April is World Autism Month! That means many people will be talking about autism in the media, in government, and in your community.
Some people might use the colour blue at autism-related events, like “Light It Up Blue” or blue ribbons. Others might use symbols of puzzle pieces (from a jigsaw) in posts about autism online. A lot of people will talk about a need for more autism awareness.
All of these are used by people who mean well. However, at AsIAm, we don’t think these things are helpful or relevant when talking about autism.
Our Youth Leadership Team made this video to explain why.
Blue? – When the colour blue was first used for autism, the people and groups who used it thought that autism was something medical that needed to be solved, like an illness or a disease. “Light It Up Blue” was intended to light the path towards a cure for autism.
But autism doesn’t have a cure, and doesn’t need one. It isn’t a problem to be solved, it’s a disability and a natural difference that needs acceptance and understanding.
Plus, a lot of people don’t think women and girls can be autistic, so only using the colour blue for autism doesn’t help with that!
Puzzle Pieces? – when the puzzle piece was first used by an organisation in the 1960’s, it was part of their logo – a puzzle piece with a weeping child. The puzzle piece promotes the idea that autistic people are incomplete or are missing pieces of themselves, that there’s something wrong with us. Some people also find it portrays all autistic people as children, which erases the experiences of autistic adults.
A majority of the autistic community has rejected the puzzle piece due to its history being used by organisations run by neurotypical or non-autistic people that claim to speak for autistic people. Even if you like the puzzle piece for your own reasons, if you want to be a good ally to the autistic community, please listen to us when we say we find something offensive.
Awareness? – when the YLT’s parents were their age, almost nobody knew what autism was, they’d never heard of it. So we needed autism awareness. Today, most people have heard of it, or know someone on the autism spectrum. That doesn’t mean they know anything about autism, just that they’re aware it exists.
In 2019, we think it’s time to set the bar higher than autism awareness to autism acceptance and understanding. Someone can be aware of Mandarin, they know it’s a language. That doesn’t mean they understand it!
Going forward, we want to focus on autism acceptance, not autism awareness.
What can you do instead during Autism Month?
~ There’s really no need to use a specific colour, but if you really want to? Try gold! The autism community like to Light It Up Gold because the chemical symbol for gold is Au (and because April is our time to shine!).
~ Listen to autistic people when we tell you that something is offensive to our history or culture, and invite us to get involved in campaigns and projects about autism. As the saying goes, “Nothing about us without us”!
~ Puzzle pieces are not cute, and there is no longer a need to use them. Why do you need a symbol to represent the autistic community when autistic advocates can do it?
~ Consult our media guide on Autism And Language to learn more about the language preferences around autism and autistic people, and how to write about and discuss it in an inclusive and respectful way.
It is important to note that this website has existed in different iterations since 2013, and AsIAm itself is five years old. In that time, much of the language around autism has shifted. As an organisation we try our best to use identity-first language (“I am autistic”) in our materials and resources instead of person-first language (“I am a person with autism”), to reflect the preference of the majority of the autistic community (and the preferences of our autistic staff). In our older resources and posts, you may spot some person-first language, or a stray puzzle piece, because at the time of creating that resource or post, that was the custom. We think it’s important to listen and evolve alongside the autism community. We are currently undertaking a great body of work in updating parts of our website and resources. If you notice some outdated symbols or language in our older materials, please email email@example.com to let us know about it so we can change it, and bear with us as we get through our archives!
If you read a blog post on our website written by a member of the autism community who refers to themselves using person-first language, please remember that that is probably their preference.
Ideas for Autism Month Activities in School –
Special Interest Day – An opportunity to share a hobby or interest with your class. Invite students to present on their special interests.
Artworks Day – An opportunity to communicate through art. ‘Communication is not just talking’
New Skills Day – Learn a new skill from your classmates and challenge yourself!
Introduce different Break Time activities to show that there are more ways to include everyone – for example, playing board games, or starting new interest groups.
Invite your local Autism Support Group to your school – learn about their work, about the autism community in your locality, and learn about opportunities to get involved and support their work.
Invite an AsIAm speaker to your school or workplace – Our small group of trained speakers can speak about how to accommodate autistic people, whether it’s students, visitors or employees!
Fundraising for AsIAm
Fundraisers are a great way for a school or workplace to celebrate a sense of community, and for people to express their individuality. AsIAm, as Ireland’s National Autism Charity, is extremely grateful for any fundraising activity held for us, as it enables us to further the success of the many projects and programmes we run nationwide for people on the Autism Spectrum, and to educate the general public.
If you wish to participate in fundraising for us, feel free to use your artistic license and make it as quirky and individual as possible! Here are a few ideas to get you started in addition to the activities above:
- Coffee morning
- Cake sale
- Non-uniform day
- ‘Crazy Hair’ or “Crazy Sock” Day
- Silent Disco (it’s sensory friendly!)
- Sponsored walk
- ‘Special Interest’ Day (dressing up as something to do with your favourite hobby/interest)
- Child friendly table quiz
- Parents table quiz