Autism is a genetically-based human neurological variant. The complex set of interrelated characteristics that distinguish autistic neurology from non-autistic neurology is not yet fully understood, but current evidence indicates that the central distinction is that autistic brains are characterized by particularly high levels of synaptic connectivity and responsiveness. This tends to make the autistic individual’s subjective experience more intense and chaotic than that of non-autistic individuals: on both the sensorimotor and cognitive levels, the autistic mind tends to register more information, and the impact of each bit of information tends to be both stronger and less predictable.
Autism is a developmental phenomenon, meaning that it begins in utero and has a pervasive influence on development, on multiple levels, throughout the lifespan. Autism produces distinctive, atypical ways of thinking, moving, interaction, and sensory and cognitive processing. One analogy that has often been made is that autistic individuals have a different neurological “operating system” than non-autistic individuals.

According to current estimates, somewhere between one percent and two percent of the world’s population is autistic. While the number of individuals diagnosed as autistic has increased continually over the past few decades, evidence suggests that this increase in diagnosis is the result of increased public and professional awareness, rather than an actual increase in the prevalence of autism.

Despite underlying neurological commonalities, autistic individuals are vastly different from one another. Some autistic individuals exhibit exceptional cognitive talents. However, in the context of a society designed around the sensory, cognitive, developmental, and social needs of non-autistic individuals, autistic individuals are almost always disabled to some degree – sometimes quite obviously, and sometimes more subtly.
The realm of social interaction is one context in which autistic individuals tend to consistently be disabled. An autistic child’s sensory experience of the world is more intense and chaotic than that of a non-autistic child, and the ongoing task of navigating and integrating that experience thus occupies more of the autistic child’s attention and energy. This means the autistic child has less attention and energy available to focus on the subtleties of social interaction. Difficulty meeting the social expectations of non-autistics often results in social rejection, which further compounds social difficulties and impedes social development. For this reason, autism has been frequently misconstrued as being essentially a set of “social and communication deficits,” by those who are unaware that the social challenges faced by autistic individuals are just by-products of the intense and chaotic nature of autistic sensory and cognitive experience.
Autism is still widely regarded as a “disorder,” but this view has been challenged in recent years by proponents of the neurodiversity model, which holds that autism and other neurocognitive variants are simply part of the natural spectrum of human biodiversity, like variations in ethnicity or sexual orientation (which have also been pathologized in the past). Ultimately, to describe autism as a disorder represents a value judgment rather than a scientific fact.
(This answer was written by Nick Walker of Neurocosmopolitanism. Used with permission.)

PCAA is Autistic run and organized. Our events are for everyone who identifies as part of the Autistic community as well as our allies in the wider disability communities. We hope that people with a variety of support needs are able to enjoy our events. We welcome support staff with the consent of the Autistic or disabled person being supported. 

While parents are welcome at our public events, we do ask that parents do not attend our social meetups or peer support programs unless they are functioning in a support staff capacity (for example, as a communication partner). We also welcome people who are self-diagnosed, as we know that diagnosis is not accessible to everyone for a variety of reasons.

As an organization, we use identity-first language rather than person-first language. We made this choice because we think that most people do not need a reminder that we are people. We also feel that autism colors every part of our experiences, and is not a second thought or source of shame. However, we respect our friends’ no matter the language they choose to use for their experience of autism.

Much in the way the that the d/Deaf community uses “little d” deaf to reflect a person’s ability to hear and “big D” Deaf to refers to culture, the Autistic community has moved towards capitalizing “Autistic” to reflect the unique culture shared by Autistic people involved in disability rights and the Autistic Rights Movement.

Autistic advocate, Allyssa Hillary said, “High functioning means your needs get ignored. Low functioning means your abilities get ignored.” Functioning labels like these have no agreed-upon medical meaning and measure Autistic people’s worth by their ability to pretend to be non-autistic.