Forty-Seven Years of Creating a More Compassionate World for those with ASD

By Jenny Palmiotto, Psy. D.

Walk into your run-of-the-mill autism treatment center and you will inadvertently hear professionals describing autistic individuals as “inappropriate,” “non-compliant,” and “challenging.” Their actions might be referred to as “meaningless” or “non-functional.” Prizant says the only thing that is “non-functional” is the way autistic people are viewed and treated in today’s society. Prizant stands out from his peers. He breaks free from pathologizing autism through deconstructing autistic behaviors as part of the human experience. He’s almost perseverative (another autistic trait) in his attempt to change the world’s view of autism.

He demands better for all of us!  Prizant’s challenge: 

Change your own beliefs, expectations, and attitudes; change the world, but don’t demand change from the person with autism.  If we don’t, autistic people will continue to have barriers in schools, jobs, and in accessing the world.

Is it okay to listen to professionals, or should we only hear self-advocates? 

With the necessary shifts within the autism community, we fully understand that discussion about autism must include persons with autism.  However, there is power when different sources (self-advocates, professionals, parents) emerge with the same resounding truth—that autistic people deserve more than tolerance. In science, this is called multiple discovery: when discoveries are made more or less simultaneously. The difference here is that Prizant’s professional wisdom didn’t develop in a vacuum.  His wisdom comes from thousands of humanistic interactions with persons with autism and their loved ones. He knows that the view of autism as a “tragedy” is dehumanizing and doesn’t describe the experiences of autism. He recognizes that when we view autism through this lens it creates limitations for academic rigor and employment.

Why is Prizant’s message important to professionals? 

Barry Prizant wants to extinguish behavior, but it’s not autistic behavior! He demands that professionals stop with the nonsense of questioning parent’s intuition, blaming both children and parents. What he sees within the professional community is an excess behavior that must be stopped. Fortunately, for us in the professional community, he isn’t going to demean though coercive methods something not afforded to most people with autism. He simply shares his knowledge and encourages each and every person in this world to respond with compassion, not condemnation. Because if we, professionals, adopt a shift in our attitudes and beliefs about autism, adopting an “understand first” attitude, we will help grow persons entrusted in our care who believe that they matter and can do wonderful things. Our behavioral change is a must!

How do parents benefit from Prizant’s work? 

Barry Prizant was an easy choice for me when determining who would grace the stage of Love & Autism: A Conference with Heart. In his book Uniquely Human, he describes what it takes to be a professional that “gets it.” This particular viewpoint strengthens parent’s power in determining who they entrust with their child. Prizant values persons with autism by sharing their stories without the notion that they are broken. He creates understanding for neurological differences. He takes concepts like echolalia and explains the functionality of this seemingly different way of developing language. If all persons with autism experienced a world where their symptoms and characteristics were understood as being part of the human experience, we’d be a better society. This societal change would mean more opportunity and less fear for your child.

Can self-advocates learn from Prizant?

Prizant has a very specific special interest. Now, many professionals believe that it is somewhat abhorrent to become engrossed with a special interest. Of course, Prizant would disagree. He encourages professionals to abolish the recommendations to restrict special interest. He is intolerant of the notion that these special interests are odd or bizarre. He suggests that special interests have an enormous capacity and infinite possibilities….But if you are person on the spectrum, you already knew that. The best part of Prizant is that his special interest is creating a better world for those on the autism spectrum.

He does all this in his uniquely human way.

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Join us in San Diego at Love & Autism: A Conference with Heart as we welcome Barry Prizant on October 8th, 2016. He’ll sign your copy of Uniquely Human. He is joined by his esteemed colleagues, Steve Silberman of NeuroTribes, and John Donvan and Caren Zucker, authors of In a Different Key. Certainly, we understand what Prizant means when he suggests creating space where autists are celebrated for their strengths. We know we’ve created this space at Love & Autism.  With self-advocates Chou Chou Scantlin, Michael Tolleson, Alex Plank, David Finch, Kirsten Lindsmith, and Daniel Wendler; it will be hard to miss the talent and intelligence. Visit www.loveandautism.com to learn more and register here.

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