Awareness Acceptance week at the time of writing. It’s a week in the UK, a month everywhere else – which you’d think a week would be better, but it actually intensifies everything.
Many Autistic people despise April, because it’s not only a mess of money making schemes for Autism charities (if you’re raising money for Autism, check yourself, you aren’t, that money is going to a charity, not Autistic people), but also because of the amount of awful language, childish brightly coloured jigsaw pieces and inspiration porn that gets banded about around this time.
Not to mention a certain hashtag involving blue which does nothing but promote an awful American organisation.
The invalidation many Autistic people feel during April has been dented only by the fact that for a number of years there has been an anti-awareness campaign.
It sounds like a bit of a paradox doesn’t it?! But basically it’s a counter campaign to push gold instead of blue (A similar one runs in America around the colour red). #Red instead is about literally picking a colour that isn’t blue to attach to Autism, but the gold campaign is slightly different.
It was originated by the Âutistic ûnion, an Autistic-led Advocacy group. Âutistic ûnion is built around the fact that not only are ‘Au’ the first two letters of Autism and Autistic, but also that ‘Au’ is the chemical symbol for gold. So they created #LightItUpGold
Gold has always been something that has been highly valued and strived for, so why not for once associate Autism with something positive, while not dismissing the various challenges faced by many of us in very different ways, why not look at strengths and not deficits, why not support Autistic people to be the best they can be, however that looks, why not stop being abjectly fucking negative about us – why not just accept.
People think that Acceptance is something about being uber-positive and ignoring people’s needs, it’s actually someting very different.
‘Awareness’ is a passive term, it means you are aware of something, nothing more, with Autism merely that you’ve heard of a word. Accepting pushes that on, it means listening, learning, understand, empathising, getting off your backside and actually making a difference.
Not everyone can do that of course, but it also means, in a wider sense, accepting that there are many different people in the world who need to do things differently to you. As long as that has no negative impact on you, move out of the way or help. Its as simple as that.
More and more organisations and people are recognising gold as a symbolic colour for Autistic people and either gold infinity loops (Autism) or rainbow infinity loops (Neurodiversity).
Last year venues and monuments across the North East of England and other places across the UK and Ireland were lit up gold in a campaign that I worked on and was proactively supported by the North East Autism Society – in fact they ran with it, because they saw what a useful teaching tool it is.
Autistic UK, an Autistic-led organisation has pushed it’s own form of #LightItUpGold
Separate to my business as The Autistic Adovocate, my Social Enterprise, Infinite Autism, uses a gold infinity loop as it’s logo:
And the North East Autism Society:
More and more places, people and organisations need to start recognising the negative narrative of Autism and the harm it represents. I speak a lot about the language, but the infantilising images play a part in that too.
Dr Amy Pearson is a Developmental Psychologist and clinical researcher at the University of Sunderland.
We’re good friends, we are both big advocates for Autism Acceptance and both regularly become frustrated at the amount of ridiculous myths that float around about Autism, not only in society and through the media, but those perpetuated by national and international institutions, Professional organisations, Autism charities and Researchers and Clinicians.
This rhetoric that perpetuates around Autism, this whole negative narrative that drives the mess that we live under where people are still judged and labelled as either competent or incompetent, ‘intelligent’ or ‘unintelligent’ dependent on their ability to form recognisable words verbally, absolutely infuriates me and it absolutely infuriates Amy too.
Not ONLY all this, but the fact that, to coin a phrase by a certain American I don’t like very much, you could almost say we are awash with Autism fake news.
In order to counter this wave of misconceptions and fake news, Amy decided to
go on a rant educate the masses with a series of factual Tweets and didn’t have a choice has kindly allowed me to pull them all together into a Blog post.
So I give you Dr Amy Pearson:
Its #AutismAcceptance week, so in lieu of all of the absolute tosh that you often here about autistic people, here are some facts:
1. Autistic people are born autistic, it doesnt magically appear later on, and it doesnt ‘go away’ as someone gets older.
2. Autistic people are less ‘rare’ than you think. Though we often hear the stat ‘1 in 88’, it is likely that there are many more autistic people than this. As we develop better knowledge about different ways of being autistic, we start to realise that:
3. Recognising autism isnt limited to ‘external presentations’, or what we SEE. Its also about how people ‘feel’, and what the experience of being autistic is like. Many people go undiagnosed, and a clinician thinking you dont meet criteria does make you any less autistic.
4. Which means we NEED better diagnostic tools, or, hear me out, a massive bloody shift in how we conceptualise neurodiversity. Im not saying that diagnosis isnt useful, but you know, maybe we could have a society where in order to get the support one needs, we dont NEED a diagnosis
5. This would take a very long tweet, and is perhaps better suited to a blog post, but tldr (Too Long Didn’t Read): gatekeeping exists, and is a bane on neurodivergent lives.
6. Autistic people dont lack empathy, or the desire for relationships. Well, maybe some do, but so do many non-autistic people. Rather, grand sweeping statements based on flawed research dont apply to every autistic person. Who’da thunk it?
7. Research around autistic people is starting to improve, but we still have a LONG way to go. Co-design, more autistic researchers, reconceptualisations, and not feeling personally attacked when our research is criticised will help drive this forward…
8. Its easy as a researcher to be overly defensive of your work, but its important to listen to the experts. Experience DOES equal expertise, and can enrich understanding massively.
9. Masking is not ‘sneaky autism’, it is a multifactorial, all encompassing, internally-grounded experience. Not all people ‘externally’ mask, and many people dont realise that they mask at all because its become so ‘inbuilt’.
10. Autistic people deserve autonomy, respect, kindness, and to be listened to. Being aware is a start, but being accepting is the goal.
So if one Psychologist who has a tiny bit of responsibility in the grand scheme of the Autism narrative, can not only see this, but make changes to accomodate this, why can’t more?
Dr Amy Pearson’s latest research on Mate Crime amongst Autistic people is available here under the title: Experiences of Interpersonal Victimisation in Autistic and Non-Autistic Adults (It’s also opensource and free to download, if that changes let me know)
And her University profile is here.
And if you really want to stalk her, here’s Amy’s Twitter, though don’t tell her I gave it to you: https://twitter.com/DrAmyPearson