Thursday, May 22, 2014

Five Reasons Autistic Adults Are Top Advocates for Children

The fact is this: we all want the best possible life and the same is something we would want for our children.  For some children this may involve a para, speech therapy, individual counseling, and other services.  Unfortunately, many children are not given what they need from society to develop to these heights the way others are and when that happens, parents feel they need to be involved and often people with the conditions of the children they advocate for our not heard.  Many parents of autistic people and their supporters have said that autistic adults are not good advocates for autistic children.  Some say they do not have the same issues facing them that children do, can’t speak for the diversity of everyone on the spectrum, that parents are better advocates as they care most about their children, or that children wouldn’t understand their own situation or that it won’t be relevant to their lives when they grow up.  Yet if were honest, the clear picture is that parents have been advocating for their children with autistics being almost completely excluded in the process for over twenty years, and in all this time, very little has changed in the availability of autism services for the autism community as a whole.  History, meanwhile, has shown that people affected most by a particular issue have the power to change their situation.  Black Americans have succeeded very significantly in reversing segregation laws throughout America.  Women have gained the rights to vote, own property, and hold careers, while people with disabilities have been given universal services and the Americans with Disability Act.  Autistics similarly, can do the same thing for themselves, for they have five advantages that (most) parents with autism can make them a unique asset to (non-autistic) parents of autistic children.

Common Experiences

                What people ignore about autistic adults is that they have had similar experiences as children.  They have experienced segregated education aversive therapies, bullying, etc.  Many like me can remember what they had trouble with in elementary school, where adequate supports were not available to me.  I remember better than anyone what teachers and paras did, or tried to do for me, because I was there, and I like many other autistic adults, who have for some reason or another, been in segregated education for the reasons that we were unable to keep up with our non-autistic peers on account of our different abilities.  I have heard parents comment, through social media and other forms, on how autistic people from autistic-run organizations such as the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, the Autism Women’s Network, the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership, and the Aspergers Association of New England, have been instrumental in giving parents information on autism that they are able to use to help their children’s progress and argue with legislators for adequate supports for their children.

Common Needs

                As an autistic person, I know what is stressful for me and what makes certain tasks difficult to perform.  As autistic people, we know that being socially active can be difficult because the planning can be stressful, whereas most neurotypical people I know would simply assume I don’t want to get out and be social.  We can also stress over changes in routine because we like predictability, yet most people I know used to say autistic people were simply rigid because they have not heard things from an autistic person’s point of view, but rather professionals, who may be honest and trained, but do not experience life from the point of view of someone who is wired as we are.  This has changed somewhat, but a lot of society still has yet to accept our perspectives.  Autistics know on some level what distracts or unnerves them, but often times do not know how to communicate it to others.

Common Future Projections

                Disproportionate numbers of autistic adults experience underemployment (or unemployment), divorce, substance abuse, crime, and poverty, all of which could be prevented with early services and interventions.  Autistic people are the ones most affected by discrimination, and autistic adults, many with aging parents and with their understanding of their unique needs and condition, are aware of what future struggles today’s autistic children could experience with the right supports.  Many have learned to compensate for their differences and have unique perspectives on what autistic children can do and can be taught to help live the best possible live

Common Social Networks

                Autistic people are commonly parents of autistic children.  Autistic adults such as John Elder Robison, Sharon daVanport, Jennifer O’Toole, and Bec Oakley have autistic children.  Several of them are authors, bloggers, executives, secretaries, and treasurers for material on and resources providing information and services for people with autism.  They have the same interest in their children as one would hope for parents to have and the same insider’s view of autism that autistic adults, with or without autistic children have.

Common Identity

                Frequently used rhetoric by autistic self-advocates is that one wouldn’t trust a civil rights organization run entirely by white people or a feminist organization run entirely by men.  Autistic people like me don’t just want to be tolerated but celebrated to for our unique contributions to society, such as the inventions of Thomas Edison or the discoveries of Albert Einstein, both of whom were suspected to have autism.  Autism is more than just a medical condition for us, but an essential part of who we are just like being Jewish or Greek.  We do have to get services from our legislators by pity, which is something that degrades and dehumanizes us all.  We understand the need for supports because autism is part of who we are, and it is not just about struggles but also strengths, which autistic people have in fact, been telling the public about for years.  Autism supports, just like accommodations for people with learning disabilities, help people like me work to the best of our abilities, not our disabilities, so we can contribute to society in the unique ways that others have before, something that autistics like me have always identified with, what's more making autistic adults great leaders in advocating for autistic children.

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