The International Society for Autism Research conference, or INSAR, is the largest autism research conference in the world. Each year, it attracts thousands of researchers from dozens of different disciplines — neuroscience, genetics, immunology, pediatrics — to share their work with one another. It regularly draws some of the biggest names in the field.
But historically, the INSAR conference hasn’t exactly rolled out the red carpet for the people its research is intended to benefit. I’ve attended multiple INSAR meetings, both because I’m a journalist interested in reporting on the latest research and because I’m an autistic person interested in learning ways to improve my daily life. The experience of being surrounded by thousands of researchers — many of whom had never met anyone like me except as a study participant, and some of whom had never met anyone like me at all — was at times surreal. Being autistic at INSAR is like attending an exquisite, days-long feast in which you are the main course.