At the Massachusetts State House on April 9, 2012, I was given the distinct honor and privilege of making an award to our Governor. During the ceremony, His Excellency Deval Patrick presented a Proclamation to the sponsoring organization, AFAM.
The 2012 Proclamation was the latest version of a document that has evolved over the years, as new data has become available, and as understanding of autism has increased. In keeping with increased awareness and understanding, language has also evolved. As the Proclamation states, nearly two years ago, Massachusetts joined the many states that have recently mandated insurance coverage of autism as a medical condition. Autism is no longer considered a mental health disorder.
We have moved away from the “pity model” of portraying autistic people as helpless and completely disabled. While it is certainly true that there is a segment of the autistic population who need (and deserve) intense interventions and continuous care, it is also true that there are many autistic individuals who are perfectly capable of making their own way in the world; holding down jobs, obtaining academic degrees, marrying, and raising families. And everything in between. Just like the rest of the world.
There is no question that those of us who are autistic face many challenges associated with our disability. Some of us do better than others at overcoming those challenges. It is the role of the Massachusetts Special Commission Relative to Autism (of which I am a member) to identify the services that currently do not exist that would aid autistic people in their quest for full participation in society. The 2012 Proclamation repeated language that had been in the 2011 version, “…to promote an environment of acceptance, respect and inclusion for autistic individuals…” In Commission meetings, we have discussed the need to “presume competence” of autistic people, rather than to assume they are defined by their shortcomings.
In my presentation to Governor Patrick, I made the following remarks:
What an absolutely perfect honorific for you!
You have lived a life of service.
With your words and by your example, you have inspired me, as well as many other people in this room and throughout the Commonwealth — and beyond.
Your actions have broadened opportunities for all people, and we are especially grateful for your efforts on behalf of those who have experienced barriers and exclusion for any reason.
Because you have been an outstanding Governor, all citizens of the Commonwealth are better off, and those of us in the disability community in general, and the autism community in particular, are grateful for what you have done.
I am proud to call you a friend.
It is a great personal honor for me to present to you the AFAM Impact and Achievement Award.