In his opening remarks at our recent national conference, Dr. Jim Ball, Chairman of the Autism Society, issued a call for a summit to bring together national organizations involved in advancing the independence, autonomy, self-sufficiency and dignity of each person living with autism. The purpose for the summit is to address a growing concern within the autism community: infighting is a too-common reality that diminishes our collective efforts to advance our collective work.
We all want a more effective and responsive government support system, but we also have to deal with the reality of a government that has less money and will likely need to cut programs. It makes good sense for us to bring forth a collective agenda to assist government on how to address the financial aspects of supportive services. If we don’t present a common message, we confuse government officials with differing positions and singular agendas. In the end, we are more easily dismissed or left out of decisions all together.
There are going to be areas where we all don’t agree. Not only is that okay, it’s a good thing. That is why there are various organizations engaged in national advocacy efforts. But there are some underlying principles where we do agree. We want to find those topics where we can gain consensus and a shared multi-disability vision that will impact individuals of all ages. We can certainly find commonality in the need for increased services for adults and more responsive and accountable public school systems. Individuals with developmental disabilities are denied their civil rights by the very systems put in place to support them. Surely we can find common ground here that positions us at the table where decisions are made – not making us the “beneficiaries” of decisions made without the input of groups representing self-advocates, families and others affected by autism.
As a leading government official told me recently that as long as our infighting continues little will be done to help our community of individuals affected by autism. Other “industry” groups agree to disagree on a lot, but they at least agree on certain values, efforts, and advocacy positions that are in the best interest of all they serve. This is why the Autism Society decided to call for a national summit. We need to meet and be inclusive rather than exclusive. We need to develop a few national goals that each organization agrees to support. To do anything less is simply maintaining the status quo, which, if we are really honest, needs to be greatly improved.
Scott Badesch, Autism Society President and Chief Operating Officer