I first met Patty online, as did many of the folks in the autistic self-advocacy community who knew her. Oh, did that connection lead to great things in these last few years of her life -- to a community of fellow travelers, to close friends, to Jared! And so many people got to encounter her practical, common-sense wisdom, which rose above the constant battle she had to wage against sensory chaos and chronic physical illness. The Internet connections led to speaking engagements, and to ever more online presence. Patty was one of the few of us with the patience and will to actively participate and call people to reason on the St. John's University Autism listserv and in other venues dominated by "cure"-oriented parents and professionals in which it is often difficult for autistic people and autistic perspectives to get a word in edgewise.
But my lasting memories of Patty are going to be from times spent at conferences together, at Autreat and at ASA 2003. Memories of Patty-in-action. Patty and Jared together, an autistic love story, at Autreat. At ASA 2003, she was a vital part of what may have been the strongest presence of autistic self-advocates at an ASA national conference in ASA's history.
One memory of ASA 2003 stands out in particular as paradigmatic of how Patty dealt with obstacles. On the vendor floor, there was a booth staffed by particularly zealous members of a parent-driven, "cure"-oriented organization, who got into a verbal altercation with the small group of autistic self-advocates with whom Patty was viewing the exhibit floor. These people got downright abusive towards Patty and her friends, claiming they could not possibly be autistic among other things. Patty kept her temper, but then lodged a complaint with the conference management -- and this organization lost its exhibition privileges as a result. Jared told me that that was one of Patty's own favorite memories of her all-too-brief career as a public self-advocate.
Patty saw, said, and acted upon common sense, and she knew how to work *within* the system where there was leverage to do so. She became an officer of her state ASA chapter, showing many of us within the autistic self-advocacy community the way to effectively work "both sides of the street" -- within the system as well as outside of it.
There is one form of life after death that I know for sure exists: living on in the memory of those one leaves behind. May Patty live on in our memory by inspiring us to approach both individual and collective self-advocacy the way she did -- visibly and effectively. Where practical, common-sense judgement is needed in public self-advocacy, we would be well served to ask "WWPD" -- what would Patty do? If we listen carefully, we will hear her tell us. In no uncertain terms :-) .
Goodbye, friend, ally, mentor. Your memory will be a blessing.