Continue to advocate and educate yourself after Autism Acceptance Month

Lasirra Hines, Entertainment Editor

It’s Autism Awareness Month, or what should be and is now being called Autism Acceptance Month. Today, there is constant misrepresentation and lack of knowledge when it comes to autism, and awareness isn’t going to do anything if neurotypical people don’t accept that autism is not what they assume it is.

According to sophomore Madeleine Starr, the context and subtext for awareness isn’t helpful.

“The context of autism awareness is that it was made by Autism Speaks, which is a hate group that labels autism as a disease in need for a cure,” Starr said. “With this ‘awareness’ I would argue that the subtext is an awareness for an ailment or a flaw, one that promotes for a cure and those afflicted are ‘broken.’”

Organizations — such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Autistic Meets Autistic, Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network — come up with and promote activism and awareness and strive to help autistic people overcome the struggles. Many of these organizations, including the ones I listed, are great and super helpful, however others are very harmful and don’t actually help autistic people. Autism Speaks is one of the most well known organizations, and is also one of the most harmful. In 2018, 48% of the budget went to “awareness and lobbying,” 27% went to research, 20% went to fundraising, four percent went to miscellaneous things and only one percent went to family services, as shown from the Autism Speaks 990 Non-Profit Tax Exemption Form from 2018. According to the website “In the Loop About Neurodiversity,” other bad/harmful organizations include The Autism Community in Action, AutismOne, Autism Society and National Autistic Society. 

There are symbols that are proven to be harmful, including the puzzle piece, which is used by Autism Speaks. The puzzle piece is not a sign of support. It was created because people thought autistic people were suffering from a “puzzling” disorder and began using it, which only fueled the concept that autism is a disease that can be fixed/cured. Using the rainbow or gold infinity symbol is much better than using the puzzle piece. Don’t “Light It Up Blue,” and instead use “Red Instead” or “Light It Up Gold.”

The ideology that autism is a disease or illness that can be cured resulted in Applied Behavior Analysis therapy. ABA therapy isn’t beneficial for autistic people at all, and continues to see autism as something that can be “fixed.” It teaches autistic people “acceptable social behaviors,” to suppress neurodivergent behaviors and conform to allistic and neurotypical standards.

Just like every other month where awareness is brought to a minority group, activism from people who aren’t autistic is usually short lived and doesn’t extend past the month. It’s not like autistic people suddenly don’t matter after the month of April, and that all their struggles stop. It’s not like autistic people suddenly aren’t autistic anymore. Autistic girls, women, black, indegnious and people of color are usually diagnosed late, misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all since autism research has always been centered around white males, according to Psychology Today. In the autistic community, self-diagnosing can give some access to self understanding and community support, and is completely valid. 

Due to the stigma, many autistic people end up masking their behavior, including controlling impulses — such as stimming — and mimicking socially accepted behavior. 

People shouldn’t be ridiculed if they stim, which is self-stimulatory behavior that helps autistic people cope with sensory overload, anxiety and overwhelming emotions. Most stims are repetitive motions, but can be a range of different actions, including verbal stims. Stimming doesn’t hurt anyone. People should be able to be themselves without being told that who they are is wrong or not normal. 

“It’s a fundamental condition that is in the very chemical makeup of the brain,” Starr said. “You cannot remove it without removing the personhood.”

Moreover, there is terminology that is not acceptable. High-functioning and low-functioning labels creates a hierarchy of autistic people. Function labels are also reductive because functioning is not fixed or consistent across skills. Don’t use terms such as non-verbal, but rather nonspeaking. Don’t try to classify it by saying severe, moderate, mild, just simply say autism/autistic. Autism isn’t a linear scale, and shouldn’t be seen as such. 

“We need to end autism’s stereotypes, and think about autism fundamentally differently,” Starr said, “because how we think about it now is a binary, with the high and low functioning. But in reality, that’s not at all how it works. People have different attributes, and each different strengths and weaknesses. To put it in a confined binary does an untold amount of harm.”

I cannot speak for the autism community, but as an ally, I can still speak up and educate even after April ends. Listening to autistic people, not assuming you know things about them — especially those in other minorities and those that have different needs — are all productive ways to support the autism community. 

“As an autistic person, we work and worry over conversation while neurotypicals don’t do the same amount of labor when in conversation,” Starr said.

While donating to and supporting good organizations is great, it’s substantially better to support an autistic person directly.

“Instead of donating to or raising funds for an [organization] this month, consider supporting an autistic person directly,” a post by ‘cryptidcripple’ on Instagram said. “We can speak for ourselves, please just actually try to listen.”