It’s confession time. For years, I only knew autistic children. I hadn’t had and real meaningful engagement with autistic adults. I certainly didn’t have neurodivergent friends. Yet, like you, I spent most of my days within an autistic space doing therapy. I had created an invisible box around myself and my clients. Inside my self-imposed invisible box, concerns and worries grew.
The truth of the matter, is that I had some real limitations and inadequacies in the therapy that I could do. My first reaction to meeting my own inadequacies was to normalize them. I’d question colleagues about their honest breadth of experience and where they were learning in the field. I heard the same story as my own. There were certain truths amongst us.
I care about my clients dearly
I love learning
I don’t really have much lived experience with autistic people other than the children I treat.
And just like me, there were in an invisible box of concern and worry.
Don’t get me wrong, I tried to perfect my craft all the time. I went to conferences but it seems that all I got was more of the same. More neuro-typical experts telling me what it meant to be autistic; what all the problems were and the subsequent solutions. At some point, I started questioning this - wondering what I was missing, and it struck me like a lightning rod. I wasn’t learning from actually autistic voices. Let me give this to you really straight.
Would you ever go to a woman’s empowerment conference with all male speakers? Nope! Only woman know what it means to be a woman. The same is true for autism; autistic people must be the first and foremost voice.
If I really cared about my clients (and I really do!), I had to work on my own limitations. I had to create these experiences in my own life. I needed to engage, learn from, and listen, to actually autistic people. I had to stop relying on non-autistic people to shape my reality of autistic people.
For clinicians, I don’t view this as optional. I feel this is a mandatory part of understanding the population that we have chosen to support. This can not be a symbolic effort on our part, an act of tokenism.
We must fully engage with autistic voices, fully.
I will tell you this, when I did, I removed this invisible box of worries. I became a better clinician.
We also need to form a tribe of us. Clinicians that are trying to do the meaningful work of shifting the narrative around autistic people, trying to advance our field and serve the people that we choose to serve with loving-kindness at the forefront. We must become allies, not experts.
This is an exciting time!
- Jenny Palmiotto, Founder of the Love & Autism Conference
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