Hey Liberators! This week’s post is a short one, because next week’s post is going to include my own ever-so-informal research! OOOH, hey! Want to help me out with my research? Are you, or someone you know, raising a child who has not yet started kindergarten (ie, a child age 5 or under)? Do you have 15 minutes to take a survey on school options in your neighborhood?  You DO? HOORAY! Thanks!

Well, it is definitely SPRING here where I live. It’s that magical time of year where I don’t need to run the heat OR the air conditioning, the azaleas are blooming but the pine pollen hasn’t attacked yet, and I can sit on my patio without freezing, melting, or having to rake up twenty cubic feet of leaves.

But in all this idyll, there is a danger lurking.

You may not know it, but according to one of the best-known organizations that focuses on this issue, there is a monster lurking. One that will steal your children from you, bankrupt you for its own gain, destroy your marriage, and even stop you from practicing your religion. And according to the organization’s experts, this monster cannot be stopped.

To help spread the word about this monster, April has been declared Autism Bewareness Month.

Okay, even I can only handle the sarcasm for so long. That’s all I can stomach. But part of this is true: April is Autism Awareness Month in the United States.

Autism Awareness month is a campaign of Autism Speaks, and its purpose is to, apparently, get everyone to wear blue and light things with blue lights, which will educate people about Autism apparently?

Huh. Sounds like bullshit.

Autism Speaks, Shut Up Please
Hey I made a satirical thing, and since it’s satire, it’s legal!

See, here’s the thing. Awareness campaigns are usually for diseases*. “Check your breasts for lumps cuz Cancer kills.” “Vaccinate your baby cuz Whooping Cough kills.” “Wash your hands cuz the Flu sucks and sometimes kills.”

Autism is not a disease. It does not kill children. But you’d never know it if you watched some of Autism Speaks’s campaigns. Those (super messed up) things I wrote about Austism being a monster? All of that came directly from a PSA produced by Autism Speaks – one that I could only watch the first 40 seconds of because it was so upsetting (it’s so bad that I refuse to link to it. If you insist I give proof of its reality, feel free to comment). Autism Speaks hatefully portrays neurodivergent children as living monsters who seek to destroy their families; frightens their audience into calling these children a disease; pathologizes a condition that is a completely natural part of the human condition.

Autism Speaks doesn’t want you to be aware of Autism and therefore act more compassionately. They want you to beware, to fear Autism, and therefore use your resources to eliminate it. They want you to give them money so that they can look for a “cure” for Autism – so they can eradicate Autistic people.

Hm. Actually, you know what? I take it back. That isn’t bullshit.

It’s eugenics.

Autism is not bad. It’s just a different way of experiencing the world around us, and a different capacity for sensory stimuli. That doesn’t mean that being Autistic isn’t hard or painful sometimes. And it doesn’t mean that an Autism diagnosis is a damaging label.

tone it down taupe
“When we #ToneItDownTaupe, we do so to keep this important conversation going, but we also have another reason: We must ensure that the families of those special people tragically lacking autism do not feel alone”

What it does mean is that many Autistic people find it challenging to navigate certain aspects of mainstream society.

So what should the role of the general public be, if not to raise awareness? To promote acceptance.

This April, I urge all Liberators to take a couple of steps towards better understanding, accepting, and celebrating Autism and neurodivergence. Here are some ideas:

  • Read a blog written by an Autistic person, or follow an Autistic activist on your favorite social media.
  • Donate to Autistic Self-Advocacy Network or another Autistic-led group
  • Talk to your local activist groups about how they accommodate folks with atypical sensory needs
  • Do you help organize political events? Reach out to Autistic self-advocate groups for information on how to make your event accessible
  • Support Autistic artists, authors, performers, and educators (as in, pay for their labor)
  • Learn new language! Some common phrases used to talk about Autism (and disabilities in general) can be problematic:
    • High/low functioning: You cannot tell how well someone functions just by looking at them, and verbal ability in and of itself does not determine how well a person functions. Also, this is tricky because it brings up the question of “what does it mean to function?”
    • Person with Autism: Some folks prefer “Autistic person.” Others do not. It comes down to asking someone for their personal preference, using the terms they prefer, and not blindly applying one person’s choice to everyone else.
    • Referring to Autism as a mental illness: Autism is not an illness of any type.
    • Referring to kids with Autism as “suffering”: Stigma causes suffering. Punishing children for tending to their sensory needs (“stimming”) causes suffering. Bullying and cruelty cause suffering. Autism does not cause suffering.
  • Do campaign work to increase access to health care, therapeutic services, or assistive technology in your state. Medicaid is under attack, and many families and schools rely on medicaid to pay for crucial services!

So please, this April, don’t “light it up blue,” don’t donate to research for cures, and please don’t just half-ass awareness of Autism. Instead, do some work to make the world a better place to be Autistic. Remember: Solidarity is better than charity!

What else can we do to accept and celebrate neurodiversity? What does Autism Acceptance look like in schools? In community centers? In our homes? Let’s talk!

*Awareness campaigns are also for fundraising, but I don’t have time to fully dissect that today.

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