Autism Interview #136 Part 2: Eric Evans on the Intersectionality of Race and Autism

Eric Evans is a Communication Specialist from Philadelphia with an interest in developing innovative solutions to communication-based conflicts, as well as curriculum development for educational seminars ranging from mental disabilities to community outreach. He has developed training programs for police to learn to identify Autistic civilians and interact with them in safe and appropriate ways. Last week, Eric shared some of his experiences growing up Autistic and Black as well as his advocacy work training police officers in Philadelphia. In Part Two of his interview, Eric discusses allyship.

How did you first become aware of your autism diagnosis? Was it explained as something positive, negative, or neutral?

I found out from my therapist when I was 15. I was diagnosed at some point in my pre-teens but was not aware of it. I was talking to my therapist about a classmate who I thought was super interesting, eccentric, but sometimes wildly inappropriate in public. My classmate told me he has Aspergers, and I had never heard that phrase at all. I told my therapist about it and asked if she ever heard of it, and she responded in a confused way. She told me I had the same diagnosis. I initially thought that was crazy because me and that classmate had such different temperaments, and that’s when she explained to me that it’s a spectrum. On the car ride back, I told my mom, who then told me she knew for a couple years. I then did my own research and finally felt like my brain made a little more sense. I felt less alone and less isolated. It was explained as something not positive or good, but rather something I could use to make a positive impact. I was always encouraged by my mother that the way I see things could help people that may not have received the help they needed.

Describe someone who has been a good ally to you.

I feel as though I should explain that I put my allies and support group in two different categories. My support group would consist of countless teachers, counselors, and family members, where as an ally to me is someone who tries to open doors for me that I may not be able to on my own. As of recently, that would be Chief Scott Henry of Mansfield University. He gave me my start and opportunity to teaching police cadets. Not only that, but he also opened the doors to more opportunities of exposure. I hope to someday pay him back to some degree that reflects how thankful I am of his efforts.

What mistakes do you see well-intentioned White anti-racism advocates make? And/Or what mistakes do you see well-intentioned neurotypical autism advocates make?

The only mistakes well-intentioned white anti-racism advocates make from what I’ve seen is not doing anything. Meaning a retweet, or a profile picture change, or whatever is trendy to do that takes 0 sacrifice is the same as doing nothing to me. I’m more concerned with people being more anti-establishment and anti-corrupt capitalism who cause physical destruction to property while being disguised as “white anti-racism advocates.” There’s not many things more disrespectful than hijacking a movement to express separate ideologies. Especially while causing destruction which makes it more difficult for outsiders to understand and gain empathy for black plight. It’s a repetitive distraction.

The biggest mistake well-intentioned neurotypical autism advocates make is speaking for us, and I hate it sometimes. I hate it so much sometimes when I read certain articles, mostly from parents that indirectly insult their child’s potential. From my point of view, it often appears that people on the spectrum are hopeless without their oh-so loving and perfect mother who saves them from the big bad world. It often turns into a community of pats on the back from other mothers about how good of a mother each one is. It becomes about them and their struggle. Something about it just really rubs me the wrong way sometimes.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people hide their narcissism and selfish endeavors under a veneer of a good cause. I think the best way I can describe how it looks to me is when you see an American girl taking selfies in a third-world village smiling ear to ear while the kids in the background are people being used as props to say “look how good of a person I am! Please like my picture!” while the kids look hot, miserable, tired, and exhausted.

I remember in my senior year of undergrad, I attended one of my teammate’s final science presentations. Other students presented as well before him, so I sat through a few. One in particular was about people on the spectrum’s communication “shortcomings.” Her whole presentation was about how difficult it was to “teach” a group of students on the spectrum how to “properly” communicate. It was the most insulting and self-observed presentation I had ever sat through at a higher education entity. I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t stop being amazed and how serious and confident this presenter was. After the horrific conclusion, I raised my hand and asked this presenter “Instead of trying to get people on the spectrum to communicate your way, have you ever thought about trying to communicate with the spectrum?” The answer I received in short was a confused and puzzled “No?”

Do you have any good book or blog recommendations, people to follow on social media, or any other resources for individuals interested in supporting positive change for the Black Autistic community?

I honestly wish I did, but I kind of do what I do now because I don’t really see that anywhere. I see plenty of black blogs and autistic blogs, but never really both. Special Books by Special Kids is fantastic though. Now that I think about it, that is probably the most accurate and best demonstration and effective way to be an ally. The interviews are not controlled narratives by a series of set-up questions. You get honest and articulated responses from individuals who have “mental disabilities” and intellectual barriers. It’s a great form of self expression, and I honestly can’t get enough of it. I actually wish I could get involved with them somehow *laughs.*  Chris Ulmer does a great job with that platform. Plus, I’m pretty sure he’s a philly boy, and I gotta root for the home team.

For books, I honestly just read anything that has anything to do with James Baldwin. There’s no one else in history that I have related to more with societal perspective, self-identification, and awareness facilitation. I have no idea if he’s on the spectrum, but I find him to be incredibly reflective of me, my thoughts, and my perspective. I’d recommend him if you’re black, interested in a black perspective, interested in experiencing another perspective, a horse, a lion, an alien, whatever, I’d unashamedly and honestly recommend him to anyone about anything. Now that I think about it, Special books by special kids & James Baldwin is a hell of a combo as an introduction to understand being black with a unique brain *laughs.*

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