Although the autistic and neurodivergent community has been around for a long time, only now is it becoming more visible in the online landscape. Among those who have worked hard to bring acceptance and visibility to this community is advocate and artist Emma Jean. Despite a slight online break, Emma Jean has been here since the beginning of the community's journey for visibility online. Today, the Global Spotlight talks to Emma Jean about her internet journey, the changes she has seen within the community, autism acceptance, and her art.
You were one of the people to help actually build and bring visibility to the autistic community on TikTok when you first joined only a few years ago. Could you go more into your journey in helping provide a voice for a community that has oftentimes been silenced?
Before TikTok, I didn’t know a single autistic person outside of my twin sister, and, because of this, I felt incredibly alone for most of my adolescence. I started speaking against Autism Speaks and ABA in 2014, right after joining Tumblr. No one really listened, but at that point in my life I was thirteen and angry. Growing up, I was only surrounded by allistics and neurotypical people for my entire life, and felt incredibly alone because of it.
I, like many people, had originally joined TikTok as a joke on January 1st of 2019. I had no intentions of making serious content or even autism content. After a bit of time passed, I was led to autistic people on the app and everything changed. Looking back, I honestly had very little knowledge on autism when I first joined the app, which made me make some relatively problematic content at first. At that time, I identified as a libertarian and was incredibly outspoken and, sometimes, unintentionally rude. I feel very thankful that the community had accepted me and had patience with me. I never expected to build a community that is so massive now; it blows my mind.
Since more people have begun to follow suit and share their own stories and experiences as neurodivergent people, how have you seen improvement in online communities?
At one point I had deleted my account for 3 months. When I had come back and made a new account in October of 2020, the entire community had shifted and changed and grown so much that I didn’t recognize a lot of people.
It blows my mind that the autism community has grown so much in just 3 years of being on TikTok. To me personally, I feel like there are more people willing to listen and are listening than there was 3 years ago. Back in the day, everyone knew each other. We made waves and I feel like the autism community paved the way for the neurodivergent community. I have never felt so seen and understood in my life, and for that I am so grateful!
And what about the negatives? Where do you see areas for improvement?
Something that I’ve noticed over the years is that a lot of people do not understand intersectionality and how we cannot compare ourselves to other marginalized groups. When the Autism Now fiasco happened last year, it became very apparent that many white autistics did not understand that our oppression is incomparable to racism.
I lost a lot of respect for several creators due to something that everyone should have known by then, and it made me lose a lot of friends. Creators are always at the forefront and it is not right to speak over BIPOC, and yet many people do it anyway without consequences.
It actually wasn’t until I started watching your videos that I was aware of some of the ways in which the autism community was silenced, especially by people who claim they want to help in the community like Autism Speaks. Could you go into more detail on the corrupt actions from these kinds of organizations and how they are harmful to those who are actually autistic?
From the very beginning, Autism Speaks’ mission statement was to cure autism. They actively demonized it through ads like "I Am Autism" and sympathetic videos from horrible parents. The money not spent on “awareness”, went to researching that cure. The only thing that’s changed about them is their mission statement.
As well as being an advocate, you are also an incredible artist. Could you tell me more about your art and your creative process?
Art is actually one of my special interests and has been my entire life since I was a little kid. It’s always been my dream to be recognized for my art and be able to center my entire career around it. I typically use pens and go nuts with line art. I am mostly inspired by the Japanese artist Shintaro Kago and Kaethe Butcher.
For most of my artwork, I just let my mind talk to me and draw. If one were to look at my work, I draw a lot of eyes. I struggle with anxiety with being seen, but, at the same time, I want it. Most of my work centers around being groomed, sexual trauma, depression, and gender identity; it’s helped me heal.
Where are you hoping to end up on your online journey? Is there a certain place which you’re hoping to get to or is your journey just continuous?
I want people to actually be aware of ableism and how allistic and neurotypical people have affected our lives and our self esteem. I want the whole world to see autistic people for who they are and love us for being autistic and not despite us being autistic. I want others to love themselves for their disability and be cherished by others. We deserve way more than what the world has decided to give us. I would also love to make doing what I love my full-time job. I want to be able to make art and do what I do right now without worrying about rent or groceries.
What would you like to say to those who follow and support you?
Thank you for y’all’s love and patience. It is recognized and I feel forever grateful to have a platform and a community that has lifted me up for the last 3 years. It can only go up from here!
KEEP UP WITH EMMA JEAN HERE
THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONTINUED SUPPORT. WE LOOK FORWARD TO BRINGING YOU THE VOICE OF MORE INSPIRING ARTISTS AND CHANGEMAKERS IN 2022.