5 Misconceptions About Autism - for Autism Acceptance Month
April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance month, so I thought this would be the perfect time to jump back into writing for the BA4A Blog!
For autistic people, April can bring lots of good and bad feelings alike. It is great that so many people around the world are being supportive and trying to spread awareness for our benefit, but sometimes this help can come out in the wrong way. Even if harm is unintended, miseducation about the autism community causes many challenges for our community.
Here are 5 of the most common misconceptions that I have seen about the autism community:
1 - Autism Speaks and their Light It Up Blue Campaign
Autism Speaks, and their “Light it Up Blue” campaign, is one of the most well-known autism organizations and movements that I see many people supporting during Autism Acceptance Month. However, Autism Speaks is not a good organization in the eyes of many autistic people, which it seems many other people are not aware of. There are many reasons that Autism Speaks is so widely disliked, which you can read about in my older article here: https://www.ba4autistic.com/post/why-i-don-t-support-autism-speaks.
When you post things like # LightItUpBlue or share things from their website, you are promoting an organization that is largely disliked by the autism community, especially autistic advocates. Please do your research before you post about autism this month, and throughout the year as well. Rather than supporting Autism Speaks, support other organizations viewed in a more positive light by the autistic community, such as The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and Autistic Woman & Nonbinary Network.
Also, here is a more recent article (from 2019) about why Autism Speaks isn’t great by someone who used to work for Autism Speaks: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-13-8437-0_16
I am aware that Autism Speaks has been making some changes and rebranding, but I don’t feel this negates what they have done in the past to hurt the autism community.
2 - “Cure” Ideology
This next point, which relates to the previous one about Autism Speaks, is about the social media posts and fundraisers to “find a cure for autism”. This is very hurtful towards people with autism because autism is part of who we are, and affects all aspects of our lives. Trying to cure us and eradicate our existence (which Autism Speaks has actually promoted), is very offensive.
I acknowledge that autism is different for everyone, but along with that, autism presents with different strengths and weaknesses in each person, not only weaknesses. It is important to recognize that people with autism have strengths too, and we are not defined only by our weaknesses.
3 - Correcting people on language (Autistic vs. Person with Autism)
The debate between person-first (“person with autism”) and identity-first language (“autistic person”) is heated within the autism community, and I hope to write an article about where I stand on that debate in the future. For now, here is a link to a great article about the debate on language in the autism community: https://radicalcopyeditor.com/2017/07/03/person-centered-language/
Despite this debate, I think it is important to note that regardless of how a person identifies with their autism, whether “autistic” or “person with autism”, it should be up to that person only. Correcting someone on how they identify is disrespectful because it is that person’s identity, not yours. It’s not up to you what they call themselves, instead it is the person’s choice on how they choose to identify.
In this article, I go back and forth between person-first and identity-first language because I see both sides of the argument and I think it's more important to focus on how people treat people, rather than debating about language.
4 - “You don't look/seem autistic” and “So you must be high functioning, right?”
I have gotten these types of comments a lot and it's really hurtful to me. Just because someone can’t “see” my autism doesn’t make it any less valid. When I was finally diagnosed with autism at 17, my sensory issues, social struggles, and more finally made sense to me in my life. It's not a compliment to say that I don't seem autistic anymore because I will always have autism. It is a neurological disorder that I was born with. I am proud to be autistic and I don't want to be ashamed of something that makes me unique and gives me an explanation into my perspective on the world.
Also, autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that autism can look different for each person that you meet. A spectrum is not a linear continuum like many people think, with “high functioning” on one side and “low functioning” at the other end. The best explanation I have seen of autism as a spectrum is this article: https://the-art-of-autism.com/understanding-the-spectrum-a-comic-strip-explanation/.
Overall, don't put autistic people into boxes that limit us, like high functioning or low functioning, and remember that autism is something that is a part of me that I am proud of.
5 - “Autism only occurs in boys”
I can fully debunk this misconception because I am a female with autism, and many of my closest friends are both female and autistic as well. The reason most people don't hear about autistic girls as much as autistic boys is because the diagnostic criteria have some gender bias from all the original research about the disorder only being about boys.
Girls with autism present differently in some ways compared to boys with autism, and there hasn't been as much research about girls on the spectrum. There is more and more research today about girls with autism so hopefully, this will be corrected soon and autistic girls will get the recognition and support they deserve.
Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month can be difficult for me when I see all of these misconceptions floating around social media. However, it is also a great month to celebrate the fact that my autism diagnosis has given me a greater understanding of myself, and celebrate autistic people’s strengths! With every few aggravating posts, there are some pretty great ones too.
I hope you got something from reading this! Thank you so much for reading and please like us on Facebook, and subscribe to the blog website to get notified when we post!