In the past, parents and professionals took the limelight during autism events and projects. The tide is now turning towards including autistics as part of these initiatives just as a new generation of autistic children are entering adulthood and seeking to express themselves.
Taking advantage of the situation, some socially savvy people have started to exploit these eager, naïve autistics to work for them. They promise fame and connections as payment. Unfortunately, most autistics are neither able to appraise the value of their offerings nor have the ability to take advantage of these. In other words, what they offer are as useful as combs to bald people.
What do these people want of us for their events and projects?
- Our name: Give the impression that they are helping and including autistics
- Our participation: Create some variety and content for their event
- Our skills: Provide a service that they will have to pay for otherwise
- Our time: Replace someone else who they have to pay for otherwise
How do they exploit us to work for free?
- Public speaking
- Performing at their events
- Appearing at their events
- Writing articles
- Volunteer work
The most obvious giveaway is persistence: The more they push us to do something, the more suspicious we should be about their motives. If they don’t benefit from it, why do they keep pushing us to do it? Another giveaway is disrespect: These exploiters usually look down on autistics and it will show in their behavior if we know where to look.
I have experienced many cases of exploitation and disrespect. For instance, the author of an autism book interviewed me but never informed me that I was quoted in her book. Another author promised to take up only two hours of my time for an interview. She then followed up with an email with lots of questions that will take many hours to answer. When I told her to look up some of the answers herself since I have previously written about them, she claimed that she did not have the time to read all my work. When I refused to work for her for free, she then wrote a nasty review of me.
A webmaster insisted that I write an article for her, then demanded that my full name appear in her article when I only wanted my first name revealed. An event organizer avoided talking to me when I asked her about organizing a future event for me; instead she asked another parent to chitchat with me. The most blatant case was the boss of a dyslexia clinic organizing a free autism talk for me to sell my books, only to falsely claim that I have been receiving therapy support from her at the end of my talk. Unfortunately, I was too shocked to properly respond at that time.
If we do not wish to be exploited, we have to take measures to protect ourselves. Firstly, we should insist on being paid a reasonable fee or commission. We are not obliged to work for free just because we are autistics and the project is about autism.
Secondly, we have to be very selective in choosing who we partner with. Just reject the request if we feel uncomfortable about the person or their attitude. Stop working with disrespectful, controlling and stubborn partners. Read up about tokenism to better assess the true intention of potential partners.
Thirdly, be especially cautious if we are not working with a registered charity. Businesses, social enterprises and private individuals are usually only interested in making money and will exploit us. These parties do not have to publicly disclose their accounts, and may be using us to earn money for themselves without our knowledge. For instance, a social enterprise may earn money by accepting donations from sponsors, spending only a portion of the funds, and then paying the rest into to its owner as salary.
Lastly, do not hunger after fame and connections. Most of us won’t know how to make use of them even if we get the right ones. Going to an event to ‘promote’ ourselves is usually a waste of time, since marketing work is not our strength. Until we find a respectful, trusted and reliable NeuroTypical partner willing to work fairly with us, it is best to just focus on the areas that we can excel at and focus on our own career development.