April isn’t just problematic for Autistic people, it can be traumatizing. As a Not-for-Profit organisation, TARA is run by Autistic people who volunteer our time. It is vital that we protect our mental health in order to do what we do best; creating a bridge between the Autistic and Autism communities; and supporting parents and carers to understand their Autistic child, all through the lens of lived experience. Many other Autistic advocates reduce their commitments in April in order to protect themselves. Like TARA, they are often parents of Autistic children and need to protect them from harmful and stereotypical narrative and images that contradict our world view and actuality. No other disability is co-opted as much as Autism. Our challenges are shared widely on the internet, our most vulnerable moments paraded for the world to see under the guise of awareness, and only lately, acceptance. Autism Awareness/Acceptance month is not about the Autistic community. It is about the Autism community. It is a time when “peak bodies”, Autism “experts” and (well-meaning) parents speak for and over #actuallyautistic people. April does not create awareness about why most Autistics prefer identity first language, explain stimming, or highlight that many of us have a wicked sense of humour. It does not ensure that that all campaigns, policies or supports that will truly help the Autistic community are co-designed, developed, and evaluated by the Autistic community. It does nothing to increase opportunities that are not just tokenistic. Opportunities where we can contribute according to our capacity and in our own communication style. Instead, it is a month where puzzle pieces and light it up blue campaigns feature across social media. And it is a month that depicts Autism as a behavioural problem often promoting ABA, a therapy that is known to be traumatic for Autistics and may cause life-long harm. It is a month where the media features stories of parents showcasing their children at their most vulnerable moments so society can understand how hard it is to be an “Autism Parent”. Autism is portrayed as a burden on everyone - including the Autistic person. Our lives, and those of our children are devalued and disrespected. After reading all this, you may be feeling helpless. But as a parent, carer, or educator who has an Autistic person in their life there are many things you can do to help change this narrative of tragedy and cure. Here is list of things you could do this April that will contribute to change:
Donate to a grassroots Autistic led organisation
Don’t share images showing Autistics in meltdown or shut down
Don’t share the puzzle piece. Use the diversity loop instead
Use the language the Autistic person does. Most Autistic people prefer identity first language but not everyone does. Ask the person. Follow their lead.
Educate those around you by sharing resources by Autistic led organisations
Remove the word disorder - #ditchthedisorder
And finally join us as we celebrate our Authentic Autistic selves on June 18, Autistic Pride Day.