Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Reflecting on Autistics Speaking Day

 chavisory, Reflecting on Autistics Speaking Day, Chavisory's Notebook

I remember where I was when Autistics Speaking Day was born.

I hear people say this about JFK’s death, Princess Diana’s, 9/11, the moon landing, the Challenger explosion, the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But I remember where I was when Autistics Speaking Day was born, and I probably will forever. I remember the show I was working on and the rehearsal I was watching and the studio we were in. The TPGA Dialogues were also in full swing at the time and it was one of the first times I started openly participating in the online autistic community. I’d been tasked with watching music rehearsals that week that didn’t really require my involvement at every moment of the day, so I had a fair amount of time to follow along.

And so I remember precisely where I was when I saw the very first objections to the announcement of the upcoming event, “Communication Shutdown.”

Other people have written more and better than I have about why the concept for such an event was tragically out of touch with most autistic people’s realities. I didn’t really participate that first year; I’d only had both a blog of my own, and my diagnosis, for under two years, and I wasn’t terribly sure of my voice on the subject yet. But it was one of the first times I saw other autistic people in real time, as opposed to what was already in the archives, saying “Actually, we don’t have to let something that represents us badly go unchallenged just because it was well-intentioned.” Up until then, I’d been pretty used to just swallowing a vague sadness and feeling of disconnect when media or initiatives supposedly about autistic people just bore no relationship to my feelings or experience at all.

More and more often over the past few years, I’ve found myself not having the time to get something written for ASD, and I thought I probably wouldn’t again this year because of how things have been at work for me, but when I heard it would be the last, I couldn’t let it pass.

I’m sad to see it end, but I think it’s fitting that Autistics Speaking Day outlasted “Communication Shutdown” by a decade, effectively (to my knowledge, it didn’t even persist beyond that first year), and will certainly be longer remembered for its impact on autistic lives.

And it’s good news, in a strange way, that I haven’t had the kind of time to participate that I would’ve liked, because I’ve been so overwhelmed with work. Employment statistics for autistic people generally and autistic women especially have been and remain troubling, so much so that in one longitudinal study on patterns of employment and post-secondary educational achievement of autistic people from several years ago, none of the participating women maintained consistent employment over the course of the study.

I’m more and more consistently working this time of year, and still working in my chosen field (although issues of work/life balance and burnout in theater and stage management remain another story entirely, sadly).

But I miss the people I got to know in those days who I either haven’t been able to keep up with as much as I’ve wanted to, or who’ve dropped out of blogging or activism entirely, as much as I understand their reasons. Life happens.

I miss the blogosphere from before the rise of the social media networks and the relationships it fostered, as much as I’m thankful for the people who’ve come into my life and the connections we’ve formed because of Facebook and Twitter.

I hurt for those of us who’ve struggled with homelessness, chronic illness, long Covid. I ache for those of us who’ve died.

And yet, it’s good news, in a way, that a lot of us are overcome with family and work responsibilities, with homes and pets and children, degree programs, publications, and new jobs both in and out of autism or disability advocacy.

All the things we’ve been speaking all these years to have acknowledged that we should be able to have.

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