|Rainbow Clouds by RoseFireRisingCreative Commons License
[image: Second Life screenshot: panels of clouds joined
by a central axis, with each a different color of the rainbow.]
Welcome to April, that wonderful month of northern hemisphere spring blossoms, less wonderful seasonal allergy attacks—and “Autism Awareness.”
Here at TPGA, we have a long tradition of skepticism about Autism Awareness material. We are not being party-poopers; we focus on Autism Acceptance instead. Why? As we noted last year: “Acceptance means autistic people matter. Awareness just means we know autistic people exist.”
We realize many who agitate for autism “awareness” are sincerely trying to do good work. But too many people hijack April to spread negative messages about autistic people, or claim that acceptance is about “complacency,” while others co-opt language that makes them look like they’re on the side of autistic people: The chest-beating gorilla of autism awareness, Autism Speaks, is making their April efforts this year about “understanding and acceptance of people with autism across the spectrum and throughout the lifespan.”
Autism Speaks changing messaging in a positive direction is not the same as changing actions; after all, they just sent out an email stating:
“Fulfilling a promise made in 2016 by Donald Trump to the late Suzanne Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks, the White House will join hundreds of iconic landmarks around the globe to Light It Up Blue on April 2, 2017 in honor of World Autism Awareness Day.”
This announcement is distressing in several different ways—including that the current U.S. President has a history of saying hurtful, ignorant things about autistic people—so we remain highly skeptical of Autism Speaks’s dedication to the interests of autistic people themselves. (Update: The Autistic Self Advocacy Network has officially condemned the President’s “regressive” 2017 Autism Proclamation.)
Still, since our first and foremost goal is to encourage critical thinking on autism matters, we do need to be careful about instantly condemning those who support autism awareness. Remember to ask yourself: are they honestly working for the betterment of autistic people, or are they demeaning autistic people by using them as piteous props? If it’s the former, carry on; if it’s the latter, avoid or speak out whenever you can.
And now, some guidelines for honoring and supporting autism acceptance both tomorrow on World Autism Acceptance Day, and all month long:
What are some criteria for evaluating whether autism articles and efforts benefit, rather than harm, autistic people? Read closely, and make sure they:
- Understand why many autistic people dislike autism “awareness” efforts
- Cite autistic people themselves, not just “experts” or family members
- Recognize the diversity of autistic abilities, instead of factionalizing them
- Avoid invoking pity, or talking about autistic people as burdens
- Are not ableist
- Use respectful language, such as avoiding “high” and “low” functioning labels
- Support autistic people, instead of talking about “fighting autism” or “epidemics“
Where to look for guidance, and good information:
- Autistic Self Advocacy Network
- NOS Magazine
- Autism Acceptance Month
- Autism Women’s Network
- Red Instead
- International Autism Acceptance Decade
- Right here at Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism (at Facebook and Twitter too)
- Squidalicious: How to Find Autism Information That Will Help You
- Left Brain/Right Brain
If you have money, do not give it to organizations that harm autistic people. Find a useful local organization to support, or:
- Support The Autistic Self Advocacy Network
- Support NOS Magazine
- Support the Autism Women’s Network
- Support UCSF’s Office of Developmental Primary Care
- Support Autistic-owned businesses, like Stimtastic.co, or Splendid Colors
- Donate to Magical Bridge Playground’s Sensory Retreat Huts
- Give someone a copy of the book NeuroTribes
- Give someone a copy of the book The ABCs of Autism Acceptance
- Give someone a copy of the book Loud Hands: Autistic People Speaking
- Give someone a copy of the book What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew
If you have time, avoid Autism Speaks walks and other purely “awareness”-raising events. Spend time supporting autism acceptance instead:
- Sign the Autism Acceptance Month pledge
- Devote time to to listen to autistic voices, such as our Autism Acceptance series of interviews and articles from 2016, 2014, and 2012.
- Share how major cultural influencers like Apple are choosing to honor Autism Acceptance
- Boost autism acceptance-oriented material: on FB, Twitter, and other social media (as we will be doing), and share them on email with your friends
- Comment on articles that misrepresent autistic people. Be polite and matter-of-fact but direct. Do not make or respond to personal attacks.
- Call your local political representatives about autism-oriented matters; if you have the bandwidth, tell them you will be a resource for them.
- Volunteer: ask local special education and disability-oriented schools what they need, on a one-time or ongoing basis.
- Mentor: There is a real need for both autistic people and families new to autism to have good guidance. This is especially true for speakers of languages other than English. Contact your local family support or autistic organization for more information.
- Ask friends to donate to the organizations or do the acts above.
We’ll be devoting our April to autism reporting and resource sharing that makes a difference, so do check back in. And thank you for supporting Autism Acceptance.