Some Good People
Disability activists are really good at identifying problems. What we’re not so good at is finding solutions.
So if Autism Speaks is fucking evil- and I honestly believe it is- then where does that leave us? What is the solution to this problem?
Well, the obvious thing to do is to not give them money. If you want to support autistic people, you can give money to some other organization.
But which one?
There isn’t a lot that autistic advocacy groups can really do, since a cure is obviously off the table, and the problems we’re left with are mostly ordinary human problems.
We struggle with family issues, finding a job, relationships, friendships, finding adequate housing, and money problems. Yeah, all this stuff is affected by our autism, but the way in which we’re affected varies wildly from person to person.
Any organization designed to help us will pretty much by definition overlook the diversity of our community.
But there are organizations out there designed to help individual autistic people succeed. Most of these- all of the ones I can think of, actually- are community-based as opposed to national or international organizations.
So do research on what’s going on in your corner of the world. Look at the mission statements of businesses and charitable groups. Make sure they realize that autism is not the problem, and that the problem is environmental and attitudinal. Make sure they realize that autistic people are not intrinsically broken.
I’m aware of a handful of excellent organizations in the Toronto area, both for profit and not-for-profit. If you’re not from around here, you can’t personally benefit from their services, but a lot of them accept charitable donations.
I was suspicious of them for a long time, because of my experiences with places similar to this. But Shaughnessy- my former therapist- assured me they’re good folk, and he has good judgment about these things. Looking at their website, I see that basically they want to help integrate autistic people into the community as full and equal citizens. And they have a whole bunch of programming which allows this to happen for their clients. They accept donations and, in fact, have an impressively detailed chart about all the ways you can give them money.
The Redpath Centre
They’re a Toronto-based collective of therapists who specialize in treating people with autism. I was a client of Michael Shaughnessy’s for almost four years, I knew Jason Manett at the U of T (he was my supervisor), and I did some networking with Kevin Stoddart. All three of them had an unequivocally positive attitude about autism spectrum disorders and were consistently insightful and helpful. I’ve heard positive things about other therapists at the centre as well, particularly Dori Zener. Redpath has accepted funding from Autism Speaks, but I wouldn’t hold that against them; no business is going to refuse money.
Hand Over Hand
One of the directors of this place is Melissa Ngo, who I took some disability studies classes with at the U of T. So I know she has her shit together, both ideologically and in a general sense, and that she wouldn’t contribute to anything sinister. Looking at their website, I’m not entirely sure what it is they do. I think they organize social meetups for developmentally disabled people in York region. Which includes people with autism. Honestly, their website is kind of a mess, but it seems clear that the organization is run by good-hearted people. They subsist entirely on donations.
I stumbled upon this place while I was looking at children’s summer camps online in a fit of delayed wish fulfillment. I never went to camp when I was a kid, and was never interested, because the weekend-long Beavers and Cubs camps I participated in were fucking catastrophes. But if I’d gone to Camp Kodiak, it would have been okay. This camp is exactly what I needed when I was eight. They accept campers with and without autism spectrum disorders and ADHD, they focus on building self-esteem, and offer a wide range of interesting programs. It is a camp experience done right. I once asked Shaughnessy if he knew anything about them, because really, the website could be a pack of lies. He said he’d had several clients who had gone there as kids, and they all had good experiences. Though they still ended up in therapy, so take that as you will.
God, the stories I’ve heard about this place. It’s a camp for kids with serious disabilities. Serious like “we thought they’d never be able to go to camp” and “we need staff who know how to safely restrain kids”. Shit gets real at Camp Winston. They don’t just serve autistic kids- though they do have autism-specific programming- they serve kids who’ve got the related syndromes as well: Tourette’s, ADHD, and OCD. My social skills counsellor from high school worked at this camp, and also sent her kids there. Jason Manett- mentioned above- started his career here. The counsellors and employees at Camp Winston know what they’re doing, and they do it with all their hearts.