April 2 is World Autism Awareness/Acceptance Day, and you might be wondering how best to participate in the day or the month, since all of April is for celebrating people on the spectrum. There are many “mainstream” ways you may have heard about or seen on social media, but supporting autistic voices go beyond trends.
Many people on the spectrum advocate for more than awareness — they want acceptance, which means doing more than observing a day that essentially says this exists. The Mighty has compiled a list of ways to support autistic voices this month (and beyond).
1. Read books by autistic authors.
There are plenty of books written by autistic authors to check out. Some include memoirs about life on the spectrum, like “Look Me in the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s” by John Elder Robison. Other authors write fiction about autism, such as “The State of Grace” by Rachael Lucas. Some books written by autistic authors have nothing to do with autism. Goodreads has a growing list of books written by autistic authors to help find your next book.
Recently, many people in the autism community have boycotted books written by parents of autistic children. “To Siri With Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines” came under fire because the author said she wanted power of attorney over her son when he turns 18 to get him a vasectomy. A few months later, “Autism Uncensored: Pulling Back the Curtain” was also heavily criticized because autistic people said it advocated for child abuse. While parents offer different and important perspectives, a good place to start is by reading books by autistic people. This will give you a baseline of insight when you then hear stories from loved ones.
2. Tell stories of autistic people (with their permission).
One way to support voices of autistic people is to help promote or tell their stories. For example, the filmmakers behind the documentary “Dina” did this by allowing the doc’s subject to tell her story and share her life.
Chances are you aren’t a filmmaker, but if you know someone who is autistic and wants to share their story, ask how you could help.
3. Listen to autistic voices.
You may realize you have misconceptions about autism. For example, the majority of people in the autism community use identity-first language. This mean using phrasing such as “autistic person” instead of people-first language like “person with autism.” A lot of able-bodied people do not understand this and may go as far as telling an autistic person they should use person-first language — don’t do this. The best way to learn how someone likes to identify is to ask them.
If you’re looking to learn more about issues related to autism, there are some hashtags to peruse through on Twitter. #ActuallyAutistic is used for people on the spectrum to talk about things they experience and to connect with one another.
4. Cast autistic actors.
Hollywood has started to create movies and TV shows that have autistic characters more than ever before. There’s “Atypical” on Netflix, “The Good Doctor” on ABC, and the movie “Please Stand By.” Each of these shows has a main character on the spectrum, but that character is not played by an autistic actor, though some shows have guest stars who are on the spectrum.
People in the disability community continue to point out the problem with able-bodied people playing disabled roles. Twenty percent of Americans have a disability, but less than 2 percent of characters on television have a disability, and 95 percent of those roles are played by able-bodied actors, according to the Ruderman Family Foundation.
5. Read articles from autistic individuals.
Many people on the spectrum share their experiences (on The Mighty and all over the internet). People write about how autism is a part of their life, how people have treated them and what being autistic is truly like. They’ll give you amazing insight.
If you need a place to get started, we’d of course recommend a few of our Mighty writers, such as Lamar Hardwick, Erin Clemens and Anita Lesko. They all write about their experiences as people on the spectrum and as autism advocates.
6. Hire autistic people if you own a business.
People on the spectrum are more likely be unemployed, though many are capable of working. Despite 35 percent of 18 year-old autistic students attending college, 85 percent of college graduates are unemployed, according to Integrate, a service that connects autistic individuals to jobs. Out of those who do have a job, 79 percent are working part-time and averaging a wage of $9.11 an hour.
If you have hiring capabilities or run your own business, consider hiring someone on the spectrum, especially if they have the education or expertise for the job. Chances are they’ll bring a skillset valuable to your company.
7. Donate to autistic organizations.
There are autistic organizations that are run by and for people on the spectrum. One organization is the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), which advocates for the rights and equality of autistic people. The Autism Women’s Network works to get rid of stereotypes and misinformation about autism and promotes acceptance.