Now April is the time when the world “Lights up blue” for autism awareness, because nobody has heard of autism before right….?????
To be honest, the vast majority of people have heard of autism by this point, but do they truly understand what it is? Do they know how to empower autistic people? Can they make the neurotypical world more friendly for autistics? Can they accept autistic people for who they are without them masking (pretending not to be autistic)?
The likely answer is there are a small minority of people who could answer the questions above. There are still many misconceptions around autism and a very narrow view of what autism is. The reality is we are not all boys, some of us are verbal, others are not. Some of us are motivated to interact with people, whereas some prefer to keep to themselves.
We also don’t have to “look” autistic to be autistic (by the way, the last time I checked having a particular appearance isn’t part of the diagnostic criteria). Autistic people come in all shapes, sizes, genders and ethnicities. We look and are just as diverse as the neurotypical population. Oh and we are not only children, we don’t suddenly out-grow our autism at 18!
The world needs to hear what autism is like from autistic people themselves more frequently, and not neurotypicals. Autistic people are the real deal, who have lived every second of their life as autistic. So why aren’t autistic voices at the forefront of some mainstream autism awareness campaigns? Surely that puts a limit on the public’s understanding?
In terms of understanding, I know some shops have autism hours, so they are more autism-friendly. That’s great, and it does help to improve understanding among shop staff, but this usually happens once a year. Why can’t this be a daily or weekly thing? We are autistic 365 days a year, not just once a year! Also, many cinemas have autism-friendly screenings, fabulous! But this is mainly for children’s films. Why can’t there be more autism-friendly screenings for other films? Oh, because there isn’t a wide understanding that autistic people can be adults too…
I could go on and on , but then this blog post would turn into a book!
When discussing the topic of autism awareness on twitter, the vast majority of responses wanted acceptance (click on the tweet below to see the responses). I agree with them, all of us would be better off if autistic people were accepted by society.
For me, acceptance is living in a world where I don’t have to hesitate before I tell somebody I am autistic, because I fear their perception of me will drastically change into a negative one. Not being judged if I won’t eat certain food due to sensory reasons, or that I will only socialise sometimes (because it’s exhausting for me).
The first step was autism awareness, that has been achieved. The vast majority of people have heard of autism. Now autism needs to be better understood, accepted and celebrated. Although acceptance of autistic people will not happen overnight, I hope to see it in my lifetime.
What can I do to learn more?
You may feel you want to learn more about autism this April. My advice to you would be:
1. Engage with autistic people on twitter- using the hashtags #ActuallyAutistic and #AllAutistics to learn more. Want to ask a question? use #AskingAutistics
2. Autistic people are using the #RedInstead, #AutismPrideMonth #AutismAcceptanceWeek hashtags , engage with these posts! (Light up blue is associated with Autism Speaks who does not represent us)
3. Speak to any autistic people you know and ask them questions (if they are happy to talk about it).
If you enjoy my writing or would like to support my online advocacy work, I would be forever grateful if you could buy me a coffee (or tea in my case).