i autistic » Dark Side » The unnecessary cost of advocating for the intellectually disabled

Many autistic advocates take it upon themselves to extend advocacy to intellectually disabled autistic people and end up causing the autistic community to pay a heavy reputational price.

When the same word, ‘autism’, is used for people with very different needs, it blurs out the distinctions between them. Mainstream society then assumes more competency of the intellectually disabled autistic person in handling daily living and less competency of other autistic people. This perception makes it harder for the latter to be taken seriously as autism advocates and professional workers, impacting their career development.

This extended advocacy also puts autistic people in direct conflict with caregivers, ABA providers and caregiver-controlled autism non-profits. These parties have far more political influence and funds than the autistic advocates. Just like picking a fight against a stronger and more skilful martial artist, autistic advocates stay on the losing side with their opponents constantly trying to discredit and weaken them.


The rationale behind extending advocacy is questionable. The focus of supporting the intellectually disabled is to provide a happy life with basic needs taken care of, not to debate on abstract topics such as autonomy and human rights.

Intellectually disabled autistic people have different needs that caregivers living with them 24/7/365 are more likely to understand compared to autistic advocates referencing their own lived experiences minus intellectual disability. Let the caregivers do the advocacy instead.

In addition, the caregivers provide both the funding and labour, automatically giving them a say in how their contributions will be used. If the autistic advocates truly want a say in changing these people’s lives, they can feel free to provide the labour and funding themselves.


While Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) may be terrible for the intellectually gifted, it can make the intellectually disabled’s behaviour manageable so that caregivers can avoid institutionalising them (which is awful for the quality of life of the former and costly for the latter).

The suffering of caregivers is just as real as that of the autistic advocates; unless the advocates are willing to acknowledge that, this unnecessary conflict will only continue to make life difficult for the losing party of autistic advocates.


Rather than fighting for a cause that is neither justified nor winnable, autistic people should focus on constructive and practical ways to support and improve themselves, such as starting tech companies and providing peer mentoring services.

Life is already hard enough; why make it harder by making so many enemies who might be allies if we focused on our common ground instead of differences?

When I was still doing autism work, I was a firm believer in only advocating for people with roughly the same situation and needs as myself. I do not speak for those with different needs, especially since I have not received the professional training and experience working with them. I suggest other advocates do the same. It will save us a lot of drama and trauma.