptance and disability rights, as well as an understanding for increased advocacy and resources as it relates to autistic women and the gender disparities they face.
After several more emails of encouragement from Savannah, I decided to take the plunge. I contacted one of my good friends and web developer, Lori Berkowitz of BeeDragon Web Services (beedragon.com) to discuss the possibility of forming an online community and forum for autistic women. Lori and I had gotten to know one another over the past year through our involvement in another group, and we had also worked together briefly on another website project.
Within a few short months, Lori had the website and forum ready to launch. Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network officially went online in January of 2009 (awnnetwork.org). Those early days were full of nervous energy. Ari Ne’eman of ASAN was a huge help with offering tips and guidance—do’s and don’ts—when creating an online presence.
I reached out to several spectacular autistic women to form Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network’s founding board of directors: Sandy Yim, Tricia Kenney, Lindsey Nebeker, Savannah Logsdon Breakstone, Corina Becker, and Lori Berkowitz were AWN’s founding superstars in the early years. What we originally perceived as an online forum type of community quickly grew larger than we ever imagined.
In 2009, Tricia Kenney and I created and hosted AWN’s BlogTalk Radio Show (blogtalkradio.com/autism-womens-network), and by 2010, Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network had gained national recognition. In April, I was invited to represent AWN at a White House meeting on World Autism Day, and to participate in discussions with President Barack Obama’s Administration related to their ongoing efforts to better support autistic individuals. In July, I was invited back to Washington, DC for the White House’s 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
There seemed to be no letup with how quickly Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network was growing. Autism research has historically been focused on young school-aged boys, and it was becoming increasingly evident that AWN was fulfilling a great need in our community by keeping the focus on advocacy, resources, and research for autistic women and girls and non-binary people.
AWN steadily became a regular participant in national autistic-centered conversations, and we began seeking opportunities to widen our intersectional activism. I am of the firm belief that a decision-making board or supervisory board’s composition should be representative in gender and race. Once a predominantly white cis board of directors, we as a board recognized our need to change and have been intentional about making sure representation is diverse because that is what makes a strong organization. AWN’s current board representation is inclusive with intersectional diverse leadership. For the last three years (as of 2019), the board has consisted of mostly people of color and has always been majority LGBTQ+ members. To speak more directly to that intersectional diversity, in 2018, we changed our name from Autism Women’s Network to Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network.
From its inception, Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network has strived to provide our board members with personal accommodation requests. This ultimately led to all board meetings being conducted solely online, and since 2012 our meetings have been exclusively held via text-based/real-time communications.
AWN sees itself as part of the wider disability rights movement. Undeterred in our quest to fight for autistic rights, we appreciate our place as being part of the greater civil rights movement for disabled people. In this spirit, we are currently working on leadership development for our committee for our initiative Divergent: when disability and feminism collide (facebook.com/DivergentFeminism).
Divergent works to change how disabled women are commonly perceived within society while challenging the myths of our inferiority, both as women and as disabled people. We explore the interactions between sexism and ableism within both disabled and nondisabled communities. We seek to offer perspectives on gender and disability by emphasizing non-traditional femininity and non-traditional feminism. 
Reflecting on the years gone by, I can’t help but feel immense gratitude for all the people and experiences along the way. Time has a magical way of bringing about clarity of purpose. The impact of this clarified praxis opened conversations around the greater disability community, helping us as an organization to expand our mission. Most recently, we learned in March 2019 that Lori’s tireless work to build our online platform had led to recognition by the United States Library of Congress as a culturally significant contribution to society and our content is now archived nationally. The Library of Congress states that AWN’s website has been selected “for inclusion in the Library’s historic collection of Internet materials related to the Women’s and Gender Studies Web Archive” as they consider our website to be an “important part of this collection and the historical record.”
Even with all the progress made over the years with respect to disability rights (and specific to autism) we still live in a lopsided world which measures a person’s worth based upon false premises. Ableist rhetoric taints the conversations which lead to discrimination. And still, here we are, Advocates and Activists, with even more vigor and determination in the face of all that has dared to silence us. Despite the uneven roads we often travel, we know without a doubt that we will not be erased. It’s been an amazing journey so far, and I’m looking forward to the years ahead and experiences yet to come (Fig. 11.1).
Neurodiversity is for everyone
Nothing About Us Without Us!