I’m excited to share the latest episode of Everything I’ve Learned — an in-depth conversation with Eric Michael Garcia, an autistic journalist whose new book, We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation, examines what it means to be autistic in 2021.
Garcia’s book is a must-read that spans the political and the personal. Autism has been deeply misunderstood for years, resulting in policies that directly harmed autistic people. The diagnosis itself evolved over many decades, which led to years of misinformation and debunked research on vaccines and autism — a panic that lives on in COVID anti-vaxxers:
“The current vaccine panic about COVID wouldn’t exist today without the autism vaccine panic of the 1990s and the 2000s … The autism and vaccine panic is to the current COVID vaccine panic what The Hobbit is to The Lord of the Rings: You don’t get one without the other, and it lays the groundwork. We wouldn’t have this kind of paranoia about vaccines if there wasn’t already an appetite for sowing doubt about vaccines because of fear that children might become autistic.
And this really goes to my other problem with anti-vaxxers. Yes, they’re public health menaces, but the other underlying argument is saying it would be better for your child to have measles and die than to become autistic. It basically says that autistic lives aren’t worth anything in that they’re not valuable whatsoever. And that’s the message that autistic people have been ingesting for the past two decades.”
Garcia is the senior Washington correspondent for The Independent, following editorial roles at the Washington Post and The Hill. He’s also been a correspondent for the National Journal, MarketWatch, and Roll Call, and has written for The Daily Beast, The New Republic, and Salon.com.
As a child, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is now diagnosed under the broader ASD (autism spectrum disorder). We talked about the history of the autism diagnosis, how it has evolved, how the language around it has changed, and how autistic people are using social media (like the #ActuallyAutistic hashtag on Twitter) to speak out in a media ecosystem that historically marginalized or ignored them.
It was a wonderful conversation (we also talked about Van Halen) — so thanks as always for listening. If you’re liking the show so far, please leave a review and a comment on Apple Podcasts, or share it with others. It helps a lot!