By Jordan Wilson-Dalzell
There are many ways you can show up and support autistic people. First, remember to listen to us. We are the experts on autism and our own lived experiences. Support autistic folks in your lives by listening to them first, and learn from autistic voices in general.
A place to start!
Look for the #ActuallyAutistic hashtag or label. If our community leads the conversation, you’ll often find the hashtag. Use the tag to find articles, blogs, memes created by our community. Please share and retweet/reblog what you find; its important to amplify Actually Autistic voices.
Pay attention to whether the conversation is intended for only Actually Autistic voices or is open.
That being said, if you’re not autistic, don’t post within the tag itself. As Luna Rose, an autistic blogger mentions in their wikihow article, “It was developed specifically for autistic people to discuss things, without non-autistics interrupting. Non-autistics can post in the #autism, #AskingAutistics, and #AskAnAutistic tags.”
You’re welcome to join many discussions. Often actually autistic folks will mention we’re autistic or say AA when we respond to threads to highlight our perspective. Specify if you’re not autistic so no one gets confused. It can be helpful to share a brief sentence on what brings you to the topic whether you’re an educator, a family member, or just someone wanting to learn more.
Be careful not to depend on autistic folks to answer any and all questions. That requires energy, labor, and spoons from us that we may or may not have. Thank those who do respond and acknowledge their time. If you’re planning to or able to compensate for time and labor, let folks know. That’s a common practice when marginalized communities share their experiences. Show you value the knowledge autistic people share with you. While many of us like sharing our experiences, doing so is work.
Many questions will be easily accessible either via Google or in other resources. For basic questions, do your research first. Take the time to invest in learning before you ask.
A couple autism articles on wikiHow are How to Relate to an Autistic Person and How to Understand Autism.
A few tips:
Use identity-first language, i.e autistic person rather than person with/has autism.
Autism is intertwined with how our brains are wired and can’t be separated from who we are. Nor would we want that it to be. Being autistic shapes every interaction, experience I have just as being queer does. Autism isn’t a disease or something to cure. When folks say “has autism” or “with autism” it sounds like an illness or disease like cancer. This reinforces stigma and puts autism on the same level as a deadly disease.
Typically non-autistic people like educators, parents and neurotypical folks advocate for people first language (has autism/with autism). These tend to be folks who generally do not support the autonomy of autistic folks. We’ve asked, requested, begged, many of these folks to not use people first language. Many know that it has deep associations with ableism and cure ideology and use it anyways.
Don’t use functioning labels i.e., high or low functioning.
On a Tuesday morning one may call me high-functioning and on that same afternoon, one may call me low-functioning. How I’m doing changes throughout the day and my support needs vary depending on the context.
When we call something harmful or ableist, believe us. Even if you don’t understand why exactly in the moment, acknowledge and validate our experience. Spend time doing research and learning why that action is harmful. We are the experts on our own experiences. Apologize genuinely, and read how to do so from a transformative justice perspective.
Support autism acceptance rather than autism awareness
As an autistic blogger puts it,
Autism acceptance means loving your child as an autistic person.
Autism acceptance is where autism is viewed on an asset-based versus a deficit-based framework. Its about gaining acceptance for autistic folks and ensuring we get our needs met and rights respected. Many people are more than aware autistic kids exist; we face immense hatred and stigma. Autism awareness originated with groups that center on parents of autistic children who are stressed and use rhetoric that villifies autistic children. Many of these spaces encourage and support parents to refuse autonomy to their children. Groups like Autism Speaks openly condone parents who publicly fantasize about murdering their children and center themselves as heroes.
A few resources to start with:
Puzzle piece imagery as well as “light it up blue” are both pieces of harmful cure ideology originating out of hate groups like Autism Speaks. We are not puzzles to solve, change, fix, eliminate. We are whole just as we are. This organization promotes using shock therapy against autistic children as a way to treat and cure autism. They support harmful therapies like ABA which teaches autistic children to mask, even though its been proved to increase PTSD, depression, suicide rates in autistic children.
Neurodiversity reading list
Don’t Mourn for Us by Jim Sinclair
Blogs by autistic folks:
Speaking of Autism: Resource List
Note: One thing I think about a lot here is about diversity of opinion within a community, and how that’s okay. Everyone’s opinion is still valid, and you can still learn to not do harmful behavior. Sometimes that means one person will be hurt by something and someone else will not, but that doesn’t mean you use that against the person who is hurt. It means you listen and respect everyone!
Note: One thing that I thought of when I read this how so much of “functioning” is determined by the environment, and how so often as non-autistic people we create environments that then reinforce this idea of autistic people having a harder time–for me this ties into high or low functioning labels.
Poetry is the first thing Jordan Wilson-Dalzell believed in. She’s an autistic queer disabled returned-from-exile Jewish writer, educator and activist. She published her second poetry book Resuscitate in 2017. Her work has been published in Prometheus Dreaming, New Currents, Passwords among others and has work forthcoming in Yawp magazine. She teaches spoken word poetry with Bay Area Creative and works with communities and organizations on equity and intersectionality.
You can learn more at:
Art of Autism Related Articles
The Fallacy of High and Low Functioning Autism
Autistic People, Family Members and Advocates Speak about Autism Speaks
Why I No Longer Use the Puzzle Piece in my Jewelry Creations
How the Art of Autism uses the #ActuallyAutistic Hashtag
List of #ActuallyAutistic bloggers on the Art of Autism website.