What if I Don’t Want to be an “Autistic Self-Advocate?”

Everyone advocates for themselves all the time. If you go into a salary negotiation or other similar situation, it is assumed that you will be arguing and presenting your best case for your best interests to the best of your ability. But what if that is not your natural inclination? What if you understand that if/when you go into a salary negotiation, you know that you will inevitably be taking money from someone else, possibly someone who needs it more than you? I expect most people just put that out of their minds for the duration of the process. But imagine that you couldn’t?

Over the last few years since my diagnosis, I have met many other “more experienced ” autistic people online and in person. Many of them have explained that this self-advocacy is just part of the normal human experience, that neurotypical folks really are just self-promoting constantly and always “look out for number 1.” For this reason, if we are to be successful in any way, we have to mimic this behavior because if we don’t advocate for ourselves and our needs, nobody will. Many of my autistic friends go so far as calling themselves by the title “autistic self-advocate,” meaning (I guess?) that you can expect them to speak up for their needs at all times.

The problem with self-advocacy is that it is inherently marginalizing. If you go through life in a workplace constantly having to explain to every new person you meet what accommodations you need, why you need the accommodations you need, or why you do things a very particular way, it is a quick path to burnout! I really would just like to get my work done, in the most efficient way possible for me, by making as little of a disturbance to others in my vicinity as I can. In a perfect world, nothing would have to be explained, but we all know many folks won’t go along with that. What I really need is a (non-self) advocate, someone to advocate for me!

Honestly, I think the world would be a much better place if there were more structured opportunities for people to advocate for one another. In a workplace, this could be a peer evaluation process or, less formally, managers just asking people on their teams who has been doing a great job lately. If fewer people were required to promote and market themselves, either for new jobs, promotions or salary increases, if there was more humility, if people were only expected to objectively explain what they’ve done, good and bad, autistic people wouldn’t have to describe themselves as “autistic self-advocates.” We could all advocate for one another instead. It is so much easier, simpler and more objective when I advocate on someone else’s behalf, which I do regularly. I would much rather be known as the “best teammate” than the “best individual performer” or “best self-advocate.” I believe that, at least on paper, this is what they call leadership.

But it hasn’t helped me get a new job, or get a promotion, or get a raise. Which is fine, I guess. It is what it is. Until others learn to see what is right in front of them, but not necessarily dressed up in flashing lights and yelling about how wonderful I am on a regular basis, I don’t imagine my situation will change.

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