April is a month filled with messages about autism and autistic people. April 2nd is the official United Nations observance of International Autism Awareness Day. All over the world different countries and different organizations will mark certain days, weeks, or months with a variety of campaigns. The public is sure to come across competing messages, using different symbols and representing sometimes conflicting approaches and perspectives about autism and autistic persons.
In the simplest of terms, while many seek to promote the acceptance of autistic people as welcomed and fully valued members of society, there is other messaging that is focused on autism as a “problem to be solved” and this view is associated with some of the most popular campaigns which are often represented by symbols like “puzzle pieces coming together” or “lighting it up blue.”
LiveWorkPlay does not decide what is right or wrong on these matters, but we do have a mandate to support inclusion, and embedded in this is our belief in approaching the exclusion of people with disabilities as a problem to be solved primarily through changes in the attitudes and practices of society at large.
The approach LiveWorkPlay supports is often described in terms of “neurodiversity” which is about accepting and appreciating that every human being is different, and that deciding who is “normal” is both abstract and discriminatory. Beyond this, neurodiversity helps us understand that there is tremendous value for all when those who may be viewed as “different” are welcomed as contributors who can bring strengths and gifts that benefit the whole of humanity.
Our purpose with this message is to emphasize critical thinking about autism and inclusion to recommend that people who are unsure about these issues spend time learning about and appreciating the views of autistic people themselves.
The voices of autistic advocates are often not incorporated into the thinking behind the approaches, concepts, or messaging of the most well-financed autism organizations who are behind the most popular public awareness campaigns. These organizations can purchase their way into the public discourse through marketing and advertising that is out of reach foot grassroots advocates. The larger organizations may have good intentions, but formal and informal coalitions that often self-identify as the “actually autistic” movement, are making a strong case that there are no longer any valid excuses for promoting a medical model approach to autism.
We see every day the benefits of supporting people with intellectual disabilities and autistic people to have homes of their own, to have a real job for real pay, and to engage in regular community venues for the enjoyment of arts and recreation.
So, before you buy that puzzle shirt or set up that blue floodlight, take some time to understand what these symbols and campaigns truly represent, and make sure they align with your own values and intentions about autistic people and their place in your community.
We would like to thank members of the Autistics for Autistics, the A4A organization, for assisting LiveWorkPlay with the content of this message.