I've mentioned many times before that I have Autism, so you would think I'd be happy about Autism Awareness Month this year. But I'm not, as many of the ways the Autism Society have tried to help are at best, amazingly patronizing and at worse dangerous.
As such, this is an open letter to the Autism Society to complain about your sub-par campaign and making Autism Awareness month unhelpful for many of us with forms of Autism.
First of all the Jigsaw analogy, dear god the jigsaws. Can we please stop with this? Autistic people aren't a puzzle that needs fixing. We aren't some strange group that needs to be understood. Many of us are people like anyone else and all you're doing by perpetuating this jigsaw analogy is ironically making it harder for people to accept us as normal.
Secondly, the attitude. This is something that has driven me mad about the Autistic Society before but this year is the worst. The way the group writes its campaign is unbelievably patronizing, making it sound like all Autistic people are helpless victims that need your help. This is again, not at all helpful and again, perpetuates the notion that we are all like Rain Man, incapable of human interaction and are unsociable.
Over the past few days, I've had several people come to me being condescending and patronizing me because of my Autism. Hell, a couple accused me of being a faker because they thought I wasn't autistic enough! All because of your badly done awareness campaign is making people pity autistic people, not accept them.
But then we get to the dangerous parts, the AutismUniquelyYou. For those who don't know what this is, here is how it is described on the Autism's Society website:
Autism Uniquely You Nomination
Let's celebrate! Let's recognize the accomplishments of someone affected by autism. Share their unique journey, by:
- Creating a page nominating that special someone who is affected by autism.
- Calling on your family and friends to donate to your page supporting your nomination.
- Sharing your nomination on social media Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Be sure to tag us #AutismUniquelyYou so we can share your story. Have your friends share their nominations too!
Can you not see how this is dangerous? First of all, many autistic people are very secretive about their Autism and would not like people to know about it and would very unlikely want to become martyrs for the cause. Even if they did, then it's their choice, not up to others to speak for them. We aren't the cowards you like to perpetuate.
You know why I know this is dangerous, a friend of mine also has autism and discovered that his mother was working on this about him. He's very uncomfortable about people knowing and only a few close friends and family know. So you could probably understand why he wasn't happy that his mother was about to out him behind his back and what made it worse was how condescending she was to him, saying he was just in one his "special times".
Finally, nearly everything about the campaign is about high functioning autism and ignores the vast majority of us. How on earth is that awareness? How does that help people to accept us and treat us like equals when you are given the world a very narrow stereotype? This is again, dangerous and gives fuel to those who would use this ignorance to their advantage like the Anti-Vaccination movement and much of the old media.
So please, try to improve the campaign to make it less patronizing, less dangerous and more inclusive. I understand it is too late to change anything this year, but next year, can you please learn from your mistakes and ultimately help Autistic people all the world over?