I remember, years ago, when I was called to be on a panel discussing Special Olympics. It was to be a sports panel and the question being debated boiled down to: “Special Olympics, it’s cute but is it sport?” This was to be on the CBC on an early Sunday morning. I agreed to be on the panel only if they also invited a Special Olympian. At first they said ‘no’ and therefore I said ‘no’ and I thought that was that. But they thought about it and called me back, they had invited a Special Olympics Gold Medallist to appear on the show. He and I sat on one side, the sports broadcasters on the other side and, well in all modesty, we obliterated their arguments.
Why did I insist on a Special Olympian to be on the show with me? Was it to amplify the voice of people with disabilities? Was it to ensure that those who participate were those that spoke? Yeah, yeah, it was all those things but, primarily, I knew that we’d win. Who can look in the face of a gold medallist and say that their accomplishment, and years of training, were meaningless? Who can listen to a sportsperson speak passionately about their love of sport and then say, “Sorry, we don’t consider you a real athlete.” Speaking truth to power” is only possible if the truth teller has an authentic voice – anything else is “Speaking opinion to power.”
April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day and this morning on television, as I was answering emails, I heard that there would be a discussion on the local news about the day and about Autism. After the commercial the host introduced some doctor from some hospital that specializes in serving people with autism and then a parent of a person with autism. And that, dear readers, was it. Lots of room on the couch but not an Autistic person to be found.
The doctor talked about research and the importance of research. The mom talked through the ‘devastation of diagnosis’ to the ultimate joy in parenting her child. The host, in the most patronizing voice ever, pronounced autistic people to be human. Well, thank heavens for that. But as always the tone was about his granting humanity rather than humanity being an automatic part of what it is to be autistic.
The host is the host and the host does what hosts do. But I am disturbed than neither the parent or the professional thought to insist that someone with autism be there to speak their truth from their point of view, it’s much different to be devastated by a child’s diagnosis than to experience your parent’s devastation at your diagnosis.
And, yes, of course, I’ll be contacting the station and protesting their coverage what turned out to be Autism As Professionals and Parents Experience It Day.