Saturday 15 August 2015

On making it impossible for us to do a task, then blaming us

Over the decades,  as an autistic adult, I've had some unusual experiences with non-autistic leaders.
Many good experiences, with many good leaders, of course.
But goodness me, there's been some very odd thinking, from a few.
I am a very persistent person.  It takes a lot to get me to back away from something.  It's never done lightly.  This is common in autism; persistence, dedication, integrity and accuracy are our 'thing' (generalising).  Yes, autistic people have our fair share of challenges to overcome, but it usually comes with good stuff too.

I've co-owned and run a Professional Practice for more than 15 years.  That involves immense dedication, teamwork, accuracy etc.  I won't claim it has been easy.  But together, we've created something that we are so very proud of.

I've been married for 27 years to a lovely other half and we have brought up a marvellous 22 yr old autistic son.  Those things take dedication and integrity too.  Especially for someone like me who was born with a different sexuality.
I was Trustee of two major charities.  One, for many years.

I was Governor of a large Primary School for many years.
I've worked as an autism adviser for some 20 years, doing consultancy work and training for a large number of organisations including the Government, Royal Collection, National Trust, fact, most of the 'big names'.

All of it takes teamwork, integrity, persistence and having something to offer.  I could do none of it without the fantastic people who work with me, or lead those groups and enable me to give of my best.  I'm not the most important person in any of those settings - but people want to know what I can bring.  And I'm happy to do that.

And yet...the unusual experiences have been there.

One large group who have spent the last eight years trying to convince themselves not to talk to me, in case I am dangerous or too much of a burden (No, I kid you not.  It's been entertaining, and worrying, in equal measure).

One other large group who invited me to be Chair of their enterprise...dumped the whole job and two others on me without a moment's handover...held meetings in a totally non-autism-friendly way... and wondered why I handed the job to someone who could do it in that format.  

Then blamed me for being 'unreliable'. And told others not to use me.

Let's look closely at that.  If people make it impossible for me to do a job, due to my disability, then it's me being unreliable?

So, by that logic, if a group hires in a Chief who is a wheelchair user, and then they hold all the meetings at the top of a flight of stairs, it is in fact the fault of the wheelchair user.  Is that right?  Well, then it's not right with autism either.

Let's not do this stuff to autistic experts any more, please.  If people want our skills and talents, our integrity and accuracy, then their group is going to have to show some respect.  The same as we show to them when we communicate in their chosen language (not ours), in their meetings which are held on their terms (not ours).

Blaming us for the errors of others is truly not OK.  It's the opposite of enablement.

If you are going to ask an autistic expert to help, make sure you ask what they need - and make sure you can offer that.  Do not ever think to blame them for not being able to access something.