My ABCs of Autism Advocacy
April was Autism Awareness month and people all over the globe were communicating, campaigning, and in some cases criticizing, and complaining about autism, advocacy and activism. When it comes to autism and autism advocacy/activism, there is no shortage of opinions or passion. I enjoy sharing in the discussion, but if I were to be honest, April can be a little overwhelming for me for a few reasons, so I usually stay fairly quiet.
I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (Asperger’s) in December of 2014. While I have been a pastor and public speaker since 2002, I have only been a part of the autism community (officially) for the last two years. With nearly 15 years of public speaking under my belt, I have developed a level of comfort in communicating about topics I am passionate about. I was taught and trained by some of the best communicators and public speakers who taught me how to use a number of tools to communicate my passion and my position about many issues.
The truth is, though, I don’t have nearly as much experience speaking and communicating about autism as I do about my faith. I am learning something new every day, and at this point the only thing I am certain about is my own narrative. I can share that with complete confidence and transparency because I own it. So that’s what I do. I share my story, my experiences, and occasionally my opinion. I talk about my life, my family, my faith, my frustrations, and my faults. I share my life because as I often say, I believe when it relates to autism and advocacy we need more than just stats — we need stories. Real stories from real people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
My story is just one of many. When it comes to autism and advocacy, I am still very much evolving, learning and growing, but one thing that will always remain is that my core values and my training as a communicator heavily inform when I write, how I write and mostly importantly why I write. Over the last few months, I have been asked about my advocacy and my approach to sharing my passion for all things faith, family and autism. My personal approach is simple. I follow my own personal ABCs of advocacy.
A = Accuracy and Authenticity
I’ve spent approximately seven years pursuing post-graduate studies in theology and church ministry. Included in those courses of both my masters and doctorate, was a heavy focus on preaching. Without a doubt the most impactful lesson I learned was to appreciate the role of context. Ignoring context causes us to inevitably ignore accuracy. When I write or speak about autism advocacy, I try my best to find the appropriate context of the discussion as well as the appropriate context for the discussion. Over the last few years I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but one thing I strive to be is authentic. But to do so, I have to be as accurate as possible.
B = Be balanced and not biased
I have my own experiences and opinions about many things concerning autism. I have things I believe deeply and topics I am extremely passionate about, but sometimes putting my passion in the correct place requires me to have the courage to be willing to listen to opposing views. I believe one of the greatest personal and spiritual growth catalysts is the ability to absorb information from sources that have differing belief systems, opinions, values and practices from my own. I don’t have to agree or change my position, but I do think I owe it to myself and to the people my advocacy serves to know and appreciate other perspectives, especially if it helps me to grow.
C = Compassion and Critical Thinking
Believe it or not, the two ideas don’t have to be mutually exclusive. As a trained scholar and public theologian, I have learned that critical thinking doesn’t necessarily have to lead to criticizing communication. My faith demands that I practice compassion and extend grace in every situation. Learning to balance my natural inclination to surgically deconstruct someone’s stance with the role of compassion is a delicate balancing act, but I have to constantly remind myself that when it comes to autism advocacy, behind every position is a person. Civility and humility go a long way in working with people by standing for inclusiveness without unintentionally alienating others in my community.
D = Don’t read the comments. Ever. Seriously.
In the past year I have had someone imply I am a liar, a con artist pastor (although I’ve never actually asked for anything from anyone because I have a job), I’ve been accused of using my religion as a crutch (although I was a Christian before I was diagnosed), and my all-time favorite was a woman who felt sorry for my family and implied that living with me must be difficult because I am not always able to effectively manage my sensory resources. I used to read the comments in my articles and blogs with regularity until realized I have been insulted more than I care to have ever read. So my last piece of advice is don’t read the comments. Ever!
Follow this journey on Autism Pastor.
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