When most people want to help make a difference for the autism community, they tend to think in the context of charity. Commonly proposed methods include promoting autism awareness, writing books to share one’s personal stories, raising funds to help families defray therapy costs, and organizing symbolic shows of inclusion.
There are indeed many people who need our help in this world (including those with certain needs and differences that deprive them of their ability to give back to society), so charity is essential. However, there are also many talented and hardworking people who get by well enough so that they do not really need charity. However, their life situation denied them the opportunity to realize their full potential, preventing them from contributing to society and achieving their dreams.
Just because they lack wealthy parents, are born with different skin color, worship a different religion, speak a different language, belong to a different nation, have criminal records, use wheelchairs, or have a mind that works differently – these do not mean that they are inferior or incapable. They are just denied opportunities. However, they are often mistakenly lumped together with those who need charity.
When we use the charity mentality, we aim to work for the benefit of those who we help. We assume that they are inadequate and incompetent in helping themselves so that we must help them solve their problems including prescribing to them what exactly to do. This creates an unequal relationship of dependency.
When we use the empowerment mentality, we aim to provide equal opportunities for those who we help. This includes efforts to provide support for their personal situation and accommodations for any disabilities. We assume that they are passionate and competent enough to solve their problems, and will find their own way to achieve their dreams once they receive the opportunity. This creates an equal relationship of partnership.
I have been moving away from giving autism awareness talks, writing books about my personal autism experience and participating in inclusion events, which I realized tend to be based on the charity mentality. I am quite happy to let the younger generation of autistics do this type of work, while I inspire and guide their efforts by writing publicly available articles like this.
I can earn money for myself and provide for my parents just fine, so charity is not really what I need. Based on my strengths and experiences, I believe that I can be a better life coach, counselor and mentor for other autistic adults than most NeuroTypicals. There are a lot of adult autistics who need guidance on how to develop their full potential but are being ignored or side-tracked by people who do not understand them, but think that they do.
Unfortunately, I found that many people do not value my services: They do not treat me with the same respect that they treat NeuroTypical professionals. They are definitely not willing to pay for my services at the same prices that they are paying for professional help. Perhaps they are still stuck with the charity mentality where they see me as someone needing help, rather than someone who can provide help.
Even worse, being publicly identified as autistic (in order to promote autism awareness) is detrimental to my ability to find employment, as many employers act cautiously to discriminate discreetly against autistics. As of 2019, there are no laws in Singapore forbidding employers and insurers from rejecting my application because of autism. I do not see why I should be helping the autism community if that meant I run the risk of relying on charity handouts in the future. After all, my parents are aging and it will be only a matter of time before I need to shoulder their medical bills.
I wish to make a New Deal with society. Help me by giving me the opportunities to improve my life and pursue my dreams. In exchange, I will pay it forward to help other people in the same spirit. I seek opportunity, not charity.