A call to action: why we must unify to protect our civil rights

Carly Fulgham

Diagnoses like autism, ADHD and dyslexia, to name a few, are examples of neurodiversity. The battle may be harder, but hope is not yet lost.

By Carly Ott

The last civil rights battle just got harder.

You may think I mean the fight for equal pay for women, or equal protection under the law for nonwhite races, or the right to marriage for our LGBTQ community. Yes, their struggle may now be more difficult, but I’m not talking about them.

I’m talking about the civil rights battle being waged in schools and places of employment, as well as with insurance companies, that the majority of you have never heard of. This is the battle for equal rights in neurodiversity.

Not familiar with the term? Diagnoses like autism, ADHD and dyslexia, to name a few, are examples of neurodiversity. The battle may be harder, but hope is not yet lost.

To my friend with dyslexia who never thought she could get more than a high school diploma, I’m proud of you for going back to school and getting your degree this year. To the autistic man with graduate degrees I met this summer who is stuck driving a cab because he can’t make it through job interviews in his field, keep applying. To the woman with autism I met in Washington, D.C., last winter who was terrified of possible changes in how our government responds to the needs of the disabled, don’t stop advocating for your rights to federal, state and local government.

To the “typers” who use alternate means to communicate, don’t stop pushing to have your voices heard. To the parents fighting school districts to stop bullying and let us stay in mainstream classrooms to have the opportunity to learn the same things as “normal kids,” don’t give up on us now. To the adults with ADHD who need prescriptions to keep their jobs and families from crumbling away but that are “only for children with attention issues,” don’t stop pushing the insurance companies.

To everyone, like me, who is grateful every day their mother defied doctor’s recommendations to put them directly into an institution instead of taking them home from the hospital at birth, don’t stop trying for a happy life.

This is a fight to stop having children die unnecessarily from restraints and seclusion, or from being forgotten on school buses. This is a fight to keep institutions like Willowbrook State School in New York closed. It’s a fight to get an equal education, to stay out of poverty and be able to have love and happiness no matter how our brains were wired when we were born.

We are fighting for the right to live, learn, work, love and play alongside our “neurotypical” and “physically able” neighbors. This is a call to action to support boots-on-the-ground and advocacy charities like the Autism Society and its affiliates, which have been fighting for disability rights for over 50 years, and other organizations in the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities.

Just like all the other civil rights movements required assistance from outside their core constituencies, we can’t do it alone. We need you to help fight for our rights.


Carly Ott is the Autism Society Ventura County’s first board president with an autism diagnosis. She is a founding member of the Autism Society of America’s Public Policy and Advocacy Committee and was appointed this summer to the Autism Society of America’s Panel of People on the Spectrum of Autism Advisors. Carly is a technology project lead for national bank and an active volunteer with a local autism organization. She is married to a neurotypical man and is an adult on the autism spectrum. Carly didn’t get her diagnosis until she was 28 years old and credits that moment with changing her life for the better.

Readers may also like:

Neurodiversity: a person, a perspective, a movement
Nothing about us without us different not less
A tipping point in autism: a message from the founders of The Art of Autism
An interview with Steve Silberman: author of Neurotribes

3 replies on “A call to action: why we must unify to protect our civil rights”
  1. A “seismic shift” in the U.K. civil and criminal justice system provides licensed “intermediaries” who help neurodiverse witnesses and defendants communicate more effectively with justice system officers like the police, court, and counsel on both sides.
    Why doesn’t the U.S. have something like this?


    A related site was the first place I heard about “Pathological Demand Avoidance,” which may be closer than ODD to what I particularly with through decades of undiagnosed Aspergers.


    More on my facebook page under my elder parrot’s name, “Kobe Vasa.”

  2. says: Claudia Mazzucco

    Dear Carly Fulgham,

    I am having great trouble to understand what battle you want to win. It is not my intention to hurt you, but did you not recognize that those who call themselves “actually autistic” have neither a neurological difference nor a disability?

    I know many people who suffer from dyslexia and they never considered themselves to be neurological “different.” It never crossed their minds.

  3. says: Claudia Mazzucco

    It is not difficult to see how the American need to polarize the world has led to a xenophobic attitude toward those who seem “different,” “offbeat,” or outside the American norm.

    The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders, which defines and categorizes and codifies all things in the study and treatment of mental disorders, is an American product that has created numerous new forms of mental illness. This says more about America’s phobia regarding anyone outside the boundaries of what is considered normal than it does about what is actually wrong with people and why.

    Less than a half of the mental illness categories in the latest DSM are supported by robust scientific facts. Very few are defined by their origin. The majority of the categories are based on professional opinions that are not always consensual. As a result, there is a flurry of books criticizing the validity of the current long list of illnesses.

Comments are closed.