I disagree with the message of the Shutdown. But I still support you if you’re taking part, because we need awareness and funds raised by any means (that don’t disregard autism facts and science).
I am speaking out, 1) with today’s post, 2) by sharing some of my favorite links on Facebook and Twitter, and 3) by encouraging you to make a charitable donation to an autism organization of your choice. I am supporting my local agency Autism Delaware through my annual United Way contribution. I also recommend GRASP, the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership.
I want to begin with a few words about social media. Yes, shutting down your social media for a day draws attention to a cause. No, it does not help you understand how it feels to be autistic. Ironically, you can get perhaps the best explanations of autism via social media.
My own cartoon, Dude, I’m An Aspie! owes its success to social media. And by success, I don’t mean hits, or dollars, but understanding. The project was conceived as a Facebook photo album to disclose to my friends, and nothing more. By happy coincidence, I posted it exactly one year ago today, 11/1/09. Here are some of the comments my friends made:
“I really enjoyed reading this and learned a lot.”
“Now I understand better, thank you!”
“Very illuminating. Thank you for sharing.”
It was a heartening feeling. I went on to share the cartoon in online Asperger’s communities, to continued praise.
“Wow, does that ever define me.”
“One of the best ways of explaining AS I've ever read.”
“I've saved a copy to possibly use with my students in the future.”
And from there, "Dude" became a blog, and then a book. So without social media, there would be no "Dude, I’m An Aspie!" How else would I have disclosed if I could not have done it through cartoons? “Um, excuse me, there’s something I need to tell you about myself…” It’s more likely I would not have disclosed at all.
Instead, I’ve done it coherently, confidently, and humorously. Many others have used my cartoon for their disclosure. Over 1,300 individuals have visited my blog in the past 3 months. Indeed, for many of us on the spectrum, social media is truly our comfort zone. It would be unthinkable to shut that down.
I wish you could understand what it’s like to be me. I wish shutting down your social network for a day would do it. I wish my cartoons would do it, but even that gives you just a small glimpse. And just by listening to me does not mean you understand autism.
This is called Autistics Speaking Day, but I don’t speak for autistics. I speak for myself, and that’s the best I can do. None of us can speak for all of us. The autism blogosphere is richly diverse. We are the pro-cure and the pro-neurodiversity, the nonverbal and the Aspies, the diagnosed and the self-identified. We often disagree, to put it mildly.
Among us are bloggers who have viciously attacked others as “faux autistics” because they can hold down a job, act natural on camera, or dare to align themselves with the dreaded Autism Speaks. At the other end of the spectrum are bloggers who are happily married with families, and are published authors, or eloquent speakers. Both get under my skin for very different reasons. But I would not silence any of their voices. We need to hear from them all, and I include in “we” the autistic community as well as neurotypicals. Kathleen Leopold and Kim Wombles of the Autism Blogs Directory said it best:
“We are a community; we share common bonds and common ground, and we need, even as we disagree, to remember this. Because if we don't, we destroy what common ground we have.”
I think no statement better describes my hopes for Autistics Speaking Day. It explains why I also support the Shutdown. I have only been an autism advocate for about a year, but I have worked in the non-profit arena for nearly a decade. If you want to bring about change for an issue as complex as autism, you must build consensus and respect diversity. Anger and infighting will get you nowhere. The hostility and name-calling I’ve seen from both sides around the Shutdown and Autistics Speaking is shameful, and nauseating.
Which brings us back to the question, how can you understand autism? When you’ve met one autistic, you’ve met one autistic. Is understanding even possible with such diversity? I think so, and here’s how:
So I encourage you, after you’ve visited my blog, to check out other voices in our community. If you see something you like, leave a comment, or share it with your social network. If you’re inclined to donate to a helping organization, thank you. And I hope you’ll stay connected with our community. We need as many voices as we can get, contributing to a passionate, educated, civil discourse about autism. That is the path to understanding.