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10 Good Boundaries to Have as an Autistic Advocate so Haters Don’t Burn You Out3 min read

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.  

7 Comments

  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 naïve 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.

  2. Good advice!

    I also per­son­ally rec­om­mend the block button for peace of mind. I’ve blocked rude people and never looked back. You’re allowed.


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