I am writing this because April is Autism Awareness Month, and I am an Autistic person. But, I am not “autism.” No Autistic person is. There are Autistic people with different abilities and limitations, just like everyone with and without disabilities. As the saying goes, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
I am not "Autism." No Autistic person is.
I am one person with autism. My name is Jason Harris. I’ve earned a Master’s degree; I work for a university, founded a nonprofit organization, and have 300,000 followers on Facebook. I also have support needs, things I do well, and things I don’t – just like everyone else. I am glad (and lucky) to work at the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University (BBI), where I write, speak, and conduct research on disability rights issues.
I have support needs...just like everyone else.
BBI supports me by matching my work to my abilities and providing support and supervision when I need it. In other words, BBI is “aware” of my autism, just as it is “aware” of the characteristics of its other employees, and BBI supports us all to do our work so that the organization can grow and thrive. This isn’t just a “good deed;” it’s good business. Studies show that when employees feel more supported and engaged, they do better work and are more likely to be loyal to their employers.
I want to be recognized and respected for who I am and what I can do.
BBI, and the people and organizations like it, live the real lesson of Autism Awareness Month - Be aware of Autistic people: of our skills, the ways we can contribute to businesses and society, and the support we need to do so. I am not “autism,” because, like every other Autistic person, I want to be recognized and respected for who I am and what I can do, not for the diagnosis I have.
[Image: Sculpture and pool at Denver Botanical Gardens with text: Don't Just Be "Aware" Of Autism]
Founder of Jason’s Connection – an online resource for those with disabilities, mental health, aging and other needs. Jason was awarded an M.S. in Cultural Foundations of Education and Advanced Certificate in Disability Studies from Syracuse University. Jason is also a Project Coordinator and Research Associate at the Burton Blatt Institute, an international think tank for Disability Rights and Human Justice at Syracuse University. He regularly contributes to the blog in his own series called Jason’s View and travels the country consulting and speaking about disability issues and rights. To read more from Jason Harris, read Jason's View.