Updated: Jul 6, 2022
I mean, come on. What kind of autism advocate would I be if I didn't address this temporarily trending topic?
But in all seriousness, sad as it is, I feel I need to take advantage of this short time slot in the year where autism is "relevant" to the world.
For those who don't know, there are a lot of mixed feelings about this month within the autism community. Some people think it's great and happily welcome the opportunity to raise more awareness. Others are not fans, and some even avoid social media altogether for the month because handfuls of neurotypical individuals and organizations will often speak over us and debate the validity of our existence. It's apparently a trendy thing to do in April.
I've seen a lot of folks say that we don't need awareness but acceptance. On this I partially agree. We absolutely need acceptance. That's what we're fighting for. However, I don't think there's nearly enough awareness in the world; at least not the right kind. We don't need more awareness in the sense of people knowing that autism is a thing that exists, but rather what it actually entails.
I get why some people find the concept of autism "awareness" off-putting. Hateful organizations like Autism Speaks have a history of using fear tactics in order to convince people to be anti-autism. Things like, "Watch out! The evil autism is coming to getcha!"
(It really is an extremely disgusting history).
Perhaps a better name would be "Autism Understanding Month." Because despite the fact that most folks have heard of autism before and have a vague idea of what it is, many of them don't actually get it. I myself didn't know what it actually is for most of my life; much less that I am autistic. People need to be more educated on this. What are autistic traits? How does autism affect people in day to day life? How is it different from person to person? In what ways does it make things difficult for them at work where they may need accomodations? What does it look like in people who aren't as "obviously" autistic? What is masking? What is stimming? Why do people hyperfixate? How do sensory difficulties work? And so on.
A lot of people don't know how to answer those questions. The world needs to know this stuff. The church needs to know this stuff, but that's a topic for another day.
The best way to learn about autism is to go to the source. Listen to actually autistic people. Even though it sounds counterintuitive, the fact is that many allistic/neurotypical mental health professionals don't actually understand autism. They rely on outdated information and stereotypes (for instance, did you know that professional diagnostic criteria was just designed for cis male children?). I say this based on personal experience, as well as stories I've heard from countless other autistic people. There are exceptions, absolutely, but we need to be careful about receiving misleading information. We really need to be talking with autistic people themselves; listening to their stories, asking questions, supporting their content. We'll gain not only technical information but also valuable insight.
I say this to myself as well. Even though I'm autistic, I'm always continuing to learn. I don't think it's something we ever "graduate" from, kind of like how we (Christians) never "graduate" from reading the Bible.
But back to the topic at hand.
There's a particular organization that posted an appalling Tweet a few days ago, saying that they "care" and therefore want to prevent the "disease" of autism and erase us from existence. (If you know the one, you know.)
Hold my beer while I go into screamo mode.
It's this kind of thing that makes a lot of autistic folks hate this month. It makes hateful and ableist people think they have an excuse to say stuff like that. And their followers subscribe to that ideology.
Sorry but I've gotta be blunt with my Christian readers for a sec.
If you're a Christian and you support the idea of eugenics… you should really check your heart. Do you think God would be pleased with such a practice?
Think about it.
"Hey God, when You created this person in Your image, You made a mistake by giving them traits that I find undesirable. But that's okay, I'll fix it by making them look more like me! Let's make them in MY image! MY traits are superior!"
No. That's called pride, my friend.
This is another reason why we need more understanding. The world is SO saturated in ableism and most of us don't realize how much of it we carry in our mindsets. It's something that even I am learning to recognize in myself and repent of. I'm still being challenged all the time, and I'm better for it. We can all do a better job and learn more. People weren't all made to fit the same mold and it's okay.
A lot of autistic people themselves don't yet realize they're autistic. Why? Lack of information. Incorrect stereotypes. The topic isn't on the radar. I didn't know I was on the spectrum myself for 26 years. More awareness and understanding can help people learn things not only about their peers but themselves.
Celebrate Autism Awareness Month by supporting autistic people. Do it all year round; not just when it's popular. This can include autistic people you know personally and those you've never met. Support autistic content creators. Read some memoirs by autistic authors. Educate yourself from reliable sources and pass it on to others.
If you ever want to come to me personally to (respectfully) discuss autism, ask questions, etc. I'd be happy to talk with you! Just know that my area of focus is autism in adults. I don't know the first thing about kids, autistic or not. Just a disclaimer. But I can always point you to other resources if needed!
Let's help make Autism Awareness Month a positive thing going forward. Let's fight for a more accepting society.
If you're looking for some good autism resources, see: