Sunday, 24 May 2015

Autism Positivity: Inclusion Made for the Autistic

Autism Positivity 2015 Logo
Autism Positivity started in 2012 in response to a person typing into the Google search bar, "I wish I didn't have Aspergers." What started was a collaborative space of bloggers uniting in support of the anonymous person with blog posts titled "To I wish I didn't have Aspergers . . ." followed normally by sentences of "I know how you feel" or my favourite, "When I see the words “I wish I didn’t have Asperger’s/Autism”, I would love to be able to say “I can only imagine what you’re feeling”… but the truth is, I probably know exactly how you’re feeling. (*gasp* an Autistic person with empathy?!)" Since then the bloggers have returned annually to spread the positivity.

At five months and a day (Happy fifth month, Arriving at. Awetsome! Yes, I'm big on counting ages and birthdays.) as an Autistic, official social justice blogger, it's time to join in Autism Positivity 2015. This year's theme is called "Love, Acceptance and Self-Care." So what in the name of binary digits and hexadecimal codes (Yes, there is such thing as Base 16. Numbers 10-15 are letters A-F. Hey, why don't I just call myself 25, then?) do I have to offer?

The subject of inclusion.

I'm not sure that academia has a word for it. Programs exist which state they will help Autistics. They include therapies, counselling programs, summer camps and specialized classes. They are made with the intention to teach Autistics skills, help Autistics communicate or overcome Autism. "Overcome," "help communicate" and "teach skills" sound positive. They sound inclusive in bringing Autistics closer to being a part of the normal population.

In reality they exclude Autistics in showing that they aren't at the same level of treatment as their peers and their community as long as they remain Autistic. Research showed by the British Columbia Association of Community Living demonstrated that "students with disabilities who are part of an inclusive learning environment attain higher academic outcomes" and that "children and teens with disabilities who have been part of the regular school community have increased peer connections, friendships, and greater social skills as a result of their inclusive experience."

We aren't at the zenith yet in progress for Autism inclusion. I heard about summer camps with programs just for Autistics. I came back from the summer after Grade Nine knowing that my high school was introducing a semi-segregated class just for Autistic students. Another teacher assured my concerns that it wasn't for students like me and so I had a regular timetable. To this day I still don't understand why the students in its classroom are there; I believe they have the right to have a normal timetable just as I didn't have a special class for English, Math and Chemistry or a support worker collecting information from my teachers about my progress. From what I heard, the program's Autistics have been bullied at the school which I was never bullied at. I shudder at what might not have come to play if I had been segregated; segregation was one of my fears when I was younger. What about beyond the elementary and secondary school level? Stories circulate of Autistics being unable to earn stable employment or employment in their field because they were discriminated or an employer believed they were inept. In reality, organizations such as Autism Speaks still call Autism a burden and exclude Autistics from having the say on Autism itself. We need to make inclusion more common than an overcrowded train heading downtown at 8:45 in the morning at a time without a relief line and many businesses downtown.

What helps?

We need to end segregated school and camp environments. Let Autistics be in an inclusive education program where they can have a timetable and classrooms just as any ordinary student. Include them in extracurricular activities and in daily student life. I once approached a professor while he was playing a video in a lecture, asking if he could keep it down. He respectfully reduced the volume and apologized later. When the radio played in the mornings at my high school (I being the early bird every morning), teachers unlocked classrooms for me to get some studying or extracurricular work finished. My own co-workers at my summer position turn the volume down when I ask. This is inclusion.

Employers, don't let your hiring and work practices discriminate against Autistics. See the positive in the workers arriving at the job interview typing their answers to you, not looking you in the eye or closing their ears. Give a chance. There are abilities in the person and screening them won't improve the Autistic workforce gap - or the disability workforce gap - or any workforce gap for any discriminated group!

We must end stereotypes. We must challenge the current ideas of Autistics being burdens and lacking empathy. (Explain where Autism Positivity came from if Autistics lacked compassion.)

Egale Rainbow Lanyard
If you are not Autistic, carefully consider how you can fully include someone who is - why only Autistic? Autism Acceptance will never be enough and I disagree it will ever fully manifest alone. Some of us in the Autistic community also experience homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, queerphobia, racism and sexism. Women are often misdiagnosed due to what many attribute the stereotype of more males on the spectrum than females. We need to include the LGBTQ community. We need to promote women's rights. We need to end racism. We need to stand for disability rights. Every person has the right to live in a safe dwelling in a safe community with a stable income. Every person has the right to an inclusive learning environment in an inclusive community regardless what gender they have, what religion they have, what race they have, what sexual orientation they have and what disability they have.

Then let's bring things simpler and ask ourselves: how can we be more inclusive?

- FA

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