A Handbook for Disempowering Advocates

a woman with tape over her mouth, the word silence is written in capital letters on the tapeNOTE: This “handbook” is a work of satire. It is meant to point out some ways that people disempower self-advocates, as well as parent and professional advocates (by making similar statements about a parent’s child or a professional’s clients–while the writing takes the self-advocate’s point of view, it can also be taken from the parent or professional’s perspective). Disempowering advocates is a practice I strongly disapprove of.


Is there a pesky self-advocate (or parent or professional advocate) in your life who you really wish would just shut up? Interested in making sure the needs and opinions of self-advocates are disregarded in policy and the community? Then this is the guidebook for you! You will find five excellent strategies for disempowering autistic self-advocates.

Strategy 1:
Note how because of social or communication impairments, there’s no way the self-advocate (or parent or professional) could know what they (or their child or client) are talking about. Two wonderful ways of working this strategy are 1) telling the self-advocate they are too “low functioning” or “impaired” to understand what they are saying, and/or 2) pointing out how the self-advocate is missing critical social information and therefore can’t possibly understand what is “really” going on.

Strategy 2:
Note how because the self-advocate is able to advocate for their needs at all, they are not “really” autistic. This one is easy, “the fact that you [did advocacy thing] means you are obviously very ‘high functioning.’ You couldn’t possibly understand the needs of people who are really affected by autism.” This is particularly effective for invalidating the experiences of self-advocates who struggle considerably in their day to day life. Feel free to copy and paste!

Strategy 3:
Resort to pity. If the first two strategies don’t work, tell others how sad the self-advocate is. Be sure to highlight that any self-worth the self-advocate appears to possess is merely a lie they tell themselves in order to feel better about the tragedy of their suffering. It’s so sad. You’re only trying to help, of course.

Strategy 4:
Redirect the conversation, or focus on irrelevant details. If you want to not only disempower the self-advocate but drive them completely nuts as well, this is the strategy for you! Don’t respond to what the self-advocate has communicated; instead respond to something they didn’t communicate, or focus on something that was obviously not the point they made but serves your goals much better. This is great for those self-advocates who don’t rattle easily. As some people on the spectrum have difficulty with indirect communication, this strategy could leave them in a state of acute upset and confusion for days! During which time they won’t be doing any pesky self-advocacy.

Strategy 5:
Mix and match! Sometimes just one strategy alone isn’t enough. If you can invalidate someone’s experience by both pointing out their severe social impairment and their obvious lack of disability in the same sentence, you can provoke almost as much confusion and upset as responding to something the self-advocate never said. If the self-advocate communicated something especially reasonable, don’t be shy about redirecting your response to something the self-advocate didn’t communicate. Bonus points for adding pity language–the thesaurus is your friend!


For those of you out there who are self-advocates, parent, or professional advocates, be aware that people may use these, or similar, tactics to try to silence you. Don’t let them do it. Your experience IS valid, your needs ARE important, your voice IS heard, and your work IS important to us all.