Re-Framing Autism Awareness

April 16, 2015 at 3:20 am 1 comment

April is Autism Awareness month- or as some of us prefer Autism Acceptance month. I’ve seen many of my fellow autistic activists express frustration with how “awareness” tends to be promoted by a certain organization. While I certainly share their frustration, I think it’s better to promote our own messages- or re-frame messages that others are using for our own purposes. I’ve learn a lot about how to effectively spread messages to a broader audience from political campaigns I’ve worked for- as well as observing how the GLBTQ rights movement has been more effective when it is pro-active rather than re-active in its messaging. Here are some tips-

1) Have fun with “Light it Up Blue” and put your own positive spin on it! Some think the origin of using blue is due to the higher number of boys who are identified with autism. Turn this around and talk about gender diversity in autism, including atypical traits- not as “female pattern autism” but as “autistic traits that are less well-known and recognized.”

2) Re-claim the puzzle piece symbol- it’s widespread, it’s recognizable around the globe- we might as well use it. Personally I see the puzzle piece as symbolizing discovery (I prefer that over “diagnosis”) of an individual with autism and helping them find where they “fit” into the autistic community and broader society.

3) Talk about the history of the neurodiversity movement and the autistic self-advocacy communities & organizations, such as Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, Autistic Women’s Network, Aspies for Freedom etc.

4) Sick of Temple Grandin? If someone brings her up, rather than focusing on her and any views she has that you might disagree with talk about other autistic people you admire- Lydia Brown, John Elder Robison, Ari Ne’eman and things they have done for the community.

5) Don’t mention That Organization (I’ll call it Measles Speaks) it gives them more name recognition and attention!  Talk about other organizations you support (as mentioned above) If someone brings up That Organization, briefly discuss why you don’t support it, then re-direct the conversation to orgs you do support and *what specific things they are doing* Discuss the “Nothing About Us Without Us” principle.

6) Try to calmly re-direct discussions about the cause and rising incidence of autism. “As an autistic person, I’m glad to hear that more autistic people are able to understand themselves at a younger age. I hope to reach out to them more, and provide them with good role models and mentors, and work to create more opportunities for education, employment, housing and better understand and acceptance in our communities.”

7) Don’t draw attention to the vaccine-causes autism nonsense. If someone brings it up, tell them it has been dis-proven and move on, maybe say “I’m thankful that I have all of my vaccines! Aren’t you?”


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