For many years, autism professional development has been dominated by professionals who have spent their time studying and learning about autism or working in the field of autism. Often it has been the professionals teaching the community about what they have learned about autism and what they think is useful for the autistic person’s development and support in the world. Whilst this has served the community to learn something about autism, it could be likened to someone wanting to learn about Italy and learning from someone who had studied Italian at University. If you really wanted to learn about Italy in it’s truest form, wouldn’t you look to learn from a person of Italian origin who had spent their lifetime in Italy?
Of recent times, we have started to see an important shift in the way that autism professional development is delivered and by whom it is delivered. Just as we would look to an Italian person to teach us about Italy, we are now seeing our communities look towards Autistic people to teach us about autism, with Autistic people stepping up to share their experiences and their expertise on what autism is really like from an insider’s view.
So why is it important that we learn from the autistic perspective? Well, just like the example of Italy above – there is no better way to learn than from someone who lives it. A person who knows autism from the inside will provide insight like no non-autistic person can. A person who lives autism will experience therapies and social environments like no non-autistic person can, and will have insight into the issues associated with stigma, misunderstanding and sensory overload like no non-autistic person can. Autistic people simply provide us with the authentic version of autism – one that doesn’t bring non-autistic ideas or beliefs with it.
Autistic people can tell us what works best and what has potential to cause stress and anxiety (and sadly trauma too). Autistic people can tell us how they best learn, how they best communicate and how they best like to interact with the world around them. They can show us best practise and they can show us how to openly embrace a world that caters for all types of people. They can show us where to open our minds and learn – if we’re open to it!
So next time you’re looking to learn more about autism, please ask yourself the question, “am I going directly to the source or am I learning about autism from an outsider’s perspective?” Autistic experiences and perspectives are the best professional development ‘gift’ you can give yourself.