Response to Vancouver Sun article “Autistic people march for and against walk for autism in Richmond” by our director

Below is the response of our executive director in response to the article in the link below:

https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/autistic-people-march-for-and-against-walk-for-autism-in-richmond

 

I will attempt to articulate my views, and the direction of Square Peg Society, while I am at the helm. Change over time is good, and inevitable, and hopefully will be guided by listening to our membership.

  • Our focus, at SPS, is on the adult ASD population. As such, the idea of “a cure” for autism is not where we would direct our efforts. Philosophically, though, we regard autism as a permanent, lifetime condition, and therefore, efforts directed at trying to “fix” people with autism, or to alter their behaviours to bring them in line with some notion of “normal” is both misguided and harmful.
  • In my ideal world I am seeking “inclusion” for ASD individuals  – through our activities I am interested in exploring how we can encourage the broader society to create space & support for people on the spectrum (and those with other disabilities) to enable them to  live meaningful lives. I believe that this will only happen if we can create opportunities for ASD individuals to interact with others, over time, in empathetic, respectful environments. It is not possible or desirable for anyone on the Spectrum to live in an “autism bubble”; looking for positive ways to engage with one another is both necessary and practical. People are less welcoming to those who they feel are “different”; I believe that it is our job to demonstrate that our differences are not to be feared, and often represent a fresh point of view, and other positive attributes. This is not begging for acceptance. Our efforts to engage are an outgrowth of our own self-awareness and self-acceptance, and are a means of communicating what we need, and that we are OK with who we are. It takes imagination and effort to find opportunities for positive interaction.
  • The barriers to our success are both internal and external. While the need for accommodations in the external environment (control over noise, lighting, temperature, odours, etc) will vary from individual to individual, many of these accommodations will make the environment better for everyone. As to the internal barriers, things like difficulty understanding facial expressions, social context, social expectations, social hierarchy, etc. – efforts directed at these can easily cross the line, to make an individual feel “wrong” or inadequate, and under pressure to make themselves over to become a version of “normal” that they could never be comfortable being. However, the desire to “fit in” is something most of us have felt at some point in time, and is not exclusive to people on the Spectrum. Many people are challenged socially and we all vary in our abilities to interpret social behaviours. When our current behaviours are not serving our end goals, efforts to understand the behaviours and expectations of others, and to change how we are perceived and to expand our repertoire of activities, are not demeaning. We can change others by proudly standing up for ourselves and for our human rights and needs, and by making the effort to engage and interact with the broader community. On the other hand, changing ourselves through social skills training can enable us to better understand the point of view and expectations of others, can expand our empathy, and can enable us to find the jobs and social relationships that we desire, and therefore, can benefit us in achieving our goals. It should not be either/or, and each person must seek out what they need, at a given point in time.
  • The range of needs and points of view of people on the Spectrum is huge. At SPS we fully support “asking the person” – our door is open; we invite participation and input from individuals on the Spectrum, as well as from their families.
  • Our name & logo – a square peg in a round hole – is intended to represent our recognition of ourselves as “different” in some ways, and to claim ownership of this position – that this position may present some discomfort at times, but that, in the end, we are more than OK with this.
  • In looking at both the videoed interview with Autistics United and the article, I feel that proposed solutions to the barriers to our success are not so very different, and that both the efforts of Autism Speaks Canada and Autistics United can benefit our community.

Joette Heuft, Executive Director of Square Peg Society