So lets start with the facts. You have a cause. You love someone with Autism (insert other challenges here to make appropriately relevant). You want to help. You feel empowered in advocating for them, in doing something charitable, obtaining good karma, and your identity strengthens by being "about" something. You buy tee shirts, fundraise, "like" and post cool quotes and pictures on facebook, and even attend rallies and fairs... just make sure when you are posing for your pictures you don't push the people with different abilities out of the way! Accept them as they are and remember your goals are about making THEM feel better, protected, and progressive in reaching THEIR goals. Don't negate the fact that a lot of what you may not understand may be a part of their identity; something they want you to accept about them NOT something they want you want to change about them, fix, or take away.
It is very easy to think you are an immediate expert when youve read some brochures, gone online, spoken to a few parents, and attended a conference or two about "your cause". The truth is there are no experts other than the people living with their differences or challenges, you know, the ones you are working so endlessly to help... The problem is society tends to have a "fix it" mentality and doesn't always want to turn the mirror on itself.
I have spoken recently with several young adults with Autism/Asperger's about their experiences growing up with language challenges, sensory difficulties, intense therapy schedules, and many people "advocating" for them. I inquired about how difficult it is to exist in the workplace and deal with the allegedly "neurotypical" (NT) population. Some of the best points made are as follows:
So, the point is this, we don't simply need to therapize and change the people we love and want to support! We don't need them to completely acclamate to our way of doing things. We need to help find their comfort level, their strongest abilities, and leave room for listening and learning from them about ourselves too! We need to educate strangers who stare, restaurants who ask parents to get their kids under control or leave, stores that won't hire people with developmental differences, and agencies that want to cut programs and funding that helps keep people moving forward. Equal rights to the pursuit of justice and happiness are not luxuries, they are entitlements and we must not think that doing the right thing for others with special needs is an extra, they should have always been in place. Additionally, when forming groups to support your cause, make sure you are including, highlighting, and collaborating directly with individuals impacted. There is no room for assuming when it comes to these causes and we all know what they say about assumptions!
Remember, advocacy is nothing without acceptance!