Autistic Future
July 5th, 2018

Are You Helping

These are fright­en­ing times for Amer­i­cans who val­ue things like human rights and the rule of law. Much that is going on in the news is par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­turb­ing to the dis­abil­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty, includ­ing Autis­tic peo­ple. Many of us, espe­cial­ly those who have advo­ca­cy expe­ri­ence from the Neu­ro­di­ver­si­ty Move­ment, want to see what we can do to help. Most of us need to prac­tice good self-care to feel our best in a cli­mate which feels increas­ing­ly threat­en­ing to most mem­bers of minor­i­ty groups.* Many of us feel both impuls­es strong­ly and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, but activism or advo­ca­cy and self-care aren’t the same thing. Often, a giv­en course of action will serve only one of those impor­tant ends. It is impor­tant to eval­u­ate which one wants to do in a giv­en moment and make deci­sions that will accom­plish the goal in question.

A lot of things that accom­plish impor­tant prac­ti­cal goals, solv­ing a prob­lem, pro­tect­ing vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, chang­ing pol­i­cy, don’t feel espe­cial­ly good. A lot of things that are spir­i­tu­al­ly refresh­ing or impor­tant to the con­tin­u­a­tion of dai­ly life, emo­tion­al expres­sion, mak­ing sure the bills are paid, pick­ing up a med­ica­tion refill, speak­ing out to like-mind­ed peo­ple, car main­te­nance or top­ping off a bus pass, rest, exer­cise, and snark, are not nec­es­sar­i­ly effec­tive tac­tics for mak­ing change. Both sets of actions are impor­tant, but it is impor­tant to dis­tin­guish them. The way to start is to be intentional. 

Make a deci­sion about whether self-care or change-mak­ing is going to hap­pen at this moment. You do no owe oth­er peo­ple an expla­na­tion of your choice. Resist any instinct to feel guilty as best you can. Whichev­er you are not going to do now can be done lat­er, tomor­row, or next week. Put it on the cal­en­dar to be sure it actu­al­ly hap­pens. If you have cho­sen self-care, be sure the activ­i­ty you are con­tem­plat­ing will actu­al­ly be help­ful for you in that regard. Today may be a day for going to work so that the water bill gets paid rather than protest­ing. Today may be a day for going to the movies or hav­ing din­ner with friends rather than jump­ing on the lat­est hash­tag about the lat­est appalling cur­rent event. The key is to decline to par­tic­i­pate in any­thing that will not con­tribute to your wel­fare or keep your life on track.

If the deci­sion you are mak­ing for the moment is tak­ing on the prob­lems of the world, the analy­sis is entire­ly dif­fer­ent. Look at the spe­cif­ic things you will do. Think about them, not just how they will feel but what they will accom­plish. If you can’t see how the actions you are being asked to take address the prob­lem in ques­tion, ask more ques­tions. If you don’t get a sat­is­fac­to­ry answer, you have come across a plan which has­n’t been well-designed and ful­ly thought-through. It isn’t a good use of your prob­lem-solv­ing time even if it feels good. Unless you want to switch over to self-care for the moment, and the course of action would feel nour­ish­ing enough to count as self-care, find some oth­er way to address the problem.

Both self-care and address­ing prob­lems of pub­lic con­cern are very impor­tant, espe­cial­ly now. We will not get through this chal­leng­ing peri­od with­out engag­ing in a sig­nif­i­cant amount of both. How­ev­er, self-care and advo­ca­cy do not always go togeth­er and can be some­what incom­pat­i­ble depend­ing on the con­text. We can always have gen­er­ous help­ings of both, but we can’t always have both at the same time. For that rea­son, it is impor­tant to be thought­ful about which one a giv­en course of action will accom­plish. If we can be inten­tion­al about work­ing some of both into our busy sched­ules, and know what we plan to do when, we will live as well and pro­tect as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble in these chal­leng­ing times.

*I mean self-care in the sense of keep­ing one’s own life togeth­er, liv­ing as part of one or more com­mu­ni­ties, ful­fill­ing the respon­si­bil­i­ties of one’s per­son­al life, and main­tain­ing one’s own well-being rather than any­thing lux­u­ri­ous or fun.