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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Anger is Not Advocacy.

Many autistic adults carry wounds from their earlier years. They encountered parents, teachers, friends and a society in general who confused and misunderstood them. Even abused them. Sometimes undiagnosed for much of their younger years there is often post traumatic stress on top of the difficulties associated with day to day challenges of being autistic in a world that is not great at accommodating difference and disability.

Often parents they encounter online become a beacon of trigger points. Unresolved early trauma gets played out in online dramas. You see the same people engaging in these repetitive dialogues exposing their psychic sores, ripping off the scab time over and again.  Never seeming to find any way to move on. They are stuck, like many people who suffer early abuse.

And sometimes parents of autistic children are undiagnosed autistics, plenty also have trauma backgrounds, have been bullied, have disorders such as anxiety, depression, OCD etc. They may also live with disability. Both parents and autistic self advocates will often be dealing with the daily stress of advocacy, illness, multiple frustrations, feelings of helplessness or worse hopelessness, depression and anger at institutional hurdles. It's exhausting and impossible for anyone to stay patient or diplomatic when feeling patronised, misunderstood and dismissed. While the reasons for each group, autistic people and parents (and yes I know some are both) facing injustices may vary, the feelings are valid for both, and deserve recognition. We care how autistic people are regarded within our communities and beyond and we all want better understanding and opportunities for autistics. Its just that some of us don't go about approaching that struggle with skill or mindfulness, instead creating divisiveness and bitterness. The hurt goes too deep.

For me, as a parent to two children on the spectrum who wants them to be independent and self advocating, I wonder how I can teach them the best way to negotiate those above mentioned hurdles, hopefully sans trauma,  in a way that will be ultimately beneficial. And how in the meantime I can be their most effective advocate remembering I am modelling to them how to manage future conflict and inevitable misunderstandings. In doing this Ive reflected on what I see currently as the most engaging and motivating arguments in terms of autism, disability and more broadly, human rights. I've considered how successful indigenous groups who have been displaced argued to regain control of taken territory. As a feminist Ive thought about the womens rights movements and what voices managed to have the most influence through time. And I look to the autism advocacy community and considered whose words gain the most traction.

And consequently Ive decided those who take their anger at injustice and channel it in ways that mobilise rather then patronise others are engaging in authentic advocacy. They turn frustration into passionate energy and cogent argument, they build a following by using reason and a willingness to bring in all who want to join them. They understand how counterproductive it is to attack people indiscriminately. They are not 'stuck' in their former experiences, they use that pain to drive forward for betterment of all, they do not waste time lashing out at imagined hurts, they are clear where the power and discrimination emanates and that's where they focus their attack.

This is different from expressing fury and frustration wide and far with no clear target. Those who spray abuse like verbal haymakers rather than with a short sharp jab at a clearly defined target are wasting energy, to use an appropriate boxing analogy. Metaphorically running in a rats wheel, furiously demanding rights, but not getting anywhere, they also push people away who could be valuable allies,  allowing their defences to monopolise how they interpret other's words and intentions. This self righteous anger is not advocacy. It's actually a faulty protective mechanism. It does nothing to move forward the cause of that you claim to support, in fact it can do the opposite.

 I want my kids to understand this. That advocacy starts with a good sense of self, and a strong belief in the advancement of all people. With compassion for the suffering of anyone. And understanding that to advance their own cause they need to move beyond a self centred view of their own struggles, to broaden their perspective and find ways to build alliances with others through  common ground, mutual understanding and a willingness to talk to all with respect. Even when perhaps the other is not showing the same courtesy. There are many, many examples of this being done in the ASD community. Far more than there are those who use the internet as a public flogging board. I know which autistic people I will encourage my children to read about and connect with. Those who have moved beyond impotent anger into advocacy that really makes a positive difference.


  1. you make a good point. I am sure the 2 so often overlap.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Michele.

  3. I love this post. It is insightful, and rather beautiful. Thank you very much for writing such a thoughtful piece on what is so often a difficult topic.

  4. Oh, you two (Jo and Jill), Thank you so much.

  5. This right here is why I hope you get back to writing. Your blog is an important voice.

  6. I relate to those who lash out, supposedly in the name of "advocacy." Not only are there all these painful emotions that often interfere with an ability to be, like, objective and fair, it's also really easy to miss the mark when aiming for assertiveness, I think. Easy to "land on" aggression, so to speak, especially if one feels powerless and marginalized.

    The beginning of your last paragraph made me smile, because it reminds me of my relationship with my mother- to this day. I overshoot "assertive" and end up in aggression mode all the time! My mother has this brilliant way of challenging my outrage in the most thought provoking, empathy inducing ways. Ha. Vile hatred could be spewing from my mouth, rather violently, and she will just point out some glaring perspective difference I didn't bother to consider, and I swear, a fog lifts. Aw. I think I owe my mom a hug!

    I guess my mission with MY child is to go a step further, and perhaps teach him the importance of compassion, and moving past his own self centered view of his own struggles, so that by the time he is an adult, he can use that knowledge independently, instead of ranting and raving to me, like I do to my mother ;) I really couldn't agree with you more, here, Sharon! I think this is so important to talk about!