Online movement for autistics' rights

Wired's got a long feature on Amanda Baggs, a woman with autism who doesn't speak, but who uses video and online forums and MMOs to make an eloquent case for autism as a different -- but valid -- style of cognition, and argues for the rights of people with autism to be recognized on their own terms. The article looks into the long-held belief that autism and retardation are tied together and concludes that this just isn't true -- rather, that people with autism have been incorrectly classed as retarded for generations.

Baggs is part of an increasingly visible and highly networked community of autistics. Over the past decade, this group has benefited enormously from the Internet as well as innovations like type-to-speech software. Baggs may never have considered herself trapped in her own world, but thanks to technology, she can communicate with the same speed and specificity as someone using spoken language.

Autistics like Baggs are now leading a nascent civil rights movement. "I remember in '99," she says, "seeing a number of gay pride Web sites. I envied how many there were and wished there was something like that for autism. Now there is." The message: We're here. We're weird. Get used to it.

This movement is being fueled by a small but growing cadre of neuropsychological researchers who are taking a fresh look at the nature of autism itself. The condition, they say, shouldn't be thought of as a disease to be eradicated. It may be that the autistic brain is not defective but simply different – an example of the variety of human development. These researchers assert that the focus on finding a cure for autism – the disease model – has kept science from asking fundamental questions about how autistic brains function.

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