There’s a children’s song with the words, “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round.” In Ontario over the last month, and specifically on March 7th, they have been going bump, bump, bump, all over autistic folk. First, the current provincial government announced funding cuts and a change to the program that is supposed to support Autistic children. This change in policy is being branded as expanding parental choice in “treatment” for their autistic children. The changes were not discussed with actually autistic people. Then, the ABA lobby and all the parent organizations jumped on to criticize the move. Their language centres around how horrible being autistic is and that without ABA – which is behaviour control and is considered torture by many who have survived it – autistic folks are doomed to a meaningless life and will not be able to be productive and appear “normal.” Again, these groups do not have meaningful discussion with actually autistic folk, instead they infantalize and treat us as though we have no clue what we’re talking about.
Many autistic people in Ontario are happy that the ABA funding was cut. I happen to be one of them. In my academic work when I first read about ABA it was obvious that it worked the same way as conversion or reparative therapy used to make gay, lesbian, and trans folk straight and cisgender. When we said we supported this we got shit on for supporting Ford. Most autistic folk I know, and this includes myself, do not support Ford whatsoever. He is a disaster for Ontario.
One group I am part of, A4A Ontario, has been able, as a result of the furor over these funding changes to meet with MPPs. One Conservative and one NDP to talk about the needs of autistic folk. Just meeting with a member of the Conservative caucus has resulted in people claiming that the group is a shill for the Conservatives, as though we cannot have our own opinions, and seek to have policy changes that might actually help autistic folk. One way we are shut down is by parents saying we’re too functional and cannot know what their child experiences. They often go on to say that because their child is non-speaking they must be their child’s voice. HELL NO. They do not need to be their child’s voice. They need to be working with their child so that the person can communicate themselves!
At the same time, none of the discussion among so-called progressives in Ontario includes what actually autistic people are saying our needs are. When members of A4A have tried to reach out to other disability groups about what we as autistic folk need we are met with silence. Messages and emails are not returned. The organizations are instead choosing to parrot the propaganda from groups not run by autistic people, and the propaganda from ABA organizations. None of the groups at the protest today, March 7, 2019, had any sort of dialog with actually autistic folk, and autistic run organizations. Most of the messaging I’ve seen from the protest at Queen’s Park centres on how horrific autism is, how it’s a tragedy, and that parents must be able to force their autistic children to appear “normal.”
I encourage you, the reader, to listen to actuallly autistic folk about what our needs are. Some examples of the needs of autistic folk in Ontario include, but are not limited to:
- Support for Occupational Therapy, something not covered under the previous plan, and, as far as I can tell not supported in the new plan.
- Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices and training in how to best use them. This would allow many more autistic and other folk to be able to express their needs and communicate their ideas. AAC helps with autonomy.
- Supports for adults. Currently there are few supports for adults, especially those who are deemed to be “high functioning,” a label that has many problems and is used to dismiss people’s needs. These supports include, but are not limited to:
- Affordable housing
- Help with finding work that provides accommodations
- Managing executive function challenges
- Navigating bureaucracies, and getting access to what accommodations and supports are available.
- To be actually listened to rather than spoken about and for. Nothing About Us Without Us.
The wheels on the buses continue to go bump, bump, bump over autistic folk. It’s time that we bring out the severe tire damage devices so that our voices will be heard, not just our pain as we are ignored yet again.