Autspace 2018 Conference Program


10:00-11:30 AM

Autistic Access to Protest: A Call for Radical Inclusivity

Steph Ban, Cal Montgomery, and Scott Nance

Disability activism, strongly influenced by the independent living tradition, excludes certain disabled people. The emphasis on being loud and putting one’s body in the street assumes that all activists not only can do these actions, but that they must engage in loud, crowded direct action in order to be considered “real” activists. The emphasis on lobbying through face-to-face meetings and telephone calls sidelines people with atypical communication.

In order to create a disability-inclusive society, we must have a disability-inclusive movement, and so there must be room in the disability rights movement(s) to honor less common, but still valuable, forms of activism and to create new tactics and strategies that fit the people we have rather than trying to shoehorn people into approaches that do not work for them. In this workshop we will address the past, present and future of cross-disability disability rights activism, with a focus on understanding what the neurodivergent community's needs are as we seek greater political participation and power, and attempting to make progress toward understanding how to meet them.

1:00-2:30 PM

Professional or Autistic? Surviving as an Autistic Person in a Profession that Serves Autistic People

Carly Nelson

Being an Autistic person in a field that serves Autistic people is a very specific kind of challenge. The ableism within the field, beliefs about hierarchical relationships that should occur between people with disabilities and people without disabilities, and increased sensitivity to mistreatment of clients from other professionals can make disability-service professions feel extremely unwelcoming to the people whose presence in them is most crucial.

This presentation will address the many challenges that one may commonly face when entering a field that serves Autistic people as an Autistic person. It will then present methods to survive and create change within the field. For example, engaging in research that amplifies Autistic voices is one way to encourage professors, professionals, and students to engage with these voices. Additionally, we will discuss ways to subvert problematic dialogues surrounding disability and to use our positions within these fields to support the empowerment of Autistic people.

3:00-4:30 PM

Identifying as an Autistic Person of Color

Timotheus Gordon, Jr.

Although disability identity has been examined extensively in Disability Studies, scholars and activists have only recently begun considering how disability identity interconnects with racial identity and affects disabled people of color’s lived experiences. The purpose of this project is to identity intersectional experiences of autistic people of color globally, explore how autism affects the way they are viewed by their communities, and uncover barriers that prevent them from fully participating in their communities.

This research is based on a survey about Autistic and racial identity among Autistic people of color. The survey was administered online. Thirty people participated and answered questions about autistic identity, how people in their communities view autism, and how they interact in their respective communities as autistic people of color.


10:00-11:30 AM

Accessible Technology Empowers Autistic Adults and Youth: Removing Barriers to Independent Living and Enhancing Self-Advocacy and Self-Determination

Dr. Scott Michael Robertson

This presentation will discuss cognitively accessible technology aids and assistive technology (low-tech and high-tech) devices to empower autistic adults and youth. It will focus on how accessible technology and assistive devices remove barriers to independent living in the community, competitive integrated employment, and K-12 and postsecondary education. The presentation will also emphasize how autistic people can engage in participatory design and research to make technology more accessible and affordable while enhancing the innovation and promise of technological aids, devices, and supports.

The presentation will first define what technological accessibility means for autistic people. It will discuss facets of ensuring that existing technology, including information technology, aligns with neurodivergent information, cognitive, and sensory processing styles. Thereafter, the presentation will define supplemental assistive technology and describe different types of low-tech and high-tech assistive technology that regularly help remove barriers experienced by autistic people.

1:00-2:30 PM

Supporting Trans Autistic Youth

Charlie Garcia-Spiegel and Noor Pervez

Autistic trans youth are at the crossroads of three incredibly powerful experiences: disability, gender, and age. It can be incredibly difficult for these youth to succeed without adequate support from friends, family, peers, and people in positions of power and authority. With this presentation, we aim to provide allies to Autistic trans youth with information on the challenges these youth face and concrete strategies for people to support their loved ones.

Participants will have the opportunity to brainstorm and practice concrete actions they can take to better the lives of the youth in their community. We will provide a handout with initial steps they can take, but will build upon it during the session with input from the participants themselves. This will give them the opportunity to take initiative and develop strategies they can use in their home communities, rather than relying on generic one-size-fits-most solutions.

3:00-4:30 PM

Clifford Beers and the Early History of Mental Health Activism

Ari Ne’eman

Clifford Beers was the most famous person with mental illness of the early 20th century. As the founder of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, the country's first major mental health advocacy organization, his name would be feted by some of America’s most prominent citizens, and for a time would be considered - rightly or wrongly - the origin of all that was forward-thinking in American mental health.

The story of Beers' rise to prominence - and eventual downfall - has profound implications for the autistic community, which is still relatively early in its social and political development.  This presentation will discuss the early history of mental health activism, using Clifford Beers's life and work as a framing device for understanding the political and social development of mental health activism in pre-war America. By looking at the early history of mental health advocacy, we can learn important lessons with critical implications for the autistic community today.


10:00-11:30 AM

Media Sensory Curation: Addressing Parent-Child Media Conflict without Pathologizing the Child

Kristen Harrison, Professor and Associate Chair of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Communication Studies, University of Michigan

There is a growing literature on parent-child media conflict that tends to pathologize the child without acknowledging how media use might meet children’s sensory needs in a built environment that is increasingly chaotic and difficult to manage, especially for neurodivergent children with sensory regulation challenges.


Media sensory curation theory, authored by the presenter, complements theories of informational, emotional, and relational gratifications that people seek from electronic media devices. Sensory curation theory conceptualizes media devices as tools that people can use to help maintain sensory regulation, simultaneously capturing and curbing sensory input, within built and natural environments. Thus children (and adults) can become attached to the sensory affordances of media devices, not just the messages they transmit. This challenges the concept of “child media addiction” and prioritizes helping families manage child media use without pathologizing the child.

1:00-2:30 PM

Accessing Intimacy and Sexuality

Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone, Emily Titon, and Timotheus Gordon, Jr.

Intimacy is a need for the vast majority of people. But for many, societal norms deny access to intimacy that are not a specific type of sexual, monogamous, and heteronormative approach. Intimacy that is not sexual is often overlooked or deemed other; consensual non-monogamy is framed as too complicated for those with cognitive disabilities; queerness, particularly that which is not modeled after heterosexuality, is left unsupported by those providing us supports in our communities. Many autistics find ourselves at a loss as to how to communicate our intimacy needs that fall beyond this paradigm.

In our presentation, we aim to bring basic information and tools that will allow people to identify and find ways to communicate individualized intimacy needs. We will cover non-sexual physical intimacy, consent and communication, sexual intimacy ranging from straight and vanilla (“typical sex”) to queer/LGBTQ and kinky, and various models of relational intimacy. We will also discuss problem solving approaches to situations where autistics may not be best served by normative solutions offered in many self-help guides on these issues.

3:00-4:30 PM

Community Organizing for Autistic Activists

Cori Frazer, BSW

Community organizing is the process through which a community is brought together to recognize their own power, create a shared vision, and effect change. This workshop will teach the basics of community organizing, including overview of what it is, how it is used, its history, and how it has been and can be used in the disability community. The presentation will review common organizing strategies including storytelling, direct action, consciousness raising, art-as-organizing, and other organizing modalities.


The presentation will progress to teaching practical skills used in organizing work, including a participatory activity conducting a power analysis about a relevant and timely social issue (to be determined according to current events). The power analysis will lead to guiding small groups through the process of planning hypothetical grassroots campaigns.