Voices From the Spectrum #43: Sam Crane on Autism Advocacy


Samantha Crane is the Director of Public Policy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s national office. Samantha graduated from Harvard Law School and served as a staff attorney focusing on enforcing the right to community integration as established by the Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C. This week Samantha shared some of her background studying law and how she uses her experience to publicly advocate for others on the spectrum.


How did you first become interested in studying law?

My family always used to joke that I should go to law school because I loved to argue, but what finally convinced me to study law was realizing that it was the best way to make a difference for people with disabilities, especially people with developmental and mental health disabilities. I had originally wanted to become a therapist, but started to realize that I got far more fired up by the idea of fighting discrimination than the idea of being a mental health provider.
That dream of becoming an advocate helped me not only get through Harvard Law School, but also to graduate magna cum laude. I felt like I had to succeed in order to be able to make a difference. But now that I’ve been advocating for a longer time, I’ve found that some of the best advocates have never graduated college. My degree often gives me advantages and privileges, but the most important thing is to always be learning.

What are some ways you’ve learned to self-advocate? Did anyone teach you this, or did you teach yourself?

I’m of the opinion that if you can communicate desire, displeasure, anger, or anything along those lines, then you can self-advocate. By that definition, I was a self-advocate from birth. But of course, people can learn to be better self-advocates and – most importantly – to connect their own experiences to larger public policy issues. That’s one of the things that I work on at ASAN – helping people understand the public policy issues that matter to them so that they can be better advocates. Probably the most important skill, though, is simply refusing to be told to shut up – keep saying your message in as many different ways as you have to, until you find one that works.

Can you describe some of the work you do for ASAN?

I’m the Director of Public Policy at ASAN. It’s my job to track a wide range of public policy issues that affect the autistic community, from health care to community integration, even to Second Amendment rights! Then I work to educate both policymakers and the general public about those issues. On one day, I may be talking to federal government employees about how a particular policy will affect autistic people. On another day, I may be creating materials to educate the autistic community about the same policy.

What are some of the most important ways public spaces can be made more accessible to people on the spectrum?

There are a lot of ways, but often it ends up coming down to sensory accommodations. We often need a place that isn’t noisy, hot, or otherwise overwhelming. Depending on the accommodation, that could be a designated quiet area, or it could be special events that are designed to be less loud than usual. Often, though, even when accommodations do have that sort of place, it’s only available to children. For example, while it’s nice that movie theaters are now offering special screenings of children’s movies, what about those of us who want to watch movies aimed at adults? Sensory needs don’t go away once someone reaches adulthood.

What mistakes do neurotypical autism advocates make?

The biggest mistake that a non-autistic advocate can make is not consulting or including autistic advocates, or assuming that there’s a distinction between “self-advocates” and “experts.” Autistic advocates are also often experts! I’ve seen a lot of advocacy events in which there was an entire panel of speakers, and not a single self-advocate. I’ve seen other events in which there was one token self-advocate on the panel, but they were only asked to “share their story” while everyone else was invited to share their expertise or express opinions on policy issues. We ask non-autistic advocates to pay attention to whether or not this is happening and to speak up. If you’re being invited to an event that isn’t accessible to autistic people, or in which there isn’t meaningful autistic participation and leadership, refuse to participate until that changes.

What’s the most important thing parents can do for their children on the spectrum?

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Voices From the Spectrum #19: Lana Grant on Advocating for Autistic Mothers


Lana Grant

Lana Grant is a specialist advisor and advocate for people with autism and their families. Lana has worked within the field of autism for nearly twenty years. Lana specializes in autism and females, particularly pregnancy and motherhood. Her book “From Here To Maternity, pregnancy and motherhood on the Autism Spectrum” was published in March 2015 by Jessica Kingsley publishers and is the only book that focuses on this issue. Lana is a trained birth partner (doula) specializing in supporting pregnant women on the autism spectrum and their partners. Lana has recently contributed to the Scottish Autism Right Click Women and Girls Programme. She is a passionate advocate for female empowerment and speaks for the NAS and other organizations about female issues. She also has a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome.

This week Lana shared with me some of her background and advocacy work for mothers on the spectrum.

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10 Things You Can Do Today to Support Autism Acceptance


1. Read a blog authored by an autistic person.

This is an important step in hearing the voices of people on the spectrum. You will see how they are self advocating and what you are doing to either help or hurt their cause. I guarantee you will learn something.

2. Change your language.

The language of advocacy can have important consequences on your overall message. For example, learn about the difference between person-first and identity-first language and how the autistic people in your life choose to identify. Also be careful about using words like “cure” or “fix” or any language that only references what is negative about autism.

3. Purchase autism neurodiversity gear.

Sometimes a spark for change begins with a simple conversation. An easy and unobtrusive way to encourage conversation is by sporting neurodiversity gear. The colorful autism puzzle piece symbol is too vague (and even offensive to some) to promote autism acceptance. Instead, try finding promotional items specifically mentioning neurodiversity or autism acceptance.

4. Learn more about stimming and why it’s important.

Many parents and therapists aim to correct harmless stims in an effort to make an autistic person appear more “normal.” But these stims serve an important purpose in helping people on the spectrum regulate sensory input and organize functional behavior. Discouraging stims is often counterproductive to teaching desirable behaviors.

5. Visit autismacceptancemonth.com and sign the pledge for autism acceptance.

The pledge asks people to advocate only in panels, for organizations, and at events that meaningfully involve autistic people.

6. Read The Spoon Theory.

This article by Christine Miserandino helps depict the daily fatigue disabled people experience. This portrayal helps nondisabled people better understand and advocate for the needs of those on the spectrum.

7. Read the Loud Hands: Autistic People Speaking anthology.

This anthology will open your eyes and ears to the voices of people everywhere on the spectrum. It is written entirely by autistic people and discusses a variety of different advocacy topics.

8. Visit the ASAN website and learn more about their mission.

ASAN is an organization aimed to improve disability rights related to autism. They offer advocacy resources to improve personal independence as well as advocate for policy changes on a national stage. Their motto is “Nothing About Us, Without Us!”

9. Read “And Straight on Til Morning: Essays on Autism Acceptance.”

This is ASAN’s first published ebook. You’ll hear essays focused on autism acceptance and respecting the dignity and voice of everyone on the spectrum.

10. Review the resources for parents at autismacceptancemonth.com

This website has loads of resources neatly organized into categories for parents, self-advocates, educators, and employers. Acceptance begins with reading and understanding more about the experiences, capabilities, and desires of those on the spectrum. This website has a variety of resources to serve this end.


Autism Self-Advocacy Resources


The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is an excellent place to begin learning about autism advocacy and how you can help your young or adult child develop self-advocacy skills. They have a variety of different books, articles, and videos celebrating autism acceptance and promoting social change. Check out their Resource Library for a comprehensive list of resources.

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