Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Needs of the Many

…should not be determined by the loud voices of the few.

I sometimes get commenters on my site who talk about the importance of considering the needs of autistic people with serious challenges and who declare that the discussion should not be monopolized by successful autistics who have a university degree, a career, a happy marriage, a house in the suburbs, a popular blog, or whatever the commenters' definition of success may be.

And then they're surprised when I agree with them completely.

Of course no individual or subgroup should ever claim to speak for an entire minority group. That's just basic common sense, and I've said many times that I speak only for myself on my blog. If I write a post that addresses a feminist issue, I don't claim to be speaking for all women, either. Nobody has the right to speak for all autistics. Period.

I'd like to see a world where millions of autistic people felt empowered to discuss their lives and their opinions on the Internet and elsewhere; to participate in public policy workgroups; and to speak out about their needs by means of voice, text, or whatever means they may find most comfortable. And I'd like to see a world where people actually listened to what they had to say.

Unfortunately, we are nowhere near that point, for a variety of reasons. I'm not going to point a finger at any particular group or philosophy; the main culprit, as with most social problems, is ignorance. Many governmental organizations and private groups still make policy decisions about autistics without seeking input from any members of the autistic community. The needs of autistic adults, regardless of whether or not they are deemed successful, too often are ignored.

There are no quick fixes for this systematic exclusion. As with other civil rights efforts, it's going to be a gradual process of putting more of our opinions into the public discourse and letting them percolate through the consciousness of the majority population. Here's an example of how this can be done: In New Jersey, a state planning committee has been created to focus on the needs of autistic adults. Ari Ne'eman, who is one of the committee's members, is requesting comments from autistic self-advocates, family members, professionals, and others who wish to contribute to the discussion. This will result in more opportunity for decisions to be made based on the views of a reasonable cross-section of our community, rather than on stereotypes and assumptions.

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  • "Nobody has the right to speak for all autistics. Period."

    For the record, I agree 100%

    By Blogger jypsy, at 7:30 PM  

  • "I'd like to see a world where millions of autistic people felt empowered to discuss their lives and their opinions on the Internet and elsewhere"

    I agree! I think parents could learn so much from adults with Autism. I know I have many questions. Who better to ask than an adult who knows first hand.

    By Blogger Marla, at 7:24 PM  

  • "Nobody has the right to speak for all autistics." This is true. But there is a long tradition of autistics who are famous primarily for being autistic saying "I don't speak for all autistics", and then proceeding to write or speak pretty much as though they speak for all autistics. This is the inevitable consequence of playing in this role.

    By Blogger Lili Marlene, at 1:45 AM  

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