What’s this really all about?
The Autistic Empire is an institution that aims to provide answers and services for autistic adults. There are currently many autistic-led organisations that act as liaisons between the autistic community and the neurotypical world, seeking to change public policy-making in our favour. There are also many medical, social and campaigning organisations that are run by neurotypical people who may or may not consult with autistic people to determine who they are and what they should want, and allocate resources and strategic priorities accordingly. Both of these strategies assume a power hierarchy with neurotypical people at the top and ourselves either asking to be let in or negotiating the terms on which we are accepted.
The Autistic Empire aims to create autistic-majority spaces where much of the stress and feelings of marginalisation that we experience can be alleviated. We dream of creating a community where autistic people can concentrate on self-development and fulfilment, and form friendships and mutual support networks that are meaningful and conceptually based in the way that we see and interact with the world. There are a number of autistic advocacy organisations that exist doing good work to protect all of us, but they are primarily advocating for publicly funded interventions. It is our belief that the autistic people is made up of a hugely diverse crowd of people, some with disabilities, some who do not lead independant lives, and many who do have financial and social independence and have no need of publicly funded interventions. We all have problems that we face in our day to day lives, like everyone who is human, but the way we approach and solve them is often different to neurotypical people.
The Autistic Empire is a place for autistic people to get together and share what they have found works for them, to allow other autistic people to benefit from people who have been in the same position, and to develop tools and services that facilitates people to be happy and content.
Much of the work of the Autistic Empire as it currently stands has been informed by our interactions with autistic people who have been creating home-made coping strategies that we want to provide on scale. Our 42 question and answer platform, for example, was built when we realised that people were posting questions asking for autistic people’s perspectives on social scenarios, or how to do something, to their personal social media feeds. We want good answers to be accessible by the world. Our Grand Sensory Survey was built while we were trying to figure out whether you could use autistic people’s sensory experiences as a more effective form of identifying autistic people who might never think it necessary to spend two hours explaining their childhood habits to a clinical psychiatrist, and couldn’t find any research on just what people experience and how that is different from neurotypical people.
Who started this?
Sarah McCulloch is an mental health occupational therapist living in London, UK and the director of the Autistic Empire. Sarah’s school once sent a letter to her local MP stating she had Asperger’s when she was sixteen, but they never bothered to inform her or her parents of this. She was 19 when she realised for herself. After four years of fruitlessly navigating NHS mental health services, she obtained a private diagnosis at the age of 23. This highly negative experience committed her changing the way autistic adults are regarded and treated in our society. She graduated from London South Bank University in 2015 with an MSc in Occupational Therapy with a view to working with autistic adults.
Sarah has long believed that the current diagnostic process for recognising autistic people is medicalised, demeaning and ineffective. Autistic adults are caught in a Catch-22 situation of being told that they cannot be autistic because they do not have a diagnosis, but you wouldn’t go for a diagnosis unless you already think you are autistic! One of the unique aspects of the Autistic Empire is the emphasis we put on trying to reach out to and identify autistic adults who do not know they are autistic. Sarah’s experience as a professional working with a autistic adults across a wide range of settings is helping us to develop a more meaningful journey towards an autistic identity.
Do you still need help?
Yes. The Autistic Empire is built around the idea of creating an autistic community through producing tools and services that benefit autistic people – we need people to help build them, deliver them. If you are bringing your own ideas and things you’d like to see, we would love to support you to do that.
Can children join?
Citizenship is available to adults over the age of 18 only. Children and young people are not legally able to give informed consent and thus cannot take advantage of all of the freedoms, obligations and expectations that Citizenship represents. We are also bound by UK law, and do not have capacity to put in place all of the safeguarding processes necessary to welcome under-18s into the Empire. We will be waiting for you from your 18th birthday.
I am a parent of an autistic person. Can I join?
Ciizenship is available to autistic people only. As autism is partly genetic, there is a strong possibility that you are also autistic and we invite you to be screened for autism yourself. Our autism test is here.
What does it cost?
We ask for a £9 a year recurring fee. If you stop paying this fee after enrolment, you won’t stop being a Citizen, because you can’t lose your Citizenship except by gross violation of our terms of service or the Citizen Rules of Conduct, but your account on the website will be suspended and you will be unable to access Citizen-only services until you pay the fee. You can of course revoke your Citizenship by application any time in accordance with our data protection policy.
Do I have to have an official diagnosis?
No. However, you do have to demonstrate your autism on enrolment (because being a Citizen is awesome and amazing and everyone would want to join otherwise) and the diagnostic system, while problematic and imperfect, is a quick and simple means of proving that you are autistic. If you do not have a diagnosis, or are opposed to getting one, just be yourself in the box and we’ll know. There are more pointers on the enrolment form as to what this could look like. All “evidence” is destroyed after your application is approved.
What is your position on Asperger’s, HFA, “Classical autism”, PDD-NOS etc. etc.
Autism is autism. We have commonality with each other and, as the saying goes, “we know it when we see it”. We’re not interested in discussions between health professionals about shifting diagnostic criteria. The precise edges of where autism stops and some other neurodiversity starts is not something we are concerned with at this juncture.
If you think you may be autistic but are not sure, go hang out with some autistic people. Attend an event for autistic people, or set up a temporary account and lurk around on our Discord. If you feel like you’ve found somewhere you belong, we’ll enrol you regardless of your label.
I’m not sure I “identify” as autistic as such.
This question is aimed at people who are having trouble with the Year They Started Identifying As Autistic on the enrolment form. You cannot participate fully in public affairs if you feel ambivalent about your autistic identity and it was something that was imposed on you by others. Citizenship is therefore available only to autistic people who embrace their identity and want to participate in the project.
The development of an autistic identity often follows this trajectory:
Ignorance – “I’m not autistic!”
Rejection – “I have a diagnosis of autism, but it doesn’t define me!”
Acceptance – “I am autistic.”
Being autistic defines who we are. It influences what we’re interested in, how we talk, what we eat, what we wear, and who we are attracted to as friends. Being autistic is an identity we hold with pride.
When you are ready, we will be waiting for you.