‘Autistic Space’

We often draw on the concept of ‘autistic space’1, a concept that developed in the autistic community over time. Autistic space is any virtual or real-world space that is:

  • Shared by several autistic people
  • Designed or adapted for autistic processing; values autistic ways of functioning
  • Designed and controlled by autistic people
  • By and for autistic people where autistic needs and culture take priority
  • Being and acting autistic is acceptable and accepted

In autistic space there is an increased probability of autistic people meeting similar and/or compatible people. Non-autistic people can feel socially disabled, disorientated and even, out of place, in autistic space. It is important to note, however, that autistic space does not magically remove all difficulties: autistic people are not just different from non-autistic people but also different from each other, and there will still be incompatibilities. Nevertheless, time spent in autistic space can be:

  • Empowering
  • Relaxing
  • Provide a sense of community and belonging
  • Enable the sharing of rare or less common experiences and interests
  • Allow for experiences of feeling less disabled than in non-autistic space

A number of specific differences are observable between autistic space and non-autistic space. Common features which often arise in autistic space include:

  • Non-spoken forms of communication are respected and used at least as commonly as speech and there is parity of esteem between different forms of communication
  • Sensory sensitivities are respected and the space is more likely to be lower in sensory stimulus e.g. less bright, quieter, less movement
  • Choices not to communicate or not to interact are respected and participants are valued whether or not they choose to interact
  • There is lower pressure towards conformity
  • Communication contains greater informational content
  • Participants are valued for their knowledge and contribution, rather than social status being accorded on the basis of aspects of presentation
  • Social and communication errors and missteps are more likely to be explained and blame avoided, particularly on the first occasion
  • The TV shows ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Big Bang Theory’ are considered ‘normal’ cultural knowledge by many (though not all) and having no idea who a celebrity is would be perfectly normal
  • Spilling food all down your clothes and tripping over your own feet is considered perfectly normal
  • It is normal to forewarn others about all changes, do exactly what you say you are going to do and provide detailed information about expectations
  • It is socially acceptable to ask direct questions such as ‘Why?’, ‘What’s the point?’, ‘Can I join your group?’ or ‘Do you want to be friends?’ and expect an honest, direct answer
  • It is considered unreasonable to expect someone else to know what you think or how you feel without telling them

1 See Dekker (2015) for a history of early autistic space, the core ideas of the definition given here and more depth about the concept.