“Neurodivergent individuals challenge society to question exactly what normalcy is, if it even exists to begin with” –Interview with Gaby from A4A

In this podcast, Gaby and I discussed racism in the education system, the disability hierarchy, media bias and representations of the self-advocacy movement, eye contact and cultural norms, the power of social media, the situation in Ontario and more!

Listen to the podcast at the audio link below. Links to iTunes and Stitcher at the end of this post.


Bio:
Gaby received her BA in Biological Anthropology from the University of Toronto. In addition to contributing to the critically-acclaimed anthology “All The Weight of our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism,” Gaby is one of the founding members of Autistics for Autistics Ontario, the first provincial autistic self-advocacy group in Ontario and an international affiliate of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Her work includes programs to educate health providers on autistic patient experiences and needs, employment accessibility outreach and communications with the governments of Ontario and Canada to reform autism policy. In addition to being diagnosed autistic in early adulthood, she also holds other identities such as being multiply neurodivergent and the first in her family to attend university in Canada.

The Episode: In this podcast, Gaby and I talk about racism, ableism and the overlapping oppressions faced by her family as newcomers to Canada in dealing with schools, the autism services system and higher education. Despite the Government of Canada’s official rhetoric about diversity, Canadian schools and service organizations continue to marginalize bilingual families, failing at effective outreach for services, discouraging children from speaking their language of origin and operating community services without meaningful inclusion of people of Colour.

“The social workers, the City workers, anyone behind the front desk did not look like me—or like any other resident in the community they were supposed to be serving.”

In Ontario’s education system, autistic and intellectually disabled (ID) students are disproportionately targeted for special education and the school-to-prison pipeline, too often underestimated and discarded from the opportunities that their white, nondisabled peers have access to. Students of Colour are still targeted disproportionately for disciplinary actions and overtly or tacitly streamed out of the path to higher education.

Rather than make the systemic changes we need for true inclusion and equity, too often policymakers focus on band-aid solutions. For example, Ontario’s current government is focused on funding “more therapy interventions” for anxiety in autistic students rather than addressing the sources of the anxiety, (which is the stigma and trauma inflicted by the existing segregated education system.) The government has rejected recommendations to reform school and service models. Currently, the system is mostly working against the needs of the community: especially for those most marginalized, such as newcomers, people of Colour, non-verbal autistics and economically disadvantaged families.

While positive models exist in other jurisdictions (supported decision-making, the money-follows-the-person model, independent supported living, school inclusion) somehow Ontario’s system isn’t yet being reformed in any meaningful way. This episode is very connected to what’s happening here—and also part a much longer, on-going discussion within disability rights and autistic self-advocacy towards addressing bias within our own organizations. We have a lot of work ahead of us.

Resources
All the Weight of Our Dreams explores intersectional oppression and realities for autistics of Colour, and it is a must-read, in a world that is too often white-washed and centred on an imagined norm (neurotypicality). Ordering info below:

All The Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism
Autism and Safety, a report by ASAN on police bias against racialized and autistic Americans
The Autism Wars, blog by Kerima Cevik
Autistic Hoya, Webpage by Lydia X.Z. Brown
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (US)
Autistic, Trans and Latinx: My Survival is our Community’s Survival Against Gentrification by Ruby Herida Eterna De Amor
Black, Female and Autistic: Hiding in Plain Sight, Interview with Moreniki GIwa Onaiwu by Matthew Rozsa
What Does a Black Autistic Man Look Like? A personal essay by N.I. NIcholson
What it Feels like to be an Autistic Person of Colour in the eyes of the Police, by Eric Garcia