Last month was Autism Awareness month and people all over the globe were communicating, campaigning, criticizing, and complaining about autism and the like. When it comes to autism and autism advocacy/activism there is nor shortage of opinions or passion. To be honest April can be a little overwhelming for me for a few reasons.
I was diagnosed with ASD (Aspergers) in December of 2014. While I have been in pastoral ministry since 2002, I have only been apart of the autism community (officially) for the last two years. With nearly 15 years of public speaking under my belt, I have developed a level of comfort in communicating about topics that I am passionate about. I have been trained by teachers who taught me how to use a variety of tools to communicate my passion and my position about a number of issues. I was trained to understand the culture and context of the audience with which you are communicating. I was taught to communicate with clarity, compassion, and conviction. These are just a few of the tools that I have tried to develop over the last 15 years of being a pastor and public speaker.
April can be challenging for me because I don’t have nearly as much experience speaking and communicating about autism as I do about my faith. I am learning something new everyday, and at this point the only thing I am certain about is my own narrative. I can share that with complete confidence and transparency because I own it. So that’s what I do. I share my story, my experiences, and occasionally my opinion. I talk about my life, my family, my faith, my frustrations, and my faults. I share my life because as I often say, I believe when it relates to autism and advocacy we need more than just stats we need stories. Real stories from real people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. My story is just one of many.
When it comes to autism and advocacy I am still very much evolving, learning, and growing, but one thing that will always remain is that my core values and my training as a communicator heavily inform when I write, how I write, and mostly importantly why I write.
Over the last few months I have been asked about my advocacy and my approach to sharing my passion for all things faith, family, and autism. My personal approach is simple. I follow my own personal ABC’s of advocacy.
A= Accuracy & Authenticity
I’ve spent approximately 7 years pursuing post-graduate studies in theology and church ministry. Included in those courses of both my masters and doctorate, was a heavy focus on preaching. Without a doubt the most impactful lesson I learned was to appreciate the role of context. Ignoring context causes us to inevitably ignore accuracy. When I write or speak about autism advocacy I try my best to find the appropriate context of the discussion as well as the appropriate context for the discussion. Over the last few years I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but one thing I strive to be is authentic but in order to do so I have to be as accurate as possible.
B= Be balanced and not biased
I have my own experiences and opinions about many things concerning autism. I have things that I believe deeply and topics that I am extremely passionate about, but sometimes putting my passion in the correct place requires me to have the courage to be willing to listen to opposing views. I believe that one of the greatest personal and spiritual growth catalysts is the ability to absorb information from sources that have differing belief systems, opinions, values, and practices from my own. I don’t have to agree or change my position, but I do think I owe it to myself and to the people my advocacy serves to know and appreciate other perspectives, especially if it helps me to grow.
C= Compassion & Critical Thinking
Believe it or not the two ideas don’t have to be mutual exclusive. As a trained scholar and public theologian, I have learned that critical thinking doesn’t necessarily have to lead to criticizing communication. My faith demands that I practice compassion and extend grace in every situation. Learning to balance my natural inclination to surgically deconstruct someones stance with the role of compassion is a delicate balancing act, but I have to constantly remind myself that when it comes to autism advocacy behind every position is a person. Civility and humility goes a long way in working with people by standing for inclusiveness without unintentionally alienating others in my community.
D= Don’t read the comments. Ever. Seriously.
In the past year I have had someone imply that I am a liar, a con artist pastor (although I’ve never actually asked for anything from anyone because I have a job), I’ve been accused of using my religion as a crutch (although I was a Christian before I was diagnosed), and my all time favorite was a woman who felt sorry for my family and implied that living with me must be like living with an alcoholic because I am not always able to effectively manage my sensory resources.
I used to read the comments in my articles and blogs with regularity until realized that I have been insulted more than I care to have ever read.
So my last piece of advice is DON’T READ THE COMMENTS. EVER!