What is dubbed autism awareness week will commence between the 26th of March and the 2nd of April, with April itself credited as an autism awareness month. Organisations such as the National Autistic Society are marking the occasion. Yet, while we take the time to celebrate our identity, we autistics will need to consider the challenges we face as a community.
We will also need to deal with the problems we face in education and employment. A 2016 study by the National Autistic Society stated that only 16% of autistics were in employment in the United Kingdom. Access to welfare also poses its own challenge as benefits such as PIP (the Personal Independence Payment), as those with hidden disabilities face a particular barrier in applying for their welfare.
These barriers are not due to our autism, but rather due to a failure by neurotypicals to accept our access needs and due to ableist discrimination. We face stigma by that which instead of trying to understand us would demonise us, as too noted with the anti-vaccination’s movement rhetoric which sets a preference to have dead children rather than healthy living autistic children. Our fellow autistics in America are all too familiar with the hate group that calls itself Autism Speaks, which uses the language of ‘autism awareness’ to promote a discriminative image of autistics, comparing us to cancer. They portray autistic adults and children not as humans but as burdens on society. In the United Kingdom there have been attempts to use “treatments” such as MME (essentially bleach) that are dangerous to autistic folks. There are also mistreatments among services; the National Autism Society has itself proved to be a liability, with the abuse found at the care home they ran in Somerset. Our human rights, as the United Nations notes, have been violated. We also face failures in workplaces and other spaces to adjust to our needs, instead focusing on having us ‘act normal’ rather than accept who we are.
It is critical that the voices of autistic activists are raised against this tide of discrimination against us.
This can be a time of reclaiming. Autism rights advocacy has moved to take April as autism acceptance month. We must ensure that anything about us is not just with us, but by us. To quote the motto of the Disabled People’s Movement, among which is the American based Autistic Self Advocacy Network: “nothing about us without us!” Let us henceforth champion a move away from mere awareness, ‘the about us without us,’ towards acceptance; the of us, by us. This should be a time for autistics by autistics, not about autistics by allistics AKA non-autistics. We need to raise against our marginalisation, for we must and will stand for our rights.
To my fellow autistics: Let us come together in showing our discontent towards that which marginalises us and campaign for the rights of we and our fellow disabled folks.
To the neutrotypicals reading this: this is our time to speak, not simply to be spoken of. If you wish to ally with us, then we will welcome you as long you do not come in as a “saviour” to speak for us for then you would be hindering us. Autistic people can speak for themselves and we will want you to listen to us.
As a consideration, I would suggest to both my fellow autistics and our allies to read Kit Albrecht’s guide to understand how we move towards a campaign of acceptance.
Together we can stand with our fellow Disabled people for our rights and the rights of all. Disability rights champions a prideful defiance against a society that chooses to marginalise disabled folk at their peril; autistics have their part to play in this boldness.
By George Albert Ayres