In my work with young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, we talk a lot about the purpose of advocacy and the importance of being a self-advocate. In short, I teach my clients to identify their needs, and we work through appropriate ways to communicate those needs to ensure that they are heard, and people pay attention. On a larger scale, advocates are individuals who speak out for a group of people, fighting for changes within the disability population, to ensure essential needs are being met. While sometimes overwhelming, their work is vital so that we can move forward as a society to be understanding and supportive of those around us.
Advocates Fighting for the Disability Population
Here are five supporters who are doing just that within the Autism community and the disability population. These are people who speak out about the importance of holistic care, education, intersectionality, sexuality, freedom, and a host of other topics that need to be addressed.
Known as an outspoken advocate for the disability population, Lydia Brown writes and speaks about issues surrounding the Autism community in the present world. Growing up as a racial minority as well as identifying as gender non-conforming, Brown provides a powerful and unique perspective to the minority and diversity conversation. She speaks about the importance of recognizing and validating the intersection of being autistic with other minority identities as well. Some of these intersections include being autistic and a person of color, autistic and gender non-conforming, as well as autistic and sexually diverse. These conversations are vital as greater awareness is needed to increase accessibility and fair treatment of all individuals.
Stephen Shore was diagnosed at the age of four with “atypical development with strong autistic tendencies.” Due to his lack of communication skills, it was recommended to his family that he be put in an institution. His family decided against that recommendation, and he has grown and succeeded, earning his doctoral degree in special education in 2008 from Boston University. Shore now speaks and teaches about the needs of adults on the Autism Spectrum and accommodations that are needed to lessen the roadblocks that many adults with ASD face every day. He mainly speaks out about adjustments that need to be made in the present educational system so that all students can gain equal access to knowledge and growth in their academic careers.
Alexis Wineman first found her way into the spotlight as she walked under the bright lights of a beauty pageant and won Miss Montana in 2012, continuing to compete in the Miss America pageant. She is the first known person with Autism Spectrum Disorder to compete in this national level competition. Since competing, Wineman has become a strong advocate for the autism community and the disability population, speaking out about the importance of everyone being able to follow their dreams and desires, no matter the obstacles. She discusses on her website that the key to this achievement is to increase the acceptance and awareness of autism in the general population. She started the #BeyondJustBlue movement as a way to further connect those with Autism as they reach for and achieve their goals.
In Donna Williams’ first autobiography, “Nobody, Nowhere,” she describes her life as a misunderstood child with a lack of language skills until the age of nine. She wasn’t diagnosed with the term “Autism” until much later and then began to speak out as an adult about the need for holistic, realistic care that empowers those with Autism and their families. She routinely provided both in person and online consulting services for those struggling with particular difficulties, needing advice on how to overcome roadblocks in their lives. Williams wrote several other books, available in both printed and electronic versions. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and in 2016 received news that the cancer had metastasized. Williams is choosing to spend her last days at home with her husband and pets, enjoying the life she has built for herself and the impact she has made in the Autism community.
Being born before the term “Aspergers” was discovered, John’s behavior as a child was typically described as being lazy or in other negative terms. It wasn’t until he was much older and became friends with a therapist that he first became familiar with the term “Aspergers” and “Autism.” Finally discovering a word to describe what he had been experiencing his whole life, Robison continued to study, learning more about himself and the Autism community as a whole. He wrote the book “Look Me in the Eye” as a memoir to describe his life and what is was like growing up with the struggles and strengths that came with Aspergers. He continues to write and speak as an autism advocate and an advocate for the disability community, fighting for awareness and understanding for those across the Autism Spectrum, and helping the general population understand the need for those on the spectrum to be able to be themselves.
Who are your advocates, and heroes speaking out for the disability community?
Alyssa R. Webb-McCune is a graduate student at Sam Houston State University in their Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program and works at Including Kids as a Focused Intervention Specialist. She has five years of experience working with students with disabilities and two years of experience working with adults with autism. She is active in research and focused on developing new ways to support clients in reaching their highest level of success.