Autism: Beyond Awareness

April is National Autism Awareness Month. If you aren’t autistic and aren’t close to anyone who is, you might think this is a good time for autistic people–a chance for children and adults who aren’t often in the limelight to get some attention and advocacy.

If only it were so simple.

This is only the second time I’ve written about autism here. My previous post–and especially the links quoted/cited there–is a good place to start with regard to reconsidering autism advocacy in general.

But I’m not here to repeat myself. What’s different this year? Autism Speaks is still conducting business as usual, by which I mean stealing the spotlight (and all the donor money) by pretending to be an autism advocacy organization, when it is little more than a hate group bent on exterminating autism (and thus autistic people). This fact, and everything that follows, is likely well-known to anyone who is autistic, so my intention here is to address people who aren’t autistic and who may be less familiar with what this is all about.

Autism Speaks’ campaign slogan for this month is “light it up blue,” based on the (faulty) notion that autism overwhelmingly affects boys. In response, then, some neurodivergence advocates have come out with the “RedInstead” campaign. The need for this counterprogramming to Autism Speak’s efforts isn’t hard to explain:

For a charity that claims to be in support of autistic individuals, it would appear to be their last area of concern. Even their title is a misnomer; allowing autistic people to speak is the last thing they partake in. They offer little to no support to those on the spectrum (with only 4% of their donations actually going to autistic families) and have even gone as far as to present a mother who admitted to contemplating murdering both her and her autistic daughter (with said daughter being right next to her) as a sympathetic party. She goes on to state the only reason she didn’t do so is because she also had a non-autistic child. This can be seen in their documentary Autism Everyday, which has been removed from their YouTube page but can be viewed on Veoh. Not helping is that this justification has been used before by parents and relatives of autistic people to justify the abuse/murder of them on the basis that they couldn’t cope with the pressure of caring for the person.

Something more is being asked for here, too. It’s not enough to merely have “awareness.” Autistic people exist, and we are aware of it. So what? What does knowing that some people exist mean? Does it mean anything, really? Does saying “I know you exist” actually help?

Awareness is itself nothing more than a baby step in the right direction. The destination is the real deal: acceptance. That’s what autistic people are asking for, and surely it’s not an outlandish request. Do we require anyone else to justify their own existence? Last I checked, the basic dignity of all humans was an inviolable entitlement–a central plank of the value system that underpins our society. We have a long, terrible history of denying the dignity of people with disabilities. We’ve kept them locked away, turned a blind eye to abuse, and once thought forced sterilization was a good idea. It’s nice to think we’ve changed a lot in the last century or so, but in 2016, the world’s most visible and influential autism-oriented charity essentially endorses the systematic mistreatment and eventual elimination of autistic people. So how far have we come, really?

This is what makes acceptance so crucial. Autistic people have their own thoughts and voices, which they are making heard, if only the rest of the world would listen.

Autism is not a disease that needs curing, it is just another way of being human. Autistics don’t need to be fixed, but simply accepted for who they are. Autism Speaks is, as usual, selling fear about autism and calling it awareness. So, if you want to stand with autistic people, it’s not hard, and my advice is the same as last time: listen to them. Don’t take my word for it–take theirs. Don’t #lightitupblue, but go #redinstead. Don’t stop at awareness, but move on to acceptance.

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About the Author

James
James runs this blog and likes to write about society, culture, politics, science, technology, social justice, and pretty much anything else. Rumor has it people read his posts sometimes.

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Autism: Beyond Awareness

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