Light It Up Red for World Autism Awareness/Acceptance Day

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?

Why Red?

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.

Additional Resources

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  1. Reply

    Autism Awareness so much importance and we have to help the people is affected about that. For that we should follow some guide as like above. Awesome content. Enjoy reading. Thanks

    • Peter MacFarland Coogan


      The main thing that affects me is allism spectrum disorder and the cloud of moths allists walk around in. The world would be a better place if more people acted the way we act, so the world needs more autistics. We are better than allistics.

      • Naughty Autie


        “We are better than allistic [people].”

        No we’re not. Just as they’re no better than us, so we’re not better than them, so cut out the autistic supremacy. It’s not helpful to anyone.

  2. Peter Coogan


    Do you have anything to do with the terrible Light It Red shirt with the ligth bulb with a puzzle piece in it? The puzzle piece is horrible and extinctionist and goes against everything you have on this page, so I hope you’re not pushing the puzzle piece, and you shouldn’t be pusihing red. Gold infinity symbol.

    • Jenna


      Hi Peter, thanks for your comment! I’m not sure what you’re referring to regarding the light it red with the light bulb puzzle piece. The image in this article is simply a stock photo. I am definitely not pushing the puzzle piece. I have an article briefly addressing this here: I’ve seen the rainbow infinity symbol and the gold! Those are actually what I promote in our own home/community. I wasn’t aware that red was in contrast to that? Thanks for the perspective. I thought the #RedInstead movement and the infinity symbol had parallel agendas. Thanks for bringing this up.

  3. Peter MacFarland Coogan


    Light it up red instead is not an alternative to light it up blue and in fact highlights light it up blue because light it up red instead only exists because of light it up blue. I know that red instead is a reaction to the blue of Auti$m $peaks, but it has no real meaning other than not being blue. I get the point about preventing autism parents and others from staking a claim, but the whole “light it up” is about awareness, and awareness is problematic.…/04/acceptance-vs-awareness/
    If the movement is toward acceptance, gold has more resonance because people value gold. Gold is universally accepted. So red is not better than blue in terms of meaning and in fact points to the blue by not being blue. I think it would be better to move to something else. A light doesn’t signal acceptance. And a red light signals “stop” so the metaphor and symbolism is all wrong. So stop autism awareness and acceptance? Why do we want to stop autism awareness and acceptance? it works against the message it’s trying to send.

    As problematic as the blue was, it was at least coherent in its message (a negative message from the autistic point of view, it seems to me, but a consistent message, which is one reason it spread). Sad boys (blue boys) and awareness go together well. I disagree with the message, but it’s better design.

    Light it up red with a puzzle piece pushes the same basic idea as light it up blue. The puzzle piece works against the idea of acceptance. The puzzle piece says we are a problem to be solved instead of something valuable in and of ourselves. Light it up red instead likely will not take off, and if Autism Speaks maintains the light it up blue and keeps the puzzle piece and pushes acceptance, then the whole message is muddled.
    This time last year I didn’t know much about autism. I was vaguely aware of the Light it Up Blue campaign and had no understanding of its meaning. The general public won’t understand why red is an alternative, and the light up and puzzle piece mean that it really is not an alternative message. It’s just bad marketing.

    Light it up red instead and light it up blue both operate on World Autism Day, April 2 (and why is it April 2nd? What meaning does April 2 have? Give me a bit and I can come up with a better day).

    Light it up red instead t-shirts have a red light bulb with a puzzle piece. It will never take. The “instead” works only as long as the blue exists, so red instead must perpetuate blue. Once blue goes away, then red has no purpose. Why not just use something that has meaning. Gold has meaning. Everyone accepts gold. Gold is wanted everywhere. Gold does not change, just like we don’t change. It’s all pretty simple.

    • Naughty Autie


      But if we stop lighting it up red on the basis that it only exists because of lighting it up blue, people will continue to light it up blue with no counter message to tell them why they shouldn’t. the fact is, it’s far too early as yet to give up walking (or wheeling) in red instead, and only once blue light bulbs stop appearing in mass numbers in the run up to April will I then move to the rainbow/gold infinity loop exclusively. As for the red light bulb symbol containing a puzzle piece, I’ve never seen that, and it’s on nothing I wear in April or any other month.

  4. Dorothy Lansing


    When my grandson was diagnosed with Autism at age 3 I felt helpless and very unaware of what it was. Part of the problem is that I did not live near him and unable to help care for him. So when he turned about five I found that there was something I could do. We have a fairly active neighbor hood watch group. I went to our monthly meeting in March and asked if each family put a blue light in their porch light (I provided each with a blue light). The support was overwhelming and brought me to tears along with questions about Autism. It was really cool to see nearly every house with a blue light. Many of the folks left them up for th whole month. Later I heard stories of people visiting said neighbors asking about all the blue light and autism. My grandson is now 17 and every April 2nd since he was 5 my neighbors have proudly put out their blue light. This is 12-15 homes and families are making people in Fresno CA aware of autism—people who would not have given a thought about Autism. I understand the wear red instead and agree with some of their grievances with light up blue. However “blue” helped me make a difference in my hood and helped me feel that I have contributed in some small way. During this period of time I have found that there is another child living on my street that has been diagnosed with Autism. We offer each other support. This kind of arguing is never healthy for organizations that are trying to help the same group of people needing their assistance. I only hope that eventually there will be a meeting of the minds and they will work together. For now we will use blue lights rather than try to explain the differences that exist. “support both red and blue”.

    • Naughty Autie


      I’m very sure that Autism $peaks is very grateful for your help in spreading their messages that autism exists predominantly (if not only) in male children and is a disease requiring the eugenic elimination of people like your grandson.

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