My name is Eric Garcia. I'm the author of a new book called We're Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation. As an autistic person, I felt like the discussion around autism ends up being about curing autistic people or the debunked conspiracy theory about vaccines. So, I took my skills as a political reporter and traveled the country to interview autistic people. My writing about autism has been featured in the Washington Post, the Daily Beast, the Atlantic and Spectrum. I've discussed autism on NPR's 1A. In my day job, I'm currently the senior Washington correspondent at The Independent, even though I'm not British, and have been an editor at the Washington Post and the Hill, as well as a correspondent at Roll Call, National Journal and MarketWatch. You can follow me on Twitter @EricMGarcia, where I tweet way too much. So, ask me anything.


Comments: 794 • Responses: 33  • Date: 

famous__shoes188 karma

What book would you recommend for someone who wants to know what it's like to grow up as an Autistic person to read? I ask because my daughter is Autistic and I would like to know more about what it's like to be her.

IronWarrir2400199 karma

Great question. Laura James's book Odd Girl Out is good. Sara Gibbs' book Drama Queen just came out and it's a delight. I'd also recommend Steve Silberman's Neurotribes and reading the website the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism.

XeCam60841 karma

The reason I jump by Naoki Higashida

IronWarrir240029 karma

Great book. I love reading it. I haven't seen the documentary yet but heard great things about it.

WillBitBangForFood165 karma

I've found the vast majority (if not all) of people who denounce a cure (or alleviation of symptoms) for autism are high functioning (or not autistic).

Do you thinks it's fair that they are speaking for people who are severely disabled or who are LFA?

IronWarrir240083 karma

So I will say about the question of fairness, a lot of parents think they are better advocates for me. But at the same time, there are plenty of non-speaking autistic people or those with intellectual disabilities who don't want to be cured. Laura Ivanova Smith has intellectual disabilities and she is a self-advocate. And in the same token, I'd want to find ways to help those with higher support needs advocate for themselves (even though I don't see myself as an advocate). But in the same respect, autistic people with fewer support needs have far more in common with those with higher support needs than you might imagine. Many still need home support workers or need certain accommodations or have meltdowns. Similarly, high-support needs autistic people can be capable of extraordinary things. But either way, even if neither weren't, they'd still have inherent worth.

d1verse_1nterest151 karma

Can you explain the process of disclosing your diagnosis at work? How has it impacted your career?

IronWarrir2400245 karma

Good question and an important question. So I didn't really disclose my status until I was in my mid-20s and I wrote this piece. I wanted to be judged on my work. I'm sure it has probably excluded me from some potential jobs but the upside is that it weeds out people who wouldn't be accommodating. For the most part, my bosses have been pretty accepting. At the same time, I don't begrudge anyone who doesn't. One woman I interview in the book said she has almost always regretted disclosing and I understand that. It makes things more complicated. Really the best thing I can say about disclosing is that you should look at how welcoming an employer is to other groups like people in wheelchairs or women, or people of color

d1verse_1nterest10 karma

Thanks for the response. Do you have any advice for others in similar careers who might be one or two accommodations away from being successful in their jobs?

IronWarrir240030 karma

The best thing I can recommend is to find a network of autistic people wherever you can. Rest assured, they exist. But if not, find someone you can confide in either in or outside of work

fissure132 karma

How do you feel about The Onion's "autistic reporter" segments?

IronWarrir2400241 karma

I actually find them hilarious and I am in a group chat called "The Michael Falk Society"

darshilj97113 karma

What's a common misconception that people have about autism that you would like to dispel ? Also what areas of life is different for you compared to others ?

IronWarrir2400340 karma

Great question. The most common one I would like to dispel is that autism is something that only affects white, middle-class, adolescent males. Much of the early research only focused on them. Leo Kanner, who published the first widely-read study on autism in the U.S., only included three girls compared to eight boys in his first study in 1943. Similarly, nine of them were Anglo-Saxon and two were Jewish. That means a lot of our ideas of what autism looks like are based on what it looks like in those groups. It means we often don't recognize autism in children of color or in girls. Or that they get diagnosed later or misdiagnosed.

Nololgoaway64 karma

Im Autistic too!,

How do you feel about people defensive of the Aspergers label?, and what is the biggest misconception about Autism youd like to dispel?

IronWarrir2400109 karma

I get people not wanting to let go of it. I am also Mexican-American and I get how some people don't want to let go of terms like "Hispanic" or move toward terms like "Latinx" because they feel those distinct identities mean something. At the same time, I think that terms like Asperger's tend to erase the legitimate needs they have. Also, this is to say nothing of Hans Asperger's role in Nazi-occupied Vienna, which we have discovered more about.

LilBalrog57 karma

What is your advice for an adult female who believes they may have been misdiagnosed with other conditions, and wants a fair assessment? Where I am at in the US, it is very hard to find a doctor that will take you seriously if you have certain diagnoses, accurate or not, on your record. The process is extremely disheartening.

IronWarrir240073 karma

Thank you for saying this. This is precisely why so many autistic people, particularly autistic people of color, women, trans people and nonbinary people self-diagnose. I would say in this case, find and seek out other autistic people like you are doing here on the internet. Connect with communities online. What I want to know is do you need a formal diagnosis to get certain services? If so, I wish I could do more to help. If not and you just want clarity, self-diagnosis can help (albeit I am not an expert on that).

z27olop1041 karma

You mentioned how you don't want people to talk about autism. In what ways do you wish to see the conversation change? In your mind, what would the ideal be for the conversation around autism?

IronWarrir2400104 karma

Thanks for asking. So what I'd like to see is autistic people having their needs being taken seriously. A lot of people think when you say stop trying to cure autism that it means that you think autism is a bounce room, as my friend Sara Luterman said. It's still a disability with real impairments. The difference is I would like autistic people's needs to be heard. For too long, the conversation around autism has focused on what parents want for their kids rather than what they say their needs are. That can lead to some terrible things like subjecting kids to shock therapy or paying them below minimum wage for labor. I'd want to treat what autistic people say as legitimate.

fireflamespark28 karma

Do you have any tips or strategies on successfully navigating working life with autism?

IronWarrir240046 karma

This is a good question. One of the things I'd say is to check the employer and see how welcoming they are to other minority or marginalized groups. Are there women in leadership? How do people of color feel in the office? If there is a union in your office, discuss accommodations there. Also, since autistic people have trouble with social cues, explain to your coworkers that you need explicit instructions and if you say the wrong thing, apologize immediately. At the same time, don't be afraid to advocate for yourself.

TBadger25 karma

My child (2.5yrs)was diagnosed with autism just this morning. While my wife and I are very accepting/relieved and it does not change a thing about my love for my child, I foresee issues with certain family members who take a hard stance on diagnosing at such an early age. One of them even works in the field of developmental therapy...the others have no relatable experience with children or psychiatry in the slightest.

Are there ways to combat this stigma or ways to deflect the unwanted opinions from those whom feel the need to interject?

IronWarrir240029 karma

Wow! First off, I can really tell you care about your kid. I think the best thing is to just try and read and educate yourself as much as you can about the subject and then work to educate those around you. It might mean also not talking about your kid with those family members. Also, try finding people who are like-minded online or who want to do the right thing. DM me on Twitter if you ever need anything.

Reanalyzed23 karma


IronWarrir240086 karma

I think I wish they would understand that just because we don't function the same way they do doesn't mean we are a failed version of normal and that our wants, needs and desires are similar to ours and we have as much value.

dr_franck19 karma

I know that “Autism Speaks” is a bad organization, and not good for truly advocating for the autistic members of the community. However, do you have any interesting knowledge or insight about the organization that may not be known or discussed by a lot of people? Thanks!

IronWarrir240038 karma

Some that come off the top of my head are the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and the Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network. There are some other emerging groups. ASAN also has an Autism Campus Inclusion Leadership Academy and many leaders from that are now leaders of their own organizations. Incidentally, Jessica Benham, who helped start the Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy, recently won a state legislative seat in Pennsylvania and became one of the first autistic people to do so.

designer_of_drugs17 karma

I’m curious about how you have had to modify your work schedule/interactions. Are you able to spend 40 hours a week in the office? If so what coping strategies do you employ to make this possible?

For the record this question is very personal to me; I am also on the spectrum and one of my huge impediments is that I can really only ha due about 25-30 hours a week around people in a professional environment.

IronWarrir240027 karma

So I am able to work 40 hours a week. And I tend to like working in offices since they give me structure. At the same time, I tend to need to wear headphones or earbuds to cancel out any extraneous noise lest I get sensory overload. I think the other thing is that thankfully, I've had great employers. But even now, working from home during Covid-19, I've had to create a structured work environment without too much intervention or interruption

IronWarrir240017 karma

All right everybody, I got to get back to work. This was fantastic. Please pre-order We're Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation. It comes out tomorrow. I might come back later after I get off work. But y'all are awesome. Thanks for letting me join you. Also, if you have any more questions that are too personal for Reddit, DM me. I'll be live this evening with the Benicia Library for a Q&A.

sonofabutch14 karma

What do you think about the increasing number of movies and TV shows depicting characters with autism? Any that are realistic? Which are the worst?

IronWarrir240041 karma

Do we have a whole day? Hahaha. In all seriousness, I think there are still some horrendous portrayals. Sia's movie music was atrocious for many reasons and television shows like Atypical tended to have a flat portrayal of autism. But the good thing is that nowadays, autistic people can push back on those and say this doesn't represent them. Social media has helped in that way. Some that are great are Kayla Cromer (who is autistic) and is in Everything's Gonna Be Okay. Tina Belcher on Bob's Burgers I love because she isn't portrayed as being an expert on anything as much as she's just trying to get through life. I loved Pixar's Loop.

ArchonRajelo12 karma

It's great that you are trying raising awareness in the general population about people with autism or who are in the spectrum.

Q1: why do you do what you do? I don't want to make any assumptions.

Q2: What was your most memorable moment during an interview

IronWarrir240021 karma

Great question. When I began writing this book, I knew I didn't want it to be a memoir. I don't have anything against memoirs. But I am a journalist and my first impulse is to report. I also know my experience as an autistic person is to write and report. So I traveled across the country. I went to Michigan, West Virginia, Nashville, the Bay Area and a few other places. As far as a memory that sticks out to me, I would say hearing Maxfield Sparrow telling me about their experiences in sheltered workshops and finally escaping. Or Lydia Wayman telling me about how doctors didn't take her needs seriously. One doctor said she was faking her serious symptoms to get attention.

biggulpsuh11 karma

In what ways do you think your autism might have been an asset in your career?

Where there any personal characteristics you had that started as set-backs but with a little adjustment became assets?

IronWarrir240035 karma

Good question because it balances things out. Autistic people have benefits and challenges just like any employee. I think as a journalist it means I don't care much for social niceties if I feel someone is lying to me. On the flip side, I can sometimes get too personal or probing so I try to write down their body language or work at seeing their expressions. In the same way, sensory overload can be difficult. So after I do an interview on the phone with someone, I give myself a minute to breathe. I also wear headphones in the office. On the other, it means I really enjoy digging into particular niche subjects and knowing as much as I can. Hence, when I interview people, they are impressed that I did my homework

famous__shoes10 karma

What organization would you say is the best one for donating to which would most benefit Autistic people?

Ice-Quake49 karma

I prefer to give to public school teachers who teach special needs students; many schools have self-contained classrooms with students on the spectrum and the teachers are in need supplies. Try:


Just please do not give to Autism Speaks.

IronWarrir240025 karma

Giving to individual schools is always good. Also, to individual teachers as long as they don't use restraint and seclusion helps. Also groups like AWN and ASAN do a lot of great work. Autism Society Chapters tend to vary by each chapter but check out the representation of autism people in them.

cvnthaus8 karma

Do you think it would be beneficial to extend your ideas to the whole neurodivergent community?

Thanks for your time!

IronWarrir240014 karma

Absolutely. I am also ADHD and have Tourette's syndrome. These ideas apply to as many groups as possible. You see similar discussions around stutterers too.

EJERommel8 karma

Hello, Mr. Garcia.

I've been reading up on autistic savants. I want to ask if the desire to perseverate that is common to people with autism can be manipulated.

Meaning let's say an autistic person constantly repeats one particular activity like washing hands for example. Can this obsession for washing hands be diverted into let's say building lego models?

Also, has your need to perseverate helped you in your career? (For example, Matthew Berry of Big Short fame famously read through voluminous excel files with mortgage rates and could detect a pattern (subprime mortages going bad) when the market couldn't; he describes himself as an undiagnosed autistic person)

IronWarrir240019 karma

I need to actually read the full Big Short book but I am fully aware of Michael Burry (I'm guessing that's who you mean) and was surprised they didn't highlight it more in the movie (though given Hollywood's horrendous track record on autism, I can see why that's the case). To your first question, I don't know if I am a fan of the idea of "manipulating" autistic people's perseverance as I am helping them find the thing that makes them happy and can lead to them doing what they love. I don't think autistic people are inherently more valuable because they persist at something. I think you need to meet people where they are regardless of whether they are super-geniuses. The show Community has a great riff on this and I have discussed this in the past in the context of Rain Man. That being said, I think the ability to persist has helped me as an autistic person in journalism. It means I have little regard for social norms if I see them as a way to get around finding the truth. It also means I like to dive in obsessively about particular subjects (sometimes to my detriment). I doubt I could have written this book otherwise. But I don't think that makes me any more special. It just means I found the right way to sublimate my curiosity and desire to learn.

EJERommel4 karma

Thanks for answering. I definitely agree that we need to meet people (autistic or otherwise) as they are instead of what we wish them to be.

Maybe manipulating was a poor choice of word for what I mean to say. What I meant was this ability to perseverate endlessly is a very valuable skill in today's distracted world, and therefore I thought and meant if the thing over which an autistic person could be changed, so that they may have incredibly enriching lives. This diversion of focused energy is what I meant by "manipulate".

If you've done any computer programming or even have looked at any kind of code, you'll understand the value of poring over (and more importantly understanding) 1000s of lines of code in a sitting. I have a thesis that we could train autistic people with just the right skills to become incredible software engineers and that's what led to my initial question.

IronWarrir24006 karma

I get what you mean. Don't you fret Boba Fett, to quote Ted Lasso

joakims6 karma

What are your thoughts on the autism spectrum as a disorder and the use of pharmacological interventions? Isn't there a risk of overmedication for many with "high-functioning autism"? (Leading question, I know.)

IronWarrir240023 karma

I honestly can't speak enough to this. But I will say that I think that while medicine can and does work (I'm on medication to treat depression and tremors), I do worry about people trying to treat autism rather than the legitimate medical needs or comorbid conditions autistic people have. Autistic people with intellectual disabilities are likely to die of complications from epilepsy while autistic people without intellectual disabilities are likely to die of circulatory conditions like heart disease or suicide. Let's focus on that instead of treating autism.

ash97005 karma

On autism: I’m aspergers and often find a lot of people expect me to be either very high functioning genius or very low functioning/beyond communication. Does your book address the variety on the spectrum or is it moreso discussing misconceptions about extreme cases?

On politics: the western world is very clearly divided right now and I find a big cause is that both sides (right and left) don’t understand each other, either wilfully or simply because of their respective echo chamber. So both sides are drifting further from the centre. What do you think can be done to remedy this?

IronWarrir240024 karma

Good question. Thanks for asking this. My book *does* address the concepts of "high-functioning" and "low-functioning" and I express why I am not a fan of those terms. Particularly, I think that they have more to do with how non-autistic people see them than what their needs are. Calling someone "high-functioning" often erases their legitimate needs and ignores what accommodations they use to be seen that way. Conversely, calling someone "low-functioning" tends to not see their potential. It ignores what they can do. Rather, I prefer terms like "high-support needs" or "low-support needs" since that tends to accurately capture what they need from the world and assumes less about what they can do.

As far as divisiveness, I have no idea. My dad is a Republican who voted for Trump and my mom is a Democrat who voted for Joe Biden gladly. I see political divides in my family daily. But at the same time, I don't have a really good answer.

Asternauthority4 karma

Where are you on the spectrum?

IronWarrir24008 karma

So this is a good question. I don't think there is a gradation of autism. Rather, other people have referred to it more as a color wheel. It's not like levels of hot sauce. I think my autism manifests differently from others and theirs is different from plenty of other people's.

anotherOnlineCoward2 karma

how long after meeting you do people realize you're autistic?

IronWarrir240010 karma

Depends. Some people don't get it but most people who know autism know immediately. I talk about in the book how I was burning out in one class and then my professor asked me "do you have Asperger's (it was called it at the time)?" On one hand, I wanted to ask him "What gives you permission to ask that?" But I really asked him "how did you know" and he said he had a loved one with it. That helped a ton. But other people don't know and when they say they wouldn't have guessed, I almost want to say "thanks, it took a lot of work to understand your social language."

HackyShack2 karma

Do you think the Autism spectrum should be more clearly defined? I read a list of people with autism, and it named people from Albert Einstein to Steve Jobs. How are people supposed to understand what someone means when they describe themselves as "autistic"?

IronWarrir240011 karma

I think it depends on what you mean to be clearly defined. I am wary about doing armchair diagnoses since we just don't know about dead historical figures. Also, even public figures, unless they are diagnosed and are open, it's not really my business.

standinginmyownway0 karma

What do you think of Sia?

IronWarrir24003 karma

So there were two parts of that movie: one is it was actively harmful in promoting practices like restraint and Sia didn't cast an actually autistic person for the role. Then secondly, it was also just a poorly-written and composed movie. If you are going to make an ableist and stigmatizing movie about autism, at least have the music and acting be good. Not even Leslie Odom Jr., whom I love, could save it.