I went to Autcom, a conference where autistic voices are valued and heard. There were autistic presenters who type, presenters who speak; some were college students, some were parents; some can, and do work, others need a support person.
A few presenters were neurotypical. It was a diverse group and the presentations were great.
The environment was autistic friendly. I did not see flashes from cameras, nobody complained when I, and others, got up during a keynote and paced a little; we flapped our hands instead of clapping and there was a crash room.
It was a safe space for autistics and it was welcoming. But at the very end, something happened and it was not nice.
Ableism is ugly. It is imposing and arrogant. It makes me feel powerless. It saddens me more than it angers me.
I feel especially sad about what happened at Autcom because it was about an autistic adult being ableist towards an autistic child. And this is not ok. What happened is that, during a short movie the kid made some noises. Maybe he got upset because of a technical problem that made the screen go dark; maybe he was tired; maybe that’s his way of communicating. The autistic adult next to the kid did not like the noise and said the boy had to leave because he could not behave. He said that it was a “formal” gathering.
There was a little discussion between the man and the boy’s mom until, I think, someone suggested that the autistic adult changed seats.
I was sad because, for a moment, that very nice conference was not welcoming, nor safe, for a young autistic boy who probably heard, many times during the weekend, about advocacy and acceptance.
I feel bad because I did not say anything, I did not advocate and I did not show that child that it was ok for him to be himself, in that room, at that moment. I feel bad because I did not tell him that it is ok to be himself.
At that moment, bad memories came back to me; I was, once again, a student who was forced to go to events I did not like and told to “behave”. I wouldn’t “behave” because I couldn’t control my body, because I would get anxious and overwhelmed. Then I was called names. Those memories made me unable to react.
Autcom was welcoming to me; it was safe. I saw and experienced neurotypical people striving to be respectful and accommodating to the needs of many autistics. Then I saw ableism coming from an unexpected place.
We want and deserve to be understood and respected for who we are. We hope that young autistics today will be proud of themselves and without shame. The message that boy received at that moment was the opposite of acceptance. It was ableist and it came from someone who is part of our own community.
I hope the young boy understands that the majority of us still accept him as he is. And I hope the autistic adult realizes that we are all in this together, even if some people need a different kind of understanding. We can’t ask for accommodations and for a safe environment for ourselves if we are not willing to offer the same safe space and accommodate the young autistics.
Little friend at Autcom: it is ok to be yourself. Most of us do respect who you are.
My name is Amy Sequenzia and I am an autistic self-advocate. I also have epilepsy and cerebral palsy.
I type to communicate. I began typing when I was eight years old but for many years I did not type much because of seizures that made me very tired all the time and because of lack of support. Today I cannot imagine being silenced again.
In 2012 I was a presenter at the Conference “Reclaiming our Bodies and Minds” at Ryerson University in Toronto. I have essays published by The Autism Women’s Network, The Shift Journal, Think Inclusive, Autism Now Center, The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism and The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN).
Also in 2012 I began serving on the board of directors at Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology (FAAST).
I hope to be a good advocate for my community and a friend to parents and allies. And I love blogging for Ollibean.
Read all of Amy’ s posts for Ollibean here.