In thinking about passion, persistence, and perspective, and how these relate to autism, what comes to mind for most people might be the passion autistic individuals express regarding their special interests and expertise; the persistence that is needed to gain acceptance; and the perspectives we all hope to change. The question on my mind is how are these related? Isn’t one totally woven into the others?
A big debate continues to swirl around the autism community. Some people still think that it is not true that all individuals on the autism spectrum have something to contribute to their families and to their communities. We see stereotypes like the physician on the T.V. show The Good Doctor, and families say, “My child is not like that!” Yet I believe that the challenge for society is to see the worth of all people. I meet a lot of autistic individuals in my line of work. Every autistic person I have met, no matter what their issues might be, also has strengths and personal interests and the same hopes and dreams as any human being. This is not to say that every single person’s contribution will be economic, or intellectual. But it is up to us to approach each autistic person with creativity and with a willingness to find out what drives that individual, what that individual’s passions are, so that we can support authentic inclusion.
The only way to make room in society for each person is by persistence. Families are already on the front lines of demanding with every trip to the supermarket that their loved one is treated with respect and dignity. This is at times tiring work. Sometimes we seem to have made much progress in society. Other times we feel as though we are back to square one. We find ourselves explaining all over again, pulling out the papers all over again, emailing one more time. We also frequently feel alone in our work.
The only way our persistence will pay off in the long run is if we are confident in our perspective. I always ask my students, “What is the location of the problem?” They think I am talking about GPS. By “locate the true problem” I mean we must be vigilant to constantly question why we are struggling. We are not struggling because we are autistic. We are not struggling because our child is autistic. We are struggling because our society does not support us. We are struggling because our society does not make available the resources and supports we need. We are struggling because the special education system is wildly uneven in quality. We are struggling because we lack strong respite care, mental health care, and parent training systems. People who know me sometimes lovingly accuse me of sounding like a broken record, but I will say it again: If our perspective does not locate ableism, or discrimination against disabled people, as the root of the problem, we begin to blame ourselves and our loved ones. Autism is not our personal problem to struggle through. This is about society’s responsibility to value disabled lives as equally as non-disabled lives.
With this unique perspective, we can stop feeling all alone in our persistence, and begin to fight together for the understanding, accommodations, supports, and services we need to support the passions of each autistic individual, lest we lose out on the special gifts autistic individuals bring to their families, their communities, and the world.
Blog post by: Zosia Zaks, M.Ed., C.R.C.
The Autism Society of Baltimore-Chesapeake is seeking nominations for the 2019 LaVonnya Gardner Award for Autism Acceptance & Advocacy. For more information, or to nominate a self-advocate for the 2019 award please CLICK HERE.