Autism and Asperger Articles, Bill Stillman, Award-Winning Author

Demystifying Autism From The Inside Out

Acknowledging Resilience

by William Stillman

Elizabeth Edwards’ new book is titled, simply, Resilience, documenting her travails, fallout, and struggle to rise to grace following her politician-husband’s infidelity. Resilience is an interesting word when applied to those long-suffering and burdened by the actions (or lack thereof) on the part of others with whom we have relationships. According to my dictionary, resilience, in part, is defined as “capable of returning to original shape after being compromised.”

When I reflect upon my work in human services since 1987, I recognize that individuals who endeavor resilience have not been properly acknowledged for their capability to sustain and endure. Specifically, I’m speaking of adults who have been misinterpreted as possessing intellectual deficiency and have been segregated and virtually ostracized of any sense of authentic personhood. Instead, conformity dictates conjoinment with an archaic service system that creates incongruence in how it serves for implementing an antiquated service model instead of a model that respects the needs of the autistic individual. This was most prevalent fifty years ago, when the eugenics movement was in full swing, and persons deemed void, vacant and unaware were warehoused in institutional settings, but still it persists today—twisted in a slightly different form.

Recently, an article in my Sunday paper lauded the local efforts of a well-intentioned group to provide a prom for teens with “special needs.” One visionary citizen reacted in an editorial, decrying this type of segregation in contrast with historic efforts to extinguish racial segregation. The special needs prom, they avowed, was not cute or precious but an infringement on the inclusionary rights of the young people involved. I couldn’t have agreed more but I also wondered how many of those young people involved understood that their inclusionary rights had been violated.

It is precisely this absence of information—an entitlement of human rights—that has created our segregation mindset. We have fostered gullibility and naïveté in many individuals by not informing them in ways akin to the average person. Resilience comes to the fore when such uninformed individuals assert their personhood by refusing to conform to the management of others. Enforced complacency negates resilience and leads to a surrender of spirit. Those who have survived with their will intact deserve an acknowledgment of their resilience to overcome.

Neurodiversity is not a passing fad; it is a legitimate movement whose time is past due. But instead of being capable of returning to an original shape after being compromised, neurodiversity promises a new and dynamic reshaping of old paradigms such that, one day soon, the concept of resilience will lessen in priority in favor of advancing not merely acceptance but equality. And that’s a given.

©2009, William Stillman (

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