Michelle Dawson in More Magazine

Filed Under (Advocacy, autism, Autism and The Media) by Estee on 04-04-2011

More Magazine is a Canadian magazine that “celebrates women over 40.” I eagerly sought the April 2011 issue as I knew that Kim Pittaway, who did this article also about Adam and myself, also wrote an article about Michelle. I learned during the interview process that unlike most reporters I had been dealing with the past few years, Kim had been spending a lot of time with autistic people.

I met Michelle in 2006 during the Joy of Autism: Redefining Ability and Quality of Life event I organized. We spoke and I also sought advice from her about the very title of the event, to what autism advocacy from might look like in order to be fair to autistic people. It wasn’t all easy for me in those early days in trying to understand what “advocacy” could be. We all want to “help,” and as a parent with a young autistic child, I wanted my son to be accepted and understood. It was easy to get confused with the fundraising models to which I became accustomed; before I bore a child with a disability. I learned from Michelle who helped me at the time, to use the following words when I founded The Autism Acceptance Project whose mission became “to help autistics contribute to society as autistic people.” The words continue to resonate in Canada where we still seek to change the autistic person.

Autism advocacy, for the most part, fails. It has failed because it relies on pity models — poor person with fill in blank. I’m sure they don’t want to be like that. I’m sure they want to be cured; to be normal. So glad I’m not like him/her. I should give money to help that horrible circumstance. Not to be too cynical here, but study the Disability Rights Movement over the years and one will learn why the whole way we look at disability, autism and how we raise awareness must change. Pity models don’t support people to get what they need in order to become active members of our communities. They suggest that people have to be normalized in order to do so.

Bringing Michelle, Laurent Mottron and Morton Ann Gernsbacher, to speak about the short-comings of ABA and the science to support autistic intelligence at the event in Toronto came with a price tag. We received a lot of nasty letters. I learned afterwards that many ABA advocates actively boycotted the event. Yet, I learned, and continue to learn, so much from Michelle and individuals like her. As a fellow woman I admire her intelligence and tenacity in a world where it’s easier to just get along rather than actively push for truth in order to fairly support autistic individuals. As a mother of an autistic son, I am grateful for her work.

A quote from Michelle in More Magazine:

I became involved in [the Auton case — when a group of parents fought the BC government to pay for ABA treatment and Michelle intervened] becuase the false and unethical claims and practices by both sides had a drastic effect on the well-being of autistics in Canada,” says Dawson. “I intervened as one such autistic, who had lived the consequences and would continue to live the consequences.

I was an early autism parent, that is, Adam was not even two years old when I began reading Michelle’s work at No Autistics Allowed, when my emotions ran high and every parent of an autistic child at the time urged me to enrol Adam in ABA (early intervention behavioural therapy) as soon as possible — before it was “too late.” Or else, they said, he would be doomed to a life with autism.

Well here we are and Adam is about to turn nine. I don’t feel we are doomed, even if we have special needs.

Michelle’s work along with Dr. Mottron’s continues to be a part of my journey as Adam’s mother. If you are interested in doing the same, here are some websites to follow:

No Autistics Allowed
The Autism Crisis
Michelle Dawson’s QT Board

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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.