This week the autistic community achieved something quite incredible. News began spreading earlier this week that a large government body had changed the wording on their site that said that anyone diagnosed autistic was now forced to inform the driving and vehicle licensing agency about their diagnosis potentially risking their driver’s licence.
The autistic community responded to this and rallied together defending their rights incredible well. They tweeted MP’s who battled for them, they started petitions and shared them everywhere, they made sure the leading charities supported them and they even looked into the law on the matter. As the wife of an autistic man who drives daily, and who I even taught to drive, I found it heartening and wonderful to watch a community come together and demand action. Days later the wording was changed back to its original wording that means autistic drivers, like those with any other condition or disability which could potentially impact on driving, only need to inform the agency if they feel their autism would affect their driving. Brilliant news indeed and a massive win for the rights of autistic drivers.
However, despite having an autistic husband who has been driving over 11 years I was very quiet online about the campaign even though I fully supported it. (I did sign the petition obviously.)
There was one simple reason for my silence and that was this:
It was great to see the autistic community defending themselves, and rightly so, but would the same autistic community, and society in general, be so outraged and campaign so valiantly if the violation was against the less able autistic community like my son?
I can’t help but think who will fight for my son’s rights?
Will his fellow autistics or those in society defend him, write petitions to ensure he is protected and contact members of parliaments about things that affect him? Will the public be so outraged and vocal about things that affect his rights? Would campaigns for the less able autistics get as much media coverage?
One thing is certain: my son will never be able to advocate for himself. He has no ability to speak, diagnosed with co-morbid learning difficulties and epilepsy and developmentally a young baby. Yet still every bit as worthy as a human being.
This week autistic drivers defended themselves. The very fact this group passed the drivers test, many having had to also pass a theory test too, proves a level of cognitive understanding and ability that makes them capable of self advocacy and defending their own rights well. I’m not a huge fan of ‘functioning labels’ but the very ability to drive means the group targeted have a level of awareness and understanding that my son will never reach. This in turn meant they could rally so much public support.
My son won’t ever be able to vocally speak up for himself.
He won’t be able to tweet anyone to come to his aid.
He won’t be able to start or even sign a petition. He likely won’t even know what one is.
He won’t be able to lobby for change.
I 100% stand by and support what was achieved this week but I also can’t help but wonder would we be so outraged as a country, as a community, if an agency violated my son’s rights like happened this week?
You only need to look at campaigns and petitions for things like making sure the police are trained in autism to help protect the most vulnerable autistics, campaigns against autistics being held in assessment and treatment units for mental health patients, campaigns to stop unnecessary force when dealing with autistic children and young people with learning difficulties and/or challenging behaviour, and even campaigns for the dignity of autistic children like my son to have suitable ‘Changing Places’ bathrooms with a hoist and a bench, to see that such campaigns need more support both from self advocates and society in general. What are the charities, celebrities, members of parliament and media doing to support campaigns such as these which are and do affect less able autistics like my son?
I advocate on my son’s behalf but many in the autistic community find that offensive saying my son needs to be enabled to advocate himself. The fact is he won’t ever be capable of that level of awareness or understanding. I have to be his voice. Until the day I can no longer do so I will fight for my son’s rights as a human being, child and eventually an adult. I will do everything in my power to see him respected, treated with dignity and be understood.
I just hope that if the time ever comes when his rights need defended that others within the autism community, and in society as a whole, will come together and stand up for him in the same way they stood up for themselves this week.
He’s autistic too, even if he won’t ever work, pay tax, raise a family or even drive.
He’s still every bit as worthy, valuable and he should have just as much rights.
If we say we support the rights of autistics are we fighting for the rights of the less able as much as for those who can advocate well themselves?
Will you stand with the less able autistics like my son?