10 Good Boundaries to Have as an Autistic Advocate so Haters Don’t Burn You Out

Wooden blocks similar to scrabble tiles spell out the word "advocacy" and are intended to simply be a literal and obvious way to represent the article

Autistic folks are taught that we need to please others.  We mask, we fawn, and we have to deal with the fallout from all that trauma training us to cut ourselves off.

It makes it hard to navigate this world.  But many of the autistic folks I’ve met are also warriors with an inner instinct to circle back and save their peers from the collective despair.  We’re advocates, teachers, and leaders. 

So how do we deal with the anger and hatred that we will inevitably encounter as we seek to protect ourselves and our community? 

Boundaries are Self-Care

Setting good boundaries for yourself and others will go a long way in helping you advocate without burning out.  It’s a practice and a process, but here are ten tips to help you get started:

  1. You don’t have to make everyone happy.   If you’re an advocate, it shouldn’t even be your plan. It’s painful to have your worldview challenged, and anger is an easy emotion– so it usually shows up first.  
  2. Let other people have their emotions.  We know how intense suffering feels, and that it can cause people to lash out. Let them have their process and set boundaries with your empathy. Their emotions are theirs to manage.
  3. Your emotions are valid.  You have your pain and there will always be things that hurt you. Discrimination is real and systemic and hard. The truth is: you are not what’s bad about this situation. The more you embrace that, the easier it’ll be for you to stay connected to yourself.
  4. Interact with people on your terms.  You aren’t required to stay silent, nor do you have to argue with someone until you’re unwell. Your time, energy, and emotional labor has value. My personal boundary is to disengage before my fight or flight is activated.
  5. Not responding is not a rejection.  Reflection is a very powerful tool, so look for ways to create space for it. Strategic silence is a great way to encourage thoughtfulness and maintain self care boundaries.  
  6. You don’t have to agree.  Dissent helps progress.  Let people disagree with you and feel free to disagree with them. Practice sitting with the discomfort and let reflection help you grow.  You’ll be better prepared to respond in the future.
  7. People, and their opinions, are not scarce.  There are billions of them, and even if most of them don’t like you or your message, there will always be more. Let them come, stay as long as they can, and then go if they need to. It’s natural. 
    • Scarcity is a term used in marketing to create a sense of value in a product.  Your time and energy have more value than the opinions of others (refer to #4).
  8. Plant seeds.  Ask questions so that people might think about what they’re saying. Encourage discussion in spaces you occupy, but don’t expect conversion. Real change takes time and processing. You may never see what blossoms from your efforts, but it will always be out there.
  9. It’s okay if you’ve been canceled.  Your reputation is not as fragile as people might make it seem. It’s a myth that we have to be perfect. Learn from your mistakes and keep working. You’ll get way further in your goals than the people who cancel you in the comments instead of working on themselves.
  10. Don’t assume the worst in people.  It’s hard to change, and many of us have been surrounded by cruelty and dismissal our whole lives. Unpacking all of that is messy. We don’t have to convert each other, we just have to keep putting out our information. Some people will want to stop your message, but it doesn’t matter. Move around them and let them catch up if they can.

    You and I, we have work to do.

Dear Skeptical Hearts

Some of these might be hard to connect with or believe. That’s okay. You’ve got your process, and I have faith in your ability to suss out what will work for you.  

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8 Responses

  1. Re no 5. How many of the forces that an advocate is up against, all the cynically noncommittal offices and officials, will welcome and make full use of getting told it’s okay not to respond.
    Whenever someone needs to say something fair or else they are keeping you in a wronged position, it’s obviously never okay not to respond. It can be part of serious harming.
    What is okay, what allows the reflective time, and what our slow processing can make necessary – is to take time to respond. You will respond eventually, but have not yet got a response in the heat of this instant.
    But there is a tinescale to that. Otherwise you can have the emotionally terrible corrupt trick where someone promises a response then deliberately leaves it pending for ever and never gives one. In a live situation where you are helping someone, up to a week. If dealing with something really urgent, a day. If something needs a big sorting out e.g. because there are folks to talk to, and time can be taken without worsening the situation, then maybe 2 months.
    Whenever someone takes longer than 2 months to give you a pending answer, nor gives any reason why, then it’s right and logical to start concluding that they are playing the exploitative trick of intentionally never giving it. That conclusion is a necessary boundary to have in the sadly necessary fight against backstabbing by other autistic advocates.
    e.g. the couple local to me who run a group that set up without a word to my group, but who I offered amicable coexistence and cooperation to. Then when they ran a no-platforming campaign that imposed a standard on everyone else, and I made a debating point that did the same, which was no more than the same potential imposition on their group as they had already made on mine, then they accused me of hostility. Then ignored my civil rational explanation of how it’s not hostility, never answered it, never withdrew. Have left the unfair charge of hostility in place, which is the abusive act of a rejection and personal breach just for one difference of opinion! They have continued to ignore my page on Autistic Groups Fairness Watch warning of this conduct, even though, practising your point 10, it announced it would be deleted if they withdrew the charge of hostility.
    Isn’t that exactly the type of NT-style dirty politicking, advocate on advocate, that the Aspergian strives to be a atronghold against? The way it was perpetrated was by “strategic silence” and calculated not answering. That the silence has continued for a lot more than 2 months shows it would be illogical and naive for me to expect an answer eventually, and in that hope, to permanently do nothing about them. Instead, it is fair boundaries for me to exercise points 3, 4, 6, 8 as I have done, for both my and others’ wellbeings.

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