Guest post: Aida A’s speech at Finnish parliaments’ neurodivergence network’s kickoff event

Aida A. is a young but already accomplished Finnish autism activist. Recently she represented autists at kickoff of Finland’s parliament’s neurodivergence network. Kaiao got the permission to translate and share her speech, which describes some current troubles of autistic people, especially children and young people. Launching of the neurodivergence network is a strong signal of increasing awareness of existence of neurodivergent minority, as well as the fact that until now, we have been a marginalized, silenced group falling through cracks of society. Activists like Aida are, however, changing this. Aida is also active on Instagram (in Finnish), @neuro_type.

Many believe, that autism spectrum is visible on the outside, or that it is some kind of disease. But I think it as a strength. As an autist, I wonder, why others do not think like I do. Why different brains are not seen as equal? Why aren’t we accommodated? Too many neurodivergent children and young people are suffering in our society. Do you think that our parents or upbringing are to blame for this? They are not. When I last fall sent a questionnaire to neurodivergent children and young people, I got 150 answers. 149 people who answered told, that home was the only place where they really were understood. So why are so many feeling indisposed? Challenges are caused by the fact that the outside world does not accept our being different. When I leave my home, I can no longer be myself. I need to worry all the time, who can I count to really understand me and who might misunderstand me.

At school, staff does not understand that for instance restraining children physically, teachers being secretive, or forcing children to act like everyone else stresses us and makes us think that we are flawed. Why aren’t we treated well? Every neurodivergent child deserves a space that is suitable for studying, but now that such spaces do not exist, it is very stressful to both them and to those around them.

If such lack of understanding and mistreatment took place in your adult life, would you get angry? Would you start behaving in a ”disordered” manner and need to be held by several people? Why are we not understood? Our environment at school is awful because you do not understand! There are no schedules, no understanding teachers, there may not be suitable studying materials. We may be made to watch scary movies, or write a fairy tale, which is extremely difficult to some of us. We need peaceful spaces, small groups, different study materials, and chances to learn in different ways, for example visually, or one subject at a time, in our own peace.

I am a 9-year old autist with sensory sensitivities. Do you know where and what I study? You may guess! (asks from the audience and waits for answers)

In what kind of school and environment do you think I should study? (asks from audience and accepts answers)

I am studying 5th grade and I study in a dedicated school that provides special needs support, a so-called hospital school. There are children whose local schools are not able to teach them, children who may have not attended school for a year, and children whose indisposition has grown into a big lump. There are teachers who carry personal safety alarms. All doors to outside are locked and children are not allowed to move freely anywhere. Yet, we have only a few teachers who genuinely understand autism or ADHD? How is this possible?

Because my own class of 8 pupils was so restless and because I experienced and saw there constant bullying and violence, I was not able to learn last fall. I only passed three exams and was not happy with my grades, because noise made it impossible for me to concentrate. But I luckily found a supportive teacher who started tutoring me so that I could start studying alone. Now I study in a quieter space, I have an opportunity to study at my own pace, and most importantly, I have a teacher who understands autism… by the way, they are sitting over there! 😊Now, during spring semester, I have managed to study a lot more and I am genuinely pleased with my exam results.

Many of us communicate and think differently from ordinary people. It would be a good idea to ask from autistic and ADHD adults advice, because you can not possibly know what is good for us? They have had to survive and find solutions. They have grown up in a world that was simpler -classes were quieter, there was no group assignments or continuously changing environment. Today’s world, especially school, does not acknowledge or accommodate us, our needs and abilities at all. We need autism or ”neurodivergence interpreters” to help us understand the outside world and to help outside world to understand our different way to see and experience the world. If we are genuinely seen, heard and accommodated, we can be the way we are. We are Einsteins, Van Goghs, Elon Musks and awesome people.

Please see the trouble of noticing how the society must change so that we, too, can fit in. Thank you.

Kaiao’s goal is to respond to Aida’s wishes and to act as a neurodivergence interpreter that helps autists to deal with the outside world and neurotypical people to understand autistic people better. Kaiao’s services include trainings (including training tailored to your organization’s exact needs), consulting support, and SenseWalk, which is a sensory mapping concept that actually works. If your organization wants to understand autism better and to improve its ability to accommodate and support autist, please contact me