The tools of our oppressors

This post is primarily aimed at Autistic readers, but hopefully some non-autistic folks will benefit from it too.

There is an error that I see a lot of Autistic people make when writing about the neurodiversity movement. I’ve probably made the same error myself at times because it is something that is so entrenched within our societies.

We need to stop using the tools of our oppressors to overcome our oppression.

If you haven’t read this essay by Nick Walker, please take the time to do so because that’s really what this post is about.

What do I mean when I used the word “tools”? I mean the language and concepts that come from the pathology paradigm, and those tools are everywhere. They’re there when we refer to autism as ASD, or when we use the word diagnosis. When we rely on definitions developed by medical professionals who work within the pathology paradigm, we’re using the tools of our oppressors.

It can be difficult to discard those tools, but we really need to. If we don’t, then we’re perpetuating the same system that we’re fighting against. We’re contributing to the validity of harmful beliefs and undermining the validity of the tenets of the neurodiversity movement. We can’t keep using the tools of our oppressors while we wait for something better because we’re responsible for creating that something better. By talking to other Autistic people within our community to find better ways of using language to express the thoughts that we need to express.

How can we throw away the tools of our oppressors?

We can do this in more subtle ways too. As Sparrow of Unstrange Mind recently said:

“In the meantime, there are ways to be fifth columnists, infiltrating. I do it all the time: when I speak to teachers, BCBAs, frightened parents who need to be eased in, I hand them neurodiversity carefully clothed in words they can handle that are not words of the medical model or pathology paradigm. I tirelessly but gently erode their prejudices like raindrops on limestone. They ask pathologizing questions and I repeat the questions in the language of acceptance before answering.

There are ways to fight without fighting. Be like water. Flow through their resistance.”

So, with that in mind, I encourage my Autistic readers to throw away the tools of our oppressors. Let’s use our own tools to dismantle the house of the oppressors. If we don’t have those tools, then let’s create them together.


With thanks to Sparrow for giving me permission to use his words in this post.