An Apology From an Autistic Person Who Spoke 'On Your Behalf'
There have been times when I have been that exact person who started a letter or a forum post with “The autistic community feels…” or “We autistics tend to believe…” There have been times when I’ve assumed that how I perceive the wording of a PSA (public service announcement) that a particular organization puts out or the portrayal of an autistic character on television is how most people “like me” (i.e. most autistic people) would perceive that very thing. There have been times when I’ve written as though how I feel about autism as a “difference” instead of a “disorder” is how everyone else with autism feels about autism. There have been times when I’ve tried to be “the voice” of “the” autistic community.
And in those moments, I believe I’ve done my fellow autistics/people with autism a disservice.
I’m sorry for all the times I’ve spoken over you. I’m sorry for all the times I pushed aside your experiences and accounts when advocating for my own. I’m sorry for assuming that everything that affects me as an autistic person necessarily affects you as well, and I’m sorry for all the times that I’m ignorant to or don’t speak up about the things that affect you as an autistic person that don’t affect me. It was never my intention to invalidate you or your experiences or to put words in your mouth that aren’t in your head and heart, but there have been times when the way I worded my opinions has unintentionally done exactly that, and that is wrong of me.
I want to use my words to help make the world a better place for those with autism and other disabilities, but I want to do so in a way that makes known the understanding that others may have different ideas as to what this “better” entails or how to go about making this “better,” and that those differences are equally valid and deserving of consideration. I want to be a better advocate, and I now see that doing so means I can’t try to be an advocate for all autistic people or all people with disabilities. I believe I can only be an advocate for myself and my viewpoints, and I can only (and should) help to make the self-advocacy of others known and appreciated instead of trying to be their advocacy.
So thank you to Erin Clemens (who wrote a piece calling out people who try to speak on her behalf) and others who continue to remind us that one autistic person is only one autistic person and is not, nor should try to present themselves as, a reflection of the entire autistic community. Recently, I’ve tried to put in this very disclaimer whenever I mention autism and the matters surrounding it, and I do try to acknowledge that others on the spectrum feel and think differently than I do, but I slip up sometimes. When I do slip up, I want to be called out on it.
The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one commonly held opinion within the community surrounding your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) that doesn’t resonate with you? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images