Who Gets To Call Themselves Autistic?

Autistic gatekeeping and the battle to control the narrative

Jae L
6 min readMar 4


Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Harry Styles was the common denominator in two recent stories in the Australian media involving Autistic women.

The first is actor and Autistic advocate Chloe Hayden being denied entry into the sensory room at the Melbourne venue for the Harry Styles concert. Hayden was told she was not Autistic enough to be permitted entry. It was quite literally an act of gatekeeping.

Here’s what she said on Twitter:

Hey @marvelstadiumau reminder that you cannot preach inclusivity and then not let me into the sensory room because you took one look at me and decided I don’t look autistic enough to access it lmao

The second, less literal but no less powerful story involves broadcaster Meshel Laurie going on to Instagram to accuse media identity Em Rusciano of faking her recent autism diagnosis after Rusciano praised the inclusion of the sensory room. For context, Laurie is the parent of an Autistic child and her now deleted post clearly seems to have come from a place of frustration.

Rusciano responded via Twitter:

This is why representation matters. Women present differently. The only portrayals of autism are 9/10 the male version & depicted via an outsiders perception of autism not the actual lived experience of people on the spectrum. I met every medical criteria, just maybe not yours.

Apart from a fondness for Harry Styles, what Hayden and Rusciano share is a high profile as advocates for neurodivergent people (both also have ADHD).

Here’s why we need Autistic voices in the media

As Rusciano points out, Autistic voices are needed to redress the distorted picture of autism that prevails in mainstream culture.

Autistic people like Rusciano and Hayden and many others are forging a greater awareness of the diversity of Autistic experience and breaking down stereotypes and misconceptions. But in not conforming to a narrow idea of what autism looks like, they face accusations of not being Autistic enough.

There’s an odd kind of turf war going on between late-diagnosed Autistics (especially women) and…



Jae L

Queer, neurodivergent and in the business of defying expectations. Doing my best to answer the questions I keep asking myself. diverge999@gmail.com