>If you’re actively involved in autistic self advocacy, are autistic yourself, have an autistic sibling, an autistic friend, an autistic partner/spouse, an autistic child, or an autistic friend, you have no doubt run into an “Autism Awareness” event, either advertised on the internet, or gone to one in your community. They’re usually marked by an emphasis on children with autism, a plethora of puzzle ribbons, and a decided feeling that it is not for autistic people at all, but rather, designed for relatives (read: Parents and guardians) of people with autism. These events usually don’t take place in autistic-friendly environments, have loud noise, large crowds, and sickeningly bright and flashy décor as part of the package. Usually the speakers will be doctors, parents, representatives from charities, but rarely autistic people themselves. The focus of these lectures will typically be how to curb or mask autistic behavioural traits like stimming, the latest in ABA techniques, or sales representatives for chelating agents and alternative medicine.
Sometimes this isn’t the case, but let’s face it: Autism Awareness is so 20 years ago.
Back when autism was a relatively unknown thing, occurring in a scattering of families who didn’t particularly talk about it publicly or bring their children out to play with others or integrate them into regular schools, an Autism Awareness event made more sense.
Nowadays though, with 1 in 100 of us having some form of autism, the spectrum being recognized as varying from nonverbal to chatterbox, and every teacher, caretaker, doctor, therapist, and babysitter knowing about autism, Autism Awareness doesn’t make sense, either as a phrase, or as a marker for an event about autism. The misconceptions are still rapid and widespread, but Autism Awareness doesn’t seem to be working towards rectifying the stereotypes. Since the events are typically put on by non autistics for non autistics, they do little to reach out to autistic adults who may be starved for the chance to enrich their lives with knowledge of their disability and resources, or even get a diagnosis.
But an event geared towards Autism Acceptance can make a fundamental paradigm shift in public events geared towards autism a reality. Autism Acceptance forces people to re-examine their prejudices, find out what it means to be autistic from an autistic person, and takes the focus off of curing and more on improving the quality of life of autistic people who need help now in building and maintaining productive, meaningful lives.
So, next time you see one of these events, I dare you to ask the coordinators, either in an email or in person, what they hope to accomplish with their event, and challenge them to rethink doing an Autism Awareness event, and gear it towards Autism Acceptance. Tell them what a difference it could make to reach out to autistic adults in their community by asking them to be involved with their project. Ask them to book an autistic speaker. Ask about putting it in a sensory-friendly environment or making a sensory friendly environment so autistic people won’t be alienated from attending.
Or better yet: Put on your own. Start small and work your way up. You never know what will come of it.