It is with a heavy heart and a great degree of sadness, that I am withdrawing from my role in Autism NI as an Ambassador, and will play no further role within Autism NI as a volunteer.
This is a decision that I have agonised over for many weeks, and put a great deal of thought into. I feel that I can no longer support Autism NI as an ambassador, due to a variety of reasons, some of which I will discuss below.
I was very proud to hold the position of Autism NI Ambassador and it was a huge honour to be asked by Autism NI to become involved.
My first and foremost priority has always been to be an Autistic Advocate, and to support, campaign for and work towards greater opportunities, support systems and public acceptance of Autistic people, in all area’s of society. Recent events have made it clear to me that, when it comes to giving Autistic people a voice, I do not feel that Autism NI have done enough to do this, despite my efforts.
I have no problem with any individual within Autism NI, and I will be happy to still work with them on the future when it comes to common interests, as well as working with the Parent Led support groups when it comes to things such as Question & Answer sessions, and talking about the realities of the day-to-day aspects of being an Autistic Adult.
In the run up to Autism Awareness Month, Autism NI announced the “Wear It Blue” campaign, something that caught me off guard. The colour blue has long been seen as the colour of Autism Speaks, a group that has long been detested by the Autistic Community for their continued demonising and portrayal of Autism as a parasitic monster that ruins lives and destroys families.
When I seen the campaign announced, I immediately raised concerns about the possibility of this campaign receiving a furious backlash from the Autistic Community, and explaining that, whilst on paper there are no ties between the campaign and Autism Speaks, the colour blue is inextricably linked with them in the eyes of the Autistic Community.
These concerns were ignored, and when the Autistic community became aware of the campaign there was a large outpouring of anger and frustration at the campaign, with several individuals voicing concerns on the Autism NI Facebook page, which then started deleting any comments that criticised the campaign or tried to explain the problem with it.
I found this course of action deeply unsettling that an Autism Charity failed to listen to the concerns of Autistic people. Subsequently, they started to try and whitewash any criticism of the campaign by the Autistic Community. I voiced my concerns about this to Autism NI, but I had received no reply.
A few days later, I happened to attend a meeting of the All Party Group on Autism, a Stormont Committee made up of MLA’s, that was to discuss Autism-related issues. Autism NI is the Secretariat (Admin Support) for this group.
I attended this group as an observer, and watched for almost an hour as there was next to no mention of making any attempt to actually engage with and involve Autistic People in any of the campaigns, ideas or proposals discussed.
This angered me,and at the end of the meeting I stood up and asked the various attendees if they would consider actually engaging directly with the Autistic Community. I was hurt,angered and upset by the fact that, it took a simple observer to ask a Committee about Autism to speak to Autistic people. A meeting that the Former CEO of Autism NI was sitting in, and made no attempt to even bring the subject up.
Earlier today, in a social media discussion about Autism, I had a debate with the Chairperson of Autism NI, who gave the distinct impression that having Autistic People involved in Autism NI campaigns and events was “damaging” and that it can be counterproductive.
The events of today have made me feel that I can no longer continue in my role as an Autism NI ambassador. I cannot in good faith be the ambassador for an organisation that believes that Autistics are not capable of advocating for themselves, and see people like myself as some sort of obstacle that needs to be navigated around.
I am still going to continue in my work as an Autistic Advocate, and I will continue to campaign for, work towards and aim for a future for Autistic people that allows us to be given the support and opportunities that we deserve, and for a society that accepts Autistic Individuals for who they are and what they can do. I’ll never stop working towards that.