HAPPY AUTISM ACCEPTANCE MONTH!!!
Or more like Autistic Pride Month cause I like the sound of that better. WE like the sound of that better. Because it IS something the majority of us take pride in. However, some people still have trouble accepting that autism isn’t something that needs to be fixed, and so acceptance is still needed to help people see autism as something beautifully different instead of tragically different. And Acceptance is still a step up from Awareness, which focuses more on family members of autistic people than autistic people themselves, and is 100% associated with Autism Speaks, a horrible organization. Why is Autism Speaks horrible? We’ll get to that.
First of all, some useful terms you should know:
Ableist/Ableism: discrimination towards disabled people
Allistic: a person who is not autistic
ABA: Applied Behavioral Analysis (an abusive therapy used by the awful charity Autism Speaks)
Own Voices: a marginalized author writing a character that shares their marginalization. For example, a gay author writing a gay character, a bipolar author writing a character who’s bipolar, a black author writing a black character, etc
Stimming: short for self stimulation, refers to repetitive motions autistic people may perform when they’re stressed, excited, etc (for example rocking back and forth, hand flapping, leg bouncing, finger tapping and so on)
Special Interest: a subject that an autistic person tends to hyperfocus on. It’s something they love and that brings them joy and they’ll typically learn all they can about it and talk about it all the time (it can be a singer, a band, a certain species of animal, cars, a movie or tv show, etc)
THE DO’S AND DONT’S OF AUTISM ACCEPTANCE MONTH: How to be a good ally, and how not to be a good ally
1.) DON’T insist on Person First Language. Use Identity First Language first and foremost, but Respect Individual Preference.
What is Person First/Identity First Language? Person First Language= “person with autism” and Identity First Language= “autistic person. Now, if all this is news to you, you’re probably thinking ‘But why does it hecking matter? What’s the difference?’ I’ll explain.
The vast majority of autistic people prefer Identity First Language, and this has been shown in various polls and studies. Why is that? Because for years, allistic (non autistic) people have pushed Person First Language because they claim that calling us “autistic” is somehow dehumanizing, and that we need to be separated from our disability to be considered people.
That’s why they try to talk over us and tell us that “no you’re not autistic, you HAVE autism” as though autism is something I carry around with me, something separate from me rather than an integral part of who I am. They seem to think “autistic” is a bad word, an offensive word that erases who we are. To that I say, if you need to add “person with” in front of the label to remind yourself that we’re human, then you have a lot of deep thinking to do about why that is. We don’t call gay people “people with gayness” do we? No, because that would be ridiculous. “Autistic” just like “gay” is simply another descriptor, and not a bad one at that. That being said, some autistic people DO prefer to be called a ‘person with autism’ or maybe ‘on the spectrum.’ So if they tell you to use those terms to refer to them, respect their wishes. But use ‘autistic’ over ‘with autism’ when talking about autistic people as a whole/in general.
2.) DON’T talk over us or for us.
No matter how ‘well meaning’ you think you’re being, it is super shitty to try and talk over autistic people who are trying to tell you when something is harmful. No matter how many autistic people you know or have worked with, you have no right to act as a spokesperson for all things autism related or tell us that we’re wrong when we talk about autistic issues.
3.) DON’T support Autism Speaks.
They’re a horrible, hateful charity that harms autistic people, promotes harmful stereotypes, ignores the voices of actual autistic people in favor of their family members voices, and is all around abusive and awful. Simply google ‘autism speaks bad’ to find out more.
4.) DON’T ‘Light it up Blue’ or use puzzle pieces as a representation of autism. Don’t support ABA therapy.
The ‘Light it Up Blue’ campaign and the puzzle piece imagery were created by Autism Speaks and will forever be associated with them and their hateful charity. ABA therapy is a form of abuse. If you want to know more about WHY, simply google it and look for articles written by autistic people.
5.) DO promote autistic creators and boost their work.
Make a list of how any books you’ve read that are by autistic authors or that have (good) autistic rep that has been deemed not harmful by autistic folk. If you haven’t read any yet, I have a list of suggestions coming right up.
6.) Don’t write super ableist reviews. And If you’re allistic, you don’t get to determine what is or isn’t bad rep.
I don’t care how many autistic people you know. I don’t care if your brother or cousin or best friend is autistic. If you yourself are not autistic, you can’t decide whether a book has good representation of autism or not. Only autistic people can do that, because we know more than anyone what is or isn’t harmful, since we’ve dealt with the ups and downs of being autistic our whole lives.
Also, please be very careful when writing reviews of books with autistic rep. Like I said, DON’T give your opinion on the autistic representation if you’re not autistic yourself. You can reference reviews by actually autistic people who’ve read the book if you wanna inform people on whether autistic people consider it good rep, you can gush or complain about every other aspect of the book, but your opinion on the rep itself is not relevant. I’m so tired of allistics not bothering to check whether autistic people have talked about the rep, and what they’ve said about it.
Be careful not to say ableist crap in your reviews too, for the love of god. Don’t say shit like “it’s so hard to be close to a person like that” in regards to an autistic character. Don’t say shit like “the autistic character was sooooo annoying but oh well guess we can’t blame them.” Don’t imply that the autistic character only existed as an annoyance or as a hindrance to their whole family or simply as a means of creating conflict. Chances of are, if the autistic character is presented this way, it’s not good rep in the first place. Also, don’t use terms like “special needs” or “mental r*tardation.” Don’t use the R word at all, ever, in any context. I mean jesus christ. You wouldn’t believe how many ableist reviews I’ve read with such hurtful comments. Think very carefully about what you say.
7.) DO listen to autistic people when it comes to autistic issues.
PLEASE don’t prioritize the voices of non autistic ‘experts’ who have never bothered to listen to what actually autistic people have to say. Typically, ‘autism experts’ who’ve worked with autistic people or parents/friends/family members of autistic people tend to talk over us and ignore our voices. They’d rather continue to believe falsities that suit their own agendas that listen to autistic people trying to educate them on certain things. It’s really not okay. If autistic people tell you something that involves us is harmful, LISTEN. That’s really all there is to it, listening.
Now lets talk about good representation vs bad representation!
Here you’ll find a list of books with autistic rep that I’ve read and loved and others that I’ve read and found to be very harmful. To be honest, I’ve only really read one book that I consider to be bad rep, but there are plenty of other books that other autistic authors have read and reviewed and therefore convinced me to never read EVER because of how horribly they represent autism. I don’t need to waste my time on books I know will hurt me, no matter how much I want more rep. I will link their reviews here as well (all with permission of course.) I have not reviewed every autistic book that I’ve read, but the ones I have reviewed, I will link. Simply click on the books cover to be redirected.
Lets start with a basic outline of how to determine what is good or bad rep when it comes to autistic characters:
- Not over the top stereotypical ( a math wiz, a super genius, unaware of social norms to the point of unrealistic and ridiculous and downright mocking)
- Respectfully includes standard autistic traits without portraying them as something annoying or cringey (for example stimming, special interests, a degree clueless-ness when it comes to social norms, sensitivities to touch, bright lights and noises. Not all of us are the same and may experiences these things to a lesser or worse degree)
- It doesn’t focus only on the negative and the ‘problems’ that autistic people
- It doesn’t center around how much ‘trouble’ autistic people cause for everyone around them
- It doesn’t present autism as something that needs to be ‘fixed’ or ‘changed’ or as something shameful. It doesn’t indicate that autistic people should ‘act less autistic’ in order to be respected
- Infantilizes autistic people (paints us as childlike in an extremely negative way)
- Paints autistic people as a burden to their family and everyone around them
- Promotes harmful stereotypes (like that we don’t feel empathy or can’t possibly want/have romantic and sexual relationships)
- Pushes Person First Language
Note: not all stereotypes are necessarily harmful, and it’s not like autistic characters who fit certain stereotypes don’t exist. BUT it gets old when the only representation we see is autistic characters who are white, male, cisgender, heterosexual geniuses who are social outcasts and amazing at math. Autistic girls exist. Autistic people exist. Autistic queers exist, in abundance. Autistic people who aren’t geniuses and who suck at math exist. And portraying only the stereotype of the white heterosexual cisgender male does actively harm autistic people by making it harder for people who DON’T fit these stereotypes to get diagnosed or recognize autism in themselves.
Now, I’m gonna include an example of a book synopsis with horrible autistic rep as an example of what exactly NOT to do. Just the synopsis itself talks about autistic people horribly:
First of all, the use of the word “quirks” is annoying because it kinda seems dismissive of the fact that autistic people may need extra support in some areas of their life. Then there’s the fact that she revers to Levi as “one giant temper-tantrum” which is a horribly dehumanizing way to refer to an autistic person. And then there’s the fact that “sickness” is used in correlation to autism. I know from reading a review that Levi also has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But that’s not mentioned anywhere in the synopsis, so it sounds like autism is being equated to a ‘sickness’ or mental illness, which is not ok. This synopsis wasn’t already bad enough, but the book itself is just as horrible. A review is provided below under the ‘bad and ugly rep’ category.
NOW ON TO THE BOOKS!
THE OWN VOICES REP:
(autistic rep written by autistic authors)
(not including reviews for these ones, simply cause you need to know about the rep is that it’s own voices and I’ve read and loved all of them.)
SOME MORE OWN VOICES REP
(the ones I haven’t read yet but can’t wait to!)
THE GOOD(?) REP (but that’s NOT own voices)
I haven’t read all of these myself so I can’t necessarily recommend them and say they’re good rep but I’ve linked reviews from autistic people who loved them! First 3 books are reviewed by me, the rest are reviewed by CG Drews/Cait at PaperFury and Anniek at Anniekslibrary
Here’s a second own voices review for The Gilded Wolves by CG Drews, if you’d like more than one: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1837248530?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1
Note: some autistic people may consider any of these bad rep and that’s OK. We don’t all have to agree. It’s just that these books have more autistic people leaning towards the ‘good rep’ end than the ‘bad rep’ end and they aren’t overtly harmful.
THE BAD AND THE UGLY REP:
The only book here that *I* have reviewed is What to Say Next. The rest have been read and reviewed once again by the lovely CG Drews at Paperfury or by Disability in Kid Lit
Here’s another own voices review by CG Drews for What to Say Next: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2166068174?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1
Wanna support autistic
authors this month?
Before I go: I am hosting a month long Autistic Pride Readathon for the month of April, including a bingo board and instagram photo challenge. If you follow me on twitter or insta you probably already know all about it, but I thought I’d give it an extra boost on here. Yes, you can double up on squares (meaning use one book to cover multiple categories)
I’ve also provided lists of books that fit each category, to make things easier for those wanting to participate!
And that’s it for now! Thank you all so much for reading and for supporting me.