As part of our story feature on artist Jade Mikell, we discussed her work in autism advocacy. Jade has been diagnosed with autism at a young age, and she uses her art to facilitate a better understanding of this condition.
This topic reflects our penchant for cultivating a “creative lifestyle” at Vestige, reaffirming why we believe art and creativity are essential for our personal well being and for exploring the human condition.
For a full introduction on Jade and her artistic pursuits, please read Part I of her story here.
What is autism?
According to the researchers and academics at Evidence Network, it is crucial to understand that autism is not a mental illness, mental health condition or a learning disability. Instead, it is a neurodevelopment disorder, and more acutely referred to as ‘autism spectrum disorder’ (ASD). Symptoms vary with wide ranging severity for every individual with autism.
“There’s a favourite saying in the autism community: ‘If you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen one person with autism.’“ — Evidence Network.
Can you describe your current work in autistic activism?
Jade: As an Autistic femme with a moderate social platform, I’ve taken on the work to publicly navigate perceptions of folks like me. I do this through my primary vocation, artwork, as well as through writing, which can also be found on my website, and additional, various forms of organization and advocacy.
Smaller, less documentative things I do are: actively stimming in public, engaging unabashedly in my special interests (birds, mid-century modern furniture, textiles, etc.), and pushing to facilitate, in some small way, an ongoing conversation around accessibility and Autistic womanhood in my personal and professional life. Being a public voice for Autistic folks is in many ways a substantial weight to carry, but I’m thankful to have the opportunity to be heard.
What does it “feel” like to be autistic?
Jade: Like the constant donning of a suit of cracked clay armour. Like soft raw honey, like cactus spines and rocks scraped across rain-soaked skin. Autism is such an absolutely beautiful, safe experience, but it is so hard to occupy an Autistic form in the industrialized world.
Every sound, sight, touch, taste, scent is magnified, often to the point of notable, distending pain. This isn’t a product of the negativity of Autism however, in my opinion this serves to reflect moreover that our world moves too quickly, too brightly, too loudly for our bodies.
What is the biggest misconception about Autism?
Jade: There are so many misconceptions about Autism. Autism isn’t more prevalent in boys and men; femmes are simply more often misdiagnosed as we present differently.
Traits and behaviours associated with Autism are not inferior in nature; the way that all people are socialized to behave is constructed, and can be uprooted and reestablished to include Autistic folks genuinely.
Autism is in many ways an advantage. In a contemporary world, our sensory sensitivities are overwhelmed by our environments, but this is not indicative of an error in who we are: regardless of this, our value is not married to our productivity.
Autism isn’t a deficit, and our fundamental behaviours don’t need to be corrected.
How can we facilitate a better understanding of individuals with autism?
Jade: Othering us is one of the main concerns. Treat us not only with respect, but with the understanding that we experience the world in a different way than non-Autistic folks, and that this does not make us lowly in comparison.
Holding space for the ways in which we occupy our place in this world is crucial. Not projecting one’s expectations onto the identities of others. Issues arise when we "other" each other.
In saying this however, I want to emphasize that it is important that Autistic people are not only permitted to be their authentic selves, but feel safe enough to be.
Additional resources recommended by Jade Mikell:
For those who use the website, the Facebook page The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism is an excellent source that uplifts the voices of Autistic people in an intersectional way.
For Women and Non-Binary folks, I suggest the Autistic Women + Non-Binary Network (AWN). Do not use Autism Speaks as a resource, as the organization harms Autistic people. I also suggest looking up the #actuallyAutistic hashtag on various social media platforms, for an affirming peek into the lives of fellow Autistic folks.
However, one of the resources I find most important as an Autistic femme is rest. Rest is something we all need more of. However, for Autistic folks that are hypersensitive to the sensory world, especially femmes who mask their behaviours from a very young age usually pre-diagnosis (which contributes to the lower statistics of diagnosis in Autistic femmes), taking intentional time to rest is very important.