I had made a decision. Before I said anything else, I would say this. Even if it were technically only addressed to 3 out of the 240 people in that room, it mattered. And it mattered that the other 237 hear it.
This is what I said.
Ed note: I did my best to transcribe the words (below) for those who find auditory processing challenging. Any errors are wholly unintentional.
Thank you so much. Thank you for having me here to all of you and Lisa and Maeghan for all of the incredible work that you’ve done here. I hope you guys can take a minute now that you can breathe and appreciate what you’ve done. This is some pretty amazing stuff. Above all, thank you for ensuring that I am sharing the stage with Michele [Gauvin} who will speak for a few moments later. That’s really important stuff.
Typically, when I’m asked to speak, it’s to address those in the room who aren’t autistic.
< Aside > And if you’ll forgive me, those of you who follow Diary know that it’s been a little bit of a crazy week in my world. So I am going to read the beginning of this. I promise you that I will not be reading this entire talk. But I wrote something that I felt was important and I wanted to read it to you.
When I’m asked to speak it’s to talk to those who, like me, are parents, bumbling their way through this messy journey (And I don’t mean autism; I just mean parenting. It’s is a messy journey).
It’s to talk to those who might be allies in our fight for a better world for our children, for all of us, to inhabit. It’s to persuade people in power to shine their light and spend their resources on our community.
But tonight I’d like to start by addressing the autistic people in the crowd. The kids and adults who make up my daughter’s glorious community. Those who likely sit through these things wondering why people like me are the ones talking. And it’s a damned good question.
I am not autistic. I am not an expert in autism. I just happen to be the mother of someone who is both. My voice is not ever, ever meant to eclipse hers or yours, but instead I am here, and everywhere my soapbox takes me, to join you. To do everything that I can to help you share your own voices and to amplify the hell out of them when you do. To fight for the things you need, and so richly deserve, in order to have access to, and a remotely fair chance of success in this neuotypically dominated society in which we live. To help convince those like me who share so many privileges that we enjoy without a thought, that the world from which we will ALL benefit the most is the one that is the least lopsided. The one that is the most accessible. The one in which we can ALL participate.
I’m here to stand with you as you fight for recognition as whole, unbroken, invaluable human beings. I’m here to help in any way that I can.
And I’m here to apologize. To say that I’m sorry that it sometimes takes us parents so long. So long to see the things that are right in front of us. So long to be able to peel back the layers of our own inherent biases that we don’t know we have and to begin to understand that ours is not the only, nor the best, nor even a particularly good method of communicating, interacting, experiencing the world.
To say that I’m sorry that we sometimes sit on our hands while others say things about you in the name of advocacy that hurts you so much. That dehumanizes you. That ostracizes you. That exacerbates every challenge you face.
To say I’m sorry that when people like Robert Kennedy and Suzanne Wright and so many others call you lost and gone and revel in their precious hyperbole, fanning fear into fire, we let you burn in the flames because we are too afraid. Afraid to fight back. Afraid to be wrong. Afraid that if we focus not on changing you to fit the world but the world to fit all of us – and we can’t – that we will have failed you. We are so desperately afraid of failing you.
I’m here to say that I’m sorry that we’ve felt entitled to tell your stories as our own. That we’ve co-opted so much and, clothed in the cloak of our good intentions, rationalized sacrificing your dignity and privacy for some supposed higher purpose that we didn’t know yet could only truly be served by protecting both at all costs.
And to thank you. To thank you for your seemingly endless patience as you wait for us to catch up. To embrace the beauty of a world so much broader than the one we can see. For educating us every day.