Protest: Colin Meloy of The Decemberists on Neuro Diversity | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, February 23rd, 2024  

Protest: Colin Meloy of The Decemberists on Neuro Diversity

Accommodate and Accept

Dec 09, 2021 Photography by Jason Quigley (for Under the Radar) Issue #68 - Japanese Breakfast and HAIM (The Protest Issue)
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Colin Meloy, front person and principle songwriter for the Pacific Northwest-based indie band The Decemberists, says he grew up admiring artists who were vocal about their politics. Now, as an adult, Meloy says he intentionally uses his platform to speak his mind on issues important to him. Today, that means speaking out about neuro diversity.

“Having grown up in a liberal household with strong Democratic parents who were vocal and active in politics, that spoke to me,” Meloy says. “My son, Hank, is autistic. So, it’s been a real crash course to learn about autism and the autism spectrum when you have a kid with autism.”

Hank was born in 2006 and Meloy eventually immersed himself in research about what, exactly, autism is. And he discovered an important, interesting distinction. For as long as society has recognized autism in the mainstream, there has been a push to “cure” those with the condition. But, Meloy says, this may likely be misguided.

“That really frames it in a negative way,” he says. “But neuro diversity is a way of seeing the autistic brain as just another way in which human brains are wired, that it’s neither right nor wrong. So, rather than looking for a cure for this thing, we should look to accommodate autistic people into our lives and society.”

Understanding autism is often an exercise in keeping several ideas in your mind at once. And sometimes these ideas seem in opposition. While Meloy recognizes that the populous has come a long way in its comprehension of autism and the needs of autistic people, there is still much more to learn and discover. Meloy says he’d like to see more pro-science candidates and representatives voted into office. And he’d like to see people with autism, like his now 15-year-old-son, receive the understanding, societal acceptance, and accommodations they need to thrive as valued members of a larger community.

As a resident of the Northwest and, more specifically, the Portland, Oregon-area, Meloy was privy to the protests over the summer of 2020, which stemmed from the murder of George Floyd by police. Change is often messy and that was evident in Portland, prominently. But change did occur. Positive steps forward can result from heated clashes. And while Meloy doesn’t necessarily expect people to take to the streets to protest for neuro diversity, he knows it will take an effort moving forward to widen the general understanding of autism.”

“The autistic community, like the disabled community, like the gay community, is pretty traditionally marginalized,” Meloy says. “Finding ways to accommodate and accept these people into mainstream society is a positive thing. And if I have the platform to talk about it, then that’s what I should do.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 68 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online. The issue was our 2021 Protest Issue, in which we once again examined the intersection of music and politics and conducted photo shoots with musicians holding protest signs of their own making.]

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