Arcadia Hosts Autistic Self-Advocates Speak Up! Panel

By Caitlin Burns | May 26, 2021

In celebration of Autism and Neurodiversity Acceptance Month, Arcadia’s School of Education hosted an Autistic Self-Advocates Speak Up! Panel on April 21.

The panel featured three autistic self-advocates: artist Brian Foti, Gregory Tino, author of The Autistic Mind Finally Speaks, and lecturer and advocate Jennifer (Jenn) Seybert.

Moderated by Dr. Graciela Slesaransky-Poe, professor of Education, panelists reflected on their K-12/16 education and shared ways educators can communicate. 

“It’s about unlearning and relearning,” said Dr. Slesaransky-Poe. “It’s about centering the professional voices and centering the lived experiences of our panelists and their families. It’s about reframing autism.”

Panelists also took questions from the audience and provided demonstrations of different means of communication, using letter boards to communicate with the help of a communication partner, who were relatives sharing their responses verbally.

“Before finding my voice through spelling to communicate, I was stuck in the prison of a body and mind unable to work in harmony,” Foti said. “I was lost in the mystery of an absent body, with a present mind. I’m getting so much more out of life now that I am spelling.”

Panelists shared similar stories of being limited by their autism. Seybert remembered sitting at her high school graduation and being determined to have a higher education experience like her peers, rather than the day programs that many autistic individuals are “shuffled into.” Until that point, she was in segregated education programs that didn’t offer challenging academics.

“Using facilitated communication is my tool like a carpenter uses a hammer,” said Seybert, who noted that her K-12 education was not a formal education. “I love to learn. I take up my challenge each day and learn through it.”

Foti, Tino, and Seybert all noted that they want the educators in the audience to take away the need to be supportive, and change the perspective on the intellectual ability of those with autism.