Despite the great progress made over the years, there are five Pink Elephants in the Autism Community that have not been adequately addressed:
Hidden Autistics – those who are most able to adapt to mainstream society are also the most reluctant to publicly identify as autistic. If they would disclose their difference, this would quickly demolish negative stereotypes. Their life experiences could have provided valuable guidance for the autism community including both autistics and caregivers. However, the disadvantages are overwhelmingly more than the advantages for them to become openly autistic at the moment.
In-fighting – some autistics are acting counterproductively and dismissing the good work being done by others for not meeting their stringent standards. They demand inclusion but are intolerant of approaches used by others that they disagree with. They want change but are reluctant to lead the community with practical action. Much can be done if they stop fighting and start working with other autistics, caregivers and service providers as a united team for inclusion.
Self-discrimination – some autistics have imposed discriminatory attitudes upon themselves. They demand acceptance for themselves but yet are reluctant to apply the same (of mutual understanding, compassion and acceptance) to non-disabled people. They demand fair treatment for themselves but yet have no interest to strive for the self-improvement, competitiveness and emotional maturity that will enable them to be full equals with non-disabled people. To ensure that support and learning do not only flow one-way – from the autistics to the non-disabled people or vice versa, 360-degrees inclusion is necessary.
Misplaced Responsibility – There is a mentality that it is the responsibility of mainstream society to effect changes so that the autistic advocates’ job is to pressure decision-makers to take action. While they can do much, there are also limits to what they can do when the Pink Elephants are not addressed. For example, many ideas and concepts were not included in the Masterplan, perhaps because these were considered overly ambitious, unproven or less important. It is thus our job as changemakers to fill in the gaps and prove the viability of new ideas with action.
False Conditionality – Some believe that we can only be good advocates/leaders/changemakers or obtain respect if we undertake certain types of formal education and be certified by some formal authority. In my view, serving the community is the best way to gain experience in creating change and the best certification for leaders is a history of success in delivering strategic change.
Mainstream higher education, a system created by non-disabled people with privileged backgrounds, is often poorly suited for many Neurodivergents. Certification by formal authorities in non-academic areas (in the form of awards, paid positions etc) tend to be highly subjective.
This is not meant to dismiss academics. Academics can and do make important contributions especially in research and awareness, but that does not mean we must be academically inclined or qualified to contribute. Having a PhD may validate one’s capabilities in research and knowledge but it says nothing about leadership qualities such as emotional maturity or ability to effect change.
In contrast, WACS (Whatsapp Autism Community Singapore) was created to address these Pink Elephants. It offers a neutral place for Hidden Autistics to participate within the community without needing to identify as autistic as well as for members to learn to respect different approaches/opinions and about the latest developments and concepts regarding autism support and advocacy.
WACS was founded in 2018 after all autistics were exiled from a caregiver-controlled chat group due to a personal conflict. Two of these exiles came together and chose to build something that can include other speaking autistics – people seen as disabled but yet considered to not need disability support.
Becoming an administrator allows one to serve the community and develop leadership skills at the same time. Each leader-in-training is empowered to express their passion and style differently while co-mentoring and supporting the learning experiences of other leaders-in-training.
WACS is a prototype to demonstrate how Inclusive Equality may be applied in real life. WACS is also proof that we do not require funding, academic qualifications and formal training to be able to make a difference to the community. WACS is proof that autistics can work as a team and accept each other’s differences.
This is just the beginning of many more things to come. Everyone who can exercise their free will and have the intellectual capacity to understand the leadership concepts can choose to be a leader who serves the community. And leaders who strive for Inclusive Equality can break their limitations successfully – not just to create strategic change for Humanity, but also to grow and mature within themselves. Autistic leaders shall be truly much more than meets the eye.