Awareness campaigns are harmful; acceptance is the key
As many of you know by now, April is autism “awareness” month. Autistics have been taking back our own activism and education campaigns, and one way we’re doing so is by renaming April to Autism Acceptance Month instead.
Previous “awareness” campaigns have treated autism as though it were some horrible disease. Apparently parents had to “watch out” for the signs in their children. In fact, harmful organizations masquerading as charities even had campaigns spreading awareness of the “warning signs” of autism in children.
Yes, the public needs better understanding of what autism is, and how it can impact people’s lives. Not so they can be afraid of having an autistic child, fearfully watching for any signs their child isn’t developing typically.
Instead, people need to better understand what autism really is, so they can be better informed and more accepting, accommodating, and inclusive. These types of campaigns “other” Autistic people, relegating us to a different category of sub-human being. We’re just people trying to live our lives, hoping for a bit of common courtesy.
The more people grow up and live with all varieties of people in their lives and communities, the less prejudice, ableism, racism, and xenophobia will be perpetuated through lack of life experience and outright ignorance.
I am hoping to do my small part through advocacy, education, and sharing my articles. My hope is people will see there are as many different “types” of autism as there are autistic people, and that autism and other neuro-differences are to be valued rather than feared.
Change starts (in part) with professionals
A significant part of changing the narrative about autism and neurodivergence is addressing the stigma, stereotyping, and ignorance that exists right in our own professional organizations.
For example, the DSM-V continues to perpetuate a stereotyped picture of autism, with many of the “symptoms” based solely on the experiences of middle-and-upper class white males, because that was the original “face” of autism. Unfortunately, little has changed.
Are you Autistic?
For those who have been wondering if they, or someone they love, might be Autistic, my statements above might be confusing. If you cannot look to the diagnostic criteria to help you sort this out, where can you look?
My answer: The Actually Autistic community. Many autistic adults have shared their experiences and described how their autism is expressed through their individual traits and characteristics.
I have tried to do this as well:
Books about Autism
There are also many autistic scholars, activists, and authors from whom you can learn.
I have put together a list of books I recommend:
If your child has been identified as autistic, you may need some help explaining this to them.
Every child and family are different, but here are some tips I hope parents and caregivers will find helpful:
Significant change also needs to happen in our education system
Unfortunately, much of our education system still operates on an out-dated, harmful behaviourist approach, especially when supporting (or “teaching”) disabled and neurodivergent students.
This is ableist, harmful, and sometimes outright abusive.
Mirroring is when a person mimics the body language, verbal habits, or attitudes of someone else, either intentionally or unconsciously.
Who wouldn’t want to blend in with the crowd in an attempt to escape relentless bullying and try to fit in for a change?
If we’re constantly corrected, criticized, even punished just for being ourselves, then who else are we supposed to be?
The Autistic Divide
Spoiler alert: There’s not really a divide if your priorities are the autistic individuals for whom you claim to advocate.
A person — or people — from a marginalized and oppressed group finally setting boundaries and standing up for themselves only creates a divide between those who want to lift our voices and those who want us to remain silenced.
Help with Sensory Overload
In April, my family and I had to isolate for 10 days after contracting Covid. Manitoba also had a major blizzard that same week which essentially shut down the entire province.
Then we had flooding.
I am a sensory-avoider in a house full of sensory-seekers! I have shared some of my tips and strategies for dealing with sensory overload.
This story will also provide some insight for anyone wondering how I managed to write so much this week… at least there’s an upside to isolation.
When you join medium, as a member you’ll have access to unlimited reads for only $5 per month. If you use my referral link, I’ll earn a small commission, and you’ll earn my undying gratitude.