Greetings. My name is Sabrina Roe Guerra. I am autistic, nonspeaking, sassy, and tired of people thinking it’s their right to define me. Two years ago when the world stopped, my life ironically and fortuitously began. Assumed limitations yield widespread trauma. Strong prejudices and ignorance hold disabled students back. When Covid took me away from the halls of ableism, and isolated me in a safe haven of presumed competence, I broke free. At home, distanced and secure, we diligently worked on taking what most assumed I would never acquire. We fought for and harvested my voice. Ableism almost destroyed me. Typing saved my soul.
Unfettered acceptance is necessary sustenance for survival. Radical inclusion means all forms of humanity are valid. I am committed to shifting the narrative from a pathology paradigm to a neurodiversity paradigm. Rewriting my story is a part of my advocacy. Society treats autistics as if they are broken neurotypicals, but autistics are a distinct neurotype. Proud, empathic, honest, autistics occupy an area of neglect in our society. We are champions of social justice causes. We are artists and scientists and neighbors. Hopeful, caring, observant. We add value to the world, whether one needs support or lives independently. Question all you’ve been told about autistics and nonspeakers. Assume disabled people are the authority on their own lives. Take a tour of my past and early school years and unlearn the ableism that holds students like me back.
Wounds heal, but the pain inflicted by people’s low expectations crushes souls. I was labeled “low functioning,” and heard it spoken in front of me too many times to count. Treated as a puppy, a burden, or infantilized, I trudged through each day. “Retard,” “spazz,” eyed daily for the transgression of moving and vocalizing authentically. Heartbreakingly made out to be a behavior problem, rationally aware my motivations are constantly misconstrued. Words said before me I shouldn’t have had to endure. I understood and was affected by all of it. Unilaterally excluded, I longed to be taken seriously as a student. Instead, I received instruction well below my classmates. There were some exceptions, but most people treated me as less than, broken, diseased. I’ve internalized these abuses, and I am struggling to process the pain. Soon people will realize they were wrong about me. It’s critical for my autistic and disabled peers that they realize that they’re wrong about all of us.
Adversity writes the first chapter of each protagonist’s story. I’m committed to outlining, structuring, and detailing the life which is now mine to author. Brave acts of agonizing, unwavering hope shall bring more of my peers freedom and empowerment. Allotting time and resources to learning from the true experts is imperative. Center the voices of neurodivergent and disabled folk. Assuming my position in advocacy is a harrowing responsibility that I fervently embrace. The current luxury of presuming competence must become standardized practice in society. My accomplishments I wish to be unremarkable. Dare to believe in disabled students. I am privileged as a home educated nonspeaker. A massive advantage was staged by a pandemic, affording me the opportunity to achieve renewal. Eventually all nonspeakers will get the education we require and deserve.
Take what I say as a warning. When souls are trampled by ableism, resurrecting oneself takes immense power. I am so fortunate to have my support system. With each day that I spend as a commander of my ship I get stronger. I’m setting my sails on a life of advocacy, artful purpose, and love.
Writing rewards a part of me thwarted by the education system and a society that sees people like me as inferior. Articulating my pain gives other nonspeakers and disabled people a greater chance to live with less dangers, less trauma, and increased respect. True equality asks that abled people center the voices of disabled and autistic self advocates. Allow people like me to have a say in their education and mentor educators. It’s quite wonderful to have a mode of communication now that enables me to teach the world about my lived experiences. I aspire to speak my truth and change the world.”
Originally shared as video presentation for local Community Symposium in April ’22. Written March/April ’22
Sabrina Guerra, Nonspeaking Advocate for Change (on Facebook)