An Open Letter to Allies of Autistic People

(Video if you prefer)

Hey everybody, Ultimate Oddball here. Today I’m going to discuss a very important issue: treating autistic people with decency and respect. While in theory it may seem obvious that autistic people should be treated as well as non-autistic people, in practice this is often not the case. Our personal autonomy is ignored, we’re expected to pretend to not be autistic, we are disrespected, often by those who claim to care for us most, and in general we are treated as less than non-autistic people. Some folks like to throw around the word ally when they have proximity to people in marginalized groups, but actions speak louder than words, and in this case the actions of many who claim to be allies of autistic people or claim to be part of the “autistic community” do not act in a way which reflects this claim.

Many people who claim to be our allies promote Applied Behavioral Analysis, an early intervention which is partially predicated on forcing neurotypical mannerisms upon autistic people. While there are certainly some autistic people who support A.B.A., many do not. In addition, the idea that mannerisms displayed by autistic people should be eliminated is motivated by the belief that we are inherently less. That there is something wrong with us. While autism can certainly be disabling, can certainly be difficult, we are not lesser human beings. We are not inferior to other human beings. To believe we are is to support ableism, which has real consequences. Consequences like abuse, stigmatization, less education opportunities, lack of employment, mistreatment, filicide, and everything else which comes with being viewed as less than human.

Many people who claim to be our allies speak about us when we’re around as if we weren’t. They overshare our struggles and their difficulties dealing with us to elicit empathy, or understanding, or pity. Whatever your intentions are, if your sharing results in autistic people being viewed as less, being stigmatized, being used as inspiration fodder, then you are not being an ally. We’ve had most of our representation steeped in negativity, nearly all of it coming from non-autistic sources. We live the consequences of that: not you. An ally does not, through careless discussion or oversharing, add to what are already considerable struggles many of us face. Being an ally is not a badge you automatically get because you care for or work with us. It’s something you have to earn through your actions every day.

So, what can you do if you want to be an ally? Interacting with us in a respectful manner which does not attempt to force us to be like you is a great place to start. Signal-boosting our perspectives is another. No other group has people from outside that group claiming to represent them and gate-keeping to exclude them from being included in representation. That is what autistic people face every day. Organizations which claim to exist for us ignore our issues with their language, refuse to consider our perspectives, refuse to include us or hire us or consult with us. You can have the best intentions in the world for autistic people but if you don’t have the experience and understanding of what it is to be autistic in the world today, then you’re going to make mistakes. And if you refuse to include us in the discussion, then you’ll continue making the same mistakes. It’s far past time this problematic behavior ended. It’s far past time for non-autistic people who claim to be part of our autistic community to stop making life harder for us. Well, thanks for coming by, and have a good day.

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