Interview with Sharon daVanport by Haley Moss
Haley Moss interviews Sharon daVanport, the Founding Executive Director of Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network (AWN Network) in Washington D.C. She has numerous awards for her advocacy and is involved in many good works for the autistic community. Sharon has been a speaker at the United Nations Headquarters: World Autism Awareness Day (Empowering Autistic Women & Girls); The White House, Obama Administration (advising on topics regarding disability and autism); and has consulted with government agencies, including the GAO, and other policy forums as a disability rights expert.
You’re a parent. What are some unique challenges and experiences you have as an autistic mother?
SHARON DAVANPORT: Great question, Haley! I always felt like competing access needs were the most challenging experiences to navigate when dealing with more than one autistic person in the same household. This was especially true when raising my children and finding compromises around sensory issues that worked for all of us. It can be tricky when one person is a sensory seeker in one related area that is contrary to the other autistic person having sensory sensitives around the same thing.
Also, though your question asks about the challenges, I’d like to add something about the strengths of autistic parenting, especially when an autistic parent is parenting an autistic child:
There are so many advantages! Autistic parents speak the same language as our autistic children, not to mention we share an affinity with offbeat-interest. We understand unique sensory issues, and we have an innate comprehension of how are children express and receive information from their environment and the world at large.
It blows my mind when non-autistic parents describe their autistic children as a “mystery” because I relate to my neurodivergent children without skipping a beat.
The Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network originally started as the Autism Women’s Network, and then expanded to be more inclusive of those who do not traditionally identify as women, which is awesome! Can you tell us what led you to start AWN in the first place?
SHARON: AWN was originally born from an idea that I shared with a few other autistic friends. We had all been struggling to find community and space where we could share our experiences and offer encouragement to one another. Our online presence began through a website forum, and we quickly gained national recognition due to the advocacy we were doing which centered around the need to include women and girls in autistic research. Historically, autism studies have been dominated by boys and men, and it became obvious in just a short amount of time that current diagnostic criteria are skewed due to gender bias.
Can you tell us about some of AWN’s available resources and projects?
SHARON: Here are some of our best resources:
- Anthology 1: “What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew”
- Anthology 2: “All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism”
- Autistic People of Color Fund
- Heath care resource list of gynecologists (or other intimate care providers)
- And the accompanying survey which helps us to develop the provider list
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about autistic women?
SHARON: Either that we don’t exist, or that there are very few of us compared to boys/men. Neither is accurate.
Also, there are misconceptions that we don’t develop romantic or sexual relationships, fall in love, commit to long term partnerships or marriage. It’s also wrongly assumed that we don’t become parents.
What does it mean to you to be a “powerful woman?” How can autistic women share and tap into their power?
SHARON: Power is subjective, right? I mean, what is powerful for me might not be considered powerful to the next person. My power is unique to my set of life experiences and might look different than the power I see my friends exude.
I encourage every autistic person to tap into the feelings and emotions that provide them with strength. Personally, I’m at my best when I stay focused on my joy. This is always true whenever I’m going through a rough patch and I’m feeling frustrated, sad or discouraged. No matter how challenging life can get, I’m able to find the resolve I need to turn the next page, if I look toward an outcome that will honor my life choices and bring an outcome that provides the best-case scenario for me and those I care about the most.
Is there any advice you’d like give to autistic women?
SHARON: Be true to yourself and your lived experiences. We are individuals with our unique set of challenges and strengths – we’re not a disposable cookie-cutter version of whatever current stereotype is buzzing around main-stream media at any given time. Find your people and find the supports that work for you. Never negotiate when it comes to your well-being; and above all else, practice self-care.
Self-care will look different for each of us, so be brutally honest with yourself to determine what works best for you without comparing what works for someone else. I have found that the magic potion for me is to be authentic. Don’t get caught up in the unbalanced hype that tends to promote a lopsided view to activism. You can be a powerful activist and self-advocate by being yourself, because only YOU can do YOU.
And of course, for readers who want to learn more about AWN and get involved with the incredible and important work you do, where should they look?
SHARON: Here are links to our website and social media:
READ MORE ARTICLES:
Editor’s Letter: In this Issue: Fierce Advocates for Women and Autistic Rights
Powerful Women Cover Story Interviews
- Alyssa Milano Speaks Out for a Better World for All Women
- Julia Bascom on the Amazing, Vibrant and Resilient Autistic Community
- Mia Ives-Rublee: Stop Listening to the Naysayers & Fight for What You Believe
- Hala Ayala: Seeking Out and Learning from Diverse Voices
- Senator Duckworth: A Lifelong Mission of Supporting, Protecting and Keeping Promises
- From Feeling Powerless to Owning My Power by Morénike Giwa Onaiwu
- Advocating for Others by Advocating for Myself by Chana Bennett-Rumley
- Facing the Music and Changing My Life by Michelle DeVos, Esq.
- The Three Amigas: An Unexpected Friendship by Dani Bowman
In Every Issue
- Cummings and Goings: Finding Power in Who You Are by Conner Cummings
- #AskingAutistics: Have You Ever Been Accused of Acting MORE Autistic? by Christa Holmans
- Don’t Get Me Down: Fighting Autistic Inertia by Becca Lory Hector
- The View from Here: Starring in the Real-Life Drama as “The Good Anesthetist” by Anita Lesko
With Updates from Jacob Fuentes and Carly Fulgham at end of article
Big Question: What Advice Would You Give to Your Younger Self?
Discover more Zoom Issues:
- Issue 13: Family
- Issue 14: Trailblazers
- Issue 15: Powerful Women
- Archived issues on the Zoom Home Page