First, the good thing: people are (finally) coming around to the idea that Autistic adults are logical and appropriate role models for Autistic children and teens.
Now the not good thing: some organizations and individuals are applying ridiculous standards to who can and cannot be considered a role model. One group is defining acceptable Autistics as "those who have a degree and are working full time in the field they studied." People who meet those criteria are Autistics it's acceptable to look up to. A spokesperson for an organization using these criteria opined that "anyone can get a degree, but not everyone can work full time," while reiterating that to be a role model an Autistic must be doing so.
Can we see the problems with this?
First, no, not everyone can get a degree. They cost money, they cost time, and universities and colleges are not places that accommodate everyone. Yes, they are required to have a Disability Services department. However, there are some people who are not capable of earning a college or university degree with the offered accommodations-they might have cognitive challenges or learning challenges or an inability to function in the environment. Or maybe some people don't wish to-maybe the stress and the thousands of dollars of debt aren't worth it for them. We don't all have rich families.
Secondly, the criteria of "must be working full time" excludes people who are really worth emulating. Some people, for whatever reason, cannot do 40 hour weeks. Maybe, again, they don't have the stamina to power through an entire week of sensory hell. Maybe what they are qualified for is by nature not a full time gig, or perhaps they are juggling 2 jobs like so many people are lately. Some people make other life choices-some Autistics have children & choose to devote some of their time to raising them. Other Autistics choose the self employment route. And some Autistic people partially or completely rely on SSI or SSDI. Contrary to apparently popular belief, not being able to work (or work enough to support oneself) is not a moral failure. People who get assistance also have worth by virtue of being human.
By the criteria of "working full time in the field one studied to get a degree", almost no Autistic is a role model, and a large number of the next generation won't be either. We are very much an unemployed and underemployed crowd. This criteria set is extremely ableist and classist.
Not only that, but it excludes people not just from the position of mentor, but also mentee. A lot of Autistic kids, right now, they are not going to be getting a college degree, and that's ok! There are a large number of Autistic kids who are going to grow up to receive SSI payments, and that's not a moral failing on their part! There are things some people are not able to do, and that is how it is.
Don't these Autistics also deserve role models? It's so important that our youth who aren't Temple Grandin see that they can have a good, full life within their capabilities. It is extremely frustrating to be told that there's 1 or 2 'appropriate' role models, only to realize that their capabilities and circumstances are nothing like yours. A role model is someone you can look at, say "I want to be like them when I grow up," and then actually be able to do it.
Don't do our next generation the disservice of leaving them out. Role models come in all kinds, not just traditionally economically successful varieties. Acknowledge the diversity of our stories, embrace the different kinds of success. Not everyone can work full time or have a degree, it's true, but everyone can have a life that is full and meaningful.