The task that Sandra Worth takes on as Executive Director of My Autism Connection is not an easy one. Running the nonprofit requires her to be a sort of mother to dozens of autistic children and adults, and a counsel for parents who are scared about their futures. She does this all without pay, and with only two paid part-time staffers to assist her.
But her endeavors have done wonders for the autistic community, helping individuals who usually have social difficulties master the skills needed to live independently and to make friends. The members are given lessons from psychologists about interpersonal skills, or career coaches about building a resume, as well as experts from various career fields giving hands-on lessons about their jobs.
Currently, My Autism Connection is looking to raise money to open a new office. While the original purpose of this article was to provide some press to this worthy cause, I wanted to take the opportunity to publicize a much bigger issue in the autism community, which is the lack of services for what we really need.
The sad truth is that most services for autistic individuals are paternalistic in nature. I would be remiss to even include MAC in its early years—myself being one of the original members. This reflects the common misconceptions about the autism community that could best be described as “children with the minds of supercomputers.”
Autism Speaks is a perfect example of this. The extremely popular autism charity group receives its sharpest criticism from the autistic community. It currently has no autistic members on its board of directors. The last one resigned in 2007 citing a controversial ad that compared autism to losing a child. This is the extreme end of what many in the autism community must deal with in terms of charities designed to help us.
What My Autism Connection does is different. They don’t treat their autistic members as equals: they treat them as leaders, decision-makers in their own destiny. The lessons they learn and the services they provide are chosen by them, not by parents or administrative officials, or psychologists. They choose democratically.
Autistic individuals need to be seen more as leaders in society. This includes in businesses and civil society. Decisions about us should be made by us. My Autism Connection grows their autistic members into becoming such leaders.
Please consider giving to them this #GivingTuesday.