This essay explores central elements and applications of intersectionality theory and the neurodiversity paradigm. First, the histories and tenets of intersectionality theory and neurodiversity paradigm are provided. Then, areas are explored where each of the two approaches might further engage with the principles of the other. Finally, the essay concludes by broadly considering the efforts made by the Black Lives Matter movement and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network to bring attention to and end police violence as both networks employ and attend to elements of intersectionality and neurodiversity. The way these two networks draw on both intersectionality and neurodiversity to further their mission could be a possible site for scholars to consider in the interest of advancing dialogues between intersectionality theory and the neurodiversity paradigm. Ultimately, the essay calls for a continued exploration of the potentials for intersectionality and neurodiversity to complement and complicate one another, both in terms of theoretical development and coalition building.


This essay explores sites of reciprocal relationships between intersectionality theory and the neurodiversity paradigm.1 The essay addresses the tenets of the two concepts at the theoretical level by drawing upon a conversation that currently occurs regarding the application of these concepts. The overarching argument is that exploring the core principles of both intersectionality theory and the neurodiversity paradigm in relation to one another can strengthen the theoretical aims of each approach and better reflect the ways their applications attend to one another in practice.

I begin by briefly tracing intersectionality theory's emergence and development. This history serves to highlight shifts in the way the concept has been conceptualized and utilized, and is returned to in the discussion of intersectionality in relation to the neurodiversity paradigm. Next, the neurodiversity paradigm is introduced. Here, implications relating to intersectionality theory, when considering the neurodiversity paradigm and neurodivergent2 identities, are explored. Similarly, the neurodiversity paradigm is considered with particular attention given to intersectionality's tenets and "operationalization"—the way a theoretical concept is put to use or applied in context. Finally, the essay concludes with some of the ways that principles of intersectionality and neurodiversity are already being applied within social justice movements. The Black Lives Matter movement3 and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network are highlighted as sites where principles of intersectionality and neurodiversity are drawn upon to further the larger mission of bringing greater awareness of and an end to police violence. These networks are sites toward which scholars and academics who are interested in building more robust and dynamic relationships between intersectionality and neurodiversity at the level of theory could look. The overarching goal of the essay is to further dialogues centering upon theoretical development and coalition-building between scholars who work with each of the two concepts and those who employ them in practice.

Tracing the Trajectory: Intersectionality Theory's Emergence and Developments

While genealogies of intersectionality are customary in feminist scholarship, this essay begins by tracing intersectionality's history specifically to highlight ways that intersectionality converses with the neurodiversity paradigm. Intersectionality's dynamic early emergence among activists and scholars of color has been overlooked in some works that deploy an intersectional methodology, paradigm4 , and/or framework as a result of the tendency to start with Kimberlé Crenshaw's "coining" of the term. While Crenshaw articulated the term and solidified some of the unique principles that intersectionality theory relies upon today in her influential writing that demonstrated the interconnectedness of sex-based and race-based oppressions under the law (1989, 1991), the concept was circulating among various scholars and activists of color decades before, which Crenshaw herself acknowledges (1991, p. 1243).

Perhaps one of the earliest recorded articulations of intersectionality was made by Sojourner Truth in her now infamous "Ain't I A Woman?" speech at the women's rights convention in 1851 (as cited in hooks, 1981). Later, around the time of feminism's so-called "second-wave," articulations of the multiple burdens that black women negotiated as the result of the combined discrimination based on both their race and their gender began emerging in activist dialogues pertaining to rights-based claims. Frances Beale's classic essay "Double Jeopardy: To be Black and Female" (1970) described the myriad oppressions faced by black women and called white feminists to task by challenging the women's movement to be anti-racist, anti-imperialist, and anti-capitalist. While she recognized that discriminations on the basis of gender and race often involved economic disadvantages and exploitation, this understanding was not incorporated into her explanation of the jeopardy faced by black women. Beginning at the end of the 1970s and continuing through the 1980s, black feminist scholars and activists began exploring in earnest the interactive nature of a multiplicity of identities, in particular, race, gender, social class, and sexuality.5 These thinkers explored multiple forms of oppression and the ways systems are structured to support and enhance power differentials through what Patricia Hill Collins would later term the "matrix of domination" (2000). Deborah King (1988) made a tremendous intervention by delineating how oppressions of any form are not additive—as a "double" or "triple" model implies—but instead are intersecting. King proposes "multiple jeopardy" as a more apt descriptor of black women's experiences. She explains that "[t]he modifier 'multiple' refers not only to several, simultaneous oppressions but to the multiplicative relationships among them as well" (p. 297). In other words, each form of oppression is intensified by the other, transforming the discrete experiences, as well as the cumulative experience, of an individual or group.

Since its emergence, intersectionality theory has faced scrutiny. Criticisms of intersectionality typically focus on the difficulty of either applying the concept to research methods or negotiating the multiplicative nature of identities. Leah Warner (2008) articulates a popular critique that intersectionality "provides no usable methods for research, particularly quantitative research as conventionally conducted in social and behavioral sciences" because of the trickiness involved in "expanding the scope of research methods to include multiple dimensions of social identities" (p. 455)6 . While a number of researchers acknowledge the difficulty in deploying intersectionality in these contexts, they nevertheless creatively utilize intersectionality as a methodology to complement the established quantitative and/or qualitative measurements in their fields.7 The second criticism, involving the difficulty of negotiating the multiplicity of identities, stems from the fear that such multiplicity will result in "an infinite regress that dissolves groups into individuals" (Young, 2004, p. 721), serving only to accentuate differences within or between groups. While such an approach could, conceivably, be the result of engaging with intersectionality, it certainly is not the inevitable result. Dorothy Roberts and Sujatha Jesudason (2013), for example, demonstrate how utilizing intersectionality as a tool for coalition-building can help create alliances between apparently distinct activist-identity groups.8

In light of such criticisms, intersectionality scholars have built a more robust and reflexive conception of intersectionality. Contemporary intersectional frameworks situate identities within geographic, historic, and sociocultural moments (Hulko, 2009), recognize that identities are influenced by cultural interactions that can simultaneously reinforce and trouble identity demarcations (Fernandes, 2003), and acknowledge that identity categories have variation within them (Smooth, 2013). In its present usage, intersectionality champions organizing and theorizing within and across a range of identity categories, not in spite of them.

While intersectionality has been taken up by a variety of feminist researchers and critical theorists across disciplinary divides to be used as a theoretical framework, research paradigm, method, and methodology, it is "at its core concerned with questions of power and inequities" and contains some aspects that "are so fundamental that without these elements intersectionality becomes unrecognizable and incapable of doing the political work it was designed to do" (Smooth, 2013, p. 12-13). Wendy Smooth posits that intersectionality is premised upon five tenets: a) an understanding that social identity categories and power systems shift over time and space; b) a recognition that privilege and marginalization can coexist within individuals and groups; c) a commitment to social justice; d) a dedication to anti-essentialism and the variation within categories; and e) an investment in the multiplicative nature of identity(ies) (p. 21).

Intersectionality lays the groundwork for an analysis of subject formation and situation, group interactions within social structures, and systemic oppression. Far from the claim that "the concept does not include a consideration of how these categories work and intersect in the lived experiences of concrete subjects" (Staunces, 2003, p. 101), intersectionality foregrounds the ways in which identities intersect for individuals and groups. Intersectionality can help "make sense of the experiences of people who find themselves living at the intersections of social identities … the systems that give meaning to the categories," and "at the societal level intersectionality seeks to make visible the systems of oppression that maintain power hierarchies and organize society while also providing a means to theorize experience at the individual level" (Smooth, p. 11). By interrogating how various identity categories are embedded within individual, interactional, and institional dimensions of society,9 the discrete and collective weight of these categories become salient.

(Dis)ability (With)in Intersectional Theory and Praxis

Some scholars include disability and/or ability as an identity category of analysis within their intersectional frameworks,10 or include disability and/or ability status in their recommendations for further research.11 Within the existing literature, disability as a broader identity category, as well as specific disability experiences, have been largely under-explored compared to other identity categories, such as gender, race, and class. While there has been comparatively little published within intersectionality literature that includes disability (and/or ability) explicitly as an identity category of analysis, Nirmala Erevelles and Andrea Minear (2010) argue that "intersectionality has been set up as the most appropriate analytical intervention expected to accomplish the task of mediating multiple differences" (p. 129-130). Heather Rakes (2013) argues persuasively that feminist philosophy and theory should include the vector of disability when considering "power, normativity, and oppression" (para. 1). Nancy Hirschmann (2013) similarly implores feminist and other critical theorists to consider disability as a serious category of analysis; however, the result of doing so is not particularly clear—perhaps because it has been so rarely done, but perhaps also because, as Hirschmann states, "disability is so very variant" (p. 657). Moreover, some scholars12 would argue that "disability" is itself a bit misplaced in focus, over-emphasizing individual bodyminds13 at the expense of noticing ways that populations and groups are debilitated through structural, systemic, and environmental means. Contemporary articulations of intersectionality, however, foreground the interplay between individual(s) and group(s), allowing for micro, meso, and macro analyses to emerge.

Critically engaging with disability as an identity category of analysis has the potential to substantially transform the conventional ways of understanding what intersectionality does as a theoretical method, methodology, paradigm, and/or analytical framework. Recent work that considers disability within the context of intersectionality is at the fore of the dialogue this essay argues for—critically engaging the neurodiversity paradigm and intersectionality theory with one another could generate a dynamic outcome.

Charting Relations: Enter the Neurodiversity Movement

Intersectionality is critical for Disability Studies scholars and activists because both intersectionality theory and Disability Studies seek to make the less-visible or under-recognized, visible and because both seek to call into question privileges and disadvantages that have historically resulted in some individual and collective bodyminds being marginalized. In this way, both seek to explore what Valerie Purdie-Vaughns and Richard Eibach (2008) term "intersectional invisibility," or the ways people with multiply marginalized identities are often not recognized as members of their constituencies and, consequently, face larger challenges associated with "misrepresentation, marginalization, and disempowerment" (p. 383). Intersectionality and Disability Studies approaches often seek to uncover intersectional invisibility by exploring (in)visibility at the individual, group, and/or systems level to uncover the complex ways power circulates at all levels of interaction throughout culture and society.14

The philosophy that underlies the neurodiversity paradigm draws upon principles of both intersectionality and Disability Studies approaches by applying "essential principles of society's embrace of diversity in ethnicity, nationality, religion, and sexuality orientation toward people embodying diverse human neurology" (Robertson & Ne'eman, 2008, para. 9). Journalist Harvey Blume is credited with inaugurating the term "neurodiversity" in his 1998 review of the Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical, a "parody of the institutes and journals devoted to the study of autism" (Blume, para. 2). From the beginning, conceptions of neurodiversity and neurodivergent identities have been intimately intertwined with autistic identities, though never conflated to be one-and-the-same. While the broader neurodiversity movement and autistic self-advocacy communities and rights movement15 developed alongside one another, autistic people16 are not the only members of the neurodivergent community—others include those with dyslexia, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury, to inexhaustibly list but a few. There is no singular way of being neurodivergent, despite the overarching "group label." Instead, those within the broader community commonly identify in some neurological way other than "neurotypical," or the style of neurocognitive functioning that falls within a particular culture's dominant social standards (Kearns Miller, 2003, p. 258).

Perspectives put forth by those who uphold the neurodiversity paradigm align with the tenets of intersectionality theory, even if writers on the subject do not address intersectionality explicitly. Scott Michael Robertson (2010), for example, writes that the neurodiversity perspective "has been influenced by societal diversity in ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality, handedness, and sexual orientation" (Shifting Perspectives on Autism section, para. 4) and that "difficulties experienced by autistic people are always contextual" because "living in a society designed for non-autistic people contributes to, and exacerbates, many of the daily living challenges that autistic people experience" (Shifting Perspectives on Autism section, para. 7). Nick Walker (2014) similarly notes, "The idea that there is one 'normal' or 'healthy' type of brain or mind, or one 'right' style of neurocognitive functioning, is a culturally constructed fiction, no more valid … than the idea that there is one 'normal' or 'right' ethnicity, gender, or culture" (Neurodiversity Paradigm section para. 3). Walker further explains:

The social dynamics that manifest in regard to neurodiversity are similar to the social dynamics that manifest in regard to other forms of human diversity (e.g., diversity of ethnicity, gender, or culture). These dynamics include dynamics of social power inequalities, and also the dynamics by which diversity, when embraced, acts as a source of creative potential (Neurodiversity Paradigm section para. 4).

These are just two examples of the ways that intersectionality circulates within discussions of neurodivergence, even when it is not referenced by name.

Returning to the central tenets of intersectionality put forth by Smooth, it is evident that the neurodiversity perspective utilized by Robertson and Walker address the notion that social identity categories and power systems are geographically, historically, and culturally specific. Additionally, the authors recognize that privilege and marginalization can co-exist for individuals and within groups. The third tenet, a commitment to social justice, is inherent within the neurodiversity paradigm because its foundational premise is to create more recognition, acceptance, and celebration of diverse neurotypes. The fourth principle, the dedication to viewing identity categories through an anti-essentialist perspective, is present in both the neurodiversity paradigm, as well as in statements about those who identify as neurodivergent, such as "the great variability among the autistic population" in terms of desires, modes of communication, sensory sensitivities, and interests (Sinclair, 2010, Spontaneous Interaction section, para. 11).

The central critical work pertaining to the multiplicative nature of identities—the final tenet of intersectionality—of neurodivergent identities largely exists within activist communities, personal blogs, and social interactions, as opposed to published academic work. Interestingly, one example of this kind of explicit discussion of the multiplicative nature of identities in relation to neurodiversity is found on Twitter. For example, in preparation for the 2016 Society for Disability Studies conference, a group of disability scholars and activists initiated conversations to consider intersectionality in relation to neurodiversity. Dr. Jessica M. F. Hughes organized a panel submission (in which the author participated17) and directed a series of monthly Twitter discussions designed to facilitate conversations among panelists, organization members, and community members, leading up to the conference panel.18 Although the conference was, unfortunately, cancelled in February 2016, Twitter discussions continued under the hashtag #intersectionalND (extending beyond the initial planned six months through the time of this writing). The conversation's continuation is a testament of the enthusiasm for the type of intersectional, multiplicative dialogue the monthly topics sought to initiate. An example of a discussion question posted by Ntrsxnl Neurodvrsty (@ntrsxnlND, moderated by @JessMFH) reads: "Q2: In your own exp, when/how have dimension(s) of difference (race, gender, etc.) intersected with your neurotype? #intersectionalND." There are numerous responses to each month's prompts, with contributors self-identifying as autistic, neurodivergent, neuroqueer, multiply disabled, allies of the community, and more. As this Twitter chat series demonstrates, activists and self-advocates express the ways multiple marginalized identities converge with their various neurodivergent identities to complicate their negotiations with systems of power and conceptions of identity (both self and group). While this multiplicity is increasingly foregrounded in cyberspace and community action-based groups, it is important for those involved in the explication and application of these perspectives to consider this type of complexity when addressing neurodivergent peoples' experiences to better capture the inherent multiplicative, not additive, nature of identities.

Those deploying intersectionality theory could similarly look toward neurodiversity (both the paradigm-at-large, as well as community-based enactments) as places where commonalities and differences are acknowledged, but nevertheless allow for shared oppressions to come to the fore. While a number of intersectionality scholars have come to some consensus about the utility of drawing upon some form of strategic essentialism (Spivak, 1993)19 in theorizing and organizing, neurodivergence writ large and the autistic rights movement, in particular, might be looked toward as potential models where strong communal ties are continuing to form. These relationships recognize the variations inherent within neurodivergence and maintain strong ties because of this recognition, not in spite of it. Exploring the ways strategic essentialism is employed within the neurodivergent community and autistic rights movement could serve as a way not to divisively silo diverse individuals within the community—focusing on differences within or between groups—but to generate more dynamic conversations about identities and experiences within the context of intersectionality. These conversations could be informed, for example, by gender identity, sexuality, socio-economic class, race and/or ethnicity, military and/or veteran status, geographic location, parental status, communicative methods, etc., as the discussion of the multiplicative nature of identity encourages.

This essay argues that principles of intersectionality and the deployments of the neurodiversity paradigm converse with one another in potentially unexpected, but nevertheless productive ways, which serve to ultimately strengthen the applications of both. While this dialogue is occurring in practice, the paradigms have been under-explored in relation to one another at the level of theory development. Space should remain available, however, for Women's/Gender/Feminist Studies scholars, as well as Disability Studies scholars, to explore tensions that may arise when attempting to integrate these perspectives because probing such sites of tension may prove equally productive. This essay does not imply a harmonious marriage of the two perspectives; instead, it asks the question of how the two frameworks might complement and complicate one another—potentially generating elasticity between the two or allowing for the emergence of a yet unexplored framework.

Applications of Intersectionality and Neurodiversity

Until this point, this essay has largely been situated within a theoretical realm, addressing specific principles of both intersectionality and neurodiversity. The focus now turns toward select examples of practical applications of the theories to highlight some of the ways that this interactive relationship exists in practice. Doing so supports the claim that intersectionality and neurodiversity could draw upon one another explicitly to strengthen the aims of scholars and activists to utilize each by allowing for greater reflection and engagement with each paradigm's central principles. Academics could turn toward the coalitional movements discussed below and analyze their convergences and potential divergences, in order to gain more insight into how the concepts and their applications are related, and then return to the theoretical parameters and aims outlined within each paradigm.

Various forms of organizing have and are occurring within the larger neurodivergent community. This section examines specifically the organizing taking place within the autistic rights movement because of the long and dynamic relationship between it and neurodiversity as a concept and movement. Myriad forms of organizing, such as community-building actions, self-advocacy initiatives, autistic culture, and off- and on-line social interactions have contributed to the overarching autistic rights movement. Broadly, the movement promotes social acceptance and celebration of autistic ways of being and notions of personhood. A detailed historical overview of the development of the various groups, projects, communities, and conferences that have emerged within and contributed to the robust growth of the autistic rights movement (for example, Autism Network International, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Autism Acceptance Project, Autreat, and AutCom) is beyond the scope of this essay, but is well-documented elsewhere.20 Collectively, the autistic rights movement has contributed to an ideological shift away from viewing autism through a deficit model approach to that of acceptance and positivity, promoted by the neurodiversity paradigm (Robertson 2010). This change in perspective undergirds much of the activism within the neurodiversity movement, particularly among autistic communities.

Operationalization and Coalition-Building

Coalition-building has been central to much of the organizing taking place within the autistic rights movement. Schalk's explication of the notion of "identifying with" is useful in considering ways that individuals or groups might identify "with" others, while not identifying "as" them. As Schalk explains:

I use identify with to mean having acknowledged and prioritized political and personal connections to a group with which one does not identify as a member. To identify with means to feel implicated by the culture and politics of another group and seek to better understand this link. While to identify with could be understood as analogous to being an ally, I contend that there is something more personal, sustained, and affective about it. Identifying with is a careful, conscious joining—a standing/sitting among rather than by or behind a group—which seeks to reduce separation while acknowledging differences in privileges and oppression. (para. 22) 21

Identifying with appears to occur between autistic communities and other disability communities and/or the broader disability rights movement as members of the constituencies support the objectives and initiatives of each other, but do not view one another to be one-and-the-same. Cross-organizational coalition-building is a complementary stragety to "identifying with" and is a praxis-based application of intersectionalty.

Smooth explains, "Intersectionality encourages recognition of the differences that exist among groups, moving dialogue beyond considering only the differences between groups (p. 11, emphasis original). Roberts and Jesudason apply this approach of organizing based on intersectional analysis within the organization Generations Ahead22, to "help forge alliances between reproductive justice, racial justice, women's rights, and disability rights activists to develop strategies to address reproductive genetic technologies" (p. 313). The overarching process they utilize23 relies on three main elements: a) beginning with honesty and openness by discussing (potential) conflict(s) among movements in in-person meetings—the physical presence is crucial, they argue; b) identifying shared values to establish where frameworks to bridge movements can be created; c) creating a shared agenda and strategic action steps to address specific issues (Roberts & Jesudason, 2013). Bonnie Thornton Dill (1983) similarly expresses the conviction that when addressing issues across identities "differences between us ENRICH our political and social actions rather than divide it" (p. 148). Jennifer C. Nash (2008) adds that operationalizing intersectionality can aid feminist and anti-racist scholars and activists in evaluating the "possibilities and potential pitfalls of 'inclusive' theorizing" (p. 4). Nash emphasizes that each project must "attend to difference … while also strategically mobilizing the language of commonality (however provisional or tentative that commonality might be) in the service of constructing a coherent theoretical and political agenda" (p. 4). In this way, strategic essentialism is again centered as a possible tool for coalition-building, which can serve to address a shared goal.

Intersectionality has been thoroughly upheld by these scholars (and others) as a form of coalition-building and as one method that can be drawn upon for strategic mobilization among various social justice-oriented movements and stakeholders. Coalition-building is, however, difficult work and should be recognized as such. Bernice Johnson Reagan (1983) aptly highlights the strain and pain that is inherently part of effective coalition processes and negotiations. Identified shared values are a place to begin such coalition work, but the effort need not end there. Instead, coalition sites can serve as nuclei for a multiplicity of perspectives to be heard and learned from. While the process is a long and fluid one, the benefits are quite often worth the effort.

Cross-organizational coalition-building is not uncharted territory for many organizations within the autistic rights movement. Joseph F. Kras (2010), for example, outlines the mobilization of various groups, particularly the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), after the New York University Child Study Center began a "public service campaign" in 2007. The campaign included various "ransom notes" posted in public locations and news outlets throughout New York City (Kaufman, 2007). While the notes were ostensibly designed to raise awareness for various childhood psychiatric disorders, Kras traces the majority of criticisms—in particular, the notes that focused on autism and Asperger's—as stemming from the autistic community. Even so, numerous responses emerged from the broader disability community, particularly among bloggers,24 after Ari Ne'eman, president of ASAN, created an online petition that gathered over 1,300 signatures and represented more than twenty distinct advocacy and disability rights groups (Kras, para. 3). The ransom note campaign is one example that demonstrates how various constituencies banded together under the now-familiar mantra, "nothing about us without us" in ways that call to mind Schalk's notion of "identifying with." This type of mobilization still occurs for contemporary issues and has only gained traction with the ever-increasing collaborative potentials of the internet.

A contemporary site where activist movements are engaging in intersectional, coalitional activist work is the organizing around bringing a greater awareness of and an end to police violence. Recently, this type of activism has largely centered around the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM), emerging in 2012 in response to the systemic violence against black people, notably those who have been shot and/or killed by police. While some news outlets, independent researchers, and bloggers note victims' disability statuses and discuss them in the context of the individual's interaction with police, many cases exist beyond those that have been picked up by mainstream media.25 A number of less-publicized incidents of police violence involve autistic people, many of whom are also people of color. Recent cases involve Marcus Abrams, Tario Anderson, Troy Canales, and Stephon Watts, among others.26 ASAN explains that police often assume that autistic people are "intoxicated, or assumed to be noncompliant" because they might avoid eye contact and may take "longer to respond to police" (ASAN, 2015b, para. 3).

In May 2016, the #intersectionalND monthly chat focused on the topic of #neurodiversity and #policebrutality. While that particularly chat was not one of the more widely responded to sessions, the moderator posed important questions asking, for example, "Q3: How might we prevent and address police violence against #neurodivergent people? #intersectionalND" and "Q4: How might law enforcement training address intersections between #ableism + #racism + #sizism + #classism? #intersectionalND". These questions connect to the larger issues being raised by BLM, ASAN, and others, about how to effectively address issues of police violence, particularly against those who are precariously positioned within our society based on their intersectional, and often marginalized, identities. In response to the shooting of Charles Kinsey, an unarmed Black male support worker, ASAN released a statement emphasizing that there must be "an end to police practices that jeopardize the lives of people with disabilities, people of color, and particularly people of color with disabilities, who all too frequently experience the intersection of both racial and disability related biases" (ASAN 2016, para. 1). One of their suggested solutions is to support of H.R. 2302, the Police Training and Independent Review Act, a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to "establish independent prosecutors to investigate and, as necessary, prosecute the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers" and "require law enforcement agencies to train officers on a variety of related subjects, including training on disability, as a condition of receiving certain federal funding" (para. 4). While other groups question the effectiveness of training and oversight procedures27, the uniting point is that the conversations involving police violence against people of color, disabled people, disabled people of color and other marginalized folks have begun—they are circulating in various platforms and people are voicing their perspectives on the myriad approaches to remedying the situation. Uplifting the voices of the most precarious among us is a starting place in addressing generations of violence and inequality. While a consensus of how to approach the situation is not currently identified, intersectionality, with particular attention paid to neurodivergence, is being used in generative ways to consider systemic violence and potential remedies.

In many ways, the approaches BLM and ASAN are taking toward police violence address the concerns of one another. For example, the "About Us" page of the BLM website lists seven central sites that deny Black people "basic human rights and dignity," contributing to the ways Black people are "intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state" (About Us). One of these sites addresses "[h]ow Black folks living with disabilities and different abilities bear the burden of state sponsored Darwinian experiments that attempt to squeeze us into boxes of normality defined by white supremacy" (Black Lives Matter). The "About Us" page of the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) website also notes that the movement is comprised of "Black people from all walks of life—young, elder, queer, cis, trans, differently abled" who have "come together… to imagine new was forward for our liberation" (The Movement for Black Lives). In addition to the ASAN statement above, the group released a news statement in 2015 stating they are "deeply saddened and outraged by the rampant racism and ableism impacting autistic people of color in our society" (ASAN, 2015a, para. 4). This interaction of race and disability is observed by David Perry and Lawrence Carter-Long in The Ruderman White Paper on Media Coverage of Law Enforcement Use of Force and Disability (2016), which provides a three-year overview of media coverage of police violence and disability. The authors note how "disability intersects with other factors (such as race, class, gender, and sexuality) to magnify degrees of marginalization and enhance risk of violence" (p. 8). In these ways (and others not fully explored here), both BLM and organizing emerging from variously situated disability-centered organizations, such as ASAN, are speaking about and to one another's concerns in an effort to initiate conversations and coalition-building, which could lead to positive social change.


While the application of intersectionality theory and the neurodiversity paradigm have been largely successful within activist contexts, the way the concepts take account of one another within academic contexts at the level of theory remains a site for future exploration. Schalk provides a definition of "coalitional theory" as "theories which are inclusive of multiple minority groups without being limited to those people who occupy multiply minoritized positions" (para. 2) and cites Chandra Talpade Mohanty (2003) defining solidarity as "mutuality, accountability, and the recognition of common interests as the basis for relationships among diverse communities… who have chosen to work and fight together. Diversity and difference are central values here—to be acknowledged and respected, not erased in the building of alliances (p. 7, as cited in Schalk). My call is for academics—scholars, researchers, writers, and teachers—who employ intersectionality and/or neurodiversity paradigms to deeply consider the solidarity that is clearly occurring within activist realms and explore the ways that more robust coalitional understanding between intersectionality and neurodiversity theory could be achieved. Identifying the ways that intersectionality and neurodiversity can complement and complicate one another might create a new, transformative framework yet to be articulated. Such a framework might encourage a multiplicity of values and viewpoints by supporting greater critical, historicized, and elastic understandings of concepts such as "diversity," "inclusion," and "identity."

Knowledge is not always about burrowing down within a particular concept, narrowing it further to find greater specificity; instead, it is often about allowing concepts to cross disciplinary boundaries, which breathes new life into them during the process. Encouraging intersectionality theory and the neurodiversity paradigm to converse with one another explicitly at a theoretical level has enormous potential for innovative interventions, reciprocal developments, and transformative futures. From such a dialogue, space is created for more dynamic and concrete future relationships to emerge.


The author sincerely thanks Jill Bystydzienski, Margaret Price, Amy Shuman, Wendy Smooth, Lynn Itagaki, Aaron Seddon, Jackie Stotlar, Andrew Sydlik, Sara Riva, Jon Branfman, Jessica M.F. Hughes, and the three anonymous reviewers for their feedback and support.


  • American Psychological Association (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Anzaldúa, G. (1987). Borderlands: La frontera: The new mestiza. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books.
  • Artiles, A. J. (2013). Untangling the racialization of disabilities: An intersectionality critique across disability models. W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, 10(2), 329-347. https://doi.org/10.1017/s1742058x13000271
  • ASAN. ASAN statement on shooting of Charles Kinsey. (22 July 2016). Retrieved from http://autisticadvocacy.org/2016/07/asan-statement-on-shooting-of-charles-kinsey/
  • ASAN. ASAN calls for justice in Troy Canales police brutality case. (20 July 2015a). Retrieved from http://autisticadvocacy.org/2015/07/asan-calls-for-justice-in-troy-canales-police-brutality-case/
  • ASAN. ASAN calls for justice in the Marcus Abrams case. (5 October 2015b). Retrieved from http://autisticadvocacy.org/2015/10/asan-calls-for-justice-in-marcus-abrams-case/
  • Beale, F. (1970). "Double jeopardy: To be black and female." In T. C. Bambara (Ed.), The black woman: An anthology (pp. 109-122). New York, NY: New American Library.
  • Bell, C. (2010). "Is disability studies actually white disability studies?" In L. J. Davis (Ed.), The Disability Studies Reader (3rd ed.) (pp. 374-382). New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Black Lives Matter. About Us. Retrieved from http://blacklivesmatter.com/about/
  • Blume, H. (1998, September). Neurodiversity. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1998/09/neurodiversity/305909/
  • Bowleg, L. (2008). When black + lesbian + woman ≠ black lesbian woman: The methodological challenges of qualitative and quantitative intersectionality research. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 59(5/6), 301-311. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9400-z
  • Chen, M. Y. (2014). Brain fog: The race for cripistemology. Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, 8(2), 171-184. https://doi.org/10.3828/jlcds.2014.14
  • Cohen, C. J. (2005). "Punks, bulldaggers and welfare queens: The radical potential of queer politics?" In E. P. Johnson & M. Henderson (Eds.) Black Queer Studies: A critical anthology (pp. 21-51). Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822387220-003
  • Collins, P. H. (2000). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Combahee River Collective (1986). Combahee River Collective: Black feminist organizing in the seventies and eighties. Albany, NY: Women of Color Press.
  • Cramer, E. P., & Plummer, S. B. (2009). People of color with disabilities: Intersectionality as a framework for analyzing intimate partner violence in social, historical, and political contexts. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 18(2), 161-181. https://doi.org/10.1080/10926770802675635
  • Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139, 138-167.
  • Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43(7), 1241-1299. https://doi.org/10.2307/1229039
  • cripchick. (2007, December 14). Scary ransom notes campaign. [Web log]. Retrieved from https://misscripchick.wordpress.com/2007/12/14/scary-ransom-notes-campaign/
  • Davis, A. (1981). Women, race and class. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
  • Dekker, M. (1999, November). On our own terms: Emerging autistic culture. Presented at Autism 99 Online Conference. Retrieved from http://www.autscape.org/2015/programme/handouts/Autistic-Culture-07-Oct-1999.pdf
  • Dill, B. T. (1983). Race, class, and gender: Prospects for an all-inclusive sisterhood. Feminist Studies, 9(1), 131-150. https://doi.org/10.2307/3177687
  • Drake, S. (2007, December 12). "Public education" about PWDs hits new low with "ransom notes" campaign. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://notdeadyet.org/2007/12/public-education-about-pwds-hits-new.html
  • Erevelles N. (2011). Disability and difference in global contexts: Enabling a transformative body politic. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137001184
  • Erevelles N. (2014). "Crippin' Jim Crow: Disability and the school-to-prison pipeline." In L. Ben-Moshe, Y. A. Davis, & C. Chapman (Eds.) Disability Incarcerated: Imprisonment and disability in the United States and Canada (pp. 81-99). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Erevelles, N. & Minear, A. (2010). Unspeakable offenses: Untangling race and disability discourses of intersectionality. Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, 4(2), 127-146. https://doi.org/10.3828/jlcds.2010.11
  • Fernandes, F. (2003). A response to Erica Burman. European Journal of Psychotherapy, Counselling and Health, 6(3), 9-16. https://doi.org/10.1080/1364253042000281351
  • Hancock, A. M. (2007). When multiplication doesn't equal quick addition: Examining intersectionality as a research paradigm. Perspectives on Politics, 5(1), 63-79. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1537592707070065
  • Hirschmann, N. J., (2013). Disability, feminism, and intersectionality: A critical approach. Radical Philosophy Review, 16(2), 649-662. https://doi.org/10.5840/radphilrev201316247
  • hooks, b. (1981). Ain't I a woman? Black women and feminism. Boston, MA: South End Press.
  • hooks, b. (1984). Feminist theory: From margin to center. Boston, MA: South End Press.
  • Hulko, W. (2009). The time- and context-contingent nature of intersectionailty and interlocking oppressions. Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work, 24(1), 44-55. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886109908326814
  • Jesudason, S. A. (2009). In the hot tub: The praxis of building new alliances in reprogenetics. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 34(4), 901-924. https://doi.org/10.1086/597129
  • Kaufman, J. (2007, December 14). Campaign on childhood mental illness succeeds at being provocative. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/14/business/media/14adco.html?_r=0
  • Kearns Miller, J. (2003). Women from another planet?: Our lives in the universe of autism. Bloomington, IN: 1st Books.
  • King, D. K. (1988). Multiple jeopardy, multiple consciousness: The context of a black feminist ideology. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 14(1), 42-72. https://doi.org/10.1086/494491
  • Kras, J. F. (2010). The 'ransom notes' affair: When the neurodiversity movement came of age. Disability Studies Quarterly, 30(1). https://doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v30i1.1065
  • Lorde, A. (1984). Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press.
  • McRuer, R. (2006). Crip theory: Cultural signs of queerness and disability. New York, NY: New York University Press.
  • Lukin, J. (2013). "Disability and blackness." In L. J. Davis (Ed.), The Disability Studies Reader (4th ed.) (pp. 308-315). New York, NY: Routledge.
  • McCall, L. (2005). The complexity of intersectionality. Signs, 30(3), 1771–1800. https://doi.org/10.1086/426800
  • Mohanty, C. T. (1988). Under western eyes: Feminist scholarship and colonial discourses. Feminist Review, 30(1), 61-88. https://doi.org/10.1057/fr.1988.42
  • Mohanty, C. T. (2003). Feminism without borders: Decolonizing theory, practicing solidarity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822384649
  • Moore, L. F., Gray-Garcia, L. T., & Thrower, E. H. (2016). "Black & blue: Policing disability & poverty beyond occupy." In P. Block, D. Kasnitz, A. Nishida, & N. Pollard (Eds.) Occupying disability: Critical approaches to community, justice, and decolonizing disability (pp. 295-318). New York, NY: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9984-3_21
  • Nash, J. C. (2008). Re-thinking intersectionality. Feminist Review, 89, 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1057/fr.2008.4
  • National Women's Studies Association (2017). Call for proposals. Retrieved from http://www.nwsa.org/cfp.
  • Olson, K. (2007, December 12). The "ransom notes" campaign. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://amptoons.com/blog/?p=3963
  • Phoenix, A. (2006). Intersectionality. European Journal of Women's Studies, 13(3), 187–192. https://doi.org/10.1177/1350506806065751
  • Price, M. (2011). Mad at school: Rhetorics of mental disability and academic life. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.1612837
  • Price, M. (2015). The bodymind problem and the possibilities of pain. Hypatia, 30(1), 268-284. https://doi.org/10.1111/hypa.12127
  • Puar, J. K. (2009). Prognosis time: Towards a geopolitics of affect, debility and capacity. Women & Performance: a journal aof feminist theory, 19(2), 161-172. https://doi.org/10.1080/07407700903034147
  • Puar, J. K. (2015). Bodies with new organs: Becoming trans, becoming disabled. Social Text, 33(3), 45-73. https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-3125698
  • Purdie-Vaughns, V., & Eibach, R. P. (2008). Intersectional invisibility: The distinctive advantages and disadvantages of multiple subordinate-group identities. Sex Roles, 59, 377-391. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9424-4
  • Rakes, H. (2013). Toward a theo-practical accountability to difference and relationality. Disability Studies Quarterly, 33(4). https://doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v33i4.3873
  • Reagan, B. J. (1983). Coalition politics: Turning the century. In B. Smith (Ed.) Home girls: A Black feminist anthology (pp. 343-355). New York, NY: Kitchen Table Women of Color Press.
  • Risman, B. J. (2004). Gender as a social structure: Theory wrestling with activism. Gender & Society, 18, 429–450. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243204265349
  • Roberts, D. & Jesudason, S. (2013). Movement intersectionality: The case of race, gender, disability, and genetic technologies. Du Bois Review, 10(2), 313-328. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1742058X13000210
  • Robertson, S. M. (2010). Neurodiversity, quality of life, and autistic adults: Shifting research and professional focuses onto real-life challenges. Disability Studies Quarterly, 30(1). https://doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v30i1.1069
  • Robertson, S. M. & Ne'eman, A. D. (2008). Autistic acceptance, the college campus, and technology: Growth of neurodiversity in society and academia. Disability Studies Quarterly, 28(4). https://doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v28i4.146
  • Schalk, S. (2013). Coming to claim crip: Disidentification with/in Disability Studies. Disability Studies Quarterly, 33(2). https://doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v33i2.3705
  • Seng, J. S., Lopez, W. D., Sperlich, M., Hamana, L., & Reed Meldrum, C. D. (2012). Marginalized identities, discrimination burden, and mental health: Empirical exploration of an interpersonal-level approach to modeling intersectionality. Social Science & Medicine, 75(12), 2437-2445. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.09.023
  • Shaw, L. R., Chan, F., & McMahon, B. T. (2012). Intersectionality and disability harassment: The interactive effects of disability, race, age, and gender. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 55(2), 82-91. https://doi.org/10.1177/0034355211431167
  • Sinclair, J. (2005). Autism Network International: The development of a community and its culture. Retrieved from http://www.autreat.com/History_of_ANI.html
  • Sinclair, J. (2010). Cultural commentary: Being autistic together. Disability Studies Quarterly 30(1). https://doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v30i1.1075
  • Smooth, W. G. (2013). Intersectionality from theoretical framework to policy intervention. In A. R. Wilson (Ed.), Situating intersectionality: Politics, policy, and power (pp.11-42), New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137025135_2
  • Spivak, G. C. (1993). Outside in the teaching machine. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Staunces, D. (2003). Where have all the subjects gone? Bringing together the concepts of intersectionality and subjectification. Nora: Nordic Journal of Women's Studies, 2(11), 101-110. https://doi.org/10.1080/08038740310002950
  • Steinbugler, A. C., Press, J. E., & Johnson Dias, J. (2006). Gender, race, and affirmative action: Operationalizing intersectionality in survey research. Gender & Society 20(6), 805-822. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243206293299
  • The Movement for Black Lives. About us. Retrieved from https://policy.m4bl.org/about/.
  • Walker, N. (2014, September 27). Neurodiversity: Some basic terms & definitions. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://neurocosmopolitanism.com/neurodiversity-some-basic-terms-definitions/
  • Walker, N. (2015, May 7). Neuroqueer: An introduction, by Nick Walker. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://neuroqueer.blogspot.com/2015/05/neuroqueer-introduction-by-nick-walker.html
  • Warner, L. (2008). A best practices guide to intersectional approaches in psychological research. Sex Roles, 59, 454-463. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9504-5
  • Weldon, S. L. (2005). Rethinking intersectionality: Some conceptual problems and solutions for the comparative study of welfare states. Paper delivered at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, USA. Retrieved from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p41944_index.html
  • Young, I. M. (2004). Gender as seriality: Thinking about women as a social collective. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society, 19(3), 193-209.


  1. My reasons for focusing on intersectionality theory and the neurodiversity paradigm are two-fold. First, each are highly valued conceptual interventions within their fields—Women's/Gender/Feminist Studies and Disability Studies, respectively—and beyond. Second, as I will demonstrate throughout this piece, each is speaking to the other in various implicit and explicit forms at the theoretical level and in their applications. I believe, however, that by clearly tracing the emergence, central components, and potential applications of each, even greater and more dynamic dialogues could result.
    Return to Text
  2. In this essay I use the language of "neurodivergent" when referring to those who identify in a neurological way other than neurotypical. I recognize that the term "neuroqueer" is being increasingly used within the community and field, but opt for the more "general" term neurodivergent when referring to a broader range of people who may or may not adopt a neuroqueer identity. For a thorough exploration of neuroqueer (as both adjective and verb) see "Neuroqueer: An introduction" (Walker, 2015) and other works by Nick Walker, Elizabeth J. (Ibby) Grace, Michael Scott Monje Jr., and Melanie Yergeau, the originators of the term.
    Return to Text
  3. In this essay I use "Black Lives Matter movement" as an overarching term to refer to what others have also called the "Movement for Black Lives." Here I am referring to what the National Women's Studies Association (2017) describes as "a Black-led movement, comprised of multiple organizations with widespread support in people of color and progressive white communities in the United States as well as internationally" (para. 1).
    Return to Text
  4. For a comprehensive overview of approaching intersectionality as a paradigm, see Hancock (2007).
    Return to Text
  5. Notable examples include: The Combahee River Collective's "A Black Feminist Statement" (1986 [1977)]), Angela Davis's Women, Race and Class (1981), Bonnie Thornton Dill's "Race, Class, and Gender: Prospectus for an All Inclusive Sisterhood" (1983), Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider (1984), bell hook's Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984), Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands: La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), and Chandra Talpade Mohanty's "Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses" (1988).
    Return to Text
  6. Warner cites Phoenix (2006), S. Laurel Weldon (2005), and McCall (2005) for these types of critiques.
    Return to Text
  7. For examples, see Lisa Bowleg (2007); Ange-Marie Hancock (2007); Julia S. Seng, William D. Lopez, Mickey Sperlich, Lydia Hamama, and Caroline D. Reed Meldrum (2012); Linda Shaw, Fong Chan, and Brian McMahon (2012); and Amy Steinbugler, Julie Press, and Janice Johnson Dias (2006).
    Return to Text
  8. In the context of their article, these groups include reproductive justice, racial justice, women's rights, and disability rights activists who address reproductive genetic technologies.
    Return to Text
  9. Barbara Risman (2004) does this process with gender.
    Return to Text
  10. For example, Alfredo J. Artiles (2013), Elizabeth P. Cramer and Sara-Beth Plummer (2009), and Linda Shaw, Fong Chan, and Brian McMahon (2012).
    Return to Text
  11. For example, Valerie Purdie-Vaughns and Richard Eibach (2008).
    Return to Text
  12. For example, Jasbir K. Puar (2009, 2015).
    Return to Text
  13. I draw upon the term "bodymind" to avoid the Cartesian binary that proposes a separation between experiences of the body and experiences of the mind; instead, as Margaret Price explores in Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability in Academic Life (2011) and "The Bodymind Problem and the Possibilities of Pain" (2015) in Hypatia, the two are inextricably linked.
    Return to Text
  14. It is important to note that the field of Disability Studies has been critiqued for privileging whiteness (Chris Bell (2010) and Josh Lukin (2013), for example) and many within the field today take these criticisms seriously and incorporate a heightened intersectional framework into their work in an effort to displace conventionally privileged perspectives (Nirmala Erevelles (2011, 2014) and Mel Chen (2014), for example).
    Return to Text
  15. I recognize the rhetorical difficulty in approaching autistic rights organizing as a singular "movement" (as opposed to pluralizing "movements," for example). In this context, I am referring to the type of organizing (online communities, self-advocacy networks, conferences and retreats, etc.) that are directed by autistic individuals and advocate for rights, acceptance, and greater social and cultural access for autistic people, thus the decision to use the term "movement."
    Return to Text
  16. In this piece, I use "identity-first" language (e.g., "autistic people"), as opposed to "people-first language" (e.g., "people with autism"). The American Psychological Association recommends that authors "respect people's preferences; call people what they prefer to be called" (p. 72). Numerous scholars, including Robertson (2010), note that identity-first langue is widely preferred by the autistic self-advocacy community.
    Return to Text
  17. The other panel contributors included Steven Kapp, Morénike Giwa-Onaiwu, and Sharon da Vanport.
    Return to Text
  18. These chats were advertised via the SDS listserv, Facebook, and on Dr. Hughes's blog (www.jessmfhughes.com). Included in the advertisements were the dates, hashtag and Twitter account information, possible topics for the first five months of chats, and contact information.
    Return to Text
  19. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1993) puts forth the term as a way of utilizing group identities for the purpose of building a stronger, more robust group identity, while simultaneously acknowledging that variations and particularities exist even within such groups. Intersectionality applies the concept when attending to differences across, among, and within identity categories by simultaneously avoiding essentializing identities and dissecting identities beyond recognition.
    Return to Text
  20. For example, Martjn Dekker (1999), Joseph F. Kras (2010); Scott M. Robertson and Ari D. Ne'eman (2008), and Jim Sinclair (2005, 2010).
    Return to Text
  21. Schalk cites a number of scholars, including Robert McRuer (2006) and Cathy Cohen (2005), in articulating her conception of "identifying with."
    Return to Text
  22. The authors describe Generations Ahead as, "a social justice organization that brings diverse communities together to expand the public debate on genetic technologies and promote policies that protect human rights and affirm a shared humanity. Dorothy Roberts is one of the founding board members of Generations Ahead, and Sujatha Jesudason is the Executive Director" (p. 312).
    Return to Text
  23. Sujatha Jesudason (2009) explores the model and process in further detail.
    Return to Text
  24. For example, Stephen Drake (2007), Kay Olson (2007), "cripchick" (2007).
    Return to Text
  25. An comprehensive list is difficult to generate due to a number of factors, including the ways law enforcement code and report data about arrest-related deaths. Visit Blacklivesmatter.com for a more thorough discussion.
    Return to Text
  26. This list is not exhaustive because of the coding and reporting of data. In "Black & Blue: Policing Disability & Poverty Beyond Occupy" (2016) Leroy F. Moore Jr., Lisa 'Tiny' Gray-Garcia, and Emmitt H. Thrower write, "Most Law Enforcement Agencies still do not organize or record their statistics in a way that would be useful in revealing this growing trend [of violence against disabled people]. So there remains no clear-cut method to identify victims who also have disabilities. It is nearly impossible to get accurate comprehensive numbers of the enormity of this epidemic even today. The authorities remain in a state of willing denial, as if no problem exists, because they have no stats to back them up" (p. 302).
    Return to Text
  27. Moore, Gray-Garcia, and Thrower (2016) explain this perspective further in their piece.
    Return to Text
Return to Top of Page