I posted a statement about mental health week today. One of my social media friends commented that it would be great if my experience of being an employed home-owning person with schizophrenia was the norm and not the exception. I wholeheartedly agreed This exchange got me thinking about a few of my career considerations and things which drive my advocacy work. Here goes…
‘The only Aspie in the village’ – recognition and other kinda unhelpful things
I attended a conference a while back and got talking to someone before the first session. We were joined by another someone shortly afterwards. I couldn’t quite read what was going on but I could tell I had done something wrong. I had never met this person before but they acted like we knew each other and I had wronged them in some horrible way. I was utterly puzzled until a friend said ‘oh, they just have a fame thing’. My friend was basically explaining that the unhappy person didn’t like me because I have a bit of a profile. I was baffled. Shortly afterwards another friend described another advocate as wanting to be ‘the only Aspie in the village’ and feeling threatened by the success of others.
I wish I could stay virtuously ‘oh but I never think like that…’ Sadly I am far from saintlike on this issue. I spent many years being very competitive and feeling intimidated by other speakers and author and their impressive profiles. It actually took me getting some recognition of my own to make me realise how silly it is to envy others. These days I think the more Autism advocates from different backgrounds and experiences there are, the better. I can only really speak from my own experience as one individual. If different people share their different experience and wisdom it becomes a more inclusive message. I love having colleagues and friends I can refer speaking or writing gigs to. I also feel that as someone who has been around for a while, I can share things I have learned with others and support their advocacy work. Rivalry is often counterproductive. In the Autism world, cooperation is a better form of leadership than competition.
Why I don’t really want awards
I was at an event recently and someone suggested I would have been a more worthy recipient of an award than the person who got it. It thought this was a bit of an odd sentiment. The purpose of awards as I see it is to encourage people to continue doing the good things they are doing. I have been writing and advocating around Autism for eleven years and have a fair number of certificates and spiky glass things with my name and some achievement engraved on them. Awards are lovely but they don’t motivate me. I don’t need them. I am always happiest when someone closer to the start of their career than me gets and award because I think it will encourage them to keep going. I will probably do advocacy forever, regardless of what awards I might gather in the process.
My main concern about feeling rivalry for opportunities and awards is that if I am going to want to win something and get all competitive, I am basically wishing another Autistic person disappointment. I don’t really want to do that. One thing I like to do is to nominate others for awards and then when they win, I am really happy.
Why I speak for organisations who don’t always pass my test for inclusiveness
I speak at a lot of conferences and events for all sorts of different organisations. I have some pretty strict views on appropriate behaviour for Autism organisations but I often find myself speaking for organisations which don’t quite pass muster. This is not because I am a ravenous public speaking beast who needs to get on stage every week. There are actually a few reasons for this,
Firstly, I could gather the people who agree with everything I do around Autism in a medium sized room. If I spoke to the 80 or so people who fit this description, we would all be really happy agreeing with one another and nobody else would get the benefit of the message. Secondly I see my role in the Autism community as one of education and leading by example. I do not start from the premise that there is no hope for an organisation which professes ideas of practices I have an issue with. As a Autistic speaker I have a great opportunity to educate Autism organisations. And finally, I am not really speaking for the organisation anyway, unless I am giving their staff an an in service. The people sitting in the audience are the ones I am most interested in. Often they are not part of the Autism advocacy community. They are there to gain information for themselves or their partner or their kids or their professional role. I would rather they got the benefit of my message. If I was taking the moral high ground and only speaking for the roughly three organisations which align exactly with my views then these people looking for information would miss out on hearing what I have to say. This would be a shame because I have an inclusive and positive message built in my own lived experience of Autism. I am practical and I’m not going to wait for the perfect Autism organisation to come along before I speak to those audiences that can gain so much from what other self-advocates and I have to offer.
Why I want to be redundant
I absolutely love my life at the moment. My extrovert bits are delighted at getting to hop up on stage as often as I do these days. My altruistic and activist bits are delighted at getting to help others and make a difference and my intellect is loving the challenge of my work but what I really want is not to do it any more. Of course on a personal level I would be sad to leave this life behind but as an advocate I would be so happy if all the things that my colleagues and I do is no longer needed. So please, let me and my work become unnecessary. Let us do ourselves out of our jobs as advocates and rejoice in the world future generations of Autistics have a life where the horrors that I and my contemporaries experienced and continue to experience is condemned to – as my socialist comrades in the 1990s used to say – the dustbin of history.