The Beauty of a World Without Boxes

For Autism “Awareness” Month this year, I’m bringing “awareness” to some of the amazing parts of autistic life.

Part of the glory of the autistic brain is the ability to see beyond the clearly delineated boundaries and margins of NT society.  We tend to question accepted norms and constructs that don’t make sense to us, which, to be fair, is most of them.  Autistic people see a world without all the boxes because we know that we don’t fit into any of them.

“That’s the way it’s done” is almost never an acceptable answer for us.  If you tell us “that’s the way we’ve always done it”, we’ll almost certainly reply by asking “why?”.  This is as true in mathematics or theoretical physics as it is in matters of gender and relationships.  This constant questioning is what allows us to break barriers and create innovations in the world.

Autistic people see and experience the world through a very different lens and, in that light, we see the places where it doesn’t work, where it could be made better for all people, and the places where the answers to the big questions of reality peek through.  Seeing the world in this way leads us to tell important stories, to teach others from our unique perspective, to make intuitive leaps of understanding, or to simply step away from the constraints that seem arbitrary and needless and by doing so, show others that there are more sides to choose from.

And no, I’m not only talking about the geniuses or savants among our number.  They’re there, yes, and many of them are changing the way we understand the universe and our place in it every day.  But there are also loads of autistic people with average intelligence or even intellectual disabilities who create beautiful art, write soul-baring poetry, teach children with love, or fight for justice and the rights of all marginalized people.

The autistic experience is much more intersectional than most of the research and stereotypes would have you believe.  Recent research has shown that gender-diverse people – that is, trans, non-binary, genderfluid and genderqueer, among other identities – are as much as six times more likely to be autistic as cisgender people.  Anecdotally, I can tell you that there’s also a high percentage of non-hetero sexual orientations in the neurodivergent community, including asexual and aromantic people.  On top of that, if you look around a bit, especially at the young adults in our community, you’ll see a lot of polyamorous relationships. 

It’s the ability to see beyond the either/or choices we’ve been given our whole lives that makes us able to remove ourselves from those constraints and live as the truest, happiest, realest version of ourselves.  Many of us no longer feel the need to be only male or female, or to choose between being married or single.  And we’re changing the world because of it.  Elderly people who felt they “were never good at” their assigned gender are talking to their neurodivergent trans or non-binary grandkids and feeling understood for the first time.  That is a beautiful thing. 

Our innate autistic sense of justice, that solid gut feeling about fairness, pushes us to create a world where everyone has a place, everyone has the right to live their best life, regardless of what boxes they may or may not tick.  Some of us do this by campaigning for policy changes and protesting.  Some of us do it by making sure that all people are welcome in our spaces and calling out bigoted behavior.  Some offer Free Mom Hugs at Pride events and some tell their younger LGBTQIA+ family members that they’re a safe person to talk to.  Many of us are dedicated to making this world better for all the autistic and otherwise neurodivergent kids growing up now by educating parents about what it means to grow up autistic, teaching or helping those kids within the school systems, or pushing for laws that will make it easier for those kids to become healthy, happy adults with all the rights they deserve.

If this sounds like the opposite of the stereotypical “rigid thinking” autistic experience, think of it like this:

An autistic person sees the clearly marked boxes available to them and is told to choose.  But that person knows that none of those boxes is actually the full answer – each one is wrong or incomplete in some way.  “Well,” says the autistic person, “since none of these are really right, there must be more options out there that I don’t know about yet.”  And off they go in search of the truth, boxes be damned.

A blond haired child of indeterminate gender wearing a rainbow striped shirt and rainbow facepaint on one cheek swinging on a cloth hammock outdoors. White and blue text on a purple background reads "The Beauty of a World Without Boundaries"

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