Dr. Bombay (not his real name) wants nothing more than to help autistic children and adolescents learn how to fit into neurotypical society, so that they can achieve their goals of having jobs and relationships. He isn't all that concerned with making tons of money, but he would like to be known as the "go to" guy for parents who are concerned that their offspring might pick their noses in a job interview.
Dr. Bombay is a good guy, basically, and has many positive things to say about autistic people, and sometimes even remembers that many of us prefer "autistic" to "person with autism" and can explain why without even rolling his eyes.
However, Dr. Bombay commits a serious faux pas, when he lets it slip that autism is "no excuse" for bad behavior. The word "excuse" becomes a virus, quickly spreading throughout the conference setting. At every subsequent session, parents and professionals are hearing that we must not use autism as an excuse for failure, which is defined in various ways by the speakers and listeners.
Comments from the floor are presented in the same language. The next day, an autistic (adult) speaker continues the theme, and also paints disclosure as (sometimes) a form of or avenue toward the increasingly amorphous concept of "making excuses". The final straw is added as a much younger person "with autism" lets the parents in attendance know that they should not view their childrens' autism as an excuse for not trying. Now the whole conference is abuzz with the word, repeated echolalically, losing all meaning and context. Now anyone wishing to discuss accommodations in society and the workplace is looked upon with suspicion, and compelled to nervously tack on the now standard disclaimer.
What has gone wrong here, and what could Dr. Bombay have done differently?
Let us consider that perhaps there has been an error in perspective taking. Dr. Bombay is not autistic, which is not his fault, but does perhaps hinder his ability to define what any particular autistic individual can or cannot do. More importantly, though, he has failed to take into account that we have every right to choose not to exert our energies toward social niceties, that these monumental efforts are most often unrecognized and unappreciated by NTs who continue to find fault with our acting abilities, and most importantly, that however much employers and others may wish to have an army of identically behaving clones, this is not a thing which would ultimately benefit the species.
Dr. Bombay has failed to consider just how sick and tired an autistic person can get of hearing the word "excuse". This is a loaded word he has used. This is a very anger-provoking word, often used as a weapon by people who have no clue what being autistic is like. Dr. Bombay has forgotten to take into account the subtext, the possible connotations, the ignorance and hatred so often attached to this word.
Now I'm not going to tell you there is "no excuse" for not knowing the power of this word or any word to hold people down. I don't know your situation well enough to say that. I am going to ask, however, that in future presentations, you practice some perspective taking. You are a respected person, speaking to a group starved for information. The words you choose are every bit as important as the concepts you are trying to impart.
Yes, I know, this talk was not directed at us, but at those who must live and work with us. That doesn't help me one bit, Dr. Bombay. From here, these professionals will go back to their jobs in their cities and spread what they have heard to more parents who will then experience relief that they were right all along, telling their children, "No excuses!" And the children will push themselves harder, or not, and will take another hit to their self worth either way, and their future employers will feel quite smug in their conviction that no accommodations are needed, and nothing will change, again, for the better, and people behaving autistically will continue to be marginalized and blamed, and yes the run-on sentence is intentional, it goes to state of mind.
I will keep coming to your talks and offering my own viewpoints, which will continue to be disregarded as irrelevant by parents and professionals alike. I see it in their eyes as I hand them my flyer or raise my hand to speak. I see it pass through them like a storm. They see a person asking for recognition of rights and respect for autistic people. Just another lazy, impertinent nobody trying to make excuses.
Tomorrow (or, possibly the next day): A very positive encounter with a professional at the same conference. Seriously...I promise.