My very good friend and colleague Leonora Gregory-Collura, in B.C. Canada, posed a wonderfully thought provoking question to all of us. I know many will believe this is pointed directly at the Autistic Community. However, really look at what’s being said. Here’s the question she posed: “Will people actually get it that we (autistic people) are human ? Interested in your comments and why you think awareness campaigns are not run by autistic people for the most part.”
Well, here’s what I think, Leonora. It will take diligence and time. The world of people, in general, are taught, in many cultures or civilizations, that there must be sub-human people…people that exist who are “less than” them. There will always be the frame of thinking that a group of people are “destined” to be “the subjects” or “peasants” of an elite; people whom are the cause of all the ills ‘normal’ folks experience. The people who are enslaved, literally and figuratively by this theorizing, will always be and feel put upon, disenfranchised, disrespected and ignored. Until we, as the autistic (and caregivers of the autistic), find it within ourselves to push for “complete” unity (among ourselves), pool our resources (much like many elite do), thus creating our own power, we can (and I think it’s already happening) effectively start our own campaigns, non-profits, businesses, branding and marketing designed to have an authentic populous appeal. We will get the attention of the general public, the minute we all decide “it ain’t just about US, individually.”
We can’t be in the business of segregating ourselves or our children as “the other people”, any longer. We ARE mainstream! Always have been. Many autistic people have participated in, discovered, innovated and invented many things in our society that we, now, can’t or won’t live without. We ain’t that different from everyone else. If anything, we hold the keys to a thinking process that allows us to survive where other people may decide they’ve had enough. We’ve got to convince the general public at large that autism is NOT the new AIDS. Too many who control the marketing, the purse strings and the “language” surrounding “awareness campaigns”, have marketed (and successfully branded) autism as the scariest thing that can happen to a child or their family. With this “cleverly marketed” branding, autism took off as the next big boogeyman for the general public, corporate business and governments to dump billions of it’s dollars in an effort to eliminate it.
Yes, I’m being blunt, but, I think, it needs to be said. The louder voices are often the ones better at marketing and branding. We need to understand this dynamic and push back at how we’re characterized. Push past the labels. That’s a life anyone would want; to be recognized as the unique people we are, but, for us, in a “mainstream” way. Branding and marketing…both of these things require some capital investment and a recognition that people become persuaded to believe something, if it appears…well…believable; authentic. Many folks find it hard to conceive an autistic person can be a multi-platinum record producer, because, the counter branding and marketing claims being autistic is the worst thing that can happen to a person. I want to see a PSA or documentary-styled infotainment piece about THAT guy or gal! I want to see them in their element…doing the thing that makes them a uniquely gifted asset to our society. That will make an impression on anyone. Proper marketing and branding can instill respect for a product or service. It can, also, cement, in the minds of the public, who the real authority is in a particular field or on a particular subject. Let’s brand ourselves as the experts. Talent shows and poetry readings are cute, however, we’ve got some really talented and well respected people in the Autistic Community that deserve to be invested in (and given proper high visibility recognition) so they can shine. This can be the catalyst that promotes the positive about the entire Autistic Community. We need to find ways to employ autistic folks, like some already have done. We are more of an asset than a liability.
We all need to have as frank a discussion about this issue as possible. The ugly perception of being an autistic person will not go away until regular exposure to autistic folks, across the spectrum, is done on a continued basis, in the mainstream media. However, we’ve gotta be more than characters portrayed by actors in television shows or mini-series. Movies are cool, too…for a minute. Then, everyone moves on to the next “cool” thing. We don’t need to be a Hollywood fad. We don’t need to become part of the autism cottage industry (profit or non-profit) that strips the dignity and finances of parents, caregivers and individual autistic people. We know how cool our stories are. We know how awesome our journey’s continue to be. We need to make this real to people in a way they can digest it. Sound bite this thing! Let’s put our collective heads together and not make this a movement about showing ourselves separate or better than. That’s prideful. That won’t get us anywhere. Our greatness will come from unification (becoming one true voice), reasoned marketing and the authoritative branding of who we really are. I know we can do this. Talk to me, somebody!