Article of “Revista Autismo” (Autism Magazine) (Brazil)
Autistan: metaphorical country, concrete support
In line with the celebrations of World Autism Awareness Day – established by the United Nations (UN) for April 2, the Autistan Diplomatic Organization, a non-profit institution with several points and supporters in the world, promoted the Autistan Day in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, this past Sunday (31).
At the time, autistic people from different states of Brazil, in person and virtually, discussed topics of free choice at various round tables. Among the debates were topics such as neurodiversity, diagnosis, prejudice, autistic women and self-acceptance.
The person responsible for the event was the Frenchman Eric, 54, who classified the schedule as the most difficult day of his life. There were more than 10 hours focused on call management and transmission, made simultaneously on YouTube and Facebook, to be watched in different places in Brazil.
The idea of Autistan Day came only two months before the event itself. Despite the rush, Eric managed to bring together different autistic people in different positions in autistic mediactivism – such as youtuber Leonard Akira, podcaster Erika Ribeiro and teenager Zeca Szymon – to talk about the topics that interested them.
“They were very collaborative, very patient, very nice. This is the magical effect of Brazil, the people are more human, more open, nicer and kinder. Brazil, in my opinion as a Frenchman, is a very advanced country in terms of rights for autistic people”, he said.
The event started at 11:00 a.m. and continued until 9:30 p.m. The schedules were divided into short lectures, comments and also included details about the Autistan – a metaphorical concept of an autistic country. In addition, the audience was able to follow the broadcast on the organization’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.
The proposal, according to Eric, was complicated for execution. “There were more than 10 volunteers, but the event involved a lot of technology, interactions and it was extremely difficult. We’re not used to doing things that complicated with the computer”, he said.
Originally the event would have a connection with the Journée de l’Autistan, which took place simultaneously in Belgium. However, transmission issues caused schedule changes. Despite the impasses, Autistan Day maintained the participation of all planned autistic persons.
“I was very stressed and afraid of having technical problems, but it’s my way of doing it. Because when you think too much, you think it’s impossible and you don’t do anything. But we managed to do something really cool and solve the problems together,” he added.
It is impossible to dissociate the Embassy of Autistan, physical site of the Autistan Diplomatic Organization, from the figure of Eric. After leaving France after the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015 and renting a 45 m² apartment in Copacabana in February 2017, the space receives and supports autistic people from different parts of the country with its own resources.
Eric, in the past, was a travelling figure and with many stories. He was in the 2003 edition of Guinness World Records, was in countries such as Russia, Egypt and Kazakhstan, is polyglot, was a DJ for 15 years and adapted to social life as far as possible. For more than two years, in Rio de Janeiro, he said he was happy with the change and he avoids appearing in photos.
The Frenchman lives with Shree Ram, a young Nepalese man whom he met on one of his trips in Nepal and who accompanies him in Autistan and in Brazilian life. “We have a friendship we couldn’t imagine. It’s like another mother’s brother. We are very happy here,” he said.
A neurodiverse aid in Eric’s life is Ludmila Leal, who has an autistic brother and has generally collaborated in the organization. “This is the way for humanity. The only way to peace is this, for people to accept and put themselves in the place of the other,” she says of the importance of differences.
It was intended to try to understand other autistic people that Eric made as many adaptations as possible for the guests. Geuvana Nogueira, for example, is part of the Autistic League (“Liga dos Autistas”), has dietary restrictions and travelled from Campo Grande to Rio. In the capital, she was assisted by the organization and the other autistic people present.
In Rio de Janeiro, Geuvana said she had experienced challenges. “I got out of my comfort zone, it was delicate. But I believe that when we can accept ourselves and look at each other as autistics, the other autistic is not difficult. It’s like everyone’s already getting to know each other.”
Eric reiterated Autistan’s mission. “We want to collaborate with anyone, whether autistic, families or organizations. We are an autistic organization, extra-national, that is, not linked to any country, with a global vision to support national activists.”
The backstage days of Autistan Day yielded meetings and experiences for the participants. Erika Ribeiro, podcaster for Erika’s Small Talk, recognized the event as a kind of watershed in her saga to “come out of the closet” that dragged on significant part of her 39 years of age.
“I was diagnosed at the height of my career at the age of 22. I went to law school, worked, and that gave me an abnormal mental confusion. I went to get psychiatric help and ended up diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s. I decided to come and put my face right away and let’s go!” she said.
Most of the participants of the event were adults, except Zeca Szymon, a 14-year-old teenager, accompanied by his mother, Magaly Botafogo. On the other hand, Geuvana has two adult children, and sees her position as something different from most non-autistic mothers.
“One of them doesn’t live with me. When he gets home, there’s a very big nuisance. I hate being held, and I suffocate. And you don’t identify yourself anymore, but he is your son, you like him. But I’m learning to deal with it. I raised them to have their lives. It’s not my life, it’s his one”, she explained.
Youtuber Leonard Akira said autistic potential should be exploited. “Autism, for the part of parents, is considered a taboo and a limiting factor. They think of all the difficulties that the child will have in life and discrimination. If a parent has a more hopeful view of the child, he sees the advantages and disadvantages of this condition.”
Ludmila, who followed everything behind the broadcast cameras, approved Autistan Day. “The more events that show different ways of living, of thinking, of living together, of accepting, the better. [We need] to end intolerance, which is spreading in civilization, and right now it is of paramount importance.”