Thursday, January 15, 2015

Neurodivergence and Representation: People Maps and Farewells II

What follows now is an adaptation of a Facebook note entitled "The Year In Hope", the last of the series I posted on my now unpublished personal activist's page, because I think it says more of what I wanted to say here and I have too much to say. This will be my Part II of a Three part post featuring Leah Kelley's Magic Card People Map, a great accessibility tool that she writes about in "Gathering at TASH and The Magic People Map." Those who have expressed an interest in having cards for themselves can ask Leah about them at .

Before the debacle of Facebook's year recapping app forcing users to remember traumatic events of 2014, Facebook had their app for grabbing photos and recapping the timeline year active again. 2014 was a year I don't really wish to recap. The cost in lives of disabled children and the human rights
Ariane Zurcher, writer, speaker, artist,
activist, mother  and ally of Emma
Zurcher-Long. Ariane embodies the
community building autism parent by
tackling tough topics and giving the podium
to her daughter to speak out about
nonspeaking autism and representation

losses are just too high to celebrate. I will be on hiatus from activism for at least part of this year. So I'm continuing the
 people map of some of those dedicated folk I think should be recognized for selflessly standing up for what is right, and the stalwart parent allies who stand with them.

There is something very important that I am asking of everyone of you. whether your activism is all online or you are community organizing, marching in protests, or standing in congressional offices and trying to make things right, please don't think about political expediency, tactical advantage, career opportunity, or personal gain . Think about what you are fighting for.

There are turning points in activism where people must  choose between their own ascension, the message they are meant to convey in order to drive change to those they advocate for or represent, and political expediency. Sometimes the internet results in a dichotomous environment where these moments of moral truth are not just sharper and more immediate. They are painfully public.  Stand for the truth. Be brave. Even if you stand alone.

Adriana is a living example that highly
ethical, highly qualified care givers
can be allies against ableism in the truest sense.
With Adriana's dedicated support, Amy Sequenzia
 is able to balance a busy life of activism with
self care and engaging our community
 Without deconstruction of falsehood, change is not possible. Without criticism (even of those who
may be somewhat beneficial to causes but are flawed in a way that damages in the long run) there is no moving forward. If we are afraid to call people and organizations out when they display shortcomings that have the long term potential to harm progress towards justice and equality inclusive of all, then what we live in is  no longer a democracy and we are all lost.

My hope at the beginning of 2014 was that we all became braver people. We need that embodiment of true courage. For those of us who are parents, I hoped  we might demonstrate by example that the true meaning of parenting is finding our own way to accept allowing our children to grow up and age with the supports and accommodations needed to live autonomous lives. What I have seen is a year in which too many systems online and offline exist that perpetuate the gaslighting of parental attitudes about what disability is and what the struggles of parenting are. So many negative groups online have influenced the attitudes of parents and care providers that crimes against our children have  increased and a victim's disability is always used after horrible crimes to justify them. Hundreds of social media groups, web sites and blogs, present such horrifically negative views of what parenting and caring for neurodivergent loved ones means.  Readers who are already sleepless, clinically depressed and seeking solace instead find large populations of similarly clinically depressed parents escalating despondency. The danger in such groups is they foster behavioral and emotional contagion.

Need an example of emotional contagion? Remember that 2014 was the year of the disclosure for the infamous Facebook newsfeed psychology experiment? The researcher manipulated the newsfeeds of about 1 million users in an attempt to manipulate the emotional contagion of users and drive happiness or melancholy. People have a tendency to converge emotionally. The worst example of this is the fixation of Jillian McCabe, the mother threw her beautiful son London McCabe off an Oregon bridge, with that infamous scene in the horrible Autism Speaks movie "Autism Every Day". She wrote that she really identified with "Alison Tepper Singer who contemplated driving off a bridge with her autistic daughter Judie Singer."

 My hope is that whether I am an activist or not, our community takes on the critical task of deconstructing the emotional contagion of these negative content generating organizations and groups.We should be teaching everyone to recognize the signs of clinical parental depression, emergent dangerous thoughts,  unstable emotional states due to chronic sleep deprivation. We need to spot the red flags apparent in certain parent support groups and keep them from instigating harmful behavior towards disabled people.  I pray everyone understands this and if groups are anyone's forte, they begin a wider grassroots building of groups that make it clear that our present views on disability in general and autism in particular are being imposed upon us and what we need to do is begin with understanding how this ableism permeates our lives so we can first keep our mental health and then help attack the true causes of challenges to parenting neurodivergent children: special education systems that aren't working, disparities in what should be a multidisciplinary one-stop care models for meeting the
Emily Titon is an autistic activist for disability
rights, human rights, and social justice. Emily
sits on the boards of several disability rights
organizations and can just as easily be found
community organizing for transformative change
Her work on the exposure of the JRC is a typical
example of excellence in activism.
lifelong medical, dental and vision needs of disabled community members, and research and technology investments in adaptive supports and accommodations that will allow universal design to fulfill its true purpose:  to be inherently inclusive of accommodation by design for disabled people, the world's largest and most underserved minority.

We need to think about how each organization that claims to advocate for our children is actually doing so. How far will they go to help our children? Do they have significant leadership representation of people like our children, regardless of degree of apparent disability? Because only those people, intersected, of our children's races, religions, ethnicities, gender identities, and sexual orientations will understand what life is like for them now and be motivated to drive change for them. Unless you have lived as an autistic adult, how can you possibly know the gaps in adaptive communities, education, health care policies,  or the research needed to significantly improve the quality of life of autistic children when they become adults and age?  So we do need to give the podium to those who represent our children and allow them to tell us what those critical obstacles are. Before it is too late.

The case of Reginald Cornelius Latson is a crucible for representation beyond the disability nonprofit industrial complex. How have organizations who claim to be diverse disability rights advocacy organizations responded to four years of harm done to Neli?
Lei Wiley-Mysdke is the founding curator
of the Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library
A community building effort to educate and
empower both the autism community and the
general public on neurodivergence 
Remember that Neli was able to move freely and without supervision in his community before this catastrophic encounter with police. This should have every organization and activist thinking that whatever went wrong, it was not wrong with a young man who had no prior criminal history, no record of aggression in school, and a diagnosis of Asperger's  given much later than other children, even those of color. So with that understanding, we must think of what was done to him that triggered crises and permanently damanged his mental well being rather than simply anthropomorphizing autism itself. Are organizations informing their members that the DOJ had already brought suit against the State of Virginia for their treatment of prisoners like Neli? How are your favorite organizations responding here? Did you only hear of the Latson case recently or not at all? That should tell you how they will treat your son or daughter should they fall afoul of the criminal justice system. Know who you are supporting before your fundraise, buy hair dye and run that 5k.

Back to that hope that people speak the truth without fear. Fear silences. Look at what is happening
Beth Ryan is a parent activist and example
of a transformative community organizer for
good  with healing efforts such as the online
 support group Parenting Autistic Children
 With Love And Acceptance,  
right now. A woman is shot, two police officers are shot, and this tragedy is being leveraged into a way of forcibly silencing

calls for police reform and judicial review of a whole host of incidents in which deadly force was misused and injustice was done. The wrongness of that is nauseating. Redress, transparency, and accountability are what make a democracy. Any attempt to smother criticism of public servants by the public who hire them is a red flag that all is not right.  My hope is that when a truth needs to be told we don't do what is done in special needs circles too much: that is we don't think of only our children's political advantages and abandon the chance to move forward as a community. One voice, regardless of how many connections it has and its individual fame, is small and ultimately dependent on those who follow it. Fame is a fickle mate. Aim to gather community and make it strong. If everyone in our community sees the emperor of ableism points at that narcissistic wrong and shouts "The emperor has no clothes!" even those who survive by kissing the emperor's arse can no longer deny the truth of its wrongness exposed. So don't hesitate. Make our world better. When you see a wrong say so. Don't do the math to calculate an advantage for yourselves.

Remember the KONY 2012 guy Jason Russell? He did what many autism advocates end up doing. He allowed the brief media spotlight and sudden intense popularity to make him more important than the cause he championed.  That led to disaster. Sadly it was never about him. It was about the invisible children. And he went from making a difference to making everyone forget about what he was fighting for. Don't be that
Dr. Anderson-Grace is an autistic academic,
educator, activist, and board member on disability
rights organization. One of the founders of NeuroQueer,
she represents a movement that commands representation
and unity in intersected populations within our
community such that even her brief involvement
in community results in transformative change.

We are fighting for the human rights and civil rights of our loved ones. We are fighting for their equal representation in the society we live in. We are not looking for a segregated life on the fringes of society. We want our children to be respected as they are and given the tools they need to live in the society we live in. The minute we forget what our purpose is we are lost. I've seen it too much this year. Don't let the next victim be you.

My last hope and wish is that everyone work to build a new autism community. This can be done so simply and online. Know the numbers for all your local help agencies. When someone says they are hungry, have no shelter, need to an ear, give them crisis hotlines and food banks and shelter addresses and true help. Resources in the internet age are so easy to find but so few who are in need know about them. This is what I've always meant about pay it forward activism. If you help someone, tell them to remember and help another family or person. Whatever is in a person's ability to accomplish to help other members of our community, that person should try and accomplish it. It would make such a great difference in the lives of autistic children and adults. This is the antidote for the hundreds of groups out there on the web where parents trigger themselves with repeated stories of how they are suffering with their kids and how hopeless and without a future things are until someone decides it is okay to murder their own disabled children. The only genuine antidote is a truly united, diverse, inclusive community. I feel I have failed my part of the task to light a spark to build an online version of it. Maybe all of you can succeed where I have not. But you must begin with community concern beyond personal concern. Make sure your children and family are well. Balance your time so your mental health is in great shape. Then reach out and join with others to help make things better.


This is the end of Part II.  The final section, Part III  is next.

Mentions links etc.

Leah Kelley's Magic People Map Card info can be found above by mousing over Gathering at TASH and the Magic People Map. Inquiries about acquiring cards for your event can be obtained by commenting on her blog 30 Days of Autism:

The Autism Parenting Positivity Group Parenting Autistic Children with Love and Acceptance can be found here:

Ariane Zurcher and Emma Zurcher-Long's joint blog, and ongoing chronicle of autism positivity in parenting and autistic self advocacy for autistic tweens and teens who use AAC to communicate can be found here:

Dr. Ibby Anderson -Grace's blog Tiny Grace Notes - Ask an Autistic, for parents with questions for autistic adults who are also professionals, academics, and topic experts can be found here:

The Letters to Autistic Kids Project, founded by Dr. Ibby Grace and Leah Kelley, can be found here: 

Lei Wiley-Mysdke is the curating founder of Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library, for information:

Questions for autistic activist Amy Sequenzia and Adriana about building long term friendships with mutual respect between disabled activists and care providers, supported typing, and balancing the livea of active disabled people with complex health management can be addressed to Amy Sequenzia and Adriana through Amy's website:

The further adventures in activism of Emily Titon can be followed by following her on Facebook or twitter @imnoteamplayer, or Googling her. Here she is in  a Boston Globe article with Cheryl McCollins, the mother of JRC torture victim Andre McCollins.

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