Lauren Ober on Neurodiversity

One of the best books I’ve read about autism is called In a Different Key: The Story of Autism. It’s by John Donvan and Caren Zucker and it’s a detailed history of autism. Recently, the pair put out a podcast tracing the life of Donald Triplett, the first person ever diagnosed with autism. Their show is an intimate exploration of Triplett, who is today 88 and lives a quiet life in Mississippi.

If you’re into autism and geekiness, this is the show for you. Co-host Robyn Steward is an autism activist based in the U.K. In her delightful show, hosted with Jamie Knight, Steward explores all kinds of topics — Blackness and autism, gender fluidity on the spectrum and how to talk to non-autistic people. There aren’t that many episodes, but the episodes that are out there are earnest and helpful.

Alice Wong is a roaring jungle cat of a disability justice activist. If you don’t believe me, check out her new book, Year of the Tiger. So if there’s one place to start better understanding the fight for access and equality for people with disabilities, it’s on her podcast. Disability Visibility is all about life from a disabled lens, from healthcare and employment access to art and fashion. Also, Alice is just a treasure so I’d listen to her on any topic.

Judy Heumann is the OG disability justice activist. She is a polio survivor, a policy wonk and one of the early agitators for disability rights in America before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. On her podcast, Heumann talks to all kinds of fellow disabled rabble-rousers, from Deaf model Nyle DiMarco to the musicians behind Krip Hop Nation to the very entertaining TikToker Spencer West. Heumann is a badass legend, so why not learn at the feet of the master?

This is what you want an interview with an autistic person to sound like. The Irish writer and actor Stefanie Preissner was diagnosed with autism in 2021 and in this interview she explains what drove her to seek a diagnosis and how her condition manifests itself. Interviewer Brendan O’Connor asks her taut, curious, respectful questions and the pair end up packing in a ton of information in a very brief chat.

Bodies is an excellent documentary show that begins with a medical mystery. In this episode, the medical mystery was “being an anxious mess.” Reese couldn’t figure out why she felt so bad. And neither could her doctors and therapists. They chalked up her issues to her job as a stripper. But surprise, she was actually autistic!

In this episode of Australian podcast, All In The Mind, host Sana Qadar investigates the history of autism through the lens of a very specific type of person — the refrigerator mother. Back in the early days of autism understanding, chilly mothers or mothers who weren’t maternal enough or mothers with careers were blamed for their children’s autism. Of course, the condition had to be the fault of someone, so why not blame moms?

Chris Gethard’s long-running podcast features conversations with total strangers. In this episode, a listener from Portugal calls up Chris to talk about how he suspects his teen son is autistic. He also suspects that he himself is autistic. But he’s afraid to talk to anyone about it because he’s worried about the stigma. The chat is sweet and raw, and you can hear the listener working out his worries for his son and himself in real time.

Hannah Gadsby is a genius. We can all admit that. She’s turned comedy on its head and she’s unapologetic about it. Also, she’s famously autistic. In this episode of writer Glennon Doyle’s podcast, Hannah talks to Doyle and her wife soccer star Abby Wambach about neurodiversity and connection and the difficulty of one-on-one interaction as an autistic famous person. One note — in the episode, Doyle says that everyone’s a little autistic. That’s not remotely true. Not even a bit. Just an fyi.

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