Autistic Activist: Jim Sinclair

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Jim Sinclair is an autism-rights movement activist who, with fellow autisticsKathy Lissner Grant and Donna Williams, formed Autism Network International(ANI) in 1992.

[1] Sinclair became the original coordinator of ANI.[2]


Sinclair has said that they did not speak until age 12.[3] Sinclair was raised as a girl, but describes having an intersex body and,[4] in a 1997 introduction to the Intersex Society of North America, Sinclair wrote that they “remain openly and proudly neuter, both physically and socially.”[5]

In 1998, Sinclair was a graduate student of rehabilitation counseling at Syracuse University in SyracuseN.Y.[2][6]

Sinclair was the first person to “articulate the autism-rights position.”[7]


Sinclair wrote the essay, “Don’t Mourn for Us,” with an anti-cure perspective on autism.[8] The essay has been thought of by some to be a touchstone for the fledgling autism-rights movement, and has been mentioned in The New York Times[3] and New York Magazine.[7]

You didn’t lose a child to autism. You lost a child because the child you waited for never came into existence. That isn’t the fault of the autistic child who does exist, and it shouldn’t be our burden. We need and deserve families who can see us and value us for ourselves, not families whose vision of us is obscured by the ghosts of children who never lived. Grieve if you must, for your own lost dreams. But don’t mourn for us. We are alive. We are real.[8] 
—Jim Sinclair, “Don’t Mourn for Us,” Our Voice, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1993

Sinclair also expresses their frustration with the double standard autistic people face, such as being told their persistence is “pathological” when neurotypical people are praised for their dedication to something important to them.[6]

Read full entry here.


[This article was published in the Autism Network International newsletter, Our Voice, Volume 1, Number 3, 1993. It is an outline of the presentation Jim gave at the 1993 International Conference on Autism in Toronto, and is addressed primarily to parents.]

Read the entire publication here.


The American Heritage(r) Dictionary of the English Language (2000) defines “community” in part as: A group of people having common interests,” “A group viewed as forming a distinct segment of society,” “Similarity or identity” and “Sharing, participation, and fellowship.”

Its entries for “culture” include “The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought,” “These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population,” and “The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization.”

Nearly all the operative terms in those definitions would seem to be at odds with the traditional view of autism as profound impairment in social functioning. Autistic people are seen as lacking the ability to share common interests with others, disconnected from social participation and fellowship, and inaccessible to social transmission of behaviors and attitudes. How, then, can we speak of autistic community and autistic culture?

This article will describe how one particular group of autistic people joined together on the basis of common interests, and grew into a community. Along the way I will tell you a bit about the culture that has developed within that community.

It is my hope that through this introduction to my community, you will begin to reconsider many of the assumptions you may have about autistic social characteristics. Is it always correct to view differences between the behavior of autistics and NTs as “symptoms” of some “disorder” in autistic people? Is it necessarily helpful to respond to such differences by trying to teach autistic people to emulate NT social behaviors so they can “fit in” with NT culture? What alternatives might there be for addressing social difficulties between autistic and NT people? These are some questions you should ask yourself as you read this article.

A disclaimer: I can only report about the culture that has developed within the Autism Network International community. Other autistic communities may have very different cultures. To the best of my knowledge, ANI was the first autistic community to be created naturalistically by autistic people, and it remains the largest autistic-run organization to have regular physical gatherings of autistic people.

Read the entire publication here.

By Eve Reiland

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