50 Inspiring Autistic People of 2011: Activists
Many, many autistic people took action to improve the way we are perceived, to make us more safe, and to give us more opportunities this year. These are a few of the ones who were most inspiring to me personally.
Corina and Kathryn were honored at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network's Five Year Celebration for their creation of Autistics Speaking Day. ASD is now an annual event that encourages dozens of autistic people to speak for themselves.
Lydia's petition protesting the restraint of Christopher Baker at his Kentucky school has gotten over 150,000 signatures in less than two weeks. This is just one example of Lydia's smart and effective brand of activism.
Rachel is one of the most respected and best-loved autistic writers online, and I thought seriously about including her among my autistic celebrities or later entry on writers. But, to me, Rachel's most significant contribution this year has been her work to counteract Simon Baron-Cohen's bigoted ideas. Her website Autism and Empathy is an important part of the online autism community.
Isma'il was videotaped begging bullies at his school for mercy. Later he and his father joined Glee's Lauren Potter for a special congressional briefing on the bullying of disabled students. Isma'il said:
"It's been like torture to me. People bullied me since elementary school, and it's been getting on my nerves a lot, so I had to stand up for myself."
Robbie Maino speaks to the Virginia legislature
When the Virginia legislature passed a law requiring businesses to offer insurance coverage for children with autism, it was due in part to the efforts of Robert Maino. Robert is an 18-year-old with Asperger's syndrome who will be attending college next year. He wrote a letter to members of the legislature, explaining how essential the sort of treatment covered by the bill has been to his success:
No amount of education could have prepared me for life, what I really needed was therapy, social skills training and medication. I am one of the incredibly lucky few who have been able to benefit from these therapies from an early age and I have been able to learn how to deal with my high functioning autism (called Asperger's). Now I can speak for and work with others who have it. With the passing of this bill, I look forward to seeing the amount of kids who can speak for themselves grow exponentially.
Legislators invited Robert to speak in support of the bill after being moved by his letter:
"They hadn't heard from somebody who lived it," said Marybeth Maino, Robert's mother.
Savannah went to Occupy DC. She rocked, flapped, and wrote about it as the radical act that it was:
The week before I sat in the park and rocked, feeling my defiance, I spent several nights wishing I didn’t exist. I knew all the things I talk about here intellectually, but that base part of me is still filled with the remembered abuse of my past. The most prevalent are those that were excused at the time as treatment while speaking words describing me as a burden and my being as a barrier.
So, in the face of stress, the only answer that came to me is that I should not exist. I sat rocking and blubbering the late nights away while my sister was sleeping fighting those things from my past that still live in my head. This time I won, but today I saw a friend who was saying of herself the same things- I should not exist. This is a friend who is passionate about her rights as a person with disabilities (among other things), and still the thought- I should not exist.
When the things that make up a part of who we are is so suppressed, how can it not be revolutionary to rock in public?