Its our fifth year of Love & Autism. When I look back through the years, it’s clear that Love & Autism has grown from its humble beginnings. Yet, it is not just the Love & Autism event that has changed, but I’ve changed because of the Love & Autism Conference.
- I’m more aware of my neuro-privilege. The world is largely constructed in a way that is accessible to me. I am neurotypical, white, and educated. These privileges can’t be denied. I am more empowered than ever to use my privilege to create change. Love & Autism has taught me to explore what I don’t know about being autistic and be comfortable with the fact that no amount of shared space or learning will allow me to really know this experience. When we recognize our own privilege, we can then create opportunity for those from marginalized groups. This doesn’t mean speaking for people, but standing up beside them and demanding what’s right and good.
- I have fallen in love with creating social change. Our initial goal of Love & Autism was to create a learning event. I did not know at that time that Love & Autism would evolve into a social change movement. I have thought of myself as a therapist, a creative person, and an innovator. I didn’t think of myself as a social change maker. Now, I’m in love with creating social change. It can be scary at times. There will always be people that have different worldviews who attack and send hateful messages. In all honestly, sometimes it feels so hard I want to give up. Also, I’m imperfect. I make mistakes. I will get it wrong sometimes and these learning moments are often hard, painful, and embarrassing. Yet, Love & Autism has become something that I am proud of. I’m proud to be a part of this movement and so humbled to see others walk with me on this journey of creating change. Its truly become one of the many loves of my life.
- I know more than ever that Love & Autism is tackling important global issues, not just those in the autism community. Really, I started Love & Autism thinking about the autistic people I adore who I’ve met in my work settings. It was supposed to be a refreshing new conversation within the community about what it means to be autistic. Five years later, it is a global conversation. It affects every single one of us, regardless if you are neurotypical or neuro-minority.
Autistic rights are a human rights. Autistic rights are not just a charity cause to make those in the neuro-majority feel good for ‘helping out some kids’. All of us, together, need to care about the rights of autistic people.
For those of us that don’t have an autistic family member, the first thing that you can do is get curious. Find out what you don’t know, find out why it matters, ask questions. It can be hard to ask questions about topics that can be vulnerable, but we must put ourselves in this position if we are committed to learning and understanding.
- My favorite experience of Love & Autism is always the collective energy in the room. It’s a feeling that I’ve come to expect, but that still overwhelms me every time. Even when I anticipate this collective energy, I feel a lump in my throat. It is deep in the gut knowing that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s confirmation that I’m on the right path. It’s a place where I feel loved. It’s a place where I love myself. It is always my deepest hope that others feel this collective energy too. It’s not a feeling that we can manufacture. Its created because the people that have gathered to share Love & Autism’s mission are a tribe, a family. We share a heart-space. It’s authentic and beautiful.
- Science is slow. Change is slow. I accept this now and I will not let it deter me.
I used to get deterred when I think about what the scientific literature says about autistic people, and sometimes still do. The literature is full of pathology. It’s contaminated by things that I largely don’t think really matter—increase eye contact, follow a visual schedule, repeat more words. I used to pine for the literature that would come out voicing and advocating for what I believe.
When I really think about it, I don’t need literature or evidence to convince me that all people deserve to feel worthy and whole. I don’t need to compare one stack of research to another. We as human beings all need love and belonging.
As children, we need adults around who allow us to be heard and feel understood. We don’t need research to tell us kindness works. We don’t need research to validate the knowing that we grow when we feel whole. We certainly shouldn’t believe scientific findings that don’t fundamentally respect autistic rights. If we really want to live a life worth living, we will make it a priority to love a little more each day. And if we do this, the literature will eventually catch up to us.
Share how Love & Autism has changed you; whether you’ve attended an event or just happened upon this page. We’d love to hear from you.
Dr. Jenny Palmiotto