Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

Emergence: Leadership and the Autism Spectrum

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Autism and Asperger syndrome are developmental disabilities often referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). For many self advocates on the spectrum the term ‘Autistic’ is the term chosen for self reference. Autism is historically characterised as a severe disability that has attracted many stereotypes and misunderstandings. There are said to be 1/160 Australians with an ASD equating to an enormous population with a diverse range of difficulties and needs and equally as diverse range of skills, talents and accomplishments. Much national media attention and political attention has been payed to autism of late, however there seems to be a distinct lack of Autistic voice amongst the national conversation occurring. With rhetoric thrown around such as epidemic, tragedy, emergency, criminals, burdens, problems… how does an Autistic voice emerge?
For an Autistic voice to emerge the first thing that an Autistic person must do is recover, not from their autism but from the disabling environment they are expected to develop in. They then must set about in the task of educating themselves in the social ways of the world.
The Autistic person works from a different platform that does not necessarily prioritise social information. To operate in the social world requires extensive study of human beings and human interactions and the application of intricate sets of maps a rules derived from that study. The extent of understanding derived from this intensive study can well surpass the casual observations of others. Another important quality in developing a voice is resilience. Opportunities for the Autistic person to practice resilience are abundant, from early days in the school yard to the halls of larger institutions and the complexity of adult life. Over 90% of people with an ASD experience bullying within their lifetime and it is only through sheer resilience that they survive. Although socially impaired the Autistic person may serve as a barometer for social change as they quite often stand off to one side observing the main event and reacting noticeably to even the most subtle change; like the frog is to the environment, the Autistic person is to society.
Verbal communication for Autistic people can range from being not present to being superior on standardised tests, none the less every Autistic person has something to say and as a leader I am extremely cognisant of this fact. To be a leader requires a certain amount of social sophistication, enigma and a lot of hard work, it has been argued that Autistic people are incapable of all of these things. As an Autistic person and a leader I would argue that some of us are in a unique position to become leaders and can offer a unique set of skills to any leadership forum. I myself have served on nine Boards and Steering Committees holding positions such as Consumer Representative, Vice Chairperson, Chairperson and Convener. I currently Co-Convene the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) of Australia an affiliate of ASAN in the United States.
I am also aware that leaders have the responsibility to foster young leaders. It is the aim of ASAN to offer leadership opportunities to all Autistic people who wish to explore them, to involve Autistic people in self advocacy at a personal, local and national level.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the 4th International Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability hosted by Mobility International in Oregon, USA. I was one of 25 women with a disability to attend and the only Autistic woman. This cross disability program was an invaluable leadership experience that also allowed me to asses the global position of Autistic people in leadership. I can point to a handful of leaders around the world, some pioneers who have been on the scene for years and some new faces, but as a movement we are young and emerging.
We have a lot to learn and could do with a little support but most importantly we want to be taken seriously at a national level. We are still continuously marginalised in conversations about us. As the old adage goes ‘Nothing about us without us’. We are here; we do have many voices and strong emerging leaders.


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