“You don’t have to be an expert to know that people with autism don’t get to speak about their own experiences.” – Hannah Gadsby
Yes, it’s that time of year again – Autism Acceptance is here! Of course, as far as I’m concerned every day should be a Neurodiversity Inclusion Day, but April in particular is the month of celebrating all things Autism, and who am I to make an exception?!
April used to be the month of Autism “Awareness” campaigns, but lots of people are aware of autism, right? They know the word, and unfortunately they know the stereotypes. Moving to “acceptance” shows a change of direction from telling people about autism, to actually enabling autistic people to be themselves. There is a good article on this here from USA Today if you want to read more. But even better, we would love to see next year’s campaigns branded Autism “Inclusion” to go one step further.
Why is Autism Acceptance needed?
I headed this blog with a quote from Hannah Gadsby. She speaks so eloquently on the challenges associated with being autistic (I stress the challenges “associated”, not challenges “with being” autistic).
In her autobiography “Ten Steps to Nanette: A Memoir Situation”, Hannah says:
“I was told I was too fat to be autistic. I was told I was too social to be autistic. I was told I was too empathic to be autistic. I was told I was too female to be autistic. I was told I wasn’t autistic enough to be autistic.”
And this is all too true – there is still a pervasive stereotype of autism that is not representative of the true experience. You can read more about this in our blog “What Neurodiversity looks like”.
Another person lending their voice is James Cusack, CEO of Autistica, who says:
“Some are surprised I can live on my own, drive a car or even get married. They’ve questioned whether it’s fair on my children that I had them in the first place. Probably most hurtful is the suggestion that I don’t care about people because I’m autistic… These attitudes have to change.”
Autism Acceptance is about understanding what it is really like to be autistic, not making assumptions, and allowing autistic people to be their authentic selves.
What Can I Do to Understand More?
The first and most important step in driving Autism Acceptance and Inclusivity is to listen to the people around you, whether autistic, neurodivergent or any other difference to yourself, listen to how other people experience the world and how the world treats them. This is the foundation of inclusion.
If you want to understand more specifically about autism, engage with autistic voices and allies:
– Watch comedian Joe Wells 90 second segment on having a non-autistic brother
– Read about Amy Schumer’s allyship. She said “I don’t see being on the spectrum as a negative thing. My husband is my favorite person I’ve ever met. He’s kind, hilarious, interesting, and talented, and I admire him. Am I supposed to hope my son isn’t like that?“
– Watch films and TV series or read books with authentic autistic-coded characters (these characters display common autistic traits but aren’t declared autistic), for example:
The IT Crowd
These characters help to normalise autistic characteristics, which in turn helps to foster inclusion. And more inclusion is all-round better for everyone.