Advocating… Before I started with Easter Seals Midwest I had no idea what it meant and when I began, well, I still didn’t have a full grasp of what it meant. I heard all the time of, “self-advocating” but what does this mean? What would it accomplish? The years have gone on and it still didn’t make sense until a presentation I had a few months ago.
I finished my presentation on the campus of the University of Missouri and in the questions segment a parent asked me, “My daughter is being picked on and bullied in school and what would you say she could do?” The daughter was sitting right beside the parent so I turned my vision towards her and took a breath and all of a sudden the concept of advocating made sense. I’ll try and give you what I said in quotations…
“School was rough for me, but I never was truly bullied that I know of but I have had situations where I felt belittled and mocked. This isn’t to diminish your challenge now but you’re seeing me up here on this stage today advocating. I may have spoken to tens of thousands but that isn’t the goal here. I’ve had instances where a one-on-one conversation made a drastic change and that’s the goal. My job title may be Autism Ambassador but really anyone and everyone can be one. Your story isn’t my story and my story isn’t yours and that’s what the world needs to know about the autism spectrum.”
“To those that bully you all I can say is try and advocate for yourself. Make the attempt to explain to them who you are and why you are. Will it work every time? I’d be telling a lie if I told you it would, but here’s the thing; if you reach one person. Yes, if you reach just one person then maybe that one person reaches another that reaches another and what all this means is that you changed the world! Again, some people aren’t going to listen, some won’t care, and should this happen you’ll have to try again down the line but don’t lose hope. I believe that most people are good and want to learn and you have the power to do exactly what I’m doing today.”
My voice was quivering when I finished that answer because I realized that what I said wasn’t just a filler answer but the honest truth. Anyone and everyone has the ability to change the world and it doesn’t matter if it’s to an entire student body or to one fellow student. How did the story end up with the daughter I spoke to? Her mom found my Facebook page and mentioned that the bully in question apologized to her and was now sticking up for her! This is the mission, this is the goal, and whether you’re a public speaker, a blogger, a parent, a student, or anyone that has any slight affiliation to the autism spectrum you have the ability to change the world. Truly, you do and if we want to get to the world where there is full awareness and more importantly understanding of the autism spectrum it’s going to take us all to advocate, to educate, and to generate the thoughts in others that will make more stories like that of the daughter that was in my audience. We’re in this together and as I told that girl in my audience we won’t always have someone that will listen, but it only takes one for us to change the world.