Dynamite of Discord: The Responsibility of Influencers in the Autism Culture
Empowerment comes with responsibility. Now, more than ever, as autistics become empowered, and meet together in thousands of circles on social media, in coffee shops, at festivals and conferences, we must acknowledge that our voices will affect generations of autistics to come. As autistics, we must recognize our own ideals, familiarize ourselves with what is right and wrong, and apply our sense of fairness in all our actions.
In truth, there are a lot of us out there who are just coming into “autism,” either as adults recently diagnosed, individuals who are coming of age, or children growing into young adults. Either way, last word spoken, autistics were somewhere between 1% and 2% of the population. Some of us are newbies boldly seeking out new information, others are overflowing with data whilst scrimmaging to decipher new input, and still more, skimming the surface of a newfound mystery. We come in all ages, all shapes and sizes, and a variety of styles—including our personality, background, ideals, skills, and presentation to the world.
We are as multicolored and multifaceted as a lounge of chameleons spied through a kaleidoscope. And each of us, at our own pace, with the help of the collective, is finding a place of individualized and unique self-empowerment.
What is self-empowerment? Empowerment of one denotes the concept of self-actualization and the act of influencing society and culture. Self-empowerment can be compared to a valiant inner quest of enlightenment through creative expression and a pursuit of knowledge. For an autistic, self-empowerment might include the want to give back to the autistic culture in some way or form.
The aftershock of self-empowerment—of gained insight, knowledge, confidence, and honing of creative gifts—can be dynamically powerful. Self-empowerment has the potential of a dynamo effect. Indeed, such self-instilled power can fissure through granite. Ideas can burst through—powerful voices of movement. Empowerment can serve as a means to lift others up and also as a means to push others down.
No doubt, when anyone finds themselves in a place of power within a marginalized community, such as an autistic leader of an organization of autistic people, they have the capacity to serve as a great influencer.
Why is this? Because “marginalized” people, by definition, are in search of a collective voice and power. We, by our very nature, are vulnerable to outside influence. As an oppressed culture, we are prone to grasp at straws, reach out to anything (or anyone) that might feasibly help. Particularly important to an oppressed people is gaining the tools to instigate change and power, disprove stereotypes, and decrease saturated stories told by others that are not rooted in that defined culture.
Like it or not, if you are autistic, you are the role model of our time. And what you say and how you convey your message is a direct reflection of our autistic culture. As is such, today, as we come into our identity, self-empowerment, or leadership, we need to embrace one another and provide within our clan an incubator of acceptance, the warmth of a homecoming. As we usher in the fragile, chrysalis-birthed autistics, it’s not time to demean, shame, or put down. And, as we gather round the community leaders, it is not time to berate them publicly.
Unity is important, and acceptance, equally vital. And seated front and center, the want to do no harm to members of a culture that have repeatedly been invisible, stepped over, stepped on, and made into something they are not. In hindsight this is obvious. But alas, in the here and now, our actions are not always transparent to self.
Sometimes, as oppressed people in the process of wanting to hone our own personal power and pave way for major change, we forget how the thunder of our cause can shatter the very people we are wanting to assist. Sometimes we get lost in our own ways. But remember, how we treat the meekest of our tribe is a direct reflection on our strength as a whole. How we treat the person to our left, to our right, and standing smack in our way, is a reflection of the heart of our collective.
We each tread as unique creatures, some lions, some hawks, some doves—still we each move. And in our moving, we must remember what we pass and whom we step on. We must take care to not, in our great passion, devour those in our way. We must remember the mark we make and make ways for adjustments and apology. Our movement should not be at the expense of anyone. Our cause should not create separation within our own people.
We are a community with a unified cause of autism awareness, understanding, and, ultimately, acceptance. Some of us are carried through our day on the wings of our potential, in the hopes of our future. For some, the autistic community is all they have. For others, it is finally home.
I encourage you to not buy into hate mongering. To avoid and dismiss your presence from forums that spread vicious rumors about autistic people, from blogs and articles that point out others as faulty in their very infrastructure. No person that instills hatred and discord is a beneficial voice to our culture, no matter the rationalization.
I will not assist an autistic that pushes the dagger further into the wounds of another member of my tribe; I shall not rest my hand on the same weapon of demise; nor shall I uphold such action by association. I remove myself fully. If you call out my tribe member, I call out you in silence, through my movement toward the opposite spectrum of justice and acceptance. I will not bow down to your ways, if those ways are compromising my autistic family.
Self-proclaimed autistic “activists” that hide behind the guise of “activism” as a means to their ends (of outrage and name-calling) are not activists I standby. When considering a leader, I seek out the gatherers. I observe their ways. Are they too hiding behind the guise of activism to justify harmful acts? Are they gossipers? Are they instigators of superiority? Are they calling out blame and creating the very harm they accuse others of?
Unification and activism with self-awareness, with self-reflection, and with the ability to apologize and be flexible, is what builds people up. Unity that instills self-empowerment and then provides means of members to go and create constructive change, in an uplifting environment, is beneficial. Confronting conflict in mature fashion and fairness is productive. Unity that creates cliques and establishes rigid rules of what is accepted and what is not, based on passing trends and self-centered agendas, breeds isolation and separation.
Like anything of fortitude, a community must be able to move within the times and be open to other ways of thinking and being. Inclusion includes diversity, including diversity in opinion and manner of expression. Including ways in which a people identify. I steadfastly will not instill further separation on a group of individuals that has already been marginalized. I shall not heed the leaders of such a cause.
I will not call my sister and brother out. I will step back. I will step out. And I will create my own change away from hurtful means. I will swallow my rage without stinging others back with the taint of their own venom, and transform my anger into proactive causes. I refuse to support the autistic self-empowered leader who blasts dynamite of discord without forethought or recognition of the detrimental consequence.
Samantha Craft is the President and CEO of Spectrum Suite, LLC that celebrates neurodiversity through the arts, literature, and service. She is the founder of an upcoming group Autism Volunteer Association (AVA), the author of the groundbreaking book Everyday Aspergers, and a community manager for an innovative technology company that employs remote, work-from-home software testers. Sam is autistic, Aspergian, Aspie, a mother, a woman, a friend, a partner, and respects the right of others to self-identify as they choose.