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Should autism education be left to autistics?

Updated: Apr 4, 2020

This blog comes courtesy of my friend/colleague/client Yasmin Arshad (yes, Yas, I spelled your whole name out). She wrote it in response to a grad student from Boston University, who was present at a presentation Yasmin and Meaghan Buckley made in February, at the invitation of Dr. Zack Rossetti. It is reprinted here with her permission:

  • How do you feel about the presentation you gave at BU?

It was a fabulous presentation, it helped that Zack had us prepare statements about ourselves and our school experience.

  • Why did you agree to come to BU and give a presentation?

It fits into my role as ambassador for autistics.

  • What do you hope the BU students learned from your presentation? 

I hope they understand that people with autism who don’t speak are nonetheless highly intelligent.

  • What was the most important thing that you want the BU students to remember about your presentation?

My frank opinion is I hope they understand people with autism are mostly highly intelligent and sensitive, and are very aware of the world around them despite appearances.

  • What is your perspective on people with autism having opportunities to teach others about autism?

Best way to help others to meaningful clarity about autism.

  • Do you think it is different when a person with autism teaches about autism compared to a person without autism doing the teaching? How is it different?

Most people have absolutely no clue about autism, even the so called experts. For one thing autistics are very individualistic. So only we can hope to make ourselves known.

  • When people listen to and learn from people with autism, what do you think the potential outcomes might be?

My own personal experience has been that since learning to communicate by typing I am no longer isolated and depressed. Imagine if that could be true for all autistics, speaking or not! We would have a “place at the table” and no longer be marginalized.

  • I would like to help make the world to be a better place for people with disabilities and I am thinking about how education can be a part of that. I am interested in learning more about how teaching about autism and other disabilities can be a form of advocacy. What are your thoughts on the connections between educational presentations like this and advocacy for disability justice?

If we autistics are not perceived as viable members of society the world will never change its course and never give us the respect is we deserve. The only way for that to happen is to expose ourselves to more and more young people who’s minds are not yet set on a preconceived notion of autism.

  • What can we learn from autistics?

Most important question. My answer is divided into three parts. First from an immediate practical reason such as understanding when we feel sick or how best is the way to dress so we are comfortable. Secondly is, if we could participate in society we might help solve huge complex ideas such as string theory of the universe. And lastly is our human right to be considered as integral to society not marginalized. At this dark time in history so many of my friends are stuck in group homes unable to communicate, they must be so scared. But the state does not allow staff to learn supported typing, so now during this crisis there is no way for my friends to speak. It makes me so sad and angry too.

  • Do you have any other ideas or comments that you would like to share?

Very necessary to be given a lot of time and patience great capacity for real opinions but typing answers is a slow process. But we have much to contribute.

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