Thursday 14 April 2016

Glamour, PR and Autism

Something I've noticed about autism.
Attractive, well presented, fashionable, well spoken people.  Specially picked for their media-ready skills.  Sometimes parents of autistic children.  Elegant, co-ordinated, perfect social skills, big smiles, lots of contacts of Just The Right Sort.  Groups of photographers snapping away with their cameras, getting the best possible shots of this wonderful sight.  Big gala evenings that autistic people cannot access.

And, somewhere in the background, out of camera angle, out of sight, out of hearing, autistic people.  An afterthought.

Do we use 'glamour' to cover up a deep fear of autism and what we are actually like?

You see, it's such a strange thing to do, to promote autism acceptance.

I have some marvellously glamorous autistic friends. Sometimes they are asked to go in front of cameras to promote autism.  Great.  Except...they aren't paid.  Only the non-autistic 'stars' are.
Isn't that interesting.  And the opposite of the message we are supposed to be promoting?
The thing is, most of us struggle with fashion.  The clothing hurts so much to wear.  We tend to wear the same sort of thing every day.
We may struggle with makeup and hairstyles, because of sensory and co-ordination issues.

We may struggle with voice tone and 'camera ready smiling', because that's part of autism.
Genuine autistic differences that need understanding, not erasing from view. it the exact opposite of promoting autism, when we put in front of cameras and listeners highly paid people who are 'better than us'.   [Note that I put that in quote marks.  They are not. But in the media-obsessed world we live in, media stars are often given high status]

Look beyond the glitz and glamour, please.  And beyond the stereotypes of 'Oh we have to speak for them, the poor dears, they can't do it for themselves'.  And beyond the strange behaviour of not paying us, but paying other people to speak for us.  Great when we work with fellow non-autistic professionals who are respectful, of course.  But always ask yourself, at any autism event, where are the autistic voices here?  Or autistic communications of other kinds if someone is non-verbal?

We can communicate.  We have very important things to say for ourselves.  And I am so honoured to speak with so many other wonderful autistic trainers and presenters.  For example with Autism Oxford UK, national award winners for their services to autism.

If people are only supporting autism because they like looking at glamorous non-autistic people, with perfect social skills, it's quite possible that they haven't understood autism yet.   We need acceptance, affirmation and money, the same as everyone else does.

Keep searching, and learning.  We're worth it.