Autistics Speaking Day 2015: Podcasting from autistic space

By coincidence, I reached the ‘In Autistic Space’ chapter of Steve Silberman’s New York Times bestselling, excellent, but often harrowing autism history book NeuroTribes on the morning November the 1st, Autistics Speaking Day. I’d just finished chapters detailing the pathologization of autistic people’s interests and social behaviours, the abusive origins of ABA and how the early US autism parents movement was derailed from its initial aim of services and acceptance by pseudo-scientific promises of cures and scare stories about causes. So it came as a relief to read about the development of the early online autistic community and in person autistic spaces, of ANI and the first Autreat, and of the birth of the neurodiversity movement.

It was a timely reminder of the importance of autistic people, regardless of where we are on the spectrum, having a voice to counter the stigma and the stereotypes spread by cure-focused charities, autism ‘experts’ focused on a deficit model and the mainstream media outlets that often amplify these messages. Thankfully NeuroTribes is full of profiles of and perspectives from autistic people, and its positive message has been getting widespread media coverage, countering many myths and putting the call for services and acceptance back on the agenda.

The other thing I was doing today was working on the 4th episode of Autistic Flappy Hour, the podcast I co-host along with two other autistic adults, Laurine, who initially suggested the idea on the #autchat Twitter chat, and Cisco, who is one of the founding moderators of #autchat.

There are some challenges in producing a regular hour-long podcast when everyone involved is autistic and busy with many other things. We originally aimed to produce our episodes every 2 weeks, but this quickly proved to be impractical given the amount of preparation and editing required and we’re now aiming to be monthly, although not always succeeding.

In order to make the process of recording accessible to all of us, we write out at least 80% of what we’re going to say in advance using online collaborative document sharing with multiple revisions as we each add comments based on the others’ responses. Even with a script and lots of preparation, during recording we may ramble, misspeak and repeat, or need to stop for breaks or to ask questions. Some of us tend towards saying too much and others tend towards being extremely concise, so balancing how much we each speak can be a challenge. When I’m moderating, I often lose track of the need to be brief and go off on elaborate tangents. All this means that editing involves more work that many podcasts do, and I also have the tendency to be over-perfectionist resulting in even greater editing time.

Early on we made the decision never to release episodes unless we had a full transcript available, because this is an important accessibility aid for any audio-based medium but especially important for a podcast aimed at autistic people, given how many of us have trouble with audio processing. Transcription does sometimes cause additional delays to our release schedule, but we’ve worked out a process to do this in parallel with the editing, and the tendency to script out most of what we’re going to say in advance usually makes thing a little easier. I think Laurine does an amazing job.

All in all, it’s a lot of work, but I think the amount of effort we put in and the different ways we’ve found to make podcasting work have resulted in some very strong episodes. We’ve been getting some positive feedback from people who have found it useful and affirming, including saying how great a feeling it is to hear other people talking about being different in the same way you are.

I think my favourite response came from Ari Ne’eman of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network who said:


Happy Autistics Speaking Day everyone!