Hari Srinivasan Delivers 2024 Autism Acceptance Month Keynote Presentation

By Evan Watson

On April 3, 2024, Hari Srinivasan presented the keynote address in the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development's 2023-24 Autism Seminar Series, in recognition of Autism Acceptance Month. 

A self-advocate, Srinivasan is a PhD student in neuroscience at Vanderbilt University, an alumnus of the University of California, Berkeley, a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow, a NISE fellow at the Frist Center for Autism & Innovation at Vanderbilt University, and a public member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. He is a member of the Duke Autism Center of Excellence Advisory Committee.

In his presentation, "Redefine the Table," Srinivasan illuminated the critical need for autistic individuals not just to sit at the table where autism is discussed, but to fundamentally redefine the table itself. He invited participants to consider a shift in perspective from binary views of autism to a more integrated approach that recognizes the complex, multifaceted experiences of autistic individuals.

"It's not enough to just get to sit at the table. In order to get to meaningful change, we have to redefine the table itself" - Hari Srinivasan

Through his personal narrative and professional insights, Srinivasan underscored the importance of redefining the conversation around autism and disability to foster true belonging, inclusivity, and meaningful support across the lifespan. This redefinition calls for embracing multiple aspects of disability. For example, he challenged what he sees as a false conflict between person-first and identity-first language, in favor of moving the conversation away from semantics to the need for more urgent, tangible solutions.

"Why can't we use both? Frankly, there is too much air time wasted on discussing this [language] issue, even as we have a milion solutions for autism that we need to be working on."

Srinivasan provided context for the social, neurodiversity, and medical models of disability, and how these have impacted policies and social norms around disability. He addressed the reality of medical issues for disabled people while disentangling this from the historical medical model of disability.

"Improvements in our quality of life through better medical care and treatment should not be conflated with the old medical model of disability and past history of institutions."

He advocates for both strengths-based opportunities and challenge-based solutions, acknowledging the diverse needs and potential of autistics across the spectrum. His talk challenged the audience to reconsider their perspectives around disability to achieve equity in social, medical, and research spaces.

Srinivasan asserted the need to reassess research priorities and include more disabled people in medical research as both researchers and participants, centering equity of access to new discoveries.

With more than 275 attendees from 12 countries, across Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North and South America, the presentation was among the highest attended in the 10-year history of the Duke Autism Seminar Series.

slide from "Redefine the Table" presentation
Hari Srinivasan

More About Hari Srinivasan

Prior to graduate school at Vanderbilt University, Srinivasan earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Berkeley. He majored in psychology with a minor in disability studies and graduated as a University Medal Finalist, along with earning a Departmental Citation Award, Highest Honors, and Phi Beta Kappa and Psi Chi membership. He was an undergraduate Haas Scholar and carried out a year-long study on awe and empathy in autism. He was also lead student instructor for a weekly class on autism, creating and teaching content that covered a myriad of issues across the lifespan.

As a student journalist at The Daily Californian, Srinivasan wrote more than 50 articles on disability and non-disability topics. More recently, he has written articles for Time, Newsweek, Fortune, and Psychology Today.

As part of his graduate program, Srinivasan will research the sensorimotor space, specifically peripersonal space (PPS), which has practical implications on multiple fronts for autism. He has autism and ADHD. His autism includes limited speaking ability, sensorimotor issues, health issues, obsessive-compulsive disorder, mood dysregulation and social anxiety. 

Srinivasan's non-academic affiliations span law and policy to research arenas such as the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Autism Society of America, International Society for Autism Research, Autism Europe and The Brain Foundation.

You can find Hari on social media at: LinkedIn, X/IG/FB @harisri108, Bluesky @neuroscientist, Youtube @neuroscientist108, and on his blog http://uniquelyhari.blogspot.com