Birthdays can be exciting times. Not just because of the cake and
we changed? How have we grown? What has all that change and growth taught us? Where have we been in the past years, and most importantly, where do we want to go next?
As ASAN approaches our fifth birthday this November, we have an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve accomplished over the course of our short but exciting lifetime as an organization. Sure, we’re excited about our upcoming celebration at the National Press Club. Who wouldn’t be, with such well-wishers as Assistant Secretary of Education Alexa Posny and Administration on Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Sharon Lewis joining us? But more importantly, we’re excited about the chance to think about all that the self-advocacy movement has accomplished over the course of the last five years, and all we can accomplish over the next five if we work together.
Five years ago, the idea of self-advocates serving on autism-related boards and commissions was still considered novel and controversial. Five years ago, offensive and unethical ad campaigns like the NYU Child Study Center’s “Ransom Notes” campaign could go forward without a strong, unified response from the autism and Autistic communities. Five years ago, Autistic people were excluded entirely from the national policy-making occurring about us, without us. Five years ago, autism research was almost entirely something conducted on Autistic people instead of with Autistic people. Five years ago, society could get away with ignoring our voices.
Today, things have begun to change. We won’t claim we’re all or even most of the way there yet. And we can’t and won’t try to take all the credit for what has been accomplished – this has been a team effort, with self-advocates from all walks of life and many different organizations working together with our allies in the parent and professional community to empower disabled voices. Still, we have much to be proud of.
We’ve teamed up with family and provider organizations to get groundbreaking new legislation introduced on issues like restraint and seclusion and transition to adulthood for youth with significant disabilities. We’ve put ethical issues on the map in autism research circles, and this December ASAN will be teaming up with partners atHarvard Law School to conduct a symposium on Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of Autism Research. Through collaborations like the Academic Autistic Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education, self-advocates and traditional researchers are finally working together to address issues like health care access in a participatory fashion – looking at us as partners in research instead of just test subjects. Today, Autistic self-advocates have more representation in policy-making, research, media, and other walks of life than we ever have before. Much more is necessary, but what we’ve achieved is worthy of celebration.
As part of your reflection, please consider supporting ASAN’s work by buying a ticket to our five-year anniversary celebration fundraiser on Nov. 16 at the National Press Club. Or, if you aren’t able to attend, consider making a donation anyway or asking another organization or a local business to contact us about becoming an event co-sponsor. Your support will help make a difference to ensure those in power hear all of our voices. Our community is strong and has room for much diversity. Whether it is long standing bulwarks of our community like Autreat or innovative new initiatives such as AASPIRE or the Autistic Passing Project, the Autistic Community has achieved much to be proud of. If we stand together, we can achieve even more in our next five years.
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