The Outpost Project
We know that most organizations which support autistic people are regional, endeavoring to support individuals or small groups. Most of the larger organizations- the national and international ones- are aiming to fix autism to some extent.
What if there was a nation-wide, not-for-profit group which supported autistic people exactly as they are? What would that look like?
I started asking myself this question several years ago, around the same time I started wondering what autistic culture would look like in the real world.
Autistic people, after all, are scattered all over the place. There’s no structure, no organizing body, no ready means for us to assemble or support each other. The Internet helps a lot, and message boards like Wrong Planet are incredibly useful.
But we can’t be expected to spend our lives online. That’s not healthy.
So what would an autistic community look like in real life?
Fortunately I found a sort of template in a University of Toronto social group called S.A.S.A. (Social Association for Students with Autism). Basically, it consisted of a bunch of Aspies meeting in a room together once a week and just being together. Hanging out. Talking. Not talking. Monologuing. Studying. Every month we went on outings around the city. It was fantastic. For a group of people with social disabilities, surprisingly there weren’t any interpersonal problems. Everyone got along. The members of S.A.S.A. seemed to really value the time they spent together. I found it tremendously meaningful.
But still, I thought, that’s only once a week.
As I got to know some of the guys in S.A.S.A. a little better, I started to suspect that this was probably the only social interaction they had. Though some of them had busy social lives, others seemed lonely, even with the opportunity to hang out with like-minded people on a regular basis.
As an Aspie, I have a real talent for pushing ideas farther than they were meant to be pushed. I’m a natural maximalist.
So I thought, well, what would happen if we pushed the basic concept of S.A.S.A. to the utmost extreme?
Here’s what I came up with.
A physical space set aside for people on the autistic spectrum. Free. Open during regular business hours, seven days a week. Separate areas within the larger space: to start with, somewhere to socialize, somewhere to eat or prepare food, and somewhere to study quietly. It would be a safe space designed to meet the accessibility needs of autistics. People on the spectrum could go there whenever they wanted and stay for as long as the space was open. In the space, they could simply be themselves without fear of rejection, ridicule, or judgment.
I decided to call these spaces Outposts.
The details, of course, are flexible. No one autistic person can create a space for all autistic people. The process would have to be collaborative, with as many people giving as much input as possible. I envisioned eventually having a string of Outposts across the country, perhaps one in each of the ten largest cities.
The concept stalled out early on, because I couldn’t find a way to make it happen. I’m more of a thinker than an organizer. I can’t network worth a damn.
But I believe- I really do- that the Outpost Project is something worth pursuing. Isolation is at the heart of autistic culture. We are, first and foremost, apart from others. What would happen to us, both as individuals and as a community, if we came together? What would autism become? Too many autistic-related projects and organizations are focused on making us less like ourselves. I think if we united, we could become more like ourselves. I don’t know what that would look like, but I want to find out.