Morgan Harper Nichols Got The Clarity She Needed Through An Autism Diagnosis At 30

"Just take a deep breath and remind yourself that there are other people out there."

Human Interest

If you're on Instagram, you have likely come across words written by Morgan Harper Nichols and, if you have, chances are you were both moved and inspired by her words. If you haven't come across her beautiful words, trust me when I tell you that you are missing out on some gems. Artist, poet, and musician Morgan Harper Nichols has managed to cultivate a massive following on Instagram (1.7 million and counting to be exact) with her magical, soulful words. Words that seem to hit you right in the gut because it's just what you needed to hear.

I'm one of those 1.7 million followers and the one word that comes to mind whenever I see a post from Morgan is vulnerability. The kind of vulnerability that makes you want to share too. In fact, in 2017, Morgan started a project where she invited people to share their stories with her via her website. And guess what? People shared. Morgan was able to take those stories from readers all over the world and create art with her responses to the stories she received. Of course, all stories and names are kept private but the art she has been able to create from those stories is shared all over social media daily.

Courtesy of Morgan Harper Nichols

Morgan's supporters are not the only ones that share personal stories though. Earlier this year, Morgan shared something very personal with her followers and blog subscribers. She shared that she was officially diagnosed with autism. The average age of an autism diagnosis is around three years old, so receiving a diagnosis as an adult is not as common and more difficult as there is no established procedure for diagnosing autism in adults. On her journey to diagnosis, Morgan found just how difficult it would prove to be. She shared that she actually asked her doctor for a referral years ago after suspecting that she might be on the spectrum. Her concerns were dismissed and she was told that she had nothing to worry about. She took his word but only for a moment.

Last year, Morgan got the courage to reach out again for help and today she is so grateful that she did.

Morgan on what led her to believe she needed help:

"There were a few things, but primarily I was struggling with a lot of social and communication issues. Especially in high school and college but I just thought that I was awkward. I would miss out on social cues and even basic things like email etiquette were a struggle for me. I just kind of put it on myself and thought that I needed to grow up and stop being so awkward. But by the time I was in my late twenties and grown, I realized I was still struggling with these issues and I felt like there was just something there and I didn't know what it was.

"My parents had actually talked about autism before but it is not a diagnosis that you even considered for a lot of girls, especially back in the 90s. And more so for girls of color. And black girls, it's almost impossible. I felt tired and exhausted all of the time. Now I know that I have a lot of sensory processing issues. I didn't realize that things like loud music or bright lights wear on me throughout the day. I just thought that I was just extra tired. So, that's what led me to seek help the first time."

"By the time I was in my late twenties and grown, I realized I was still struggling with these issues and I felt like there was just something there and I didn't know what it was. My parents had actually talked about autism before but it is not a diagnosis that you even considered for a lot of girls, especially back in the 90s. And more so for girls of color. And black girls, it's almost impossible."

Courtesy of Morgan Harper Nichols

On why seeking a diagnosis was the right thing for her and her quality of life:

"I had also dealt with pretty severe depression as a teenager. I think other people who have dealt with depression can relate to this but you just kind of know when you're headed in a direction you don't want to go back in. When I was a teenager, everything was so stressful. I mean, everything from trying to make friends to trying to keep up with school. I was just so overwhelmed and that drove me to depression. I think that was a part of it too, recognizing that it was something there and not wanting to go back to that place and wanting to get help."

Morgan on what has changed since receiving her autism diagnosis:

"One of the first things that the specialist said to me right after giving me the whole rundown of the diagnosis was, 'And it's not your fault.' I cried decades of tears in that moment. It was just such a healing moment for me because I had been putting so much responsibility on myself, especially after having had a medical professional look at me and say I was fine and had nothing to worry about. Having that said to me, I felt it was my fault and that I had to fix it. So having another professional who knows this diagnosis backward and forward tell me that it wasn't my fault just changed a lot for me.

"Since then, I've made some adjustments in my day-to-day life. I realized I was putting so much responsibility on myself, even with work and not asking for help. I kept thinking that I could do it. I've gotten help with things like managing emails. It's hard though because there's a part of me that feels like I should be able to do these things on my own. There's a lot of stigma around asking for help and unfortunately, we live in a society where people don't feel like they can ask for help, even more so black women. I feel like now I finally have the language to work through that and say, 'OK Morgan, I know you feel like you should be able to do this by yourself but there are legitimate reasons why you can't.' I've got to seek help and that's new for me because I do try to take all that on my own."

"I cried decades of tears in that moment. It was just such a healing moment for me because I had been putting so much responsibility on myself, especially after having had a medical professional look at me and say I was fine and had nothing to worry about. Having another professional who knows this diagnosis backward and forward tell me that it wasn't my fault just changed a lot for me."

Courtesy of Morgan Harper Nichols

On what it was like telling those close to her about her autism:

"It was surprisingly a very loving and supportive experience and I consider that to be a huge privilege. I have a sister who was diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome and ADHD as well. Because of that, my family at least had some kind of frame of mind on how to deal with these issues. You know, at least how to support each other through them. I only knew about autism because my mom was the one who thought something may be there but she had doctors tell her I was fine. My husband and friends were also very supportive.

"I was just surprised at how supportive people were. I think one thing that can hold people back (including myself) from wanting to share is that sometimes you may feel like you're putting a burden on other people. What I found is that people want to support you. Once you share, you're going to find that people really do care. I was even shocked at the amount of response that I got on social media. There's so much happening in the world and on social media, so I didn't know what to expect. I was just blown about by the support. If teenager-me could have seen this, she wouldn't have believed it. So grateful."

On what she would tell someone who might have a hard time advocating for themself:

"Honestly, the first thing that came to mind is something that I have honestly had to hold on to from the moment with that first doctor all the way to today and in different areas of my life, and that's that there are other people out there. And I say that for those moments where a person looks at you and says that there is nothing wrong with you, you need to stop asking about this, or you need to do this or you need to do that. Just take a deep breath and remind yourself that there are other people out there. Yes, there are people who will shut you down, but there are also other people out there who won't. It might take time to find those other people, but it is worth the pursuit."

Courtesy of Morgan Harper Nichols

Morgan on 'How Far You've Come' and what she hopes readers will gain from her book:

"The book actually started by going through my phone and looking at photos. It was the beginning of the pandemic and I was just thinking about all of the places I've been and could not get to. I ended up on this photo that I took at sunrise in New Mexico years ago. I'm a visual artist and one thing I love to do is paint over photos. So, I took the photo and I put it on my iPad and I started painting over it. When I started painting over it, I started thinking about how much I loved the photo and how beautiful it was. And when I looked at the date of this photo, it was a really hard season and a really hard time in life.

"I just started thinking about how there's probably so many moments in my life where there's two things happening at once, that I managed to notice something beautiful amidst the chaos. So, I wrote the book literally by going through my camera roll and looking at my photos and at different places on the map and finding beautiful pictures and also finding where I was growing in courage or strength even when there was so much else going on."

"I hope the book encourages you to go through your camera roll and find those photographs that show you how far you have come. My hope is that readers are able to see that with everything going on, they are still capturing beauty and able to notice where light is pouring in. I think that those two things together can teach us a lot about our journeys and help us give ourselves some credit for how far we've come."

Morgan's newest book How Far You Have Come: Musings on Beauty and Courage will be released on April 27th and is currently available for pre-order.

Featured image courtesy of Morgan Harper Nichols

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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