I am both an autistic person, and someone who writes books, and advises others on how to deal with issues around their autism. It is not that I am unhappy with being thought of as autistic, but I also want to make it clear that what I view as my job is to help other autistic people, and their families to deal the same stuff that I and my family have struggled with. I am, in short, both an autistic person, and an autism professional.
However, there is one thing I have been faced with time and time again when working with fellow autism professionals. And this is the fact that they seem to regard me more as a client than a colleague. What I mean by this is that even if I am invited along to a workshop, talk or presentation as a professional I am treated as if I am somehow there to be helped by my non-autistic counterparts.
I was invited to an event to talk to members of the public one-on-one to try and educate them about autism. I was there working alongside a number of non-autistic professionals. When we were not engaged with the public we would sit on chairs behind a screen, and amuse ourselves. Within minutes all the non-autistic people, even those who had never met before, were talking away to each other. Not one of them, at any point, tried to say so much as a hello to me. My Mum and I were invited to another event and people came up to our table, and spoke to her. . The best I was favored with all night was a polite nod. There have been several other occasions like this.where I was invited along as a professional, but treated like a service user by the event organisers, and other present autism professionals
It always makes me feel as if I am not there as a writer; someone who published two books before his fifteenth birthday. Or as someone who spends most of his time writing about autism, and giving advice on it. It makes me feel as if I am somehow different to the other speakers or trainers. As if I am just there because I happen to be autistic. (But by the same token) *And as an autistic person there is an assumption that I must not want to be spoken to. As if it`s OK to invite someone with autism along to an event, and then make zero attempt to talk to them, or to introduce them to anyone else. It is as if people assume that due to my autism I wish to be left on my own, and do not want them to interact with me at all.
I said that people tended to talk to my Mum and not me at these events. People ask her about me, the books, and our advice service. Well that was true up until the last time we attended such an event. On this occasion she told the parents and professionals from the start that she is autistic too. Noone sitting at our table tried to talk to her. No fellow parents came over to her in the tea break, and started chatting as they normally would. Noone came and asked her about ASK-PERGERS?, or our books. Nothing.
It is true that autistic people/professionals might not always want to talk. But that should not mean non-autistic parents and professionals blank them. It`s OK to try chatting to someone, and back-off if they don’t want to talk. Autistic people often find it hard to start up conversations, and can find themselves forgotten about, and ignored in the background while everyone else gets on, and talks away. This happens a lot in schools, colleges and the workplace. But the very last place this should happen is at at events where autistic people have been invited along to share their expertise.
Autistic writers, autistic professionals and autistic speakers, must be thought of first and foremost as writers, professionals and speakers. Yes, as with everything else in their lives autism will impact on them at these events. It might be true that they do not wish to talk to anyone. They might relish being left on their own. But then again they might not. They might instead feel undervalued, ignored and cut off from a world they are meant to be a part of. Autistic people should not be forced to join in, but by the same token they should not be forced to stand apart.
If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?
And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!) http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762