When we think of disability, we think of providing heaps of external help and support. We assume that this is for the better, but it can backfire to create dependency. Rather than investing in armies of expensive non-autistic professionals to support autistics, it is much more sustainable to support autistics to support themselves.
There are many autistics with the capacity to support themselves but are presumed to be incompetent. A burning desire to achieve a dream, a taste of the freedom of independent living, a role model who can show the way – may just be the trigger that sets them on the path to self-reliance. Rather than try to groom autistics in the image of non-autistic people, we need to focus on initiatives that can unleash the hidden potential of autistics to create their future.
To cite an example, one common strategy by non-autistics is:
- Be motivated to advance one’s personal career or make one’s family proud
- Study for a recognised degree at a good university (while competency at applying the formal knowledge varies)
- Get an entry management job on a full-time basis
- Obtain relevant work experiences that look good on a resume
- Climb the corporate ladder either by changing jobs or getting promoted
- Aspire to start a family
Autistics tend to fare poorly when imitating such a strategy.
- Have no motivation for purely materialistic and relational goals
- Must conform to social norms and narrowly defined academic goals in the mainstream schooling system
- Must be able to handle office politics and social demands in most jobs (including even technical jobs)
- Must be able to choose experiences suitable for one’s situation and steer expectations, which can be challenging
- Must develop advanced executive planning, communication and social skills if seeking to get promoted, which can be quite impossible
- The drama and compromise of intimate relationships can be highly detrimental to one’s personal happiness
However, many autistics believe that formal education is essential and join the paper chase only to find themselves unemployable or burned out.
In contrast, autistics might fare better with a strategy that fits their needs:
- Be motivated to serve Humanity
- Study a wide range of useful technical/artistic skills to gain competency (while formal qualification is optional)
- Obtain freelance technical/artistic work
- Obtain relevant work experiences serving the autism community
- Expand out of the autism community for more clients while upgrading skills to be able to charge a higher hourly rate
- Aspire to create a meaningful life focused on one’s passion/interests/projects
The way that we structure these life strategies can make the difference between a dysfunctional and unhappy autistic dependent on external support versus a productive and emotionally healthy autistic who is self-reliant.