I don’t have a comment policy on my blog. Why? Probably because if I did, I’d have to enforce it and that seems like a lot of work. What I have instead is a guiding principle: this blog is autistic safe space.
A safe space is a place–physical or virtual–in which harassment, hatred or violence against a group is not tolerated. Some safe spaces try to be universally safe, with a goal that no one will be made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome based on race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability. While I think that’s a wonderful ideal to aim for, that’s not what I’m doing here.
This is specifically autistic safe space. That means that I’m specifically vigilant about comments that promote hatred, stigma or violence against autistic people. How is that different from safe space in general?
Well for one thing, some people are going to feel unwelcome. For example, people who want to come here and complain about how miserable the autistic person in their life makes them? Unwelcome. People who want sympathy and a gold star for putting up with an autistic partner? Unwelcome. People who talk about the autistic person in their life in a demeaning or dehumanizing way? Unwelcome.
Autistic safe space means that autistic people can (hopefully) read the posts and comments here without having to worry about encountering hateful or demeaning speech. It also means that autistic communication styles are respected and we can talk about the hard things without worrying about someone making fun of us or using our words against us.
Sometimes things get a little messy in the comments, but I do my best to keep everyone on the safe side of honest, engaged discussion.
Other Kinds of Spaces
I think of autistic safe space as a kind of middle ground, between autistic friendly space and autistic space. There isn’t necessarily a clear definition of each of the three, but for the sake of helping people new to these concepts understand them better, I’ll take a stab at describing them.
Autistic friendly space tends to be predominantly allistic space which has been modified to make it more welcoming to autistic people. For example, sensory friendly film showings or an event that features flapping instead of clapping, is held in a hall without fluorescent lighting, requests attendees to be fragrance-free, provides communication badges, has a quiet area and does not allow flash photography.
An autistic person isn’t necessarily going to feel totally comfortable in autistic friendly spaces, but there are considerably more accommodations made than in the typical public space.
An autistic safe space takes the concept of autistic friendly space one step further, putting the autistic person’s needs first. Often safe space has a greater emphasis on safety with regard to identity and expression whereas friendly space has a greater emphasis on disability accommodations.
Online, autistic safe spaces are very much about safe speech. In person, the concept is extended to physical expression, meaning that things like stimming and atypical communication are welcomed and accepted rather than simply tolerated. Safe spaces are often a place to explore difficult topics and push at boundaries without the fear of rejection or humiliation.
Autistic safe spaces can be mixed spaces, but are generally autistic led. Sometimes this works out really well, with people of different neurologies sharing experiences and learning from each other. And sometimes it turns into a disaster. I’ve seen both cases firsthand and, ironically, when things go wrong in a safe space, people can be hurt badly. Much more so, it seems, than when things go wrong in typical public spaces.
Finally, there is autistic space. I was going to define autistic space as one in which all participants are on the spectrum, but then I realized that my home is autistic space. It’s a place where I feel completely comfortable to be myself and where my communication style is honored. It’s a place where I have minimal sensory distraction. A place where I know what to expect.
Perhaps autistic space is a cultural construct rather than something that is created strictly by the neurology of the participants. And that feels like an idea that’s too large to get into in the final lines of a post, so I’m going to set it aside for another day.