Now that there is some distance and time from November 1, 2010, Autistics Speak Day, I have had time to reflect and put the experience in context.
In many ways, #ASDay was really any other day. Each person who moderated (thank you to the @TheCoffeeKlatch for allowing me to do so) and who participated in the Tweet chat brought their thoughts, feelings, experiences, two cents, and expertise. For those who are on the spectrum (i.e. @TMBMT, @CorinaBecker, @Heather_Sedlock), #ASDay was a moment in the spotlight. Not the interrogation spotlight that makes your heart race and your body sweat. Rather, the sharing spotlight, the all-eyes-on-you and what you say because this is a time to learn.
While listening to those in spotlight, I was amazed to read many Aspies and auties continually reminding everyone that their personal experiences captured their perspective but did not speak for the entire community. As the old saying goes: If you’ve met one person on the spectrum, you’ve met one person on the spectrum.
I was amazed by this contextualizing of personal experiences because it allowed the space for all voices to be heard equally. When I think about the public persona of ASD (a topic I’ve mentioned in my blog post, “Keep Your Clothes on, Jenny; Autism is Better than That”), Temple Grandin is the most well-known person on the spectrum. Many NTs use her as the paradigm for all experiences with ASD. #ASDay was in direct contrast. I spoke to many individuals on the spectrum who shared their life’s story while knowing it was only representative of their particular color on the spectrum. In so doing, they encouraged me to seek out others and ask, beg, and plead for their opinions on a particular subject, too. Crudely, I could compare it to a chili cook-off: Taste all the flavors. But, don’t pick just one. Get all of the recipes and savor them all.
I can only imagine what this day meant to individuals on the spectrum. I felt like part of a larger community that was often silenced and misunderstood. I tweeted as an “autism specialist” and had my spectrum of knowledge broadened (pun intended), but this is a selfish perspective. Those individuals on the spectrum, who countered the idea of being silent for a day to increase awareness (Communication Shutdown), were the main characters. And they were gracious, well-intentioned, determined, and respectful. They shared their day-to-day experiences in ways that people take for granted and can’t even begin to fathom.
#ASDay became more than just another day. It was a large-scale dialogue about daily struggles, successes, and challenges that we didn’t know about, couldn’t guess about, and, perhaps, never dreamed of. Lifetimes of day-to-day experiences congealed to document what it’s like to be a person with an autism spectrum disorder. #ASDay was a living, breathing, and talking personal and community history book with pages filled by unsung heroes with powerful stories.
I am glad I read a few pages.