My Experience at the AuSM Self-Advocacy Summit
Posted on 10/02/19 in Advocacy by Nera Birch
Last month, I got to do something I never thought I would be able to do. I got to be in a room with over 150 people like me. I was fortunate to attend the AuSM Self-Advocacy Summit in Minnesota. I have been to a lot of conferences before, but never one like this. It was made for people with autism, by people with autism. Far too often, neurotypicals are the ones who plan events when it comes to autism. I can’t tell you how many times I have been to an event with horribly loud music and no sensory space. NTs (neurotypicals) are great allies, but they don’t know what having autism feels like.
Everybody was stimming. People were rocking, using fidget toys, making noises and it didn’t matter. In fact, you looked weird if you weren’t stimming. I usually try to tone my stimming down in public, but that wasn’t necessary here. It was one of the most liberating feelings in the world.
There was also such a sense of community. We were all here for the same purpose; to appreciate and learn more about our neurodiversity. My favorite session was about masking and autistic burnout; two things I deal with every day. It made me feel less alone, as well as giving me some new tips and techniques to try out. They also had sessions on advocacy, presuming competence, and self-care, to name a few. They had special interest sessions with topics such as video games, knitting, and cats as well, which is something I have never seen at a conference, but hope to see more of in the future.
Another beautiful thing I saw was families where everyone was on the spectrum. I heard parents say how grateful they are that their children are like them. I had never heard that kind of positivity about inheriting autism and it really has opened my eyes to the fact that this is not just a disorder. This is a culture, something that people are proud to pass down.
All in all, it was an amazing experience. I got to meet some of the people who are fighting alongside me to make this world a better and easier place for us. It gave me strength to be proud of my autism and everything it entails, the good and the bad. It made me feel better to be myself.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Nera Birch is a self-advocate with a passion for bringing awareness and advocacy to the Cleveland area. She comes to Milestones as a former volunteer and speaker, with a long history of public speaking alongside the Milestones coaching team about topics important to the autism community. She is a regular contributor to The Mighty and other disability publications.
This article was written by a self-advocate for Milestones Autism Resources. Views and opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own. Milestones strives to create conversation around important topics in the autism community and to provide members of the community with a platform to share their honest perspective. In addition, while Milestones Autism Resources’ policy is to practice person-first language, we encourage all self-advocates to identify themselves as they wish, so you may see language throughout the blog that does not align with Milestones’ internal person-first language policy.