April is Autism Awareness Month, which is accompanied by the popular "light it up blue" slogan made famous by Autism Speaks. Well-meaning individuals and businesses make donations and switch to blue exterior lighting on April 2, and throughout the entire month, in order to raise awareness of autism. However, many autistic adults are actively participating in a boycott of Autism Speaks. Due to this, a movement has arisen to embrace a switch to Autism Acceptance Month. Their slogan has become a popular hashtag: #RedInstead.
Why Are People Boycotting Autism Speaks?There are two main sections of the autism community: those who are autistic and their parents, friends, and other allies. Within these groups, there are disagreements about the usage of identity-first or person-first language. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network recommends identity-first language. For example, saying someone "is autistic" instead of that they "have autism."
The same type of debate has been continuously ongoing about Autism Speaks for several years. A commonly used phrase by autistic advocates is "nothing about us without us," and this is at the crux of most of the boycott activity. Until recently, Autism Speaks had only ever had one autistic person on their board. DisabilityScoop reported in 2013 that this board member, John Elder Robison, resigned because of the negative language that Autism Speaks was using in their fundraising advertisements.
Autism Speaks did finally respond to one of the community's biggest complaints by altering their mission statement in October 2016. Up until that time, the nonprofit had been focused on finding a cure, which is something that many autistic adults have spoken out against. Despite this, the Autism Speaks website does still have several pages of posts regarding their merger with Cure Autism Now.Fundraisers and other events for Autism Speaks frequently attract autistic protestors. The Daily Texan covered one of these protests when members of the student organization Texas Neurodiversity distributed boycott information outside of an Autism Speaks fundraiser.
Switching to Autism Acceptance Month
The main goal behind Autism Acceptance Month is to push past the basic level of awareness and encourage people from all walks of life to become more open and accepting of autistic individuals. This movement seems to be catching on in many ways that take place even outside the month of April.
A prime example can be found with the many stores that have started having sensory friendly shopping events. Select Costco, Target, and Toys R Us locations have quiet hours. The AMC movie theater chain offers sensory friendly movie screenings at least twice a month, and one of these screenings is aimed at adults on the spectrum.
Autistic Adults Face Many Diagnosis ChallengesAutistic adults have traditionally had a harder time receiving support and getting a diagnosis. This is especially true for women because they are known to exhibit many different characteristics than autistic men. As Scientific American points out, it's common for girls and women to be misdiagnosed, and a large portion of them don't end up finding out that they're autistic until much later in life.
These issues are another reason that #RedInstead appears to be gathering momentum. After all, Autism Speaks has traditionally been focused on curing or preventing autism in children, which leaves little room for adults to find the support they need.
Focusing on acceptance instead of awareness can help foster an environment that enables autistic adults to be open and honest about their neurodiversity, including the challenges and strengths that come with it. The Autism Acceptance Month movement will undoubtedly continue to be controversial due to the division between those who do and don't support Autism Speaks. However, it does give autistic adults, teens, and children another avenue for finding support and a sense of community.
[Featured Image by Alex Abian/Flickr]