Ways to Celebrate Autism Acceptance Month
Autism Acceptance Month is in April, and as an autistic person, I’d like to share with you my rules of thumb for participating in celebrating it in a way that doesn’t further harm autistic people. When you do it incorrectly and ignore the perspective of people who are actually autistic, you send the message that you are just trying to profit from our struggles. Please do better than that.
Autism is a different neurological development, and each autistic person is completely different, but we do each have some of the many traits of autism. Just like variation happens in butterflies and allows for evolution, variation naturally happens in our brains’ wiring as well, and we call that neurodivergence. Autism is one type of neurodivergence.
We were born autistic, and we will always be autistic. Vaccines do not cause autism. Genetics and variations do. There will never be a cure because there is nothing to cure; it is a part of us. There is no other person ‘under the autism.’ Autism is a part of what makes us, us. Without autism, I would not exist.
Like any other group, autistic people are not a monolith. There are disagreements as the science and language evolves. It’s natural. We also, as a disabled community, have to deal a lot with non-autistic people trying to define us or talk over us as well. Because of that, some of what I have to share may be very surprising to you.
My focus in this article is on how you can engage the autistic community appropriately.
Approximately 1 in 44 children are currently being identified as autistic, and adults in their 30s and 40s are finding out that they are autistic, as well. With the level of bias in place in the process, and the cost of getting an evaluation ($2500 in my area), self-diagnosed autistic adults are also a valid and important part of the autistic community.
When you engage with the autistic community, it’s imperative that you understand the precipice we are currently on. We are still fighting for our rights and our equality. Trigger warning, this is not light. Autistic children are being subjected to ‘therapy’ considered too inhumane for dogs (ABA). Filicide rates of autistic children are high, and when parents or caregivers murder an autistic person, society usually commiserates not with the victim, but with the perpetrator(s). ASAN has created a PDF anti-filicide toolkit. The Judge Rotenberg Center is still using electric skin shock devices on disabled people, some of them autistic, with the full consent of their families. Some pastors still claim that autism is demonic possession.
That’s just the beginning. I don’t have the heart to keep going. If you want to connect with us, you have to understand where we’re coming from. We are still villified and seen as lifeless husks lacking empathy when we are the opposite. Most autistic people in the 2022 Autistic Not Weird Survey reported feeling much higher levels of empathy than non-autistic respondents. We add to the world in all fields, including science and the arts. However, I shouldn’t have to plead our case; we are human, and that is enough.
(Left) Sunny Day by April Marie Mai, the autistic author. Acrylic on Canvas, 48″ x 36″ x 1.5″
[Image Description: A horizontal rectangle impasto thick paint acrylic abstract painting in green, yellow, blue, orange, metallic gold, light blue, purple, metallic white, pink and white. The top left corner has more gold and white, the main color is green, and a beautiful bit of yellow sweeps down from the top of the painting, toward the left, then curls back up toward the top right, creating movement. The colors mix around. Each swipe of the palette knife is different and contains multiple colors.]
It’s important that you are authentic with the autistic community. We are used to being used, and we will spot it quickly. I fully believe that only autistic people should be selling autism merch. Companies and organizations are profiting off of our existence, while we struggle. That is wrong.
You need to bring something to the table. It takes much more energy for us to interact and communicate than it does for non-autistic people. Do your homework, and research what people have put out there. Don’t ask us for more. We’re already giving more than we can afford to energy wise. There’s a whole lot already under #actuallyautistic
Be sure to follow autistic Black people, Indigenous people, and other People of Color. Experiences vary wildly based on discrimination, gender, queerness, diagnosis date, self-diagnosis date, and our parents’ views on everything from autism to religion (and thus their treatment of us). The one thing that almost all of us report is the knowledge, at a very young age, that we are different than the people around us. For many of us, we are not merely autistic. I am autistic, dyslexic, an ADHDer, I have prosopagnosia, dyscalculia, aphantasia and misophonia. It took a long time for me to find words for all the different parts of myself. Diagnosis is not a time to mourn. For us it is usually a time of celebration. Diagnoses are difficult to get, and they finally give us a tiny bit of validity in others’ eyes.
In order to interact with us respectfully, you need to use the right language. While there is some antagonism between parents of autistic children and autistic adults, the majority are looking to us to learn how to better parent their child. Some still hold out hope for a ‘cure’ that will never come. The large organizations that are not founded or led by autistic people fund studies in a hope to ‘end’ autism by ending…well, us…through eugenic abortions. They are looking for a marker they can find in utero.
Note that each individual autistic person has every right to choose the language that is used about them. Never correct an autistic person’s self-identification. What I’m sharing here is the direction autistic adults are leading the community, versus the language others chose for us. While my pattern recognition seems slightly better than the general non-autistic public, this is what I have learned from my research, and my voice should never be the only one you seek out or listen to. Intersectionality is key. I don’t have the energy to go through defining everything, but this gives you plenty to research more. Yep, if you want to interact with us, doing your own research is imperative. It’s what we do, too. Note that the lists are not meant to exactly mirror each other.
Now that you’ve had a quick primer on how to not be horribly offensive (yes, that is humor), let’s revisit the idea of bringing something to the table.
Autistic people are constantly asked to give. People ask us to give of our time, our energy, our knowledge, and we have less energy than non-autistic people do. Sometimes people truly want to learn to support us. Sometimes it’s curiosity at our differences. Sometimes it’s treating us like a freak show.
We already give over our max most of the time, so it’s extra important to do your own research before asking for clarification or more information. There’s a good chance that you will find that information online posted by a different autistic content creator. If you’re still confused, ask if you can ask a question. Be okay with the answer being no. Be okay with it being yes but then the question being too overwhelming to answer right away or at all. Our brains are constantly going, and most of us cannot tune things out, so there’s a lot of constant processing going on, and then trying to put it into words that will make sense to you is a form of translation. Saying that we will not answer a question is not a personal slight against you. It is simply saying that we will not be answering a question. People often expect us to react as if we are starved for attention and so thankful that we are getting it from a non-autistic person.
What you might be able to bring to the table
Please note that I do not speak for the autistic community. These are my personal ideas.
Any and all platforms and mics. That said, do not ask us to work for free. As I mentioned, it takes a lot more work for us to do things like speaking and writing usually than it does for non-autistic people. Expect to pay speaker fees like you would for anyone else. But offer it. Share our links. Share your space. Share what you have that we don’t have access to.
Promote, support, and do what you can to help us grow our businesses. Many of us cannot work. I cannot work. We still have to eat, and we usually have higher medical bills because of the toll the world takes on us. It’s not just that we need the knowledge of what to do. We often need someone to help do it. If you want to be that person, offer. If you know people you can connect us with, please offer.
We need resources. Plain and simple. If you can help fund a startup or give to an artist or be someone’s patron on Patreon, you can help. It doesn’t have to be a lot, and if you don’t have it, don’t do it. But if you do, we could use it.
We need a new, healthy, and respectful therapy field to replace Applied Behavior Analysis, which causes a lot of trauma to autistic people.
Talk with people about autism. Challenge their stereotypes and preconceptions. Encourage them to research for themselves.
That’s a start off the top of my head.
Ways you can celebrate Autism Acceptance Month
If you do use any of them, please link back to this article.
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