I had originally planned for this post to be an in-depth look at what it means for a non-autistic person to be an advocate or ally for autistic people. There has been a lot written on the subject over the past couple of months and I was going to use this as a way to sort it all out in my mind. Luckily (especially for you, since this post is now much shorter), a recent discussion on this blog helped me understand it all in a nutshell.
In a comment to a recent post, CS had the following to say about the vaccine-autism debate:
The vaccine argument is causing a lot of harm I believe because it is taking our limited time we have in the news and monopolizing it with trivalities (sp?) that aren’t important for inclusion, education, opportunity, independence and safety which is what most autistic people struggle with their entire lives.
This came toward the end of a long comment discussion concerning Kristina Chew‘s appearances on Newsweek.com and NBC’s The Today Show last week in which she was asked, as the mother of an autistic son, her opinions about vaccines. (The media interest was due to the recent release of Autism’s False Prophets.)
In my original concept for this post I had considered using Kristina as an example of a good ally for autistic people, using Phil Schwartz’s list of what makes a good ally as a starting point. CS disagrees with me, and believes that she is “not being a good ally when she does these things.” He also uses Phil’s essay as the basis of his opinion.
Read the whole comment discussion for the whole picture, but the gist of CS’s complaint was that Kristina was being self-serving, and not being a good ally for autistics, because she engaged in – and reported on – the interest in the vaccine/autism question instead of reporting on the lack of interest that the mainstream media has for hearing from autistic people about what is important to them.
Here is an excerpt of my response to CS from that comment discussion:
The vaccine argument is causing a lot of harm, but not because those who don’t believe in a link are engaged in the argument. It causes harm because it exists. Those who try to squash the belief in a link between vaccines and autism may not be engaged in the type of activities that directly benefit autistics, but if no one puts down the belief in a link by the general – scientifically illiterate – public then many of those direct actions will likely come to naught.
The non-autistic people, especially parents, who believe in the link are not likely to listen to scientists, non-believing celebrities, or autistics when it comes to arguments against a link. Those with the most chance to sway their opinion are the parents – the non-autistic parents – of autistic children and adults.
What do you think?
And if you are autistic, who among the non-autistic do you see as true advocates, as good allies? Are there any? Despite what Phil tries to get across in his essay, is it even possible for a non-autistic to be an “autism advocate” or a good ally?
Update: As a reference, here are some of the things that have influenced me over the past couple of months. In some cases it is the post itself, in some cases it is the discussion in the comments:
I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones that stand out in my mind.