Devon Price

American social psychologist and writer

Devon Price is an American social psychologist, blogger, and author focusing on autism. He is best known for his books, Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity and Laziness Does Not Exist, as well as for publishing shorter pieces on Medium and Psychology Today.

Quotes edit

Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity (2022) edit

Introduction: Alienation edit

  • After researching Autism privately for about a year, I discovered the Autistic self-advocacy community. There was an entire movement led by Autistic people who argued we should view the disability as a perfectly normal form of human difference. These thinkers and activists said our way of being wasn't wrong at all; it was society's failure to adapt to our needs that left us feeling broken. People like Rabbi Ruti Regan (author of the blog Real Social Skills) and Amythest Schaber (the creator of the Neurowonderful video series) taught me about neurodiversity. I came to recognize that many disabilities are created or worsened by social exclusion.
  • I found out there were thousands of Autistics just like me, who discovered their disability in adulthood after years of confused self-loathing. As children, these Autistic folks had been visibly awkward, but they were mocked for it instead of given help. Like me, they had developed coping strategies to blend in. Things like staring at a person's forehead to simulate eye contact, or memorizing conversational scripts based on exchanges they saw on TV. Many of these stealthily Autistic people fell back on their intellect or other talents to gain acceptance. Others became incredibly passive, because if they toned down their personalities, they wouldn't have to risk being too "intense." Beneath the inoffensive, professional veneers they had developed, their lives were falling apart. Many of them suffered from self-harm, eating disorders, and alcoholism. They were trapped in abusive or unfulfilling relationships, with no clue how to feel seen and appreciated. Nearly all of them were depressed, haunted by a profound sense of emptiness. Their entire lives had been shaped by mistrust in themselves, hatred of their bodies, and fear of their desires.
  • I noticed that there were clear patterns in which kinds of Autistic people succumbed to this kind of fate. Autistic women, transgender people, and people of color often had their traits ignored when they were young, or have symptoms of distress interpreted as "manipulative" or "aggressive." So did Autistic people who grew up in poverty, without access to mental health resources. Gay and gender nonconforming men often didn't fit the masculine image of Autism well enough to be diagnosed. Older Autistics never had the opportunity to be assessed, because knowledge about the disability was so limited during their childhoods. These systematic exclusions had forced an entire massive, diverse population of disabled people to live in obscurity. This gave rise to what I am now calling masked Autism-a camouflaged version of the disorder that's still widely neglected by researchers, mental health providers, and Autism organizations that aren't led by Autistic people, such as the much-reviled Autism Speaks.
  • For far too long, we have been defined only by the "hassle" that white Autistic boys caused their well-off parents. Our complex inner lives, our own needs and sense of alienation, the ways that neurotypical people confused, confounded, and even abused us-all were ignored for decades because of this lens. We were defined only by what we seemed to lack, and only insofar that our disabilities presented a challenge to our caregivers, teachers, doctors, and other people who held power over our lives. For years now, psychologists and psychiatrists have discussed the existence of "female Autism," a supposed subtype that can look a lot milder and socially appropriate than "male" Autism does. People with so-called "female Autism" may be able to make eye contact, carry on a conversation, or hide their tics and sensory sensitivities. They might spend the first few decades of their lives with no idea they're Autistic at all, believing instead that they're just shy, or highly sensitive. In recent years, the public has slowly become familiar with the idea that women with Autism exist, and a few excellent books like Jenara Nerenberg's Divergent Mind and Rudy Simone's Aspergirls have worked to build awareness of this population. It's also helped that high-profile Autistic women like comedian Hannah Gadsby and writer Nicole Cliffe have come out publicly as Autistic.
  • Masking is a state of exclusion forced onto us from the outside...We only get the opportunity to take our masks off when we realize other ways of being exist.
  • I want every Autistic person to feel the massive relief and sense of community I found by recognizing myself and beginning to unmask...We must demand the treatment we deserve, and cease living to placate those who have overlooked us.

Chapter 5: Rethinking Autism edit

  • Some Autistic experiences are unpleasant no matter how you look at them. Gastrointestinal issues are painful. Sensory overwhelm is an absolute torment. It's very understandable that many Autistic folks (myself include) resent having these features of the disability. However, no personality traits or modes of thinking and feeling associated with Autism are innately bad. *Usually we internalize messages that we're bad, immature, cruel people only because the neurotypical people around us lacked the tools to look at our Autistic traits from the proper angle.
  • Quite frequently, the traits that inconvenience or weird out neurotypical people are the very same ones that define who we are and help keep us safe. When we stop taking an outsider's perspective of our own disability and instead center our own perspectives and needs, this becomes clear. It's not actually a bad thing that we are spirited, loud, intense, principled, or strange. These traits are merely inconvenient to systems designed by abled people that don't take our unique way of being into account. But the more we work to normalize our neurotype, and the more we loudly, proudly take ownership of our Autistic identities, the more institutions will be forced to change to accommodate us and others who have been repeatedly shut out.
  • By happily delving into our special interests and reveling in our Autistic capacity to hyperfocus, we can help retrain our brains to see our neurotype as a source of beauty rather than a mark of shame.

Conclusion: Integration edit

  • When a masked Autistic person lacks self-knowledge or any kind of broad social acceptance, they are often forced to conceive of themselves as compartmentalized, inconsistent parts.
  • In my experience, being a masked Autistic is eerily similar to being in the closet about being gay or trans. It's a painful state of self-loathing and denial that warps your inner experience. Though it often feels like being "crazy," it's not actually an internal neurosis. It's caused by society's repeated, often violent insistence you are not who you say you are, and that any evidence to the contrary is shameful.
  • for Autistics seeking to achieve widespread acceptance and justice, unmasking represents both an essential step forward, and a way to stay sane while the world remains unjust. I've witnessed firsthand how much an Autistic person can socially and psychologically blossom once they escape an unsafe situation and find an accepting community. I've gone through that exact process myself. We will never be able to build a more neurodiverse society if we do not name our common struggles, form community ties with one another, and loudly declare that our way of functioning isn't broken or bad. Much of the neurotypical world still wants to "cure" us of our difference, using genetic therapies and screening tools that would prevent more of us from being born, and abusive therapeutic methods that train us, like dogs, to become more compliant. Even those of us who have not been forced through formal Autism treatment are still manipulated and pressured, day by day, into becoming smaller, softer, more agreeable versions of ourselves. To unmask is to lay bare a proud face of noncompliance, to refuse to buckle under the weight of neurotypical demands. It's an act of bold activism as well as a declaration of self-worth. To unmask is to refuse to be silenced, to stop being compartmentalized and hidden away, and to stand powerfully in our wholeness alongside other disabled and marginalized folks. Together we can stand strong and free, shielded by the powerful, radical acceptance that comes only when we know who we are, and with the recognition that we never had anything to hide.
  • People imnitate Autistic hand flapping when they want to imply a disabled person is stupid, annoying, or out of control. Donald Trump famously did a cruel imitation of hand flapping during his 2016 campaign, while criticizing a physically disabled reporter.
  • Recognizing oneself as a disabled person certainly doesn't make the world seem any less confusing or threatening. However, accepting ourselves as Autistic does free many of us (perhaps for the first time) to question whether it's fair that we be expected to live in such a concealed, apologetic way. The process of unmasking is all about rethinking the beliefs and behaviors that seemed normal prior to discovering we were Autistic. It means reexamining the stereotypes about Autistics (and other disabled people) we've been exposed to via media, education, and formative experiences in our youth. It requires we question society's most deeply cherished values, and notice where there are gaps between what we've been told we should be, and how we'd actually like to live. Finally, unmasking demands that we look back on our past selves with a spirit of grace, gradually learning to see that the sides of ourselves that we were told were too loud, too stilted, too weird, or too much are actually completely fine, even wonderful, and absolutely deserving of love.

Interview with NPR (April 2022) edit

  • To this day, all of the assessments that we use for diagnosing autism, even in adults [are] still based on how to identify it in white cisgender boys, usually very young ones," Price explains. "So what that means is, if you're, let's say, a young autistic black boy, you are far more likely to get diagnosed with something like oppositional, defiant disorder. You're more likely to be seen as a behavior problem...If you're a girl, if you're a person of color, if you're gender nonconforming, you're more likely to be seen as a problem to be contained.
  • [For] most autistic people, we get the message from a really young age that we need to tone it down – that it's weird to be too excited and too enlivened by the things that we care about, which is so sad
  • If I'm safe flapping my hands down the street, so are people with schizophrenia or mobile disabilities...It's a world that is safe for everyone and we broaden our definition of what is socially acceptable.

Interview with NPR (2021) edit

  • I think animals help us remember that we shouldn't have to earn our right to exist. We're fine and beautiful and completely lovable when we're just sitting on the couch just breathing. And if we can feel that way about animals that we love and about, you know, relatives that we love, people in our lives who we never judged by their productive capacity, then we can start thinking of ourselves that way, too.
  • Laziness is usually a warning sign from our bodies and our minds that something is not working. The human body is so incredible at signaling when it needs something. But we have all learned to ignore those signals as much as possible because they're a threat to our productivity and our focus at work.
  • We live in a reality where people do accurately recognize that that we live and die by our ability to work. And so there's this self-defeating but also really rational quality to our compulsive overwork that a lot of us have. It becomes really self-defeating to say, "I'm in this on my own. I need to work really hard and make a lot of money so that I can take care of myself." Because when you think that way, you also take on a much gloomier view of other people. Anyone else and their needs is kind of a threat to my own kind of rugged individualism and independence. So it keeps us really isolated. It keeps us judging our co-workers for not pulling their own weight because we're suffering so hard. [It] can kind of create this downward spiral of just workaholism and isolation.
  • People who are dealing with any kind of anxiety, ADHD, depression, any kind of mental health struggle, those are people who tend to have been called lazy throughout their lives. Any time they're out of energy or just having trouble getting through a really overwhelming moment or day, people can't see that internal struggle. They just judge it as them lacking willpower or being lazy.
  • I think laziness really is this canary in a coal mine kind of emotion that tells us when our values are out of step with our actual lives. A lot of times we pour so much energy into being impressive at work, satisfying all the demands of our friends and family and just trying to overachieve in every possible way that we don't really listen to that inner voice that tells us, "Here's what matters most to me in my life. Here's what I really believe in and value. And here's how I really would live if I wasn't just setting out to satisfy other people."
  • Most of us don't have that ultimate freedom to walk away from things that are exhausting to us and just work at a much slower pace. Unlearning the hatred of laziness isn't another thing to beat yourself up for not doing correctly, because most of us are in a situation where our freedom and our choice is pretty restricted. If you're in a workplace where you aren't kind of trusted to self-motivate and you aren't given the room to set limits, you are really in a coercive environment that's going to keep running you down. A lot of times it comes down to looking into things like unionizing, documenting problems as they occur, demonstrating how when one person leaves the company, all of their work is just dumped onto someone else instead of replacing them.

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