Monday, August 5, 2019

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My name is Christopher Whelan, age 27, and I am an autistic social worker in Fort McMurray, Alberta.  I am the founder/director of Autistics United Fort McMurray - Cree, Dene, Dane-zaa, & Metis Territory, as well as the founder/director of Neurodiversity YMM.

My interest in neurodiversity began in November 2018, a year into my social work career when I was wondering what my place within the social justice movement would be.  I am autistic, but at the time I did not see myself as part of a marginalized social location; I saw myself as a person living with a mental illness that needed to be acknowledged.  Once I was introduced to the world of neurodiversity by an online friend, I read as much as I could about it. I began to see autistic people as a global community, sharing a unique culture, creative expression, communication style, and norms.  I saw that my depression, social anxiety, discomfort in leaving my home, were not mental illness itself but the long term stress of trying to fit into a world that was not made for people like me. My seemingly neurotic interest in areas such as military history, classical philosophy, and Japanese cooking styles, is what we would call “special interests”, and autistic people taking an interest in something considered unconsequential or too niche to be profitable is a shared experience across the autistic world.

In developing my neurodiversity justice agencies and my self-advocacy work there is a desire to make a world where autistic people do not feel strange or sick, and where autistic people can achieve everything that neurotypical people can achieve with a comparable amount of effort.  I want to create spaces where autistic people can be as autistic as they want to be, and where that will be considered normal.

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