i autistic » Dark Side » Hidden Agendas and Exploitation are Unavoidable

If you choose to identify as an autistic advocate, you choose to be exploited. There is no way to go around the hidden agendas of NeuroTypical people when we are working in NeuroTypical society. Are your efforts worthwhile after discounting for being taken advantage of, such as gaining access to disability support and facing more social acceptance? Or can you bypass most of these agendas by using only personal funding or remaining highly selective with your work?

 

Most NeuroTypicals are careful to protect their self-interest and will rarely support autism work unless the benefits they obtain are significantly more than the costs of doing so. The benefits are usually monetary, such as using autistic people to raise funds or promote their business. Another common benefit is social reputation, such as to make themselves look generous and their organisations inclusive. However, NeuroTypicals rarely disclose their true intentions upfront and may even deny it when asked directly.

When NeuroTypicals act with such hidden agendas, their support is limited only to the scope of their intentions. For instance, they may invite an autistic advocate to give a talk for the opening ceremony of their non-profit but cut contact shortly after the talk finishes. The naïve autistic advocates who obtained a promise of a series of future talks will then find themselves disappointed.

These NeuroTypicals will not care about the autistic advocate’s welfare since they see the interaction as transactional. For instance, if they invite a journalist who writes a misleading article portraying the autistic advocate negatively while making themselves look good, they will not intervene as it is none of their business what happens to the advocate. They also do not want to offend the journalist or news publisher who might write negatively about themselves in the future.

 

I have previously written about easy-to-spot examples of exploitation so that we will discuss some more subtle ones here.

An organisation may engage autistic consultants to legitimise inclusion without caring about the quality of the consultant. These consultants are figureheads whose names can be used if anyone claims the organisation is not inclusive. Even if the consultant is paid some money as compensation, this is a bribe to the autistic community that diminishes the quality of true inclusion and support.

Autistic advocates are also at risk of being made into social exhibits where ordinary achievements (such as graduating from university) are magnified into gigantic feats. On the surface, it looks great for the featured advocate who enjoys a short moment of fame. However, this continues to perpetuate the message that autistic people are not expected to achieve these achievements.

Not all hidden agendas are malicious. For instance, a caregiver may spend much effort to participate in the autistic community to find suitable (free) friends for their lonely autistic child.

Some hidden agendas are annoying time wasters. For instance, a caregiver of an autistic child said he wanted to help start a non-profit based on my ideas. However, he did nothing except to bring me around to meet “potential partners”. I later realised he wanted to keep my hope alive to annoy a politician he dislikes, as he sees my initiative as a competitor to the autism organisation run by that politician.

 

NeuroTypicals who see no value in working with autistic people are usually self-excluding; they will never respond to autistic advocates’ attempts to engage them. They will never explain to avoid getting drawn into drama or accidental political incorrectness. Some are invested in the idea that autistics are incapable of self-determination and that only caregivers matter. Some will only accept autistic people as clients receiving care rather than as equal partners.

However, even well-intended NeuroTypicals who choose to work with autistic advocates often have preconceived ideas about autism. Even if they do not limit the expression of the autistic advocate, they can end up influencing and associating the work of the autistic person with ideologies incompatible with the message of the advocate. For instance, they may arrange for the autistic advocate to speak at a conference attended chiefly by therapists seeking to eliminate autistic behaviour rather than by social workers and educators specialising in disability studies.

A vital mistake is seeing autism as purely a disability (or special needs), not as an identity with its own deeper spiritual and humanistic implications. They can end up supporting the mainstream efforts to paint autistic as recipients of support rather than as equal members of society capable of contributing. They may also accept the belief that autistics are unable to change “their nature” or break out of the limitations of autism, perpetuating the narrative that keeps autistic people limited in their ability/achievements rather than actively improving and meeting professional standards.

 

To avoid exploitation, autistic advocates should only trust those whose actions speak for themselves and are aligned with the message of affirming autistic identity. For instance, some NeuroTypical people are religiously or spiritually motivated to do good without personal benefit.

In addition, bear in mind that promises are empty words and can never be trusted unless written into an enforceable legal contract.

My autistic friend asked why NeuroTypicals remain silent about these issues if they are aware of autistic people suffering due to their silence. I answered that they would not tell because they did not want to risk being accused of political incorrectness and attacked. They also quickly learn that persuading autistic people is very tedious and challenging, so they will avoid saying anything unnecessary. The only people who will make the effort and take the risk to voice their authentic thoughts are mostly fellow family members.