World Autism Awareness Day is big bucks these days, and organisations, businesses and even government buildings around the world are now “lighting it up blue” for autism. While pretty blue buildings and monuments are undoubtedly pleasing from a sensory perspective, this year I urge you to reconsider your support of their campaign. Here’s why.
While doing stunts for charitable causes can
tbe beneficial in some cases (how many of you had heard of ALS before the Ice Bucket Challenge barreled across social media?), just like the pinkified Breast Cancer Awareness industry, Autism does not need more awareness.
We are already “aware” of autism – what autistic people need from society is more widespread education about our neurological differences, and willingness from the neurotypical majority to accommodate us in situations they may never have considered before as “unfriendly” to autistic people.
No amount of fundraising, puzzle piece t-shirts or baking blue cupcakes is going to change the fact that we live in a world designed at almost every turn to accommodate neurotypicals, with very little thought to improving the lives of actually autistic people, especially autistic adults.
So you want to be an ally but don’t know where to start? Ask your autistic friends or family members how you can accommodate them, and what triggers them. Become aware of their particular needs and sensitivities, for example:
- Do they struggle to hold a conversation with more than one person or with background noise?
- Do they get stressed or confused when plans change or when you are ambiguous with your words?
- Do they heavily mask and then need days (or even weeks) to socially recover?
- Do their facial expressions not match their internal emotions?
If you are a business owner that serves the general public, consider how you can be more inclusive of those with different needs. Do you own a shop? Maybe reconsider the use of very bright lighting or loud music for “atmosphere”. Do you have a restaurant? Then make sure you take bookings online or by e-mail. Ask autistic people what they need and actually LISTEN to them.
Autistic people don’t need gimmicks, buildings lit up in our honour, or for you to change your profile picture to a puzzle piece. (Pro tip: many autistic people hate the puzzle piece and what it represents)
And we certainly don’t need a cure.