Admit you may be wrong.
This is the first step to moving forward as an autism advocate. Embrace the humility to admit that the ways you are advocating might not be the best for those closest to you as well as the general autistic community. If you admit to the fact that you make mistakes, this sets up the right mindset for effective change by making you more welcome to the ideas and advice coming from the autistic community. Advocates are servants. Advocates who are not part of the disability community they are advocating for can benefit by engaging with that community in order to be knowledgable about their most pressing needs. Once you accept the humility of a servant, you’ll be ready for Goal #2.
It’s incredibly common to assume cognitive impairment in someone who is not verbally fluent. Autistic writer and advocate Maxine Share discussed this in a recent interview. Adequately supporting nonverbal autistics requires an investment in educating the public on their needs (as well as the misconceptions or ableism so common in homes, schools, workplaces, and the general public).
Whether an autistic person is verbal or not, presuming competence is an integral part of treating them as human beings. Presuming competence means eliminating ableist attitudes. To begin this process, be open to change. Read what other disabled people have written on the topic of ableism and try to assess how your views and behaviors align or don’t align with their recommendations.
Constantly try to see the world from the autistic perspective.
Autistic people fundamentally perceive the world differently than you do. Sometimes it’s easy to view autism as a collection of behaviors to understand, and once they are managed, supported, or accommodated for, life is good for everyone. But there are infinite ways to perceive life, and supporting people on the spectrum requires a serious ongoing effort to see the world from the autistic perspective.
This begins simply with keeping lines of communication open with the autistic people in your life. Let them know that you are interested in learning more about their needs and supporting them. Let them know that you make mistakes and want to do better.
Beyond communicating with the autistic people closest to you, make an effort to regularly review resources about autism and the lives of autistic people that are authored by people on the spectrum. Look for books, podcasts, blogs, and speaking events that prioritize #ActuallyAutistic input.
Commit to learning more about autism and supporting those in your life in different ways on an ongoing basis. Help the world make positive progress to embrace and support those on the autism spectrum in 2020. Happy New Year!