As an autistic self-advocate, I struggle a lot with my role. Maybe that is surprising. To clarify: if I say that my purpose is to educate, that is very one-sided. To educate others is an active role that can quickly lead to frustration and exhaustion. Even people who take on the role of academic teaching as a career and a passion can run into burnout. The point is, advocacy is tiring, difficult work. How do we keep ourselves from burning out and giving up?
We, as advocates, have to maintain hope. Hope is a very flimsy thing, unfortunately. Sometimes we encounter things that knock us down and threaten to keep us down, but we have to keep fighting to maintain hope. Where does this hope come from? In my case, it is hope for the future: hope that if we push against the current of prejudice, abuse, and ignorance, we might be able to create a better world. In this, we cannot compromise. Our dream must be strong enough to endure when we are knocked to the ground.
This is easier said than done. Find what keeps you passionate and let it make you strong. Be specific in your aims. See the world you want to help make. Every little bit of progress doesn’t go to waste; it is all a push toward that world you envision, which you may not even ever see. But that act of creation gives you purpose. If your actions are a vote, then make your vote count for the future you want.
Personally, I want to see a world where we do not force autistic people to try to match up with allistic (non-autistic) standards. I want to see a word where autistic people are celebrated as the individuals they are. I want to see a world where no disabled person is abused or mistreated. This is only a fraction of the goals that I have for the world. Why should I presume that I could make any sort of difference whatsoever? Why should my goals even matter? Because if I do not try, then I will have no hand in creating the future. And why not try my best to help the world make steps in the direction of progress, justice, happiness, and freedom for all people?
I am not saying that I can constantly keep marching forward. I cannot do that. Many times, I fall down. Many times, my confidence is shaken. Many times, I am discouraged and lose hope. Burnout happens, and I take my time to recover so that I can keep pressing forward again. No advocate or ally is perfect, however I offer the idea that we should keep a cautious sense of optimism alive, and let it empower us and our work.