April is a time of Autism Acceptance.
That doesn't sound too controversial, does it. But, it is.
There's people who say to me, "How can we be positive about autism? Why aren't you more negative about it all? Why aren't you talking about the hardships that some individuals and some families go through? Why aren't you discussing those in greatest need of support, who cannot live independent lives or be in paid employment? Where's the tragedy stuff, Ann?"
I'm glad to explain. It's simple.
We have now had more than 70 years of portraying autistic lives as tragic.
The end result has been more tragedy.
This isn't a surprise. Suppose we were endlessly negative about (say) women, saying, "Some women live awful lives. We mustn't say good things about being female, because that's disrespecting the women who really struggle." Would this be a good thing? Would it help any of the women who were indeed struggling, if everyone was trained to see women as a tragedy?
The tragedy-narrative hasn't led to better results. It hasn't led to better services. It hasn't led to better care. It hasn't led to better benefits, or better education.
It led to some schools not wanting autistic children there. It led to some leisure services deciding that autistic people were too much hard work. It led to too many employers deciding that autistic people were too costly, too problematic. And it led to some groups earning themselves a breathtaking fortune from providing abusive 'services' to these tragic autistic people.
Exceptions apply. Of course there are some good services out there. But generally, the 'awareness' became 'bewareness'. Beware! Autism! Run!
So, that's the reality of forcing an entire population of autistic people to live, endlessly, as figures of tragedy for the media. Or objects of pity. Or objects of charity.
This is why the Autistic Pride networks exist now. They're led and run by autistic people, and their aim is to boost self esteem. To celebrate autism and whatever makes that person happy. To showcase autistic arts, etc. To enable access to things that are genuinely fabulous. And to share life, friendship and fellowship with other autistic people of every kind. Whether verbal or not. Whether of high, low or medium IQ. No matter what support needs they may have.
Is it perfect? Of course not. But it's like emerging from under an endless burden of negativity, into a shaft of sunlight. And that acceptance, that friendship, that sharing - well, it enables families to relax, to enjoy, to start to thrive. It enables schools to think, "Hey, what have we been missing here?". It enables employers to get involved and see us as the fabulous, varied people we are. And...it enables people to find some answers for themselves, find new ways round obstacles together. Whatever their desires for their own lives.
Is every autistic person fantastic all the time? Nope. We're all individuals, so some of course are grumpy or sad or any other emotion. Some are in terrible pain or fear, because teams inflict pain and fear upon them, quite accidentally, through ignorance. Some have awful things done to them that are quite enough to make anyone angry, avoidant or afraid. Some have multiple disabilities or difficulties, and they are rightly looking for good answers. So finding those good answers is important. For them, and for their families.
In the wider work I do, I help ensure that care homes are run safely and well, listening to autistic people who live there. I help families to find positive ways to help their young people to thrive, and direct them to autism-respecting services that enable skills and autonomy without abusive and controlling methods being used. I train teams to understand and respect autistic people, changing their own attitudes to us. I do all of this with amazing teams of people, many autistic. Including our own wonderful Autistic Pride Reading charity team, and the amazing experts in AT-Autism.
Our aim is to ensure that every single autistic person is able to live a life that brings enough joy. Enough focus. Enough thriving.
As a parent, I've had a long journey through the perils of schooling that went awry, and a fight for basic services. I'm not living in some fantasy where all is filled with glitter.
But, the tragedy narrative has caused too may dead autistic people. Too many have fallen into such depression, such anxiety, that taking their own lives is preferable to living another day of fearmongering and loneliness from all that 'othering'.
So, yes, I won't be talking about autism as a tragedy, because we're not tragedies. We're a group of truly fantastic people. Once we embrace a deep understanding of autism, and accept, include and enable each other, all of us benefit.
If you are looking to do something positive, donate to an autistic-owned enterprise. Come along to our public days. Buy goods and services from autistic people. Make sure you're not 'lighting it up blue' (a campaign started by a very problematic foreign organisation which doesn't like autistic people at all). Use symbols like the one at the top of this page, showing autism acceptance. Red and gold versions exist too.
So, autism acceptance, in April. We're reclaiming it and making it our own.
Get to know more about us, and enjoy.