Caitlin Arbuckle-MacLeod's thoughts for Autism Acceptance Week

Posted on March 29, 2023

This week is World Autism Acceptance Week, and its my first one as an officially diagnosed, fully ‘out’ autistic. I’m sharing a piece that I wrote years ago for the Autumn 2020 issue of the RIAS Quarterly on ‘Activism in Architecture,’ when I chose to write on neurodiversity in architectural education – an issue close to my own anxious, depressed, quietly-autistic-but-not-quite-certain-yet, heart. It was a time of flux, chaos and uncertainty, but I was hopeful. It felt like an opportunity to force a rethink of long-established, somewhat unchallenged approaches to teaching architecture; suddenly we understood that students could schedule their tutorial slots for specific times, work from home, even prioritise things like sleep and leisure time, and the world would not collapse in on itself. It wasn’t a logistical nightmare to accommodate people like me after all.

I understood myself to be autistic at the time of writing, but thought it unimportant to go to the trouble of seeking an official diagnosis to allow myself to share this information comfortably in a public forum. Instead, I wrote in this vague and suggestive voice, where I shared my own complaints as an autistic student, but using a kind of ‘asking for a friend’ language to distance myself from that struggle. I could be a vocal ally, but could never undertake the great burden of having to justify myself as a self-diagnosed autistic woman who masked tirelessly and convincingly every day. It was breaking my heart to be doing this so often, I eventually realised. Last year I sought and obtained my ASD diagnosis and immediately told everyone I possibly could, which was a kind of joyful exorcism. Once again, the world did not implode.

I want to reach out to architecture students who read this and feel that any or all of it resonates with them to say: you are not alone. You also do not need to go through the often long and arduous process of seeking a diagnosis - for anything at all - in order to speak on the things that make you uncomfortable or unhappy, or to feel like your concerns are valid. Next time you feel like something isn’t quite working in your studio, share your thoughts with your peers and tutors and start a dialogue about the practice in question; it could be that you are one of many students who feel similarly, and are simply the first to speak up. The ability to see the world in a different way and to challenge the status quo by doing so is, after all, an autistic superpower.