Guest Interviews — 2 Minutes

John Elder Robison on Media Portrayals & Autistic Civil Rights

Guest Interviews — 2 Minutes

John Elder Robison on Media Portrayals & Autistic Civil Rights

An excerpt from John Elder Robison’s full interview at the INSAR conference in Montreal.

John Elder Robison is the Neurodiversity Scholar in Residence at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, and one of the founders of the Neurodiversity Program at the school—one of the first of its kind at a major American university. He teaches neurodiversity at the Williamsburg campus and at the Washington DC continuing ed facility. He is an active participant in the ongoing discussion of ethical and legal issues relating to autism therapy, services, and intervention. He is particularly interested in improving quality of life for those people living with autism today—both autistic people and family members. He’s been a member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee of the US Department of Health and Human Services, and he serves on other boards for the US National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and private organizations. He is also a Professor of Practice in the Department of Education at Bay Path University in Longmeadow, MA, and the co-founder of the TCS Auto Program, a special ed high school program for teens with developmental challenges in Springfield, MA.

Frampton Gwynette: I feel like you’re speaking not only to our audience, but also our Autism News Network participants, because we really tried to focus our work on what’s important to them, not what’s important to me, what’s important to them. I think that’s why we’re making great progress.

John Elder Robison: I think that’s absolutely true. I think that what all of your viewers should consider is when you see a news story and they characterize an autistic person as doing something, you ask yourself what would happen if you substituted black or Jewish for autistic in that story, when that story of run on the news?

John Elder Robison: In most cases the answer’s no. The reason that that story wouldn’t have run is that those communities have powerful, passionate advocates who won’t stand for it. They will inspire other members of the community to rise up.

John Elder Robison: They will overwhelm television stations and newspapers with complaints. They will overwhelm government with complaints. In doing so, they enforce their civil rights.

Frampton Gwynette: Absolutely.

John Elder Robison: I think that we, autistic people have to do the same thing because we are just as large a minority as any other group in America. We should have the same standing.

Frampton Gwynette: Absolutely.

John Elder Robison: Absolutely. I think that to bring this into focus, you really have to bear in mind that this isn’t about childhood disability. It’s about lifelong difference.

Frampton Gwynette: Right. Right on point.

Frampton Gwynette: I feel like you’re speaking not only to our audience, but also our Autism News Network participants, because we really tried to focus our work on what’s important to them, not what’s important to me, what’s important to them. I think that’s why we’re making great progress.

John Elder Robison: I think that’s absolutely true. I think that what all of your viewers should consider is when you see a news story and they characterize an autistic person as doing something, you ask yourself what would happen if you substituted black or Jewish for autistic in that story, when that story of run on the news?

John Elder Robison: In most cases the answer’s no. The reason that that story wouldn’t have run is that those communities have powerful, passionate advocates who won’t stand for it. They will inspire other members of the community to rise up.

John Elder Robison: They will overwhelm television stations and newspapers with complaints. They will overwhelm government with complaints. In doing so, they enforce their civil rights.

Frampton Gwynette: Absolutely.

John Elder Robison: I think that we, autistic people have to do the same thing because we are just as large a minority as any other group in America. We should have the same standing.

Frampton Gwynette: Absolutely.

John Elder Robison: Absolutely. I think that to bring this into focus, you really have to bear in mind that this isn’t about childhood disability. It’s about lifelong difference.

Frampton Gwynette: Right. Right on point.

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