This is Part Two of a two-part interview with writer, student, and a/Autistic advocate Leanne Libas. Last week she shared her experience discovering her autism diagnosis and how she has developed a positive autistic identity through a transformative experience at a youth leadership forum. She wrote about not wanting to be cured for fear of “losing herself.” This week she discussed autism advocacy practices, different areas she notices ableism in her own life, and practical ways to combat ableism starting today in your own homes and communities.
What ableist attitudes, if any, have you encountered in school or work?
Currently, I am dealing with a lot of unfair judgements from many colleagues and friends whom I thought I could trust. I have been hearing people saying that I am not mentally well and should seek counsel. However, I have been seeking counsel since November 2018, so I do not see what the issue is. What’s damning is how people are suddenly listening to what I have to say ever since I broke down on New Year’s Eve. Everyone has their right to be concerned about me–I am concerned about me. I have many amazing plans I want to accomplish for this year and the next five years. At least that makes me less worried about those who are hating and being unsupportive.
Besides these current ableist attitudes I have been receiving, I have dealt with the usual comments such as:
- “You don’t look autistic because you’re able to communicate well.”
- “Wow, you have autism?” Wow, you’re autistic?!”
- “You don’t have a disability or disabilities because I don’t see it/them.”/”You don’t look disabled.”
- “You’re not like most autistics.”
- “You’re so inspirational.”/“You’re such an inspiration.”
Even though I explain to most people about my disabilities, I still receive these comments after my explanation of what my disabilities entail. In facts, I have received comments like these from all aspects of my life: school, work, and family. Thankfully, my family has gotten better over the years when I started to identify as part of the a/Autistic community and culture. That also includes my school; nonetheless, many other advocates have said there is a lot of work that needs to be done, which is true. We also have issues beyond inspiration porn and ableist attitudes which expand to organizations that appear to be disability-friendly, yet they are not. Overall, the solution is for people to better understand the disability rights movement by doing their research and talking to actual disabled people (or people with disabilities if you use person-first/people-first language) because the disability community is made up of the actual professionals who are most aware of their condition because they live with their disabilities on a daily basis.
What mistakes do you see neurotypical autism advocates make?
Well! I have got to be careful with this question because my answers may receive more scrutiny than I want to receive right now! Plus, I have a lot to say about neurotypical (NT) advocates who are supposedly supporting a/Autistics – diagnosed and self-diagnosed.
Based on my experiences as a part of the disability rights movement and a/Autistic rights movements, here are the common mistakes I have seen from NT advocates for a/Autistics:
- Lack of conducting proper research (e.g. not providing disability-friendly resources and information about what autism and disabilities are actually like),
- Not validating actual a/Autistics who are diagnosed or self-diagnosed,
- Assuming what autism is when they speak to an a/Autistic – regardless of whether they are verbal or non-verbal,
- Supporting organizations and resources that are not disability-friendly, and
- Not acknowledging their mistakes and flaws as an advocate.
I think those are the most common mistakes I have seen and experienced. I can go on and on about this, but I guess this topic could be my research paper for the Fall 2019 semester before I graduate with my B.A. in Liberal Studies!
What are some ways NTs can work to combat ableism, starting in their own homes and communities?
RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH! As a liberal studies major, I learn four disciplines: arts, humanities, social sciences, and sciences. Although each major at my school uses critical thinking skills, I believe those who are pursuing the liberal studies degree use the most critical thinking out of everyone at the school. Also, I feel like it’s the most underrated major across colleges and universities across the nation. Pursuing liberal studies makes me and my fellow peers look at the big picture. The one thing most people forget to do after looking at multiple perspectives and at both sides of the argument is to look at one’s intentions and actions before discerning their opinions! This is why I have been receiving a lot of flak from those I thought I could trust–I feel like they did not understand my intentions and actions. My only intentions and actions were: I care about a lot of people way too much, I love the people who have personally made an impact in my life, and I share with them how I am feeling – even though I am not trusting a lot of people right now with my current situation out of respect for myself and those who are involved.
Anyways, it’s good to have conversations about how disabilities are perceived in most cultures; however, when is the time to start acting upon our goals and creating changes within the system? As the student commissioner for California’s Advisory Commission on Special Education for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, one of the biggest lessons I have learned is: You can share your perspective and story as many times as you are able to. Nonetheless, there are people who will never support your views, validate your perspective, and listen to you. That was the hardest lesson I have learned because I know certain people who attend the commission meetings and/or are a part of the commission who will never change (e.g., how they use euphemisms to not say the words “disability” and “disabled”). Additionally, some have tokenized me as an a/Autistic student of color who identified as a woman, which is frustrating because I am more than my identities. Yes, I am proud to identify as a woman of color who has multiple disabilities. Additionally, I am a daughter of two immigrants who came from the Philippines to live their American dreams, younger sister to a blunt woman who cares a lot about me, undergraduate fourth-year student pursuing a liberal studies degree, friend, aunt to wonderful nieces and nephews, cousin, colleague, mentee, mentor, and friendly face you see either on social media or in passing.
Overall, I would highly recommend research, speak to actual a/Autistics, and learn about the disability rights movement, a/Autistic rights movement, the cultures, and communities.
What are you currently studying and what profession do you plan on pursuing?
I am currently studying liberal studies, and I will be graduating in Fall 2019! I am excited that I am close to graduating! All I need to do is get my life together and continue surviving and thriving – as always! Originally, I wanted to become a special education teacher. However, it changed after last spring semester when I had to hear someone (who was not my student) get restrained when I was observing for my fieldwork hours.
I will acknowledge that the education system is changing and improving – especially with the education of our students with disabilities. However, I cannot support current practices such as how Most Restrictive Environment (MRE) is conducted and the school-to-prison pipeline. I cannot bear to read on my social media and the news how countless a/Autistic students and disabled students are handcuffed over the fact that they were practicing healthy stims. In fact, some of my friends and colleagues have been placed in the MRE and/or have been restrained physically or in handcuffs (metal or plastic). I understand the safety concerns of the person receiving these restraints – to prevent harming oneself or others. To add, I also support the police force because they have been assisting me with my current situation, and I know some of my friends who have family members who served/are serving as police officers. However, it is worse when a police officer becomes involved in the MRE and handcuffs a person with autism or a person with a disability who is experiencing sensory overload. The handcuffs add more stress. After looking at both sides of the issue, I believe handcuffs are unethical to use.
Additionally, I am a former special education student who has been through the system, and I am educated in this field due to my work as a disability rights advocate and a former student commissioner. It hurts to know that handcuffing children still exists.
Children are the most resilient people I have met. All they need is to be listened to and respected. Nevertheless, if I were to pursue this career path, I would rather teach at a reputable public school or charter school because I know the school would care about the students and take care of them responsibly and ethically.
A couple months ago, my friends and I created our own production teams. We created these production teams because the original intentions were to release my tribute film, #WATCHTHEREVAMP2K19. However, many of our projects have been on standstill due to other obligations such as school, work, family life, and health. Right now, we are getting ready to release my tribute film, #WATCHTHEREVAMP2K19. We plan on releasing it on my birthday – Monday, April 8, 2019- on all social media platforms! We have been working on my short film since January 2019. I wanted to do this film so I can share my truth because I had to act a certain way due to my trauma from my sexual assault and past. I acted uptight all the time because I felt like people would take advantage of me. Plus, I had to maintain professionalism to gain and maintain my reputation as a disability rights advocate.
I want to see the companies grow and sustain for many years until I establish who will become the next acting CEO. I never thought in a million years I would be creating my own companies! It is amazing!
Honestly, I see multiple professions I want to pursue. For instance, I want to become a disability studies professor and teach at a four-year university or community college, a performer (singing, dancing, acting, and playing the violin, viola, guitar, and ukulele), public speaker, fashion designer, social media influencer, model, writer, and many more.
There are many endless possibilities for my future. Let’s see where life takes me!