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Lei Wiley Mydske: Neurodivergent Narwhals

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Good to know

  • Lei and I run in many of the same circles (we’re both autistic multiracial women of color, and moms). When I saw that she was crowdfunding for the Neurodivergent Narwhals, I chipped in and reached out to see if I could draw attention to the project to increase support.
  • The Neurodivergent Narwhals isn’t out *yet* – Lei is self-publishing, homeschooling, doing neurodiversity advocacy work, helping with multiple Neurodiversity activism organizations (such as the Autism Women & Nonbinary Network), runs at least one hilarious facebook page under a pseudonym, and is also autistic. So this is on a back-burner. But you can follow the Neurodivergent Narwhals and see new graphics as she creates them here.

Sneak peek: Lei Wiley Mydske

What inspired you to create the Neurodivergent Narwhals?
I created the narwhals because I saw a lot of people talking about concepts like autism
acceptance or the neurodiversity paradigm without really knowing what those things actually
mean. I wanted to make short infographics that would catch people’s attention and make these
ideas accessible to anyone.
People have asked me many times about writing a book featuring the narwhals. I decided to
create a children’s book based on one of my most popular blog posts.
(http://autistictimestwo.blogspot.com/2014/09/i-wanted-you.html). I want autistic children to
know that they are loved and valued. Most children’s books about autism focus on non autistic
people and how they feel about autism. I wanted to create a book that was for autistic kids that
was not about educating allistic people or asking people to consider their humanity for a minute.

● Who is this book for, in terms of age range, neurostatus, and communities?
I feel like this book is for primarily for autistic children and their parents. There really are not
books out there that talk about the relationships between parents and autistic kids that are
based on unconditional acceptance and love. I wanted to write the book that I wished I had
read to my own son when he was little.
I thought about the things I wanted my son to know, that I was proud of his autistic identity.
That I never needed to “grieve” for him, that I have never wanted to fight autism, and that I
would always be on his side to confront ableism and ignorance because we are a team.
I also feel like I wrote this book for myself too. It is what I wanted to know as a little autistic kid.
It’s probably what a lot of us needed to know and experience.

● What single takeaway do you want readers to get from the upcoming book?
I want parents to understand what autism acceptance is, what it looks like and why their kids
deserve nothing less.

● How do you feel about the way neurodivergent people are portrayed in the
media? What common misconceptions keep popping up?
I feel that neurodivergent people are often portrayed negatively or stereotypically in the media.
Definitely inaccurately. Since neurodivergent is a big umbrella, it is hard to answer this
question with a short answer. If we are talking specifically about autism, the media does not

seem to understand that autistic people are not all young, hapless and socially awkward white
boys. I do not think that will change until people start listening to actual autistic people… and
not just affluent white males…. and recognizing that we are the only experts on autism.

● What is the Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library, and how does it
work?
When I moved to this community several years ago, every parent and professional that I met
here had the completely wrong idea about what autism is. I wanted people to learn about
autism from actual autistic people. There just were no resources locally that were not
dominated by non autistic voices. Things will never get better for autistic people if someone
else is speaking for us or over us.
I decided to try and fundraise to buy books and materials that reflected the ideas of autism
acceptance and neurodiversity. My local community center gave me a space to set up with all
of my materials a few times a month (I also do appointments). I decided to give the library a
name, after my dad who was disabled and who was always interested in and invested in
community service work. I have done special events in April for Autism Acceptance Month with
Autism Women’s Network. We are small but I think we are making a difference for the people
who are open to learning.
I have had other people contact me who are interested in starting neurodiversity libraries in their
communities. We are popping up all over, from New York, to Los Angeles to Boston and even
Australia. I am so proud of the commitment that my fellow neurodiversity librarians have to
changing the conversation about autism. They are 100% volunteer driven and self funded and
the people behind these libraries are amazing advocates and activists. Their communities are
so lucky to have them.
● What do you do as Community Outreach Coordinator for the AWN, and why do
you choose this organization to support?
I love Autism Women’s Network. It is a small non profit but I feel like they do so much to
change the way that we think about autism and I love their commitment to intersectionality.
They do not have the budget of bigger, parent centered organizations and everyone at AWN is
a volunteer…..but I feel like they have done so much good on such a small budget. Not just
with the local meetups for autistic women, but with things like advocacy and resources such as
DIVERgent and books like the Autistic Girls anthology and All The Weight of Our Dreams, which
is the first book that centers the voices of autistic POC.
My responsibilities at AWN are to help to run their facebook page and also to help coordinate
local meetups for autistic women and nonbinary people.

● If you are a parent – what ableism do you face as an autistic mother?

I feel like autistic parents face a lot of ableism. Most autism advocacy is really centered on
family support and the feelings of parents, and not really for parents who are also autistic. I
can’t tell you how many events and conferences I have gone to where you fill out a form that
says “parent” or “self advocate” but you can’t pick both.
One of the things I notice in parent centered spaces involving autism advocacy is that they are
incredibly inaccessible to autistic parents. I have always felt unwelcome in these spaces and
often I feel a lot of hostility either for needing accommodations or for asking people to consider
the feelings of autistic people, including their children in the way they speak about autism. I
think that groups who work toward inclusion, civil rights and respect for their autistic children
really need to do better to make sure that they are also including autistic parents and non
parents. The way you treat autistic adults is how you are telling the world to treat your children.

● What keeps you up at night – either with excitement for the future, or worries?
I have OCD, so this could turn into a really long answer so I will try to keep it short. My biggest
worry for the future is the ableism my son and other autistic kids will face because though
progress is being made, we are not there yet. I worry a lot about my nephews because they
are young black men and it is a terrifying and incredibly unfair world for them. I guess I worry
about inequality and the way it hurts the people I love.
I also think about happy things too. My oldest niece is graduating from college in the spring and
I am excited to be there to see her get her degree. I am also excited watching my son and my
nieces and nephews growing up into such wonderful people. They make me so proud.
● How can allistic people support the work you do?
Allistic people can support us with donations to the library but mostly by amplifying autistic
voices whenever they can. Some of the biggest financial supporters of the library and the work
that we do are from allistic parents of autistic people.
● How can the autistic community support you?
Keep creating and writing and speaking their truth.

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