The Phoenix In Conversation with Tiffany Hammond

An article on Tiffany Hammond’s talk, given before this interview, can be found here.

Milan Tenn: In your talk, you mentioned intersectionality and the way in which various aspects of one’s identity can lead to unique forms of discrimination, unique forms of privilege, and unique combinations thereof. You also mentioned how you have the identity of both a parent of children with autism and an autistic adult yourself. How would you say that relates to intersectionality? 

Tiffany Hammond: I feel that being both a parent and being autistic myself has definitely strengthened my relationship with my children and with the advocacy that I’m doing. I’m having a lot of success with shifting the narrative in a lot of discussions that the overall autism community has because I’m able to live a perspective that is at the intersection of being a parent, being autistic, being Black, and being a woman. Pulling together all these identities and sharing our experience with others through different stories makes them see how all of these identities come together and create these really complex and unique existences that we really need our community to focus on. I feel that being able to know what it’s like to be autistic and to be a parent has given me a unique perspective that a lot of people resonate with. I don’t take that for granted, and I know that that allows people to listen to me more. That is something that I will cherish and do my best to make sure I am not only doing right by myself but by my advocacy and by all those who follow me.

MT: When it comes to the conversations that you say your perspective has allowed you to start, would you be able to give an example of such conversations in the autistic community?

TH: Definitely the one surrounding Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which has a lot to do with pretty much every intersection I hold. That has definitely been a conversation that I’ve had much success with, getting people to think beyond ABA is abuse and then leaving it alone. We need to think deeper, longer, and harder to get people to understand the circumstances that a lot of families are in. Being a parent, I’m having to navigate a lot of systems that those who are not parents do not have to navigate. Insurance companies, school systems, employment, and being able to make sure that our family has what they need dealing with these disjointed systems of care are things that those who don’t have children don’t go through. And then I am also an autistic parent who went through ABA as a child, so I have a unique perspective there. Also being Black and doing a lot of the things that they teach in ABA, a lot of things that I also had to learn at home. So that’s one of the conversations that I feel that my contributions have been able to shift that conversation in a way that it’s not having the solution. We don’t have the answer to what’s good, right, or best, but it’s allowing us to get there. We’re actually having conversations and thinking more deeply about intersectionality, which I think is a beautiful thing.

MT: In addition to that, do you think that your book has sparked any new conversations in these communities?

TH: I do. I think that for many students, teachers, and families who’ve read this book, this has been their first introduction to not only autism but disability itself. They’ve been able to see a representation of disability that wasn’t scary or very mechanical and academic. They’ve been able to see a little boy who’s just enjoying life with his mom, full of joy and loving things that a lot of other kids love, but he’s just communicating in a different way. I felt like this story opened a lot of hearts and minds and allowed them to have conversations about what it’s like to communicate, what that looks like, and all the unique ways in which we talk with one another.

MT: You spoke earlier about the process of writing. What would you say was the thing that initially inspired you to do this with your book and your advocacy?

TH: I always wanted to write a book, I just never thought it would be a children’s picture book. The idea came from an editor, Simon and Schuster. The tricky thing was figuring out the exact story I wanted to tell, and I felt like this story was going to be an arm of my advocacy and would advance the work I’m trying to do. I’m not the traditional advocate that will give you definitions, Venn diagrams, and cutesy graphics that say that if you’re holding a handbag, that means you have autism. I’m someone who wants to tell stories that make people think and I do that through my newsletters and social media platforms. Stories are the best teachers and that’s what I feel.

MT: When it comes to your advocacy, you mentioned earlier that you and your family have encountered struggle and systemic oppression. Do you think that your advocacy is going to be able to challenge these systems and how would you like for your advocacy to impact tangible change?
TH: I feel that I’ve already started. People are having deeper meaningful conversations with their schools, their resource officers in their schools, and their law enforcement in their neighborhoods. There are some organizations and police departments who are using my eBooks and posts in their presentations and research. I never thought that they would challenge people’s thinking and perceptions. I tell people all the time that I’m not creating spaces,advocacy, games and stories that are going to give you the answers. I just want to spark something within people that makes them want to grow from what I plant, and they’ll have answers down the line. I’m just trying to share what we go through and inspire other people to think more deeply about the lives that we all need, not just their lives but others’ as well.

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