I get it.
You only want to help, and your intentions are pure and innocent, and you didn’t intend to offend anyone – especially not the people who you are trying to help.
I get it. I really do get it.
But you’ve stuffed up, and you haven’t offended anyone as much as you’ve perpetuated the harmful stigma that we’re fighting daily to overcome.
So what can you do? If you stop now, then you won’t be helping and you really do only want to help.
Here’s the thing: Intentions aren’t magic erasers. You may not have intended to do something, but that doesn’t change the result of what you have done. Your help is hurting!
It also doesn’t change what you haven’t done.
You thought you had a great idea to help a group of people so you went with it. You missed some steps. You probably missed them because the privilege you hold means that you didn’t think to stop to check with anyone before unleashing your help on us. Helper personalities are scary like that.
You have claimed that you don’t have time to listen to the reasons why what you’re doing is harmful, so this post is not for you because you’re going to continue “helping” regardless.
This post is for future people who only want to help. There are some things that you must do before you start helping.
1. Be very clear on who you’re planning to help
If you’re planning to help the non-autistic parents and families of autistic people, then don’t claim that you’re intending to help autistic people. It’s fine if you want to help parents and families. It’s not ok to pretend to be helping us.
Personally, I think the whole support model when it comes to autism is upside down because parents get the lion’s share of the support while autistic children and adults go virtually unsupported. I know that many people will claim that supporting parents supports their children, but that isn’t really true because an unsupported autistic child is going to be communicating their distress that their needs are going unmet and that’s going to make the lives of parents more difficult so they will need more support and their unsupported child will continue to have their needs unmet and the cycle just spirals downwards from there.
On the other hand, if an autistic child is supported, then the parents’ lives become a little easier and they don’t require as much support. See the difference?
Nevertheless, if you’re choosing to help non-autistic parents and families, then be clear that you are not intending to help autistic people. There is often a world of difference between what autistic people want and need, and what their parents think they want and need.
2. Speak to members of the group you’re planning to help
This is the part where you actually ask. You ask members of that group whether they actually want and/or need your help. You ask what type of help they want from you.
You do not decide how you are going to help without first asking. You are not in a position to understand what is important and what is not important to a group if you are not a member of that group.
3. If you get the go ahead, understand that you are not speaking for the group
Most oppressed groups are thoroughly tired of people with privilege speaking for them. When you speak for a group to which you do not belong, you speak over that group. Your voice is louder because you hold more privilege, and people are more inclined to listen to people who hold more privilege. Speaking for means that other people are hearing you instead of the group that needs to be heard.
If you have to speak, use your voice to amplify those who need to be heard. Please don’t even start with me about “those other autistic people”. Non-speaking autistic people can speak for themselves too. More importantly, if someone wants you to speak for them, then they will ask you. It is not up to you to decide to speak for anyone else.
So, there are three steps for future people who only really want to help, and I can’t emphasise this enough: Those are the things you do before you start helping. You do those things first because I really do get how upset the person referred to at the beginning of this post might be feeling now.
I get it.
I get that it’s sad-making when you find out that your help is hurting, but please understand that your hurt feelings are insignificant compared to the harmful stigma you’re perpetuating.