For this year's Autistic Acceptance Month, Autistics United Fort McMurray chapter organizer Christopher Whelan has written a series of short essays on autistic rights. We have selected a few of our favourites to share!
[Image description: A television news reporter interviews a black woman outdoors, while a camera person films the interview]
Include Autistic People In News Stories About Us
Stories about autistic people are frequently in the news. Spotlight stories showcasing autistic people starting their own businesses, achieving awards, and organizing and participating in community events can receive national or international recognition. There are also frequently news stories about social issues affecting autistic people, such as funding or defunding of disability supports. In almost all of these stories, a reporter will interview and quote the families of autistic people, professionals that work in the field of autism support or science, and charities who are associated with autism. But autistic people are very rarely included in stories about us and the issues that affect us.
When a reporter interviews our caregivers and the professionals who work in fields related to autism, but will not interview autistic people, we are made to feel as though we are zoo exhibits. If a reporter wants to learn more about the lions at a zoo, they will speak to zoologists, or the lion’s handlers at the zoo. They will not climb into the lion’s cage and interview them. But autistic people are not zoo animals. We are people, with equal status as persons as caregivers and autism professionals are. So we would really like to be treated as people, not exhibits.
The news is the window through which the general population learns about the issues affecting other people. When autistic people are not included in stories about us, our needs and our perspectives are not heard by the general population. Without autistic input in the news stories affecting us, the general population will not learn about the things we need to achieve equal rights and social equity.
Stories about autistic people, and autistic culture, are also critically important to growing our community of self-advocates. When news stories are told about the struggles that autistic people face, from the perspectives of caregivers and professionals, that can make autistic people who can pass as neurotypical want to identify as neurotypical in order for the people in their life to not take pity on them. When news stories are told about the lives of autistic people, from the perspectives of those people with lived experience, an autistic person or a person suspecting that they are autistic can connect with the person being interviewed in the news story. When we build connection, we build community. We move towards acceptance, rather than pity.
In order to achieve a social acceptance of autism, we need more news stories about autistic people and our daily lives, and we need them told from our perspective. We need interviews, consultations, and spotlights. We need our stories to be widely accessible to a general population, through news media. And we need to be included in all stories about us.
If you are talking about autism, get an autistic person involved.
Other select essays:
Christopher Whelan is an autistic social worker living and working in his home community of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Christopher is a founder of Neurodiversity YMM and Autistics United Fort McMurray – Cree, Dene, Dane-zaa, & Métis Territory. After months of consultation with autistic self-advocates, Christopher published The 95 Theses of Neurodiversity in April 2020. You can read more of his work on his blog, AutisticRights.net.