I Delivered my First Talk on Autism and Lived to Tell About It

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It’s the final day of Autism Acceptance & Appreciation Month, so I appreciate that I was able to speak about autism at work this week. While it was a welcome break from my normal talks about data visualization and analysis, it was definitely not a break.

But was it ever worthwhile and timely.

There’s a world of difference between venues offering perspective on autism vs. autistic perspectives. I’m grateful mine was the latter.

So what happened, and what went well?

For starters, the event organizer was a gift, and she helped hammer out the topics and themes well beforehand. I can handle surprises, but she made sure this talk would cater to not just the audience’s needs, but a comfortable style of exchange.

I also had the questions beforehand, where I could mull over the answers and think about where I could thoughtfully inform on autistic misconceptions, being an ally, autism at work, and supporting autistic people growing up, along with neurotypical parents of neurodivergent children.

There’s one caveat.

For every talk, anytime someone makes the mistake of giving me a platform, I’m very quick to outline a key point: I speak from an autistic perspective, but I’m uniquely autistic and my experience isn’t going to be 100% representative of all autistic people.

It seems like that would detract from the message, but it was good to reinforce that autistic people are all unique, and that our voices are stronger through diversity. I’m not an “autism expert,” but I am an expert in my “autistic experience” — that helped.

There were good questions and real needs.

While I can rail on the struggles, there are people who genuinely want to support us, irrespective of disclosures. It was good to explain the practical steps on how. And then the parents, with whom I wish I could empathize more directly, who want to better support their uniquely autistic children — there’s never been a better time to grow up autistic than now. Knowledge is power, and we have so much of both now.

This wasn’t without mishaps.

I made the mistake of getting fancy with a self-description on incongruous juxtapositions, slipping in ‘Shakespeare-quoting history-majoring data visualization designer.’

Oops.

The follow up question: “Oh, what’s your favorite Shakespeare quote?”

That’s the lesson, y’all — never mention what you can’t prove. I rattled off the first one that came to mind and stultified the minds of my enduring audience with half-baked literary criticism on the fly. My apologies.

(But not for using ‘stultifying’ – it was nice using big words freely in a talk for once!)

It went well, and it did well for the autistic acceptance and appreciation cause.

So: if you’re an employer, manager, ally, advocate at work — autism is the next and long-overdue step on your inclusion, diversity, and accessibility effort.

Bring in authentically autistic voices. We do want to share. And we can help.

Even if we have to come up with a Shakespeare quote on the fly 🙂

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