I will warn you in advance this piece is a little bit of a diatribe. I should first acknowledge that there are some distinct positives around having a time to promote understanding around autism and many groups – Autistic-run and otherwise – do some great work using Autism Awareness April as a starting point. I would not want to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ in this. However I struggle with Autism Awareness April quite a lot. Some of my struggles include:
- It is an odd premise that awareness alone is a good thing. Every bully I have ever been victimised by in my life has been acutely aware of my autism – or at least that I was somehow different.
- Awareness alone is an unhelpful concept. Awareness is the very first baby step in inclusion. There are many other steps which should be promoted as well. Things like empowerment, understanding, love and acceptance.
- Many of the ‘awareness’ activities are not done in consultation with Autistic people. I see April as an event done ‘for’ us not ‘with’ us. I tend to think the first rule of inclusion is not to do things ‘for’ a group of people who face disadvantage. The disappointing irony is that April – which is meant to be about autism is so often not experienced as inclusive by many Autistic people.
- April as autism awareness moth was not initiated by Autistic people themselves. It is something we have bee ‘gifted’ by the UN. I really have difficulty in this. I see it as a bit like creating and promoting an event around celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures but with no Aboriginal or Torres Start Islander involvement and then expecting Indigenous Australians to get on board with it. I often feel like ‘Autism Awareness’ has nothing in it at all for me.
- It generates some very difficult conversations. The world outside of the autism community often does not know a lot about issues within our community. This is quite understandable. I mean if they don’t have a connection to autism why would they know about issues facing us in any great detail? I find I get genuinely well-meaning neurotypicals proudly telling me they are wearing blue for April which makes me feel very conflicted indeed, to the extent that I have a prepared statement for this situation. I dislike having to repeatedly explain why I am not delighted it is April and why I am not wearing blue and a bunch of puzzle piece-themed things.
So I have posed a number of issues around April and autism awareness here but I try to never pose an issue without offering a solution. The solutions in this issue are potentially quite numerous and thy can be applied at a number of levels. SO in keeping wth the need to limit length in my blog, i have picked one audience for my suggested strategies. Here is a selection of things I would like to see in happening April aimed at non-autistic individuals and organisations.
- Be aware that there are many, many different viewpoints in the Autistic community. There is not one Autistic position on the issues around April and people’s opinions and thinking will most likely change over time.
- Take on board Autistic requests around events and branding, such as not wanting to ‘light it up blue..’
- Remember that we are not usually being ‘radical’. Things like autistic involvement in events and services which impact us is a reasonable request. Radicalism usually happens where there is a need for it such as when there is discrimination or abuse.
- Be aware that we may be more stressed and sensitive than usual on April for a range of reasons
- If you are planning an event, have autistic involvement in it at as many stages as possible.
- Read some blogs by autistic writers. There are plenty of them out there and there are some great ones which have loads of helpful advice and information.
- Remember that being given the blue cupcake at the work morning tea might be the final straw for an autistic person and they might just feel totally ‘over’ April.
- And be aware that an Autistic person might happily embrace and celebrate April 2 as ‘their day’ and they might want to celebrate with you. We are ask quite different.