Those who live with and love autistic people can be among our greatest allies, but it’s been the misfortune of the #ActuallyAutistic community that many parents, caregivers, and therapists have historically advocated over (rather than with) us.
As autistic children have grown into autistic adults, we have found our own voices. We speak, post, blog, tweet, and otherwise publish our perspectives; in doing so, we express much that goes against popular narratives about autism and autistic people.
We have questioned the premises and assumptions of past research, activism, and therapies on autism. The response to this movement has largely reflected that the closest self-appointed “allies” to autistic people are unprepared to hear our us or follow our lead.
The most prominent organizations that have purported to advocate on behalf of autism have done so for the benefit of parents, families, and caregivers of autistic children rather than autistic people themselves. In leaving autistic voices out of the conversation, such “advocates” stifle meaningful dialogue and progress.
Predictably, there’s an ongoing clash of perspectives between those who have historically perceived and portrayed autistic people as tragic, diseased, and in need of a mythical cure with those who are autistic, self-accepting, and self-advocating.
As with any other socially-marginalized and misunderstood group, true justice centers the needs of autistic people – as expressed by autistic people – in order to advance our common good. We get to say who we are, what we need, how we want support, and who we consider our allies.
It’s a common misfortune that when autistic adults disagree with people who work or live with autistic children, we experience dismissal, rejection, patronization, and separation from people who claim to want what’s best for us and our community. We are shouted down or ignored.
We are told that our ability to “function” (by ableist standards) makes us unqualified to advocate for those who have greater physical or intellectual disabilities and difficulties. We are scolded and told that we can’t and don’t speak for other autistic people.
It seems that neurotypical people believe that those of us who share a divergent neurotype and have similar (though not identical) experiences to more visibly-disabled autistics are less qualified than neurotypical caregivers to speak for autistics.
To autistic minds, this message is baffling. It is true that no single voice speaks for all of a group; autistic people are not a monolith, but we are fully human.
As with any other group of humans, we have shared experiences, similarities, and degrees of difference. We are capable of collaborating and unifying to elevate the messages that matter to us, and to do so we need neurotypical people to humbly step aside and pass the mic. In doing this, our allies can advance in their own understanding and acceptance of their loved ones, and help us build a more equitable world that works with us, rather than against us.
Just as white people cannot be the arbiters of justice for Black, indigenous, or other people of color, neurotypical people cannot adequately define the identities or needs of neurodivergent people. The best advocates for LGBTQ+ interests are people who identify as such.
The voices that must be prioritized if society is ever to understand and accept autistic people are autistic voices. However we choose to communicate, it is the job of parents, therapists, doctors, families, and friends to hear us. Autistics speak; listen to us. Let autistic people lead our own cause. We need neurotypical allies to get behind us in our fight for acceptance, support, and justice.
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