Posted in Advocacy, autism

A Guide to Autism Awareness Month (By an Autistic Girl)

April is autism awareness month, so you might well come across information floating around about autism online. For many autistic people, especially autistic advocates, can find this month difficult or have mixed feelings around it – not all the information circulating will be correct or portray a positive narrative, and this can be frustrating, stigmatising, and exhausting to correct. So here is a short guide on how to navigate autism awareness month for autistics and neurotypicals (people who do not have autism and are not neurodivergent) alike:

The Ground Rules

Firstly, let’s lay some ground rules for autism awareness month – the stuff you really should know. When you read something about autism online, do not automatically assume it’s true. If it’s written by an autistic person, then it’s generally trustworthy. If it shows autism as a problem to be fixed, or a desperate life, then it’s not to be listened to. And if it comes from ‘Autism Speaks’ then completely ignore it (more on that later). Next, make sure you are not correcting autistic people on their own experience, or trying to speak over them. Instead, uplift autistic voices – and all autistic voices. We are as diverse as the world, and we all have value, so make sure you’re paying attention to LBGTQ autistics, Black autistics, non-verbal autistics, autistics with higher support needs… all of us! Finally, don’t use the #actuallyautistic hashtag if you’re not autistic, it’s a hashtag we use to find each other and to identify posts by autistic people.

Acceptance not Awareness

While becoming more aware of the diversity and lived experience of autistic people is amazing, and helps to de-stigmatise autism, it’s not enough. Furthermore, sometimes the idea of awareness can become a connotation of a problem that needs to be solved or cured, which autism is not. So during this month, you may see it called ‘autism acceptance month’ instead. That’s because what autistic people really need is acceptance. More than that we need to be accommodated and valued in society, because every single one of has worth no matter where our traits lie on the spectrum, and when accommodated to we can do so much. So please, make sure that this month you are also thinking about and working on your acceptance and accommodation of autistic people. If you want to read more about why I think autism is amazing, please read my post ‘Autism is My Superpower’ here.

All Year Round

The fact is that autistic people are always autistic – all year round. That means that you cannot only work on accepting autistic people during the month of April. Including us, accommodating us, appreciating us and loving us is a full time job. And it’s important, maybe even paramount, to note that accepting autistic people isn’t just about accepting those who have a diagnosis or are public about that diagnosis. Many of us can’t be open with our diagnosis, or are uncomfortable about being open with it (which is why we need your help to de-stigmatise autism). Many people don’t even know they are autistic. So what does that mean for you? It means accepting the weird kid who only talks about the same few topics or can’t make eye contact, and saying hello to them, regardless of what response you might get. It means not laughing at the way in which someone flaps their hand or the odd noises they make. It’s about being sensitive to the person who finds light and sound overstimulating. It means accommodating the quiet girl, even when she can’t talk at all. It means caring.

No Autism Speaks

You may have heard/ hear about Autism Speaks’ light it up blue campaign, supposedly in support of autistic people. However autism speaks have been hugely damaging to the autism community, portraying autism as a thing that destroys lives and families, and something that needs to be solved. They also do not help autistic people in a financial sense – only a tiny portion of their budget (I believe 4%) actually goes towards autistic people and their families, while their CEO receives an obnoxious amount. Furthermore, not one person on their board actually has autism, which is an outrageous sign that they do not listen to us. So instead of lighting it up blue, please light it up red, a way we are combating Autism Speaks, and use the rainbow infinity symbol instead of the blue puzzle piece of this organisation.

A Guide for The Autistics

This month might get overwhelming for you, especially if you are trying to correct information online or advocate a lot. So this is my reminder for us to check in with ourselves and allow ourselves time to rest and do what we enjoy as well. If you are feeling worn out maybe reach out to someone who knows you well also and ask them for a bit of extra support. You are under no obligation to do anything this month if you don’t want to. And maybe while everyone else is working on their acceptance of us, we can also try to accept ourselves. It’s something we can struggle with as autistic people. But we are so valid, and honestly really awesome.

Thank you so much for reading. If you have any questions please do drop them in the comments, and feel free to get in contact. Sending all my love and support!

Posted in Advocacy, autism, Personal Growth

Autism is My Superpower

I’m autistic. Having autism in a neurotypical world is not easy because generally the world isn’t built for us and proves to be confusing, but for anyone struggling with their diagnosis/ symptoms (and any neurotypicals unclear on the individual nature of autism) I want to make it clear that having autism isn’t a defect. Nor is it a mental illness. In fact, it can be a bonus in many situations, and when accommodated to autistic people can provide new perspectives and skills to the benefit of others. I, for one, like to think that my autism is my superpower, and this is my personal experience:

I learnt to ‘mask’ my autism – consciously learning how to act and react from other people’s behaviour; having to put effort into learning social rules that came naturally to others. Masking can be exhausting, so I know it’s essential that I take breaks and find time for myself, but like a superhero in a costume, it can also be powerful. How? Because my passion is theatre, and when I become the character I act out on stage, I am easily able to slip myself into their shoes – I know how they would behave and why. It comes effortless to me. The misconception is that autistic people are like robots and can only slot into certain careers. In reality we are varied like everyone else, and our uniqueness is incredible. We exist in every identity there is: every race, every gender, every sexuality, as parents and children. Our variety is often overlooked.

My increased sensory input is a key feature of my superpower. I observe more, hear more, taste more. This translates to a benefit in so many situations. You don’t know your train time? Don’t worry, I glanced at the board quickly and noticed it. You’re lost and don’t know the way back? Don’t worry, I spotted landmarks along the way, I know where we’re going. You’re trying to remember where you put your glasses? Never fear, I spotted them. And if we’re thinking about sound and music, my greater sensory input comes to my aid once again – that along with my ability to spot patterns as part of my autism, and my synaesthesia (which is far more prevalent among autistic people than the general population). When I hear a piece of music, it is alive to me. It is full of colour, I hear every layer of the rich instruments, and I can see the patterns the notes are forming. If I want to then play that piece on piano, I need only translate the pattern onto the keys – give me a bit of time and I can paint the picture I hear all by myself. This is my superpower. 

Not to mention the fact that I am quite simply neurodivergent. I think experience the world in a way that is different to ‘the norm’, or rather the majority. Why is this a feature of my superpower? Because I can come up with new ideas and perspectives that may have been overlooked or not thought of at all. In certain situations this can become the way I overcome challenges or help others to do so; in the right combination my divergent thinking could be innovative. Us autistic people have a place in this society, no matter where our traits lie on the spectrum, and if we are accommodated we may even be able to offer solutions, certainly valuable contributions at the least. 

Like a superhero may have an emblem, sign, or symbol, I have my stims. By stims I mean self stimulatory behaviour. Why is this so amazing? Well, it indicates to me how I am feeling (different stims, like tapping my fingers on my palm or twirling my ankle, correspond to different moods). Not only this, but should I start to feel an uncomfortable emotion, stimming freely can help calm me down. There’s a lot of people out there that don’t have something so simple in their toolbox, so this is powerful to me. It’s also such a pure form of expression, and can even help me release my creativity, tapping into my flow. Furthermore, my stims evolve over time – hitting my head morphed into covering my head and now I need only put on a hat to feel at home. How awesome is that? 

This barely scratches the surface of my positive autistic experience, but I hope it has enlightened you. Autism is not a bad thing – quite the opposite. And the beautiful part of it is that no one autistic person’s experience is the same as another. We have a place in this world, and we’re not going anywhere, so the more that neurotypicals begin to understand and help us meet our needs, the more we can give.