Midweek Blog: Values Driven Living

A friend recently recommended the book Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity by Devon Price. This friend found the book to be helpful in understanding his own experiences as a “masked” Autistic person, so I decided to read it to help myself better understand and relate to him as well as other neurodiverse people. 

The opening lines of the inside cover give a nice summary of what the book is about: “For every visibly Autistic person you meet, there are countless ‘masked’ Autistic people who pass as neurotypical. Masking is a common coping mechanism in which Autistic people hide their identifiably Autistic traits in order to fit in with societal norms, adopting a superficial personality at the expense of their mental health.”

I found the book to be a great resource for understanding the diversity of Autistic experiences, for learning about the history of Autism, for appreciating the problems and challenges of receiving an official diagnosis, and for challenging my own stereotypes of neurodiverse people.

What stuck with me the most, however, was how meaningful I found the author’s suggestions in the latter portion of the book about how to build an Autistic life, cultivate Autistic relationships, and create a neurodiverse world. As someone who identifies as neurotypical, I was not expecting to be so inspired to do the exercises Price recommends for Autistic people. Throughout the book, he walks readers through the “Values-Based Integration Process,” which he adapts from the work of another disability advocate. This process involves recalling moments of your life when you felt most alive, reflecting on those memories to come up with keywords, naming and personally defining 3-5 values those keywords and memories represent, and continuously coming back to those values to guide decisions about how you build a life, form relationships, and interact with the world.

In a paragraph under the heading “Unmasking is for Everyone,” Price writes, “It’s not only Autistics who benefit from embracing neurodiversity in that way. We all deserve to take a step back and ask whether our lives line up with our values, whether the work we do and the face we show to others reflects our genuine self, and if not, what we might want to change.”

On this first day of Pride Month, I can’t help but think about how much of what Price writes overlaps with the Queer experience (a comparison he readily makes throughout the book, drawing on his experiences in both communities). Seeing these connections also helps reinforce the belief that any way we move toward inclusion and accessibility is, ultimately, something that is beneficial to all.

One of CMC’s visions for ministry this year says: “We will expand our commitment to accessibility and inclusivity in all areas of ministry.” As we explore how to live that out, my hope is that we will see this work not as something we simply do for others but as the kind of work that helps us see how much our own liberation is tied to the liberation of all.