Between the creativity levels autistic people often have, and the need for living by our own rules on our own schedules, entrepreneurship can be a life-saver. In my case, for example, I am capable of handling a typical work week, but it is not healthy or sustainable for me to do so. I require more down-time to recuperate from all that the outside world demands of me. So I write and I edit and I dabble in a few other crafty areas.

By Justin Haley Phillips

 

This April saw my 38th birthday, as well as the one-year anniversary of my autism diagnosis.

April is also “Autism Awareness Month,” and as it comes to a close I’ve realized that I have an issue with this.

A big one.

And it needs to be talked about.

Because “awareness” just means that I exist within your field of vision. No– less than that. It just means that you know I exist somewhere within your vast reality. But you know that year-round, so what’s the point of this one special month, then?

Now, many people are making the shift to “Autism Acceptance.” That’s better, but still not good enough. You can accept that I am the way I am, that I see things differently, and maybe even appreciate the perspectives I bring to the table. But accepting really just means you’re not pushing me away.

Isn’t that the bare minimum that people like me should be able to expect?

I know we can do better. I know most people want to do better. So from the perspective of this late-diagnosed autistic female (me), here are 5 ways to start.

  1. Support Appropriate Organizations

    There are plenty of organizations out there, both local and national, that offer support for autistic people who struggle to function in a neurotypical world. Stay away from those which talk about finding a “cure,” which call it a “disease,” or which seek to make autistic people “more normal.”

    The Autistic Self Advocacy Network and Autistic Woman & Nonbinary Network are both founded by autistic people, the majority of their board members are autistic, and do not use ablist language or symbols. Autism Speaks, on the other hand, though probably the most well known, is also one which condones harmful “treatments” for autistic individuals, perpetuates harmful stereotypes about autistic individuals, and (at least as of April 2021) does not include a single autistic individual on their board.

  2. Support Autistic Business and Creators

    Between the creativity levels autistic people often have, and the need for living by our own rules on our own schedules, entrepreneurship can be a life-saver. In my case, for example, I am capable of handling a typical work week, but it is not healthy or sustainable for me to do so. I require more down-time to recuperate from all that the outside world demands of me. So I write and I edit and I dabble in a few other crafty areas.

    All it takes is a quick Google or Facebook search for “autistic business owners” or “autistic entrepreneurs” and you can find lists and groups and links that will take you to incredible autistic creators who will benefit greatly from your purchases.

  3. Listen to, Follow, and Amplify Autistic Voices

    Listen to our preferences. Listen to our stories.

    Listen to us when we tell you that

  • the puzzle piece symbol is problematic (it infantilizes us, indicates a “puzzling” condition, and implies we’re “missing a piece”),

  • that “light it up blue” leaves us girls behind (blue for boys, as it is still a stereotype that autism occurs almost exclusively in males),

  • and that high- and low-functioning labels are ableist and dismissive (not all support needs are readily visible).

Follow autistic people on their podcasts, their blogs, and their TikToks. Heck, I’ve learned so much about myself from watching #autistictok videos! And then instead of speaking up for us, share our content. Let us speak for ourselves.

  1. Be Kind and Inclusive

    I wasn’t diagnosed until just before my 37th birthday. I’d had no idea I was autistic; I was always just the weird kid and the outsider. I didn’t understand that there was a reason that I would space out, that I hated crunchy foods, that I was very particular about my clothing, that I talked too much (or too little), that I preferred reading books to going to parties… And because so much is still being discovered about neurodivergence, there are lots of “weird” folks still out there who don’t yet have their reason.

    Thankfully, now that I have my reason, I can more easily come to terms with and heal from decades of bullying, abuse, and simply being left out or left behind. But does it really take a reason to justify kindness and inclusivity? Does someone need a label or diagnosis to deserve compassion?

    No. Of course not.

  2. Educate Yourself

    I have a suggestion: how about we call April “Autism Education Month” instead?

    There is still so much about this neurotype that is coming to light, and so many falsehoods that are still detrimentally believed.

So how about we learn more about autism than just the stereotypes presented in the media?

Did you know that it presents differently in females than males?
Did you know that it’s so often accompanied by anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies?
Do you know anything about:

  • time blindness

  • hyperfixation

  • sensory overload

  • meltdowns & shutdowns

  • executive dysfunction

  • stimming

  • or masking?

How about we learn from #actuallyautistic people what their lived existence is like, and the ways in which we can support them?

And leave the “awareness” to people like me, who are still navigating their diagnosis and becoming increasingly aware of how it shapes their perceptions, influences their relationships, and colors their world.

 

Haley is an autistic writer, editor, and all-around creator who lives her life according to the mantra that “stories will save the world.” She loves tea, travel, fun socks, and baking. When she’s not in the middle of one of her many creative endeavors you can probably find her curled up with a good book, or watching a musical or something sci-fi on the telly. She currently lives in Michigan with her partner and furbabies.

 

 

 

Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Dana Gornall

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