It’s World Autism Day and many #ActuallyAutistics are wearing red to celebrate. Others will wear blue to support the awareness campaign initiated by Autism Speaks. The Light It Up Red Instead (#WalkInRed) counter-campaign originated in 2015 to boycott Autism Speaks and recapture the narrative of autism awareness and acceptance. There are numerous articles detailing the history behind the tension between Autism Speaks and the autistic community. If you are interested in reading more about this, refer to the articles listed at the end of this post. So will you be lighting it up blue this year? Red? Purple? How can we best promote autism awareness, and, most importantly, acceptance?
Red is a contrasting color to the Light It Up Blue campaign. Many autistics dislike using the color blue to represent autism because of what it traditionally symbolizes. The color blue is sometimes used to represent males and emphasizes the gender stereotypes associated with autism. Blue is also the color of disappointment and depression. On the other hand, red is the color of love, ambition, and respect.
Do All Autistics Agree?
Of course not. Autistics can’t be grouped into one category, with one opinion, just like any other group of people. However, be careful about using this as an excuse to dismiss the Light It Up Red campaign. When trying to serve any group of people, do your due diligence to research exactly what they want and need and don’t assume you have all the answers. Where should your research come from? From the community you are serving. Don’t let any one organization be your North Star.
Not everyone will agree. But take a look at who is lighting it up blue and who is lighting it up red around you or in your online spaces. What are #ActuallyAutistic people doing? Yes, there are some autistic people who Light It Up Blue. But many don’t. Colors are merely symbolic–what they stand for is powerful. Autism Speaks now has promotional material that reads, “I Light It Up Blue for Greater Understanding and Acceptance” (although many still dispute the sincerity of this mission). The Light It Up Red campaign originated with the same message of acceptance, which, at the time, was not the mainstream message. Light It Up Red has given national attention to autism acceptance and prioritizing autistic voices. So how can we help support this message?
3 Myths About Neurodiversity and Autism Acceptance
Here are some common misunderstandings about the Neurodiversity Movement and Autism Acceptance, important to remember when thinking about and discussing autism acceptance this (or any) month:
- The Neurodiversity Movement is only supported by verbal, “high functioning” autistics. Verbal autistics are not the only individuals on the spectrum advocating for neurodiversity and autism acceptance (See the work of Amy Sequenzia, or many contributors in Loud Hands).
- Supporting Autism acceptance or the Neurodiversity Movement means you are anti-therapy. Accepting autism does not mean that you renounce all therapy. It means you carefully screen therapies to ensure they are rooted in a respect for the autistic individual and that they let the autistic individual have input in determining the desired goals.
- Autism acceptance is a radical concept. Embracing differences, including autistic differences is an important part of loving your child’s identity. There is nothing more “normal” and natural than that.
Autism Acceptance Begins in Your Home and Community
Autism acceptance begins by loving and respecting the autistic person/people in your life. Here are a few ways to improve this attitude in your own home and community:
- Consider where you are getting your advocacy guidance from. Are you accessing the autistic community whenever possible? These people will have the best advice for raising your child with a positive autistic identity because they have intimate knowledge of how they feel about themselves and how they got to that point.
- Do you live in a community flooded with blue lights and puzzle pieces? Lighting It Up Red may be a counter-cultural way to draw attention to autism acceptance and start that conversation in your community.
- After doing your research, take inventory of your current actions and how well they align to behaviors congruent with autism acceptance. What are you doing well? What areas do you need to improve in?
- Find ways to celebrate differences throughout the year in all different kinds of settings. Autism-specific acceptance is a natural extension of an established culture of accepting and embracing differences. Make this be a goal for your home and family.
Peter MacFarland Coogan
Peter MacFarland Coogan