The Munster Model of Autistic Living is designed to both describe and explain the fullness of Autistic lived experience. It does more, though, than describe and explain. It provides the basis for inquiry through research, and it offers doorways to a better, fuller, dignified life for every Autistic person and, by extension, enables those who interact with Autistic people opportunities to understand, appreciate and engage with Autistic spaces and the people who occupy them. The master key to those doors is DARE.
What, then, is DARE?
On the simplest level, it is just that four-letter word: dare. It captures in a single syllable the essence of the motto: “Defy Everything, Endure Anything”. It suggests determination, positivity, self-assurance, owning your space, a certain radicalism, an assured poise and demeanour. It is also a call to action, a challenge to persevere, to step forward for truth and honour.
But DARE is not simply a word. Its origins as used within the Munster Model lie in a fortuitous accident when four other words came together in a discussion a few years ago: Dignity, Autonomy, Respect, and Empowerment.
Of these, the first three are called the Triad of Empowerment, a reference to the outdated and much-despised ‘triad of impairments’ that for many years was synonymous with the so-called ‘autism syndrome disorder.’ Together, they are the seeds without which the empowerment of any human remains impossible. They are the essence of Full Living.
To rephrase the earlier question–What is DARE?–at a more granular level, we should then ask: What are dignity, autonomy, respect and empowerment?
Dignity lies within the person. It is a state of being in which the person’s humanity–and all that entails–remains intact, regardless of circumstances. Dignity relies partially on the other two elements of the Triad of Empowerment–Autonomy and Respect–but includes a sense of the self, of a person’s right to be, to be to the fullest, to occupy your own space in the mind even if not always permitted to so do in the flesh. To put that another way, Dignity is about feeling entitled to live fully, entitled to equality and to privacy, it is about asserting those rights as an equal, and acting in a manner that displays appropriate entitlement to these basic rights. It is, we might say, about daring to endure any offence and defy any wrong. It presumes a right to respect from others, as an equal, and it presumes a right to act autonomously. It is the foundation stone of everything.
Autonomy refers to “living by your own rules.” In practical terms we can consider it as referring to making your own decisions on issues that matter to you and relate to your life, based on your own personal priorities and objectives, and carrying out actions based on those decisions. It refers to a fundamental right: the right to act freely and under the direction of your conscience. The foundation of autonomy is Dignity: it is impossible without Dignity, and it transforms Dignity into deeds. Autonomy relies also on Respect, as without the respect of others, the ability to act freely is impaired.
Respect, then, is a recognition by others of a person’s right to Dignity and Autonomy. While the other two come from within, Respect comes from without. Both Dignity and Autonomy call for Respect, but they cannot guarantee it. Humans are fundamentally a social species and as such much of a person’s Dignity has a social context, and most Autonomy is exercised in those same social contexts. It is in that social context, the interaction with other humans, that Respect plays a role. Respect is an acknowledgement of equality and entitlement, it concedes a person’s right to their own space, to their voice, to their freedom to act–it is the acknowledgement that a person has Dignity and Autonomy and that no other person is entitled to arbitrarily circumscribe them.
Dignity, Autonomy, and Respect interact closely, each building on the others. Each relies on the endurance of the others, and in so doing enables them to endure.
Empowerment refers to removing the constraints on a person’s ability to meet their fullest potential. As we are discussing humans, we can describe Empowerment as the state of being free to Live Fully, to meet every potential in so far as that person desires.
That last phrase “in so far as that person desires” is significant, because no person reaches their fullest potential in every aspect of life. We make choices, based on desires and priorities, and we recognise our entitlement to leisure as a valid activity, and one for which we have potential, have desires, have priorities, and tastes. Without it, we cannot Live Fully.
The phrase “being free…to meet every potential” is equally significant, as it refers not just to a right to reach full potential, but the right to choose not to. Hidden behind that phrase is a powerful word: Enough. In a world driven by an ideology of achievement and status, one of the most powerful of acts is to declare a given state of being as Enough.
DARE, then, is the combination of Dignity, Autonomy, and Respect resulting in the Empowerment of the individual, not just to achieve, but to declare this or that as enough, to be driven on by desire for more or to rest contented, as it pleases them.
The state of being where a person has Dignity, Autonomy, and Respect, and is thus Empowered to live their life as they see is best, is what we call Living Fully. The boundaries of fullness in this sense are set by the individual, who is content to reach for those boundaries, mark out that space as their Personal Space, and live confident that they are entitled to define its bounds and permeability, and that that entitlement will be respected by others.
The question, of course, is now raised: How does a person establish and defend their Dignity, exercise their Autonomy of thought, emotion, and action, and command the Respect they are due. That is a topic for another post, but that it now arises is one demonstration of the potential of the Munster Model to prompt valuable, meaningful questions, provide direction towards answers and, as will be elaborated elsewhere, define practical solutions for everyday living.
To discover more, and learn how the Munster Model of Autistic Living can enrich your life as an Autistic person or facilitate your interaction with Autistic people in your life, workplace, or as users of services you provide, contact Infinite Diversity for advice, workshops, lectures and consultancy.
This outpouring was delivered to the accompaniment of:
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Au Club Saint Germain, Vol.1, 1959
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Caravan, 1987