'AUTISM Awareness Day is the cash-in equivalent of Black Friday for autism charities all around the world – the vast majority of which have not one actually autistic voice within a swinging cat’s radius of a management board meeting or representative committee soiree.
While Black Friday slashes prices to cash in on sales volume, Autism charities, unwittingly or otherwise, slash the self-esteem, self-worth and hard fought acceptance of the diversity of autistic people to cash in on rehashed negative stigma projected through the ever-popular misery prism of parental hardship.
Watch as their magnificent marketing machine shines an enormous blinding blue searchlight on fever frenzy inducing terms like ‘autism epidemic’, ‘1 in 68’ and images of lost unreachable faces trapped behind foggy glass screens.
While whole towns strive to become autism-friendly for a day, a week or even the whole month of April, blue light bulbs and puzzle pieces adorn every store front.
Balloons, badges, t-shirts descend like popcorn propaganda.
Music will be turned off, and lights dimmed.
Autism awareness raining like confetti on the streets of a town near you.
Unfortunately, if you happen to be autistic, then the month of April is about as Autism friendly as the Crusades.
About as inclusive as a women's party at a Catholic cardinals’ convention.
About as welcome as a yellow star pinned to one’s lapel.
The reason for this is simply that the majority of autistic people don't want to be ‘lit up blue’, classed as a disease, or labelled as an epidemic, akin to the worst tragedy to befall one’s family.
For years now, autistic individuals and groups from the autistic community have been calling for a sea change in the language used by the major autism charities and organisations because put simply, 'it hurts'.
The negative impact of such rhetoric is deeply damaging to an individual, with the power to open wounds which may have only recently been healed by the emergence of hard-won acceptance of one’s difference and diversity.
The sad fact is there are no pity pennies to be garnered from a message of acceptance.
No compassion cash to be collected when the autistic community ‘Light It Up Gold’ or ‘Walk In Red’.
It is this cold reality autistic people are fighting against.
One such autistic woman is Fiona O’Leary – my wife and co-founder of Autistic Rights Together (ART).
I have watched Fiona become a driving force within the autistic community in her quest for autistic rights to be recognised and protected as any other persons right to dignity and self-expression.
She has worked relentlessly against the exploitation, abuse and experimentation of autistic children and adults by biomedical charlatans riding the wave of fear whipped up by anti-vaccine conspiracies and the tsunami of panic instilled by the very language used to promote so called 'autism awareness'.
Her persistence and dedication regularly astounds me and I have come to realise that one of the most positive traits to come from Fiona being on the autistic spectrum is that very ability to channel one’s passion and to never give up.
Fiona, and a growing number of like-minded loved ones and families within the autistic community, have witnessed the damage caused by negative rhetoric and stigma to those on the autistic spectrum.
Our autistic children grow up into autistic women and men.
Do we, as a society, want these people to grow into acceptance fostered by a carefully nurtured sense of self-worth, regardless of ability?
If so, then it is high time we resist the annual temptation to rehash old and damaging marketing ideas which rake in the euros at the expense of autistic people’s self-esteem.
Please don’t assume that I – or indeed Fiona – are saying autistic children, adults and families do not need support. In fact we mean to increase supports and understanding across the board.
What we are calling for (‘screaming’ for, at this stage) is an inclusive change in the way autism organisations and the media portray the autistic community.
The autistic community is incredibly diverse, if we listen to its voices, listen to its needs, open the path to real inclusion than the month of April will no longer be a month to be dreaded by so many.
Let’s begin with acceptance.’
– Tim O’Leary
Autistic Rights Together