Celebrate the Full Spectrum!
April 2nd is International Autism Awareness Day, but I have to say, if you’re not aware of autism yet, where have you been? The cool kids have already moved on from mere awareness to inclusion, acceptance, and love.
We’re celebrating Autism Acceptance Day, Autism Acceptance Month, Autism Acceptance Year, Autism Acceptance Decade (and Autism Acceptance Eon, while we’re at it).
Many of my friends in the autism community find mere awareness campaigns to be pretty offensive, because the message about autism tends to be so bleak and panicky, full of fear-mongering and dire pronouncements. This manipulative and dehumanizing talk is a pretty good way to get people to go on walks and light things up blue and give money to giant research organizations, but it can have a very negative effect on the real lives of actual, living autistic people. Luckily, we have better options!
Here in the US, the blue light and puzzle piece are corporate logos of the very powerful organization Autism Speaks, which focuses most of its donated dollars on genetic research, and only a very small percentage on direct help for children, adults, and families. Autism Speaks is not respected within the autism community; it includes no autistic people in any positions of power, and its constant panic and dread messages make things worse, not better, for real autistic people.
Only one autistic person, the author John Elder Robison, was included within the organization, and he resigned last year in protest (see his resignation letter here: I resign my roles at Autism Speaks). Autism Speaks is not speaking for autistic people at all, but thankfully, there are organizations that focus on autism acceptance, and on helping autistic people and their families lead happier and more fulfilling lives. I’ve included some good organizations at the bottom of this post.
Autism can be a complex condition that affects people in many different ways, but it’s not a tragedy, nor an epidemic, nor a puzzle. The real autism experts are (surprise!) autistic people themselves, and they’re speaking for themselves and working to make the world better for everyone with every kind of neurology.
If you’d like to learn about autism in a way that is respectful, educated, acceptance-based, and empathetic, this online booklet, Welcome to the Autistic Community! is a wonderful place to start. (A version for adolescents is here).
My autistic friends are wonderful individuals with meaningful lives and extensive empathy. But I never would have known that if I had stayed in the cold, harsh, blue light of mere awareness (see Empaths on the Autism Spectrum).
Acceptance is an action with real and wonderful consequences
Why in the world would you be blue if you could instead celebrate the whole spectrum?
Why would you hold up a puzzle piece, as if autistic human beings were a mystery? They’re not mysterious at all if you just talk to them, and listen to them, empathize with them, and focus on organizations that have their true needs at the forefront of their mission. For instance, this year, many people are lighting it up gold in honor of The Golden Hat Foundation, which celebrates the intelligence of people on the spectrum.
We can change the world for and with autistic people, but first, we have to change the light in which we view them.
There’s no need to stand under a harsh, cold, puzzling blue light filled with messages of dread and despair. There’s a better, more intelligent, and more loving way to view our friends on the Autism Spectrum.
If you want to become more aware of the issues in the autism community, the documentary Loving Lampposts is a wonderful entree into new ways of viewing autism in a more humane, loving, and workable way (and you can watch it for free on Hulu).
So don’t be blue: have a great Autism Acceptance Month and bask in the light of the full spectrum of human neurological diversity!
Please support these organizations that focus on autism acceptance and on making the lives of autistic people better, safer, and more fulfilling: