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, authoring books to share one’s personal stories, raising funds to help families defray therapy costs, and organising 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, many talented and hardworking people get by well enough so that they do not 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 are born into needy families, have a different skin colour, 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 were merely denied opportunities, but often mistakenly lumped together with those who need charity.
When we use the charity mentality, we aim to work for the benefit of those 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 situation and accommodations for any disabilities. We assume that they are enthusiastic and competent enough to solve their problems and will find their way to achieve their dreams once they receive opportunities to do so. This creates an equal partnership.
I have been moving away from giving autism awareness talks, authoring books about my personal autism experience and taking part in inclusion events, which I realised 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 support 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, counsellor 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 not willing to try my services while they pay expensive prices for professional help. 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 is detrimental to my ability to find employment, as many employers discriminate against autistics. As of 2019, there are no laws in Singapore forbidding employers and insurers from discriminating against me. 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 ageing 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 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.