For this week, I want to share two more voices encouraging us to move beyond awareness to practical ways we can advocate for people on the spectrum.
Garret Westlake is the Director of the Disability Resource Center at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus. He is also the CEO and Founder of STEM Force Technology, a company that provides coaching and employment services for individuals on the autism spectrum.
1. Hire someone with autism. You don’t need to look very far to find exceptional people with exceptional talents.
2. Learn from someone with autism. You might learn a new skill, a joke, or a fact, but you will definitely gain perspective, understanding, and appreciation for how someone else sees the world.
3. Abolish average education. Why do we strive for broad mediocrity in education? Encourage outliers. Create access and accountability in education for student strengths — not weaknesses.
4. Understand autism as diversity. If we still struggle with issues of race, gender, and sexual identity, where are we with accepting disability? Disability is diversity too.
5. Laugh. Everyone needs more of it. We can all do it together.
Jennifer Byde Myers is co-founder of Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism and director of the Myers-Rosa Foundation.
1. Change the word “talk” to “communicate.” When my son was younger, therapists just wanted him to talk. They still call it speech therapy. Talking is overrated. We don’t care if he “talks” we want him to be able to communicate his needs effectively so he can lead the life he wants to live, not the one we think he wants to live.
2. Invest in education. Train the aides that work with people with autism. Fund the supports that are federally mandated in the schools yet remain unfunded by the feds. And invest in the education of every American so we can have a future with people who are knowledgeable and able to teach, provide professional services and lead our country in a way that encourages inclusion and equality.
3. Stop electing bigots. If a political entity is willing to say that gays, or single mothers, or people of color are less valuable to society, or are less worthy to receive respect and fair treatment under the law, how likely is it that a minority that is as diverse as the autism community will receive respect and needed services. Vote for the changes you want to see.
4. Put fences around parks, or at least part of the park. It’s not that I am too lazy to keep an eye on my son, but really, if I mess up for even a minute, he could end up as a hood ornament. I do not take him to parks that don’t have at least three sides blocked from traffic, and consequently he has missed out on a lot of parks. Recreation should be enjoyable for everyone on the outing, and safety is paramount.
5. Create an Autism Corps, like the Peace Corps. Train a generation of young men and women to work with autistics who need support with daily living skills like grocery shopping, or getting to work. Give parents and caretakers respite by providing free or very reduced rate childcare. A trained support network could provide an infrastructure for autistics to lead more independent and fulfilling lives.