It’s World Autism Day and you (yes you) can be better.

Happy World Autism Day!

I am so happy that there is a day, week, and month devoted to being more aware. Lately, it seems like there are more and more places where autism is mentioned and explored – television, movies, books, and even commercials.

There is a wonderful movement of a lot of different kinds of people being more visible. For the most part, this leads to people being more open to understanding how other people think and live. This is a great thing, but it is not a perfect thing. The rise in visibility can also give rise to some bad behavior.

Autism Awareness is still getting its sea legs

There are always going to be people who act poorly when people are more visible – the people who spread lies and misconceptions on purpose. There can also be questionable behavior that comes from people with good intentions of spreading visibility, too, like people who are not autistic who write autistic characters (from their point of view), or portray autistic characters as actors. Then there are people who capitalize on spreading the word, and while that is not concretely a bad thing, I feel uneasy about it.

As awareness spreads, we are still trying to figure out what is best for everyone – those with autism and those without autism, and how we can all thrive together. While we are getting our bearings we are running into some growing pains. It is understandable that people with good intentions might make missteps, but it is also important that we are aware of what those missteps are so we don’t continue to promote them.

I am not autistic, and I could never claim to know what it feels like to be autistic. I care for autistic people, but I don’t always know what is best for them. I never know what is best for all autistic people. This makes it hard to talk about, and hard to learn about, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be talked about and learned about. I know I can try to be better every day.

I’m going to try my best to express my disjointed thoughts here. Please let me know if I’ve gotten anything wrong, or if there is anything more I can learn.

Neurotypical is a problematic word- and here’s why

Neurotypical is often used to describe someone who is not on the autistic spectrum, but that is not correct. People can be atypical neurologically, and not have autism. It can be for another reason completely. Autism is a complex developmental diagnosis. Pretending that “neurotypical” is binary with “autistic” is irresponsible with language.

Language is always changing, and it can be a challenge to keep up with, but language really matters. It is important to think about what you are saying and why you are saying it.

Neurotypical is a word that gained popularity around the 1990s. It was used for a long time to mean “not autistic.” There is a term which means exactly “not autistic” : allistic (coined in 2003). These two terms – autistic and allistic – are equal and binary. Neither one inherently has any good or bad connotations.

Neurotypical, on the other hand, has a connotation that it is that way people are “supposed” to be, at least to some people. Those people might think that the best way to treat people who are “not like them” is to get them to act the way they are “supposed to.”

In fact, many treatment milestones and celebrations only happen when the autistic person acts “more neurotypically.” There are some campaigns that do a lot of “work” to minimize the number of autistic people there are, and try to “cure” autism.

Autism is not something to be cured

For a long time, research into autism was to identify it early enough to cure or even prevent autism. Getting a diagnosis of autism was seen as an earth shattering event – especially to parents who hear it about their children.

A good amount of why it is seen that way is because it is still believed that autism means something bad. Also, it is still believed that “success” is when an autistic person acts more “typical.”

Instead, we can change the ideas of people of the world to accept autistic people for who they are. This simple concept shouldn’t seem so far-fetched. The fact that some people don’t “fit in” to societal norms doesn’t mean there is something wrong with them – it means that there is something wrong with the society that we’ve made. How does it make sense for our society to work for one group of people and not another?

No matter who you are, who you are is normal and typical for you, and it is a good way to be.

A World For Autistic People

If you are allistic, imagine a society that was based around autism. Imagine a world where it was rude to look people in the eyes or touch people in a friendly way. It is not normal to have objects that make loud noises or shine bright lights. It is not expected of people to interpret other peoples’ emotions. Nonverbal communication is standard. It is not seen as weird for people to move their bodies how they want to.

Now imagine if you, an allistic person, were forced to change how you want to live. Imagine people yelled at you for looking at them in the eye. Imagine it was frowned upon if you wanted to hug or cuddle someone. It was only thought that you were socially developing when you learned to play by yourself. You were considered a nuisance if you lost interest in something you have been playing with for an hour already.

If you showed signs of allism as a child, your parents felt like their world was over, and that they had to shield you from the rest of the world. If you knew you had allism, you felt like you had to camouflage it every time you interacted with someone. On an every day basis you would hear people casually imply or even directly say they would rather their children die than be like you.

This wouldn’t be a great society to live in, would it?

How we can live in harmony

If we all work together and to make the difficult changes, we don’t have to let people be treated like that anymore. It seems impossible to change all of society, but everyone can make changes in their own behaviors and how they treat the people around them.

You can make sure the people in your circle – the people who you have influence over – know that you believe autistic people are equal to allistic people. Whether you or the people around you are autistic or allistic, you can always ask more questions about why the people who are close to you act the way they act, and why they live the way they live. You can seek to understand what makes the people around you comfortable and uncomfortable, and be more open to expressing that about yourself, as well.

We can shed the unnecessary rules we live by, and start to care about as many people as possible.

Instead of promoting “autism awareness” let’s promote “autism acceptance.” Wear #redinstead, and strive to understand why you are supporting the causes you support. Strive to understand other people as much as possible.

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