Posted: 3 Min ReadDiversity & Inclusion

Embracing Autism: Neurodiversity is Power

Fiction Facilitates Empathy

April is World Autism Month, and to learn more about it, I first turned to fiction. I have always been a reader—I have a bachelor's and a master's in creative writing and a doctorate in rhetoric and composition. I read more than 70 books per year, mostly science fiction and fantasy. I have always thought of that genre as a way to explore what makes us human.

One of my favorite writers is the fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, who recently shattered records for the biggest Kickstarter of all time and subsequently funded every publishing project on the platform. I have read most of his books. His main series, “The Stormlight Archives,” features numerous characters with neurodiverse conditions: autism, dissociative identity disorder, major depression, post-traumatic stress, and more.

However, because his characters do not live in our world, they are not diagnosed with anything. It is just how they are, and everyone around them accepts them for who they are. Indeed, one of the central themes of the narrative is the importance of self-acceptance. The protagonists leverage their unique talents for their societies.

Additionally, those reading his books can identify with the characters regardless of whether they identify as neurodiverse or not, and without feeling as if they are being labeled as such. Fiction facilitates empathy.

My Journey to N-ABLED

My disability primarily manifests physically, although ironically, it is neurological. However, one of the main frustrations I experience due to my condition is the impact of the physical symptoms. They can be so distracting that it can be difficult to imagine others’ perspectives proactively. As someone for whom empathy is a conscious and intentional practice, I have found this feeling can be isolating.

In that spirit, I joined the N-ABLED Community (NortonLifeLock Disability Allyship Employee Resource Group). I was relieved to find a community where we can come together to share our experiences and help each other. At the same time, we are all different regarding what we need. So, I leaped when the opportunity arose to become more involved as a Co-Champion. Metaphorically, of course. My physical therapist would be very upset if she thought I was leaping around unsupervised.

While fiction helps me understand other perspectives, N-ABLED got me out of my head and offered me the resources to act on behalf of others. It allowed me to enact my empathy again.

However, there is always more to learn. I am looking forward to our all-company World Autism Month - Celebrating Neurodiversity event on Wednesday, April 27, where we will have the opportunity to hear directly from the Autism Society of Southern Arizona and Disability: IN—our new partner and the leading nonprofit resource for business disability inclusion worldwide. I want to learn more about how I can communicate more inclusively and be an ally to my colleagues—from being mindful about the lighting around me to smells like cologne or food that can be disagreeable to people. Inclusivity is not only the ideal we should be striving toward—it is a learnable, transferable skill.

What’s Next

The goals I have set myself in the context of N-ABLED are fourfold:

  • Contribute to building a place where all employees feel comfortable asking questions. Help them identify already-available resources that will facilitate their productivity and mental resilience. Provide advice to leadership about modifying or developing additional resources to serve employees’ needs better
  • Help all employees develop concrete, transferable skills, and etiquette to ensure they communicate inclusively with everyone around them, regardless of anyone’s disability status (known or unknown)
  • Identify and make available opportunities to learn about others from others. Highlight, champion, and celebrate the unique experiences, skill sets, and perspectives each person brings. Get out of our heads to understand someone else’s perspective. Reach out into the community and provide help where it is needed
  • Provide personalized science fiction and fantasy recommendations on request. Though I probably wouldn’t start with Sanderson. Those books are like a thousand pages long!

I am very excited about N-ABLED and the journey ahead, having more opportunities to leverage each other’s experience—helping build the inclusive world we want to see one step at a time.

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About the Author

Georgie Miller

Web Content Editor, ReputationDefender

Georgie Miller has a Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition. She is currently a web content editor and Co-champion of the N-ABLED Community at NortonLifeLock.

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