Edinburgh Fringe 2018
A high-energy, engaging and informative piece, Guerilla Aspies is the result one man’s mission to uncover the stigmas and stereotypes of the neuroatypical after discovering his own autistic diagnosis 14 years ago.
Diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2004, Paul Wady had spent the majority of his adult life ignorant to his neuroatypical condition. He has since made it his mission to meet as many autistic people as he can, and his show, Guerilla Aspies, is a result of years of research and lived experience.
Set up more like a relaxed lecture, complete with Powerpoint slides for visual aid, Wady’s piece is educational and enlightening with a personal touch. Performing with both neurotypical and neuroatypical audiences in mind, he walks us through his own life, mostly lived without knowledge of how his mind worked, to build empathy and understanding, while welcoming interruption and atypical audience interaction that complements inclusion– he often paused to allow breaks for the audience to wave their hands and make noises of their choice, letting out pent up energy. Wady weaves in history, popular culture, personal snapshots, charts and news items with an occasional underscoring provided by the “neuroatypical chorus” to create a comprehensive view on the social structure and historical treatment of autism. Wady is charming and warm, making all in his audience feel included, and is incredibly effective at engendering empathy for the neuroatypical experience, rejecting the popular idea that there is something wrong or bad about autism. He refuses the notion of autism as “disorder,” pointing to his own healthy family life with a wife also on the spectrum, and challenges us to do the same.
His show reveals some deeply unsettling ways that autism is still treated today, reminding me of gay conversion therapies that are now considered barbaric. His slideshow featured a few current “treatments” for autism, from a little girl isolated in a chamber with just a laptop for company, to something ignorant parents assume is “worms” they’ve removed through rectal bleach enemas, but are, in fact the remnants of intestinal lining. He also reveals that one treatment of electric shock is a technology only akin to one used for the training of animals. Culture has shifted away from seeing homosexuality as a disorder, but has yet to catch up in consideration of neuroatypical states. Wady reveals the prejudice inherent in our language– even the phrase “high functioning” privileges other modes of existence, seen as “normal”– and points out how such ways of looking at the people dehumanize those with autism and allow for such cruelty to persist. Autism is a mind that works differently, not something that needs to be cured, and it’s foolish to assume a life without autism is somehow “better.” (He does an excellent job of pointing out that “normal” life enjoyment often seems way more absurd and distasteful from what neuroatypicals would consider enjoyable, contrasting Keeping Up With The Kardashians to an engrossing book on science.)
Wady delivers his message with a smile and a sense of urgency that truly carries past the show. This is an incredibly interesting and illuminating performance that should not be missed, especially due to the importance of the subject matter. We must all treat each other with dignity and respect.