This post on parenting autistic children with acceptance contains excepts from Lei Wiley Mydske, creator of Neurodivergent Narwhals and founder of the Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Library. Find more info on BFL’s support for these projects at the end of this post.
Nothing About Us Without Us
Things will never get better for autistic people if someone else is speaking for us or over us.
Several years ago, every parent and professional that I met had the completely wrong idea about what autism is. There just were no resources locally that were not dominated by non-autistic voices.
I want people to learn about autism from actual autistic people.
Maker Spotlight: An Interview With Lei Wiley-Mydske
Creator of Neurodivergent Narwhals & Founder of the Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Library
[Image Description: Pink cartoon narwhal against a blue background. Text bubble reads: “Do what makes you flappy!” Text at the bottom attributes image to neurodiversitylibrary.org]
I thought about the things I wanted my son to know – that I was proud of his autistic identity.
Autistic children hear so many negative and harmful messages about autism. I never needed to ‘grieve’ for him, I have never wanted to fight autism, and I would always be on his side to confront ableism and ignorance because we are a team.
I wanted to write the book that I wished I had read to my own son when he was little. I also feel like I wrote this book for myself too. It is what I wanted to know as a little autistic kid. Autistic children need to know that they are loved and valued and that they do make this world a better place. It’s probably what a lot of us needed to know and experience.
This will be a book that is not only for autistic children but also for the people who love them and accept them for exactly who they are.
[Image Description: Cartoon newspaper ‘Neurodivergent Narwhal News’ featuring headline ‘Studies Confirm Exactly What Autistic People Have Been Saying For Years!’ Features image of shocked-looking green narwhal. Caption says “‘This is my shocked face!’ exclaims narwhal sarcastically.” Side-story includes image of rain cloud with title “BREAKING! Water Found To Be Wet!” Image courtesy of neurodiversitylibrary.org]
Autism advocacy without autistics
I often receive hostility either for needing accommodations or for asking people to consider the feelings of autistic people – including their own children – in the way they speak about autism.
The way you treat autistic adults is how you are telling the world to treat your children.
Many autism advocacy organizations are mostly full of allistic (non-autistic) parents of autistic children. I have always felt unwelcome in these spaces and they are incredibly inaccessible to autistic parents.
Most advocacy is centered on family support and the feelings of allistic parents, and not really for parents who are also autistic. I can’t tell you how many events and conferences I have gone to where you fill out a form that says ‘parent’ or ‘self-advocate,’ but you can’t pick both.
[Image Description: Purple cartoon narwhal smiles at text “If you are not autistic, you are not an autism expert!” Text at the bottom attributes image to neurodiversitylibrary.org]
Children’s books about autism are mostly written for classmates or siblings and are authored by non-autistic people. These books talk about autism as a negative thing and are not reflective of autism acceptance or the neurodiversity paradigm.
I want to change that, so I wrote a children’s book featuring the Neurodivergent Narwhals.
[Image Description: Four narwhals playing with toy vehicles and tablets. Text reads “What is ‘inappropriate play’? Autistic children do not play in ‘inappropriate’ ways… Autistic children play, learn, and engage in uniquely autistic ways. Don’t pathologize our ways of being and how we understand the world around us! Just because it’s not your experience, that doesn’t make it wrong!’ Logo at the bottom attributes image to Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library]
The narwhals started as a way for me to bring short, accessible information about autism acceptance in the form of posters and info-graphics to people who are unfamiliar with neurodiversity or the social model of disability. They have become very popular and have been purchased by school districts, children’s therapists, parent groups and more to help teach people about autism.
I want parents to understand what autism acceptance is, what it looks like, and why their kids deserve nothing less.
[Image Description: Three smiling narwhals with the headline “IS AUTISM AN EPIDEMIC?” Text inside bubble reads “Autism is not an epidemic! Autistic people have always been around. What has grown is our understanding of the beautiful diversity of our minds and brains!” “NEURODIVERISTY!” appears in colorful text, followed by “We are not an illness, we are not an epidemic. We are autistic & wonderful exactly as we are!” Text at the bottom attributes image to neurodiversitylibrary.org]
One book at a time
The Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Library is small but we are making a difference. When I co-founded the library, we decided to name it after my dad who was disabled and who was interested in and invested in community service work.
I have had other people contact me who are interested in starting neurodiversity libraries in their communities. I am so proud of the commitment that my fellow neurodiversity librarians have to changing the conversation about autism. We are popping up all over, from New York, to Los Angeles to Boston and even Australia. The people behind these libraries are amazing advocates and activists. Their communities are so lucky to have them.
– Quoted text excerpted from interview with Lei Wiley-Mydske
4 Actions: Spread compassion & inclusion in your community
1. Listen & Amplify Autistic Voices
If you’re an allistic accomplice, you can support us by presuming competence when listening to autistic people, and amplifying autistic voices whenever you can – through social media, submitting requests to your local libraries to stock books written by autistic authors, and by supporting your local volunteer-run neurodiversity library.
You can follow Lei’s personal blog, ‘We Always Liked Picasso,’ and her featured posts on the stellar Facebook Resource ‘Parenting Autistic Children with Love & Acceptance‘
2. Support The Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Library
Click here to make books and materials that reflect autism acceptance and neurodiversity more accessible for autistic people and allistic accomplices in the Stanwood & Camano Island area (Washington, USA) or search for a local Neurodiversity Library near you.
3. Support Autistic-Run Organizations
Organizations like The Autism Women’s Network and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), and of course, Books for Littles are run by autistic leaders and work toward inclusion, intersectional civil rights, and respect for autistic children and adults.
Lei is the Community Outreach Coordinator for the Autism Women’s Network. AWN boosts the voices of autistic women and non-binary people, and recently published ‘All the Weight of Our Dreams,’ an anthology of written and visual work created by autistic people of color, and ‘What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew,’ written by autistic women for parents of autistic girls.
4. Grab a Copy of Neurodivergent Narwhals
FTC Transparency Disclosure: Books for Littles donated to the original Indegogo campaign (now closed) for the Neurodivergent Narwhal book and will receive a copy of the book for that donation when it’s available. I’m not receiving any compensation for this post from any of the makers or organizations mentioned in this post and none of them are sponsors of BFL at this time. – Ashia
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