Disclaimer: While I specifically write about autistic children in this article it should be noted that any child born with a disability or who identifies differently applies.
Just sitting on my flight returning home from Canberra. We have had a sensationally successful 36 hours advocating and drawing much needed attention to What’s Your Superpower? Ltd, an incorporation that hosts our first social group for autistic kids and teens.
Flying to Canberra I was filled with dread. There’s a leadership challenge happening and I felt sick about the possibility everyone we’d lined up to meet would not be able to give us time. Also, what if they thought what was so very important to us didn’t measure on their Richter scale. This was so far from the truth. We met with Ross Vasta MP for Bonner, my electorate. We also met with three Senators, the Minister for Social Services and a much admired autistic self-advocate.
There is most certainly exciting things looming. Stay tuned. I just thought it would be relevant to point out that our children and grandchildren are our legacy. It would be remiss, no absolutely irresponsible to not assess and question whether this is the world we want our future descendants born into. Or is our attitude the one we want our vulnerable and potentially different children to face. Be they autistic or not the fact is you can’t predict the future.
We need to lay down the foundations now for a society that welcomes and embraces difference. Is your local community inclusive. I’d hazard a guess that the answer is no. And why not? In this day and age that’s a crying shame.
I’m no academic and I can’t off the top of my head reference all the studies out there that prove through evidenced based research that everyone benefits from inclusion. But if you want to read more there’s a Facebook page called All Means All that particularly advocates for inclusive education. Also anything written by Catia Panetta from Starting With Julius is not only convincing but loaded with research to support this.
You may not know an autistic person but what if one was born into your family? Does that not make you re-examine your life. Earlier this week I was in a local boutique buying a yellow scarf to wear in Canberra. The staff asked me why yellow. I excitedly shared with them the remarkable story about the launch of our autistic kids and teens social group. Midway through my very passionate story one of the staff members pulled out her phone and showed a picture on Facebook of a family member to another staff member. I kid you not!
I wonder if I was talking about the sporting prowess or academic ability of my child would she have been so rude. The thing is I couldn’t even say to her “hey you interrupted me” because one day I may want to ask them for a donation. This kind of treatment is not new or rare either. People honestly think they are immune from this. Let me ask you this. How would you know? Can you honestly predict the future.
It’s time that you start thinking about your actions and the role model you want to be. How do you want to be remembered? If your grandchild was autistic would you not want them to be included and afforded the same opportunities as their sibling who happens to be neurotypical? Do some serious navel gazing here.
The steps a community needs to take to be inclusive are not large or difficult steps. I know I would love to hear when I tell a stranger my son is autistic is “oh what’s his name?” Not “oh I’m sorry!” My son is happy. He lives a meaningful life, he runs a business, he employs a couple of teens and he spends money in our local community. Now I still can’t get him to stack the dishwasher but that’s another story.
Please don’t apologize. By all means ask thoughtful gentle questions. I’m only too happy to explain autism and what that means for my son. Don’t dismiss his right to voice what autism means for him either. My son does not identify as disabled. I’m actually pretty damn proud of that. Now I’m not saying he doesn’t need significant supports in his life. In many ways he does. I’m not about to write about them either as I refuse to breech my son’s privacy. It’s his story and he will decide if he wants to tell it. Don’t get me wrong though, he’s incredibly proud to be autistic.
So next time you know you’re speaking to an autistic child or adult or a family member of an autistic person consider this; is this how you would want your family member to be addressed? Is this the legacy you want to leave for your descendants?