Autism Interview #167: Tas Kronby on Allyship and Equal Access to Higher Education

Tas Kronby are Autistic members of the disability community with developmental, mental health, and physical disabilities. They use them/them and plural pronouns and we/ours in writing (Really, they are not typos). They advocate for equal access and awareness and acceptance of neurodiversity. They aim to use their voice to break the stigma surrounding any and all invisible disability diagnosis. For more information on what they do, come visit them at www.tasthoughts.com. This week Tas discussed allyship and equal access to higher education.

What led you to pursue a diagnosis as an adult?

We grew up in a time that the diagnosis of autism was reserved based on severity. Some doctors wouldn’t consider it because we could “talk.” Others suggested that we get tested, and our mother was resistant. So as an adult we wanted answers. Our sensory issues and other things matched autism. Our development as a child matched it too. So we decided that it is good to have a label on it, since it explains some pieces of who we are. We are so glad that we pursued the diagnosis. It has opened up doors for us and helped us in our healing process from trauma.

Your website says, “It is through the power of your experiences that others become aware.” What role do neurodiverse people play in changing the narrative on disability?

People are emotional creatures. When you are watching a movie or reading a book, the way you connect with the characters impacts your view of the entire film. In the same way, when you barrage people with statistics, legalities and medical data, it disconnects you from the person. No longer is autistic viewed as a an identity, but a medical term to be afraid of, avoid, and generalize. Life stories, real experiences told by Autistic people make the biggest impact. It allows a human connection to take shape and really…it helps society realize we are all human, deserve acceptance, and equality.

What role do neurotypical people play in changing the narrative on disability?

This is a big one: ALLOW AUTISTIC VOICES TO TELL THEIR STORY. Too often people take the role of ally to overshadow and dictate what being Autistic means. They use stereotypes and generalizations to say “this is what autism is.” When really, they have no idea. We recently had a job interview, and we always disclose our autism right away. We do this for two reasons: first, it is transparent and no one is surprised later on when there is a challenge. Secondly, we use it to gauge how people react. This time we were met with a common look: uncomfortable uncertainty and confusion. This reaction is because people have a negative burdensome view of autism. This exists because neurotypical persons whether they be parents, family members, or friends of an autistic person take it upon themselves to speak for the autism community. Once this stops, they can truly be an ally and not prevent progress towards acceptance of autistic persons.

You mentioned you are interested in advocating for equal access to higher education for the Autistic community. What barriers have you experienced as a full-time college student?

Great question! Higher education is not formatted for neurodiverse individuals. Often, people associate disability with something physical. This means they don’t understand that disability or neurodiversity can be invisible. A huge obstacle we experience is getting reasonable accommodations. We are met with comments like “your GPA is really good, so we have to justify that you need this.” At one point, we had a member of disability services ask “how did you get autism?” There is a lack of awareness and understanding of what autism is and what support people need. We had to fight for over 3 months for one accommodation because “it goes against the school’s academic model.” Sadly, we were told “If you can’t meet this objective, maybe this isn’t the school for you.” We have about 1 year left to get our BA, and without the accommodations, we would have to quit school to fight for equal access. We said, “you’re saying that because of our cognitive delay and autism, we don’t get to finish our degree. Our autism doesn’t fit your school’s model?” Ultimately, we got the accommodation, but it was mentally draining to fight for something that should be an innate human right. More people in the autistic community may want to get a degree, but it is exhausting to fight for equality in a system that is predisposed to discriminatory practices based on your neurodiverse status. We have experienced this first hand throughout our time as a full-time student.

What ideas do you have for change in higher education in order to make it more accessible to Autistic students?

To bridge this gap, education for faculty and deans of the school is vital. People need to know that neurodiversity exists and how it may impact higher education. Training by neurodiverse colleagues or other organizations will help remedy this ongoing problem. There should never be a school model or objective that is not inclusive. Everyone should be able to gain access to supports to get a degree without being interrogated, invalidated, or just simply told no. One way to remedy this is with student advocates and peer mentorship within the school. Neurodiverse students working to support others while working towards their degree. Also, ones who know how disability services works at a university level. There are a lot of programs for grade school, but universities are largely lacking inclusion programs based on neurodiversity.

What are some things your higher education institution is doing “right,” in your opinion, for disabled students?

This is a tough one to answer. The one thing that is “right” is that disability services members are accessible. They answer your calls and emails, even if things don’t run smoothly. The manager of the program has been communicative and is the reason our accommodations request even went to the dean for review. We have heard much worse stories from others and their university’s practices. We have been lucky to not share their horrendous experiences.

What made you interested in pursuing an English and Writing major?

We have always had a passion for writing. We wrote our first chapter book at the age of 5 and never stopped. Literature has been a comfort to us in hard times and continues to be something we hold dear. Our favorite book is Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (we still have the original copy we got at a used bookstore when we were 8 years old), and Sylvia Plath is our favorite poet. As writers, we want to pursue a Ph.D in English Literature to be able to create content and teach others about the importance of literature. It really is an artistic record of societal evolution, dynamics, and the history of humanity. We hope to be contributors to the next generation of literary messages.

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