Autism advocates talk a lot about how we need to “support” people on the spectrum.
But when we say “autistic people need support” what does that actually mean?
It means giving someone access to an item/activity/service/modification that eliminates or reduces the challenges that are caused by their disability.
As an adult on the autism spectrum, I receive support and accommodations in a number of ways. For example, in public places, I am allowed to bring my trained service dog with me to help me navigate the challenges that go along with being in busy environments with sensory issues. At amusement parks, I receive a pass that allows me to wait my turn for rides and attractions outside of the line. This means I can wait somewhere quiet away from the crowds, and take my turn when a specified amount of time has passed.
Another example of an accommodation I receive is that some of the duties listed in my job description have been removed or altered by my employer to accommodate my challenges. I also have dyslexia, which can make the paperwork parts of my job working with autistic children extremely difficult. While I excel in some areas, I find myself needing accommodations or assistance in other areas.
Some people have this idea that providing support and accommodations means a person is getting “the easy way out.” As an autistic person myself, I want to explain to you why that is not the case.
Let’s start by talking about what “support” DOESN’T mean.
Giving someone support does not mean that tasks or activities are made easy. Having support does not mean that all struggles associated with the task have been eliminated.
Here’s an example to help illustrate what I mean: Hikers like to take long walks outside for fun, for exercise, as a personal challenge or because they’re crazy, or some combination of those reasons. Hiking can be incredibly difficult because it requires someone to be in decent physical shape and have a certain amount of motivation. Hikers do certain things to support themselves so that they can reach their goals. This can include wearing hiking boots, carrying a backpack, or wearing bug spray. Just because they’re wearing hiking boots does not mean the hike becomes easy. Having a backpack will not make the hike shorter, and bug spray won’t mean they’ll never encounter pests. However, these tools provide support in making the hike possible for the hiker.
Now imagine a hiker who is motivated to hike a long distance on a difficult trail, but this time, the hiker is completely naked and isn’t carrying anything. This hiker is unsupported and will face all the same challenges of the hike, but now they have the additional challenge on top of it all, which is completing the hike in the nude. They will face struggles with cuts on their feet, the inability to carry water or supplies and they will have no protection from the elements.
Receiving support as a disabled person is much like giving clothing and supplies to a hiker. The support does not eliminate the challenging components of the task, but it does make the challenging pieces manageable.
As a person with a disability, having access to therapies, sensory tools, medical care, and modifications is equivalent to a hiker putting on boots, protective clothing, and carrying supplies. It does not make the activity or task easy and it does not eliminate the struggle involved. It just eases the additional and unnecessary difficulties caused by having a disability in a world that is not designed for nude hikers.
My name is Kaelynn Partlow. I live in Greenville, South Carolina. I work full time at a fabulous nonprofit organization teaching kids on the autism spectrum. I love my job and my family! I am also passionate about dog training, and work with service dogs in my free time.