Many noble causes have days, weeks and even months to raise their profile. Issues such as black history, gay rights and women’s rights all have months to mark the past struggles of marginalised groups in society. In this respect, autistic people are no different.
This spring sees both Autism Awareness Week and Autism Awareness Month take place. Kicking off on Monday 27th March, the purpose of both is to shine a spotlight on all things autism. At the same time, Autism Acceptance Month is celebrated by autistic activists the world over, including in the UK.
Awareness month is the go-to event for many big charities, including the National Autistic Society. Autism Acceptance Month is celebrated by many self-aware autistic people. They see ‘awareness’ as something that highlights the negatives associated with the condition, rather than the positives.
Not enough time
A month may seem like a long time to put autism on a pedestal. However, considering some of the issues faced by autistic people and parents/carers, it’s something that needs to be discussed for far longer. Having a month set aside to focus on autism and what it is to be autistic is great, but it does have its drawbacks.
By far the biggest is that, once the week or month is over, it’s as if autism is completely forgotten about. Many people whose knowledge of autism and related conditions is limited or non-existent are likely to forget it exists until another awareness event comes around.
People are autistic their whole lives. It’s a lifelong condition and a lot of what comes with being autistic happens 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Spending a few days learning about what it means to be an autistic person and what we experience won’t give you the full picture.
Aside from autism being away from the spotlight most of the year, over a short amount of time, anyone new to it may feel overwhelmed with too much information. If, for example, someone is newly-diagnosed and they want more info during April, they see so much that they don’t know what to read first.
Some disability services, whether run as charities or by government, may choose to focus on autism for a short while. However, they may only pay lip service to it. In only giving you a potted version of autism, you might not be able to see the whole picture.
Whenever Autism Awareness Month comes around, there seems to be an element of bandwagon-jumping by a lot of businesses. It may seem cynical, but those who pledge to support autism may only be doing so to give themselves good PR, rather than help out a good cause.
If they want to genuinely help, why not hire autistic workers? Just 16% of autistic adults are in full-time, paid work. That would be more helpful than just sharing a meme supporting autism awareness.
Spread the word yourself
Away from Autism Awareness Month/Week/Day, there are many things you can do to spread a positive message. One way of doing this is to learn more about what it actually is. There is a whole world of information out there – read blogs by autistic people, websites and books.
To gain more info on autism, a tried and tested method is speaking to autistic people. There are over 700,000 of us in the UK. Among that number, you’ll find people with stories of their own experiences at work, in school or at home. Local support groups are a great starting point. Parents of autistic kids will know a fair bit too.
Spreading the gospel of autism awareness and autism acceptance is pretty easy as well. After learning about it, talk to anyone who’s interested, be they a parent, relative or carer of someone who’s autistic. Link up with an autism charity at any time of the year; offer to raise funds for them, do a leaflet drop or volunteer at any events they may be holding.
Another way of educating people you know about autism is to share any news stories via social media. My news feed is full of autism-related stories, many of which are highly informative and easy to relate to. Take the time to read each link before clicking ‘share’ though!
When speaking to people about autism, it’s important to discuss what we can do. Many autistic people are highly-skilled, caring and empathetic people with a lot to offer. You should know that many problems experienced – communication, sensory – are exacerbated because our needs aren’t being met.