Ngā kaipānui kia ora
When I tell people about Autistic Pride they say, “how can you be proud of something that you have no control over? That doesn’t make sense? How can you be proud of being Autistic?”Lyric Holmans, Neurodivergent Rebel
April is Autism Awareness month, and today, Saturday 2nd April is World Autism Awareness Day. It’s a time when many autistic people “go into hiding”. Why? Because autism is still portrayed as a bogeyman – something that is undesirable, that destroys families, causes misery to “sufferers”, that needs to be eliminated. No it’s not. From my perspective, autism describes a way of perceiving and experiencing the world that is different from the way the majority of the population perceives and experiences the world. It’s not so much about deficits and disabilities, it’s about an alternate way of being. The bogeyman, if there is one, is that the non-autistic world writes of the autistic world as something undesirable.
So back to the question “How can you be proud of being Autistic?” I’d answer by saying “In the same way one can be proud of being gay or black or trans or Māori or Native American or…”. It’s a way of saying “Even though society devalues me for being who I am, and puts obstacles in my path that limits my ability to develop to my potential, I deserve to be recognised as a worthy and valuable member of society, and my rights and needs are no less important than the rights and needs of anyone else”.
I object to having an Autism Awareness month for the same reason I’d object to a Gay Awareness month of a Māori Awareness month. Look at it this way: there isn’t anyone who isn’t aware of there being gay people, trans people or people of colour, but that does not prevent the likes of racists, homophobes and transphobes from spreading hate and disinformation about them. It doesn’t prevent normal, intelligent people from failing to appreciate the social barriers that are placed in the way of individuals who are members of minority groups – in other words intentional and unintentional discrimination.
Likewise, I doubt that today there is a single person who isn’t aware of autism. For goodness sake, in some quarters, there’s panic about an “autism epidemic” being accelerated by vaccines or 5G or plastics or the New World Order or GMOs or… something. In fact it’s nothing more that a growing realisation within the health sector of what autism actually is. What is sad is if they had consulted with actually autistic people instead of making lab rats of us, they would have had that “Ah ha” moment long ago.
What we need is not awareness, but acceptance at a minimum. Better yet would be valuing the alternative perspectives that autistics and other other forms of neurodiversity bring to society. Because Autistic people perceive and experience society and the world differently, we express our experiences and understandings differently. Accept that our differences are not deficits, but are a valuable and important part of the diversity that makes the human species what it is.