Sunday, 18 June 2017

Crumbs From the Table - Autism, Lunch and Different Treatment

I was at a conference recently.  It was about autism.  It doesn't matter which conference, because I'm just using it as an example.  Quite a common example.

The conference is about autism, yes?  So, did we have actual autistic speakers at the microphone?  No.  We had non-autistic people, 'ablesplaining' autism.

What's it like?  It was like the lunch, that day.
Like many autistic people, I have difficulties with certain foods.  Some of us, because of textures.  Some, because of taste difficulties.  Some, because of the way some foods smell.  Some, because of separate digestive difficulties.  So, a lot of us need different food, or our own separate portion rather than a 'grab it yourself' buffet.

I'd said I needed different food, well in advance.  i explained what I can't eat.  I can eat a lot of food.  I can eat fruit, salad, vegetables, baked goods made with rice, tapioca or potato flour, plain crisps, meats, cheeses, eggs, fish.  I can't eat wheat, corn/corn products, oats, nuts or chocolate. Lots of desserts don't need those things.  Lots of cakes don't need those things.  Even local supermarket stock standard stuff I can eat just fine.

The lunch was laid out for us.   Huge organisation.  Big, big budget.   Most of the delegates enjoyed row after row of delicious sandwiches with all sorts of fillings.  The photograph on the left shows such a buffet.  And huge slabs of the most glorious cake.  They could also have their choice of fruit.   In the afternoon, they could have muffins of various kinds, organic cake bars, more fruit.  

Their calories for the day, well, let's say 500-1000.

The photograph on the right shows a plate of lettuce with a couple of bits of other salad on it. My lunch, a few lettuce leaves, into which had been put a tablespoon of tinned mixed beans and a tiny amount of chopped green pepper.  And a piece of fruit.   In the afternoon, a piece of fruit again.  No cake, no cheese, no meat, no fish.

My calories for the day, well, let's say 150-250.  Wonderfully healthy I'm sure - but, unequal.

"Catering for autistic people?  Oh just give them the salad garnish and an apple".

It's an analogy for much of the way we are treated at events run for, and by, and with, non-autistic people. 

Let me be clear; some non-autistic people are fabulous.  Hugely welcoming, lovely, generous hosts.  Splendid at working with us, listening to us.

But autism conferences too often do exactly this.  Treat us as a total afterthought.  Even if the subject is autism.  Even if the particular subject is how autistic people end up being 'othered' over, and over again....and how we respond to that.  Wonderfully ironic.

I work mostly with autistic specialists, autistic friends and autistic professionals these days. 

We're not lab animals, best fed on lettuce and fruit, and spoken at.  We are people. People who can communicate for ourselves, whether we are verbal or not.   That remarkable insight is free of charge, unlike my consultancy services, which are reassuringly expensive.

Thank you for listening.