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Eric Garcia is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist focused on politics and policy. Eric is also autistic, and this past August wrote his first book called We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation. After becoming frustrated by the media’s narrow portrayal of autism, he traveled across the country to speak with autistic people about their experiences and debunk different myths that exist about it.

Jay Ruderman (00:02):
Hi. I’m Jay Ruderman and welcome to the All Inclusive podcast. Stories of activism, change, and courage.

Speaker 2 (00:11):
This is all wrong.

Speaker 3 (00:13):
I say, put mental health first, because if you don’t…

Speaker 4 (00:17):
This generation of Americans has already had enough.

Speaker 5 (00:20):
I stand before you not as an expert, but as a concerned citizen.

Jay Ruderman (00:25):
Each episode, we bring you in depth and intimate conversations with inspiring individuals trying to change the world.

Eric Garcia (00:33):
When we have bad ideas about autism, that creates bad policy and, in many ways, that prevents autistic people from being truly able to live the most fulfilling lives.

Jay Ruderman (00:47):
And today on our show, Eric Garcia.

Eric Garcia (00:49):
I know that my story is only that, just one story. But I want to know if my story was indicative of any larger trends.

Jay Ruderman (00:55):
Eric is the senior Washington correspondent for The Independent. As a journalist, Eric is focused on politics and policy, but this past August, he wrote his first book called We’re Not Broken, Changing the Autism Conversation.

Eric Garcia (01:09):
Well, I think we focus too much on trying to cure autism and not enough on trying to help autistic people live fulfilling lives.

Jay Ruderman (01:14):
Eric wrote this book out of a deep frustration with the media’s coverage of autism. It’s his attempt to dispel the many stereotypes that exist about it. We’re Not Broken is a love letter to autistic people.

Eric Garcia (01:26):
We need to see that autistic people are fine as they are and that they’re good people as they are.

Jay Ruderman (01:30):
He dives deep into topics like education, healthcare, and policies, which continue to leave autism and other disabilities out of the conversation. Eric paints a new portrait of what autism in America would look like if the autistic community was allowed to shape and be part of the conversation. Eric, welcome to All Inclusive.

Eric Garcia (01:52):
Thank you for having me.

Jay Ruderman (01:53):
Thank you. So Eric, you’re a political reporter for The Independent and you’ve been involved in politics for a while. So, let me just jump into the issue of how autism has been covered in politics. And I’ve gone through some of what you’ve written in your new book and some of your reporting. And we don’t have to go that far back, when Hillary Clinton, President Obama made comments about curing autism. And in fact, President Trump, in a debate which you talk about, talked about vaccines and the epidemic of autism. Tell me about that whole period and how that made you and others in the autistic community feel and where we may be today.

Eric Garcia (02:45):
Yeah, I think it’s interesting because I think that in the two thousands, which is around the time when you saw Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and John McCain talking about autism and kind of playing footsy with anti-vaxers and talking about curing autism, that was kind of the conventional, I don’t want to say it was the conventional wisdom. It was more that was just something that was given legitimacy. So, at the time, there’s still Andrew Wakefield, the British physician, who had put out that study about vaccines and autism. His study hadn’t been retracted from the lancets and this was still something that was swirling around on internet circles and pop culture. Oprah Winfrey was talking about it. So it was given an air of legitimacy. And at the same time, this was around the time that Autism Speaks was launched, which focused very heavily on curing autism.

Eric Garcia (03:44):
The difference, I think, between Hillary Clinton and Obama, John McCain, and a lot of these other people, is that they eventually changed as public understanding and public consciousness changed about autism. Donald Trump didn’t really change. So, by the time Donald Trump said in 2015 that autism has become an epidemic. And then by the time he was president and he talked about the increasing rates of autism, those ideas had become thoroughly debunked. We had found out that, of course, vaccines don’t cause autism. We had talked about how the increased rates weren’t really about an increase in autism. It was an increase in diagnosis. But I think that what we saw was that they still were talking about it from a curing perspective. Whereas if autism was something to be avoided, rather than autism being something that should be accepted, and people should be accommodating toward autistic people, I should say.

Jay Ruderman (04:46):
So do you feel that, with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, that they shifted, they understood-

Eric Garcia (04:53):

Jay Ruderman (04:53):
That what they were saying was no longer the policy that was being accepted by most people in the autistic community. Do you ever feel that Trump understood that what he was saying about vaccines and the rise in autism? I remember in one of the debates, he talked about a friend whose child had gotten a vaccine and developed a fever and then had autism and that it’s a problem in our country. Did he ever change?

Eric Garcia (05:21):
Not really. He never really retracted his ideas about autism and vaccines. Even before COVID there was a measles outbreak, I remember, in like 2018, 2019. And he said like, oh, the kids need to get the shots. But he never stops, never retracted saying I was wrong about vaccines and autism. I shouldn’t have said that. And then of course, I think that sows the seeds for his supporters to say that the COVID 19 vaccine isn’t safe. But he never really retracted his ideas. And I think that he genuinely believed them. We know that Trump delves into conspiracy theory, is a genuinely conspiratorial person. Some of them are because he wants to just blatantly lie to his supporters, like him talking about the big lie and the election being stolen. But then others, I think he genuinely believes, I think that he genuinely believes in some of his conspiracy theories about the media, or he genuinely believes some of his conspiracy theories about crooked Hillary or any of those other theories.

Eric Garcia (06:33):
But, yeah, I don’t think that he ever really retracted them. And I think that lack of retracting them allowed for anti-vaxxers to sow seeds of doubt for the COVID 19 vaccine. And there’s a direct through line from the autism vaccine panic to the modern day with COVID 19 vaccines. Even the way that he talked about the COVID 19 vaccine. He talked about operation warp speed. That probably gave into some of the conspiracy theories about the vaccine because it made it seem like, oh, this is moving fast. It’s cutting regulations. It’s going around things. So, even though his administration was talking about the vaccine, the way they talked about it gave credence to these ideas from anti-vaxxers that it was done at a quicker pace or was done at a faster clip. And as a result, they skirted some regulations. He’s since, at some rallies, said, “Take the vaccine.” But his lack of a retraction allowed for some really bad people to capitalize on that.

Jay Ruderman (07:44):
So, talk a little bit about why that feeling that vaccines cause autism is a debunked theory, because you’ve had a lot of celebrities, Jenny McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, Jim Carey, people that have come out and been talking about this in the media. Just for the record, why is that a debunked theory?

Eric Garcia (08:07):
First and foremost, it should be noted that Andrew Wakefield who was the physician who put up the study in The Lancet in 1988, he lost his medical license because it turned out that he was being paid by companies that were suing vaccine companies. The other thing is that he just did bad research. He did faulty research. And on top of that, not only did he lose his medical license, but that study in The Lancet that he put out, was retracted in 2010. But even before then, almost as soon as that study came out, there were people who were debunking it. There were people who were saying, there’s little evidence that this is the case. But it was only in 2010 that it was retracted. But, there was never any real legitimate scientific evidence to prove the case that vaccines cause autism.

Jay Ruderman (09:03):
So let’s talk a little bit about your book. We’re Not Broken, Changing the Autism Conversation. When did you first get the idea to write this book?

Eric Garcia (09:12):
So, the way I got the idea to write this book is I was at a party in 2015 and my friend, Tim Mac, he was the host of this party. He offered me a drink and I said, “Oh, I don’t drink because I’m on the autism spectrum.” And he’s like, “Oh, there’s a ton of people in DC who are on the autism spectrum.” He’s like, “You should write a piece about them.” And I thought, oh, when I get good enough, I’ll do it. At the time I was an economics correspondent at National Journal. I was perfectly happy doing that for the rest of my life. Then what happened was the print edition of National Journal was going to shut down. And Richard Just, who was the magazine editor at the time, he said, I want you guys to pitch the most “go for broke” stories, before I’m out of a job at the end of the year.

Eric Garcia (09:57):
So, I pitched this idea to him and, initially, we thought it would be this fun, kind of chatty, talk of the town kind of piece. And then he said, “Well, why should this piece exist?” And then, I guess in a mix of hubris and frustration, I was like, “Well, I think we focus too much on trying to cure autism and not enough on trying to help autistic people live fulfilling lives.”

Eric Garcia (10:14):
He’s like, “There’s your piece. Ten thousand words. Let’s go.” So, I wrote that piece. Blew up in a way that I didn’t really even expect. And you know, I’m a political journalist. And I think initially when that piece came out, I think when I first started talking with people about writing a book, they wanted it to be a memoir. But I’m a political journalist. I’ve written for National Journal, Market Watch, Roll Call, The Washington Post, The New Republic.

Eric Garcia (10:38):
So, I wanted to look at it from a political perspective. And the other thing that I noticed was like, I know that my story is only that. Just one story. But I want to know if my story was indicative of any larger trends or how my story was an outlier. So what I did is I decided to hit the road. And this book is basically a compendium of multiple trips to Nashville, Tennessee, Michigan, the barrier of California, West Virginia, other interviews around Washington DC to see what happened. When we have bad ideas about autism, that creates bad policy. And, in many ways, that prevents autistic people from being truly able to live the most fulfilling lives. So, that was really what I did. And I decided to focus on a number of aspects, but the top ones were policy, education, employment, and poverty, housing, healthcare, relationships, gender, race, and then, the future of all these things.

Jay Ruderman (11:44):
So I want to get into a couple of issues regarding some of the things you brought up, first around policy. From what you’ve written, and based on my experience, many people with autism are left out of the policy debates on issues of autism and disability. Why is that?

Eric Garcia (12:03):
I think that the first, from the time that autism was really being studied in the 1940s, that it was really being comprehensive and studied either in Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore or in Nazi occupied Vienna, the main definitive authorities on autism were clinicians and psychiatrists. And they were the ones who were promoting ideas like refrigerator mothers and unloving parents causing autism. And then afterward, I think that when parents were starting to take back the conversation, when they were trying to take back power, they were the ones who were considered the definitive authority. So the organization that would eventually become the Autism Society of America, it was composed of parents, people like Bernard Rimland and Ruth Christ Sullivan, who, she just passed away a few weeks ago. These were parents trying to assert their power when they had been blamed for autism for so long. They thought that autism needed wealthy benefactors, because there wasn’t a lot of research or a lot of focus on autism.

Eric Garcia (13:01):
But once, of course, a famous person’s kid is involved, then, there’s a lot of research into it. But I think the reason why autistic people themselves weren’t included was because a lot of people thought they couldn’t advocate for themselves. The difference is now the first generation that grew up with the Americans with disabilities act and the individuals with individuals disabilities education act and who grew up with better diagnosis criteria, this generation was born and raised from like the 1980s to the 1990s. They’ve now grown up. I’m part of that generation. And now they’re able to speak for themselves. And it wasn’t because they weren’t able to, it’s just that they didn’t have the resources to.

Jay Ruderman (13:43):
Right. There’s been a lot of tension between the Autism Self Advocacy Network and Autism Speaks and sort of feeling like, Hey, we don’t need our parents telling us what to do. We can speak for ourselves. Is that still an ongoing dichotomy within the autism community?

Eric Garcia (14:05):
Yeah. I think that a lot of autistic people are saying that we can speak for ourselves and we can make work to advocate for ourselves and that we do have a lot more similarities than differences. So, I think that divide is still going on. You are starting to see more policy makers listen to autistic advocates, not as much as many self advocates would like, but still, making a decent enough difference. You know, I write in the book that many of the democratic presidential candidates from Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren, to Cory Booker, to Pete Buttigieg, had autistic people advise their presidential campaign, or listened to, or included autistic people in their campaigns or interviewed them, or consulted with them. So, this was a real thing that happened. I think that you’re starting to see the policy conversation change just because more autistic people are involved in it. So, you’re starting to see the change now and that’s why you’re starting to see people like Jessica Benham get elected in Pennsylvania. She’s a Democrat.

Jessica Benham (15:11):
Now, I never thought that somebody like me, a working class kid, queer, autistic, would ever be able to serve in a place like this.

Eric Garcia (15:19):
And Yuh-Line Niou in New York, she’s also a Democrat.

Speaker 8 (15:22):
Yuh-Line Niou was elected to represent the 65th assembly district in lower Manhattan.

Eric Garcia (15:29):
But also Republicans, like Briscoe Cain in Texas, get elected in state legislatures.

Jay Ruderman (15:35):
There’s an interesting fact that I heard and maybe you can correct me on this or comment on it, that there are more people being diagnosed with autism, but it doesn’t mean that there are more autistic people. What does that mean?

Eric Garcia (15:51):
So what happened is that, for a long time, autism had a really narrow definition. It’s important to remember that autism didn’t get its own separate diagnosis in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders until 1980. Of two previous iterations in 1952 and 1968, it was seen as a symptom of schizophrenia. So it was seen as a very narrow and very rare condition. And it wasn’t until there were different per mutations included in the DSM, like pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified and Asperger syndrome and a lot of other conditions, that you saw increase in the diagnosis. Also, the other part about that Individual Disabilities Education Act is that it required public schools who receive money from the government to report how many autistic students they were serving to the federal government. So you just naturally saw more people being reported.

Eric Garcia (16:48):
And then on top of that, what you’re seeing, is that you’ve also seen the numbers increasing in recent years. That’s because we’re getting better at diagnosing girls and women and people of color and black and Latino autistic people. So, it’s more that we’ve included more people, because for a long time we thought that it was only something that affected upper class people. And then now we’re realizing that it affects a lot of other people. So now, it’s just that you’re seeing more people who otherwise wouldn’t be diagnosed, get the diagnosis.

Jay Ruderman (17:23):
So, I want to get back to the book for a second about one of your main arguments as I take it, and I’m going to quote, “Society should stop trying to cure autistic people and instead help autistic people lead fulfilling lives.” Was this an impetus for writing the book?

Eric Garcia (17:40):
It was. It was an impetus for writing that initial magazine article. And it was an impetus for writing the book. Yeah. I think that what I saw was, and I still see it to this day, that I think that a lot of the focus on autism is people being nervous about it, or people being afraid of it, or people wanting to cure autism, or, if not cure autism, then mitigate the symptoms of autism with their kids. But what I also saw was that a lot of times this really hadn’t born a lot of productive fruit. Meanwhile, a lot of autistic people are languishing. One of the things that I also noticed was throughout my time when I traveled throughout the country is I met plenty of incredible autistic people who were much smarter than me, much kinder than me, much harder working than I am, just better people than I am, but who languished. And it was because of misunderstandings about autism or because people tried to fix them or they always felt like they were the odd person out or whatever.

Eric Garcia (18:42):
And my feeling was, it was the lack of understanding and it was the lack of empathy. And it was the focus on and trying to cure autism that was preventing autistic people from leading good, happy lives. So, that was really what this book was meant to counteract in a lot of ways.

Jay Ruderman (19:02):
What do you think are some of the most harmful myths or stereotypes about autism?

Eric Garcia (19:08):
Let’s start with the big one, that vaccines cause autism, that’s not the case. Let’s talk about what the anti-vaccine that really is talking about. Yes, it’s about vaccines. But also at its core, it’s arguing that autism is something to be avoided. It is something that is dangerous. It is something that is scary. And it is something that, if you could do that, you should do whatever it takes to make sure your kid isn’t autistic. Right? That’s what it is at its core. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be fear about your kids becoming autistic because of vaccines. The other one, what I say is that there’s a lot of dichotomy between quote unquote, “high functioning” and “low functioning” autistic people. I think that a lot of people might say that I’m quote unquote “high functioning” because I can speak, I have a job, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a lot of other difficulties like sensory processing or that I don’t have meltdowns, that I don’t get overwhelmed, that I don’t have trouble reading social cues or social interactions, or that I misread situations.

Eric Garcia (20:10):
I think that a lot of people we consider quote, unquote, “low functioning” are capable of many good things and they just need the right services. Or even if they have difficulty with meltdowns or difficulty with communication, a lot of times it’s the focus on trying to stop those symptoms rather than listening to what’s causing them that leads to problems. So that’s why I tend to prefer terms like “high support needs” for people we would normally consider low functioning and “lower support needs” for people we consider high functioning, because it’s focused more on what they need rather than how people see them or perceive them.

Eric Garcia (20:47):
The other one is the idea that autistic people, that it’s mainly a condition that affects upper class, white male adolescents. It affects a lot of adults. A lot of women and non-binary people and transgender people are autistic and there are plenty of people of color.

Eric Garcia (21:07):
And I think when we don’t understand that people of color can be autistic, and that can sometimes have deadly consequences. Or they get misdiagnosed as having behavior disorders, or it leads to police interactions and police violence, like the case with Arnoldo Rios when his caretaker Charles Kinsey was shot because he was trying to protect him. So, there are plenty of misperceptions, I think, because of how we see autism.

Jay Ruderman (21:34):
So I want to ask you a couple of personal questions. You’re a very successful political journalist in Washington. You are a quantity and people want to read you, but why did you speak out about being autistic until your second job? What made you want to open up about it?

Eric Garcia (21:55):
I think that I still was dealing with a lot of, and I still think I still do deal with a lot of internalized labels. I was worried that it would prevent me from getting jobs. It would prevent me from finding stable employment. I didn’t want to be judged simply for being autistic, but I think that also came at a big expense because that prevented me from getting accommodations that I otherwise would’ve gotten.

Eric Garcia (22:18):
I thought that, oh, well I must have a job. So, I must not be quote unquote “that autistic” or I must not really need to disclose being autistic when, really, that was doing myself a disservice because I wasn’t getting the help I needed. And I was really languishing in my first job. And I was really struggling at my first job, which was when I was a reporter at Market Watch and, B, I was really doing a disservice to my coworkers because they didn’t know how to help me. And they didn’t know how to be a good coworker for me. So, it was bad all around. And at the same time, I also completely empathize with why people wouldn’t want to disclose.

Jay Ruderman (22:57):
I have a nephew who’s autistic and he’s young. He is a teenager. But I’m thinking about some of the personal challenges that you’ve written about, about dating and work. And what did you learn from those experiences?

Eric Garcia (23:10):
In dating, I’m still figuring that out. I’m single right now. But I think that I’ve learned is that you should be with someone who accepts you completely for who you are. I’ve dated neurotypical women, I’ve dated autistic women. A lot of people say, do you prefer one neurotype over the other? My response always it’s I prefer someone who’s cool. It’s not one is better than the other. It’s that there are pluses and minuses with every person and every neurotype,

Jay Ruderman (23:40):
But why is it, in your opinion, important to label autism as a disability and not a disease. And also, what language should people refrain from when discussing autism?

Eric Garcia (23:54):
Let me answer the second question first. Like I mentioned, I’m not a fan of the terms, high functioning and low functioning, because I think they set really unrealistic expectations for both types of people. If you call someone low functioning, I think that it sets expectations so criminally low that it either allows people to be super patronizing to autistic people, or what it does is, it says, whoa, they are low functioning, so we really don’t need to spend that much money on them. Or we don’t focus that much on them. We don’t need to think about educating them, or we don’t need to think about making sure that they have good housing or enough money to live or things like that. Conversely, if you are called high functioning then the feeling is well, they’re high functioning. So we really don’t need to spend that much money on them because they can do without things.

Eric Garcia (24:45):
They don’t need that much accommodations. And either way, they’re getting screwed. And rather, I would prefer terms like I said, high support need or low support need. Also, I think autistic people, ourselves, instead of saying person with autism, we prefer that people say autistic people, because what we want people to recognize, at least what I want people to recognize, is I want people to say that autism is an inextricable part of who I am, and this is going to segue into the diseases, not disability. I need to you to see the disability. And I think people need to see the disability as inextricable part of someone, and that to change their autism is to change who they are fundamentally. That’s what I want. And that’s not to say that you don’t want to mitigate some of the symptoms like meltdowns or you don’t want to change some of the comorbidities or the other conditions that might come with autism, like heart disease or epilepsy, but we need you to see the autism.

Eric Garcia (25:44):
We need to see that autistic people are fine as they are, that they’re good people as they are. They can live good and happy lives. And that goes to your question about disability and not disease. A disability is something that doesn’t mean that it’s all good. You know, there are certainly impairments with disability, just like with deafness or using a wheelchair or anything else. For example, cancer is something we want to eliminate, period. Cancer is a terrible thing that kills people. Alzheimer’s, we want to get rid of Alzheimer’s. We want to get rid of heart disease. Disability is more defined by how the world disables people rather than it being an actual malady. And I think that what we want is we want people to see autism as something that’s a disability. And I say it’s a disability because they deserve all the rights that other disabled people deserve. So, that’s what I would say. Does that answer your question?

Jay Ruderman (26:39):
Of course. And they’re very powerful points. I want to talk about a couple areas where autistic people are faced with interactions with society that may not be perfect. So, let’s talk about medicine. You interviewed an autistic woman named Lydia Wayman in Pittsburgh and her medical complaints were not taken seriously. How has the medical system failed autistic people and what can be done to change that?

Eric Garcia (27:06):
Lydia’s doctor, Arvind Venkat, who’s helped her in a lot of ways, he said you cannot think of a worse place for an autistic person than an emergency department. Between all the bright lights and people poking you all at once and all of these intervening things that people pass around you with questions. But I think the other thing, as Lydia said, I should say, is that they often don’t take autistic people’s needs seriously because they’re taught that autistic people can’t understand what’s going on with them, or they can’t advocate for themselves. Or oftentimes, oddly enough, Lydia was doing what people told her, which is to keep a positive attitude and be happy and smile and things like that. But oddly enough, it was those very things that made people think that she wasn’t really sick.

Eric Garcia (27:54):
So oddly enough, it was playing the social games that prevented doctors from really taking her seriously. So, that’s one clear example. And then I think another one is that a lot of times autistic people are oftentimes not eligible for organ transplants because people don’t see their lives as valuable. We saw this a lot with COVID 19, also, in that a lot of autistic people were more vulnerable because they were in congregate care settings during the pandemic, and they still are.

Jay Ruderman (28:22):
So, let’s move to the issue of the makeup, the portrait, of what the autistic community looks like. And you talked about this, that, historically, the people of color and women in LGBTQ have been left out of the portrait. But also you mentioned that, disproportionately, the autistic community identifies with the LBGTQ community. So, can you talk a little bit about that?

Eric Garcia (28:48):
So there was a study at autism research in 2018 that surveyed 309 autistic individuals and 310 typically developing individuals. And it found that 30.9% of typically developing autistic people reported being non heterosexual, 69.7% of the autistic group reported being non heterosexual. That’s more than double. So, that is definitely a thing. But, for the longest time, I think our focus on autism has been on cisgender, heterosexual, mostly men. In a lot of comedies and dramas and movies like that are focused on this idea that autistic men and reality TV shows are focused on autistic men who can’t get a date. And that certainly might be some aspect of it, but it’s certainly not the whole of autism. And it’s certainly not all of autistic people, especially if that large of a part of the population identifies as LGBTQ+.

Jay Ruderman (29:52):
Let’s talk about policing.

Eric Garcia (29:54):
Yeah. Always fun.

Jay Ruderman (29:55):
Yeah. Always fun. Our foundation wrote a white paper. It was essentially our first white paper that said most people who are killed by police are people with disabilities. Talk about law enforcement and how law enforcement can better support people with mental disabilities, especially people of color.

Eric Garcia (30:21):
I think we see that a lot of times police are ill-equipped, even if they’re trained in understanding autism. They still are focusing on, obviously, promoting safety and, oftentimes, that gives them a lot of leeway with shooting or with police violence. I actually think that’s too big of an ask for police officers. I actually think that this is not necessarily a job for policing because that’s above their pay grade, even if you’re trained for a few hours. I don’t think it’s the best thing. I think that what needs to happen instead, I should say, is focus on how do you reduce interactions between autistic people and a lot of other disabled people are dealing with mental illness and law enforcement, more than anything else.

Jay Ruderman (31:06):
Yeah. It’s so important. And I think that there’s been some discussion in some communities about using a mental health professional to be on the scene or to be consulting when an incident does come up, because police, as you say, are not always equipped to deal with these situations.

Eric Garcia (31:23):
Yeah. And I want to say that, as I said, I’ll repeat it again. I think that’s too big of an ask for police.

Jay Ruderman (31:29):
Let’s talk about parents. We talked a little bit about this before, but sometimes parents can play a harmful role in perceptions of autistic people, and how can they be better allies for their children?

Eric Garcia (31:44):
I think one of the things that I think they should do is that they should listen to a lot of autistic adults. Autistic parents will say that they’re automatically, and I know because I’ve seen this even in my own experience and I get sometimes in my Twitter mentions, where they’ll say like, I feel like you erased my child’s experience when you talk, when you do these interviews. My response is, I don’t want to erase anybody’s experience. I think that I have more in common with your kid than you might realize. And I think that those similarities might help you. So, I think that’s one thing, is listening to other autistic people, even if they look different or they speak differently, or whether they can speak at all, there are so many common modalities that can help autistic people. I think the other thing is starting from a baseline assumption that your kids are human and they deserve all good things and that you wouldn’t do to your child what you would do to your other child.

Eric Garcia (32:37):
I think one of the things that’s talked primarily about the Judge Rotenberg Center, which is the facility in Massachusetts that administers shock therapy. Nobody would ever think to do that to a typically developing child. But for some reason we think that it’s okay and it’s legitimate for autistic people because they’re autistic. That’s not okay. And I think the thing that you need to do is to start from that assumption of, would this be considered a humane thing if this person was not autistic? And most people, if they saw the Judge Rotenberg Center, they’d say, “Hell no.”

Jay Ruderman (33:10):
It’s in Waltham. And it’s around the corner from where my daughter goes to school. And, I know the history of it, which is awful. We have so many is that we could get into, but I just want to touch on a couple that I think are so important. I read that only 19% of autistic young adults have ever lived independently. And also that 50% to 75% of autistic people are unemployed or underemployed. So, what’s your advice on how more people with autism or autistic people can live independently and how more autistic people can be employed in the workforce?

Eric Garcia (33:50):
That’s not so much your question for autistic people. Those numbers are an indictment of all of us, really. They’re an indictment of society. As I say, there are some incredible autistic people I know who deserve good employment, but, because a lot of times education gaps are too big or education isn’t accessible or adaptable or accommodating, that prevents them from getting college degrees that will allow them to get jobs. It’s expectations from employers or misperceptions from employers. It’s also, to the point about parents, a lot of times it might be parents thinking that their kid might be better in a congregate care setting instead of living independently or living within the community. When numbers are that high, it’s usually not an individual failing. So, rather than giving advice about how autistic people can change. I think the more things that we need to do is we need to look at how are we failing and how are we not serving autistic people. That these are just such atrocious numbers.

Jay Ruderman (34:52):
Yeah. They’re big issues that society needs to get better at. Let me ask you, what’d you learn about yourself while writing this book? And finally, I want to ask you the most important insights that you want people to take away from reading the book.

Eric Garcia (35:09):
Yeah. I think the thing that I learned is that there’s many ways to be autistic and all of them are valid. I think when I started writing this book, I was worried that I wasn’t autistic enough or I wasn’t the right kind of autistic. I worried that I didn’t know enough about the history or because a lot of my friends growing up were neurotypical, that I didn’t have the same experience of other autistic people. It’s a lot of my anxieties about me being Mexican American and the fact that I don’t speak Spanish and the fact that I’ve never been to Mexico. And I think that what I learned is meeting so many incredible autistic people is that there’s no right or wrong way to be autistic. And then the other thing that I learned was that I’m incredibly fortunate.

Eric Garcia (35:50):
A lot of things had to go right for me to live a good life. And I think I live a pretty good life now. And the thing that I also saw was how many people, like I said, haven’t been able to live good lives through no fault their own. And that’s usually because of gaps in society. So I learned how incredibly fortunate I am. And as far as what I want people to take away from autistic people, I want them to take away that autistic people are fine with who they are and that they’re fully human and that they deserve all the respect that other people of all walks of life deserve.

Jay Ruderman (36:26):
Eric, it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest. I want to urge my listeners to check you out and your writing in The Independent. I think your political insights in America are really, really interesting. I think people would really enjoy reading your articles. But I also would like to urge my listeners to go out and buy Eric’s book, which is We’re Not Broken, Changing the Autism Conversation. It’s a powerful book. It’s a book you need to read and I’m sure you can find it on Amazon and wherever you buy your books. But, do not, not read this book. It’s very important. So Eric, thank you so much. I really enjoyed this conversation and I wish you much success in the future.

Eric Garcia (37:10):
Thank you for having me. I much appreciate it.

Jay Ruderman (37:13):
All Inclusive is a production of the Ruderman Family Foundation. Our editor is Yochai Maital. Jackie Schwartz is our producer. If you enjoyed this episode, please check out all of our previous conversations. Look up All Inclusive wherever you get your podcast. As always, if you have an idea for a guest or just want to share your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you. You can tweet me @jayruderman or email us at Please help us spread the word. Tell a friend or family member and consider writing a review on your favorite podcasting app. That really goes a long way. I’m Jay Ruderman and I’ll catch you on the next installment of All Inclusive.

Speaker 9 (37:57):
Au revoir, but not good-bye.