Guys, I did a thing. A big thing (at least I think so!). I signed up for Advocacy Training!
Let me back up a little. 2 years ago, I started volunteering with an organization that does programming for people with developmental disabilities and their families. I’ve really enjoy it, I mostly work with kiddos, both neurodiverse and neurotypical, and it makes my day. Well, week, actually, but that’s semantics. But anyway, what I’m trying to say is that they’re pretty good people
So when I got an email about their advocacy training, I was immediately interested. I’ve been slowing trying to build up the skills I need not only to advocate for myself better but my community too. And this email seemed really promising! They didn’t just advertise the training for families and volunteers, but for self-advocacy too! Do you know how rare that is? I was looking to sign up for a midwestern region Autism Conference, and they had registration for professionals, for educations, and for parents. Can you see whose registration they’re missing there? I’ll tell you- OURS.
But flyer didn’t do that. It said right there on the top that self-advocates were being included and I’m fairly certain that’s how I managed to momentarily punch through my anxiety and hit the “submit registration” button. It helped that Jess could come too- you know, the buddy system and all.
So here I am Monday night, the anxiety about doing something new and having to out myself has been brewing for a few weeks now. My name isn’t on the sign in sheet, which isn’t a problem, it turns out, they just add me on. Then we go around the circle and do introductions- our names and why we’re here. I was a little preoccupied with worry to really care why anyone else is there. So we go clockwise, which means that Jess is going before me. This isn’t ideal, because it’s a lot easier for me to introduce myself, and then have Jess go “I’m with them”. Or something like that. She usually makes it sound nicer. She’s got mad skills like that.
So Jess goes first, and says something along the lines of her “often acting as my voice”. Which is fairly accurate, given that she handles things like phone calls and making appointments. Plus all the times that I’m having auditory processing issues or am having a low verbal communication day. So it wasn’t that what she was saying was wrong, it was the way it was interpreted.
Because the trainer assumed I was nonverbal
And he skipped me.
Guys, that felt like shit. It felt like he looked right through me, and assumed that I had nothing to contribute.
I froze, and Jess reacted (which is usually the way of things), and the guy said he was sorry, that he was confused about what Jess had said. Except that I’d had a conversation with him before the training started. So either he’s oblivious, or he made a wrong assumption and didn’t want to admit it.
So needless to say, I was pretty angry for the next hour or so. The trainer made sure to ask my opinion regularly, and I’m perfectly willing to admit that I was pretty snarky. And while my snark game is strong, I’m also incredibly non-confrontation, so I snagged Jess’s car keys and hid in the car while she talked to the guy.
She said that he felt bad, that he wanted to include me, that he wanted to hear my opinions. And I’m sure that he does, really.
I guess it’s like this: I’m always so worried about coming out of the autism closet, and usually, it goes. Worst that happens is some overly personal questions, or me having to pretend to be interested in someone’s cousin’s nephew who also has autism. Nothing really bad has ever happened. That’s why being treated like I wasn’t even there was so surprising. Being invisible to the person who’s supposed to teach me how to advocate for myself has dropped a ball full of contradictions in my chest and it’s wriggling with anxiety.
So I bet you could have guessed, but tl:dr I’m going back for the next session. Partially because I already committed to this, partially because I think this information will be really useful, and partially because I learned that neurotypical people aren’t like me when it comes to communication. They don’t plan ahead and sometimes it bites them in the ass, like what happened on Monday. I’ve learned that sometimes I need to give them a second chance because that’s what I’d want them to do for me.
Stay tuned in November to see if the trainer wasted their second chance and had to face my wrath!