Extending Dignity

November 4, 2013
Chelsea Budde

So much as happened near and far in the past few days that remind me how much work we have to do  as an organization and as parents, and how much has already been done by so many autism advocates.  In the category of earth-shaking accomplishments, take Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher of Wretches & Jabberers fame into account.  Today, these are internationally-known, world-traveling gentlemen who type to speak; but they were not presented with such an opportunity and training until they were well into adulthood.  They were presumed incompetent, unintelligent, and consequently institutionalized before they were able to relay their thoughts.  Through Gerardine Wurzburg's beautiful and powerful documentary, and the international speaking opportunities it continues to generate, Larry and Tracy are encouraging societies to extend dignity, presume competence, and realize that intelligence does not always look and sound the way we expect it to.

Find out more at http://dignityandrespect.org.

Shouldn't we be extending dignity to every human being around us, regardless of perceived intelligence?  Sometimes it seems as if only those who express their cognitive ability with reliable spoken language deserve such treatment.

I was encouraged by the hearts of the leadership and a select few parishioners at an urban church here in our area over the weekend.  Though this is a relatively small church, it has quite a few attendees with autism spectrum disorder.  One of the young men was ignored by a neurotypical peer recently when he attempted to make conversation, and that spurred the leadership to learn more about ASD so they could practice awareness, acceptance, and empathy within their own community.

I was discouraged by the words of a mother of adult twins with ASD, who described them to ABC News in this way: "In the spectrum, they're at the very bottom."  Now, I am more than willing to extend benefit of the doubt when it comes to out-of-context news editing.  But it made me sad to think that because New York City Marathon runners Jamie and Alex Schneider couldn't find a way to communicate verbally, they were "at the very bottom" in any way.  It seemed undignified to me, and I doubted they would describe themselves in a similar fashion, if empowered with the tools and training Larry and Tracy have been.

What's the point?, you ask.  Extend dignity.  Each of us is doing the best we can with the tools we have.  We all do better when we know better.  Assume those around you will do the same.  And do your best to bring them the tools that will inspire still more community members to extend them the dignity they deserve.

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