Bizarrely, many strangers have messaged me on LinkedIn to ask me to work for free. Writing, speaking, consulting. These “opportunities” are always framed as beneficial for me, yet the “benefits” these strangers offer are intangible things I don’t need or already have access to.
Some of these strangers have asked me to place their pathologizing content on my website—free labor and advertising. Sometimes when I ask about an honorarium, or deny their offer, they become rude and pushy, and attempt to force me into a meeting with them. One person told me to, “Have a nice life.” Someone else sent me a PDF highlighting how much I would pay to present.
I try to exercise patience with the nicer messengers, in part because I’ve been in positions where I’ve had to ask someone to speak for free. And it really makes sense that neurodivergents within the community don’t have money to pay other neurodivergents, as society does not like to pay disabled people. So, I understand for many people there’s more need than resources. Though I also understand that many of the organizational leaders seeking free labor have the resources to pay for the labor they want.
I, like many other Autists, have few resources. Presenting and writing are forms of labor. Labor costs me time and spoons, which are nonrenewable resources. If you want someone’s time and energy, it’s fair to give them energy in exchange for the value of their labor. The primary form of energy society trades for labor is money.
Money is a limited resource for many of us, and writing for free often feels like donating money because I write for a living. I do volunteer for people in the community I know, those I trust. But it’s a struggle to find the time—and spoons—to do so.
Other Autists have echoed my experience, and I want self-advocates to know that you are allowed to ask for an honorarium. And if there is no honorarium, you are allowed to say no. You are allowed to say that you don’t work for free because you are allowed to charge for your time because you have value. You deserve money in exchange for your labor, your nonrenewable resources.
“Yes, there is a tragedy that comes with autism: not because of what we are, but because of the things that happen to us,” says Jim Sinclair. We’ve struggled for the knowledge and experiences society wants. We’ll struggle less if society stops pretending our minds don’t have value—that our stories, our experiences and expertise, are not valuable.