Y is for Youth

by Jennifer “Grimalkin” Partin from Felis Autisticus

Y is for Youth

I’m young as shit. I’ll be just 21 in a week. Young. As. Shit.

Sometimes— most of the time— this hinders me. I don’t have a lot of the life experience or the fancy degrees or even the general not-living-with-parents autonomy that older activists do.

Will I someday? Of course! But in the meantime, it often feels as though I’m spinning my wheels, having all of these great ideas for how to change the world, but lacking the actual ability to get up and change things as well as the activists who, at the very least, have had the time to build a name for themselves.

That’s what I think of my activism sometimes. Sometimes, I’m wrong. Youth can do things. Youth can do really great things.

Anecdote time. At the University of Texas at Dallas, I’m the President of the brand-new-this-semester student group FAE— “For Autistic Empowerment”. The group is for the empowerment of my fellow autistics, but often I’m finding the autistics in my group to be empowering me. Enlightening me. Encouraging me to be a better me, to look at the things that I want to do, that I think I can’t do, and to work towards doing them.

Anecdote Part Two. Today and the day before I was running a fundraiser for my group. We raised money, yes, but we also met a lot of autistic students who basically walked up awestruck, amazed that someone was talking about autism from the perspective of people who are autistic, not from the perspective of people who want to fix or cure it. Amazed that their fellow youth had created something like this, together.

Which, I believe, is the key to my point. We had to do it together. That, in my opinion, is how autistic youths work best.

As young people, we have the curse-and-blessing of having a million huge ideas that we have no way to implement. As autistics, we have the problem of executive function making doing anything a challenge, much less doing impossible things.

But together? We have checks and balances. We can bounce our big ideas off of each other, form them together until the idea takes shape into something we can manage. And when one person’s executive function checks out, another person’s can check in.

The thing that makes this special to youth is how we live. In general, youth are people in school. We’re surrounded by people our own age, people who think like us, people who live like us. Which isn’t to say that it’s not good to have a diversity of ages! But when it comes to youth, we do have the advantage of our community being very easy to organize.

Because it’s so much more effective, in my opinion, to organize in a college/youth environment, I sometimes wonder if after college I’ll just fall into a slump of not being able to organize anything.

Then I consider that because I got the experience running an organization (as a youth), because I created a community in my hometown (as a youth), not only will I have the skills to be like those older people who have life experience and fancy degrees, but I will have set up the foundation for something that has the potential to go beyond a college campus. And even if it doesn’t, I will have made a college campus that much better, and built a home for autistics current and future at my university. Together, with my fellow autistics, because we couldn’t have done it alone.

But we did it.

While being young as shit.

This is part of a series of posts addressing themes from the neurodiversity movement and paradigm which will be published during the course of April 2016. To read the rest of the posts, please click here.