The PROBLEM with Autism Awareness Month – why Autistic people urge you not to Light Up Blue

 

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Hi everybody. My name is Christa Holmans, and I’m the Neurodivergent Rebel. When I was 29, I was suffering from autistic burnout and was diagnosed autistic … and only really started to get my life on track when I started to live a more authentic autistic lifestyle. A big, essential part of that for me is learning not to be ashamed of the things that make me autistic, and learning to be okay with and accepting of my weaknesses. And also, I’ve had to learn more about appreciating and focussing on my strengths because I’ve found that, for me personally, when I get too focussed on all the areas in which I struggle or could potentially do better, I lose sight of all of the things I’m good at. It can put me in a really bad headspace, and it’s not good for my self-esteem. I don’t think I’m alone in this. A lot of people, if they get too stuck on their problems, can get into a place that’s not so happy.

This brings me to one of the big problems with this coming April … “Autism Awareness Month.” So, what’s the controversy? Because depending on who you talk to, autism awareness month might sound like “Oh, this is a great idea! We’re going to raise awareness for autism.” But let’s look at this a little bit deeper, and what that actually means. Unfortunately, historically, in April we have these “awareness campaigns” and they tend to spread fear and have a very negative narrative where it says “Be aware of autism! It’s this thing we all have to fear!” And, as an autistic person, despite the fact that yes, there are some things that are difficult, and some aspects really can be disabling … it doesn’t mean I would ever want to give up being autistic. I am an autistic person; it’s just a part of who I am. My strengths and my weaknesses are equally tied into being autistic. There’s a duality there that is almost always lost on medical professionals and people who write these diagnostic handbooks. For example, autistic focus … it is definitely my biggest strength and at the same time, my biggest weakness. There is a duality there that I cannot define. But when we look in the medical textbooks and they talk about this, all they say is “abnormal focus” or “fixated, repetitive interests” … all of this gloom and doom, fear, negative … they’re not talking about the fact that yeah, okay, I can be so focussed that I forget to have relationships with people who care about me and I can forget to go to the bathroom or eat because I am so in the zone. Okay, those things are true. But that focus is also where all of my creativity comes from. It is where all of my deep thinking happens. It is my biggest strength. There is a duality to it – it’s not good, it’s not bad … it just IS. It is part of my and many autistic peoples’ experience.

The other problem with April and Autism Awareness Month is the “Light Up Blue” campaign that supports an organization in America that has a very bad history of being the organization that propels all of these really, really gloom and doom type of stories and narratives talking about how autistic kids’ parents are going to get divorced because their parents have such a hard life because their kids are autistic. Excuse me … with non-autistic kids, you tell them “Oh, it’s not your fault that mommy and daddy got divorced.” We know it’s not something you would ever put on a child. Why is that okay with autistic kids? It’s not! It’s not okay at all! So that’s another problem. And another thing is the blue … blue was the colour of this organization that shall not be named – you guys know who they are, we won’t give them credit – but this organization originally has this blue logo that perpetuates the myth that only autistic little boys are autistic, ignoring the fact that people of any gender can be autistic and that adults can be autistic and that these autistic kids will eventually grow up and become autistic adults. We’re here. We’re autistic. Get used to it. Okay people? We’re here.

And then the other problem that we have with this organization and a lot of these awareness, fearmongering campaigns is – yes, they are Voldemort! That is the winning comment of the day; that is not what I was going to say, but they’re evil. They are peddling therapies and quack cures and all of these things by scaring parents of newly diagnosed autistic children, saying “If you don’t get this therapy, your child will never be ‘normal.’” But normal shouldn’t be the goal. There is no normal child hiding under the autistic child. There is not a normal child in there; you have an autistic child. Autistic people … we’re born autistic. We will be autistic our entire lives; I didn’t know I was autistic for 29 years before I was diagnosed, but I was still autistic for 29 years, and I will be autistic when I’m a grey-haired person in the grave. I will still have – well, I guess maybe when I’m dead I might not be autistic anymore because my brain won’t be on, but – I will be autistic until the day I die at least. Maybe if I’m reincarnated, if that happens, I’ll come back as autistic. I have no idea, but at least from birth to death, you are autistic. And despite the fact that the ways we interpret and interact with the world and how we cope may evolve and it may change throughout the world, we’ve still got that basic autistic nature. Being true to that nature and going with your autistic nature, respecting yourself as a sensory being, respecting your limits and loving yourself, say “It’s okay just to be me” is so important. That is not the message these kids get when they are put into these therapies that are supposed to make them “normal” or “less autistic” or “appear normal.” It sends a message that really just stabs at the self-esteem of that individual that who they are naturally isn’t good enough.

So, that’s the problem with Autism “Awareness Month” and why a lot of autistic people really dislike April. If you want to help this month, there are other hashtags you can participate in that support autistic people. There is the #OurGoldenMoment right now movement that is going. There is #GoingGold. There is #RedInstead. I have the hashtag that I’ve put up, and I don’t think that it’s mine (I don’t want to claim it) but I use is #AnythingButBlue But really, what you can do is, when you see someone sharing something this month … read it. Look at it and see does this paint autism like something we need to be afraid of? Does this respect autistic people? Is this an autistic voice speaking? Or is this a non-autistic person speaking about autistic people? Because this month, I think it’s about time that we let autistic people share what autism is and speak for ourselves, and we need your help if you’re not autistic and even if you are autistic, to help amplify our voices and share autistic perspectives this month in April.

Thank you, guys, so much for hanging out with this quick live. I just had a few thoughts and I wanted to get them out here really quick as we are getting into this month and – ugh, I’m eating hair because that’s delicious. It tastes like blue … not really – anyway guys, thank you so much. You be safe, be well. I hope you are surviving okay in quarantine. Until next time, I’ll talk to you next week.

 

 

#ActuallyAutistic #AutismAwarenessWeek #autisticgold #redinstead #AutismAcceptance

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