Presume Competence

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Autistic people are capable of an entire spectrum of talents, skills, and abilities, and autistic people are found performing all of the roles in society that typical people perform. At the same time, there are many things that autistics are not able to do. Our profiles of abilities and disabilities varies from person to person. It is extremely disrespectful to assume that somebody is not able to do something because they are autistic. Such an attitude presents a low regard for autistic and disabled people and is far from reality.

The historic and ongoing views that autistic people will never reach the ability potential of a typical person contributes to continued ableism against autistic people. Autistic children, who are assumed to never be able to achieve education and career goals comparable to their classmates and peers, are afforded lower-quality educations and receive less supervision and encouragement. When an autistic child performs in a way that is comparable to or exceeds the skills of their peers, they are deemed to be “not that autistic” or “not as disabled”. This ableist perspective fractures our community, as autistics who demonstrate competence are classified as typical in order to maintain the status quo view that autistics are not competent. “Autistic” therefore remains a label of shame and incompetence when it should not be.

When people do not believe in the capability of autistics, we also lack faith in our own capability. We may fall into a depression about not being able to achieve what our peers do, when it was not because we couldn’t but because other people did not believe that we could. We may underachieve in school, not bother applying for jobs, not try making friends, because we have internalized that we are not capable of doing those things.

It is more likely that we are able to do all of those things that contribute to a high quality of life if we receive accommodations and if society becomes more accessible to more people. Sometimes it is not that we are incapable of public speaking, but that we are incapable of public speaking because nobody bothered to teach us public speaking skills because they thought we would not be able to grasp them. Sometimes it is not that we are incapable of problem solving and mathematics, but that we are incapable of sitting at a desk and writing out our thought process on paper.

Autistic people must always be presumed to be competent and able to perform a task or skill that would be expected of anybody else their age, unless the person communicates that they are disabled in that way. Each autistic person spends their life exploring what they are able and not able to do, and we understand our ability profiles better than anybody. When we do state that we are disabled from doing something, we must be believed. We have tried over and over; we just can’t do some things and not being believed hurts our sense of self. But there are many things that we can do, and our growth and development should be encouraged on a level that all of our typical peers receive.

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