Ari Ne'eman and Scott Robertson are both adults living with autism and are two of the biggest advocates for people with autism spectrum disorders. The Peetes talk with Ari and Scott, president and vice president of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) respectively, about their work to increase understanding, support and acceptance of autistic people through public policy and other efforts.
Ari says one of the primary reasons he founded ASAN was to counter the negative associations attributed to people living with autism, which is often narrowly regarded as a disease or disability. "We have, unfortunately, as a society, attached an unnecessary stigma to the label of autism," he says. "Our work is to try and detach that stigma so we can start approaching the major civil rights issues in terms of education and adult support."
Scott says ASAN also works to promote the concept of neurodiversity, which he says "has to do with everybody having differences in how their brains work and understand and interpret the world around them." Both Scott and Ari say it's important that society begins to accept autism as a variation in brain functioning rather than a mental disorder to be cured so that more resources can be devoted to helping autistic people lead independent, productive lives.
Through autism rights networks such as ASAN, Ari says he hopes others living with autism can better connect, communicate and have a voice in their communities. "If autism policy is being made, there should be autistic people involved in that agenda," he says.
Published on June 11, 2008