There are festivities online and in-person. Autistic people share stories, art, music, and spend the day forgetting some of life’s darker things.
Those who don’t understand Autistic Pride might ask, “How can you be proud of something you have no control over– like autism?” Autistic Pride Day was not borne from the need to celebrate being autistic, but instead in recognition of our right to live authentically.
The autistic experience colors each piece of an autistic person’s personality, sensory experience, and identity. It impacts our interests, how we view the world, the choices we make, and even our ethics. Because of this, many autistic people say that “autism is a part of who we are.”
So Autistic Pride Day is not just a celebration of being autistic and belonging to such a vibrant, beautiful community, but doing so in spite of the messages society sends that we should be ashamed of who we are.
Why do we need autistic pride?
1. Disability Day of Mourning
Once a year, the disability community gathers to remember disabled victims of filicide–disabled people murdered by their caregivers. When an autistic person has been killed in this way, the perpetrators of the unspeakable acts are often handled with sympathy and light sentences (assuming they are sentenced), and the murders justified due to the “stress of having a disabled person in the family,” completely ignoring and blaming the true victims.
2. Harassment by Police
Autistic people are often harassed and assaulted by the police who misunderstand their autistic behaviors as dangerous or an indication of drug use, like when fourteen-year-old Connor Leibel of Arizona was assaulted by Officer David Grossman (a “drug-recognition expert”). Connor was simply minding his own business, “stimming” with a piece of string on a park bench.
Connor suffered cuts, bruises, and “scratches to his face, back, and arms from the attack, and a grotesquely swollen ankle which required surgeries.
Alternatively, much of the world witnessed the horrific tale from Miami where an officer shot at an autistic adult and missed– hitting his aid, a Black man by the name of Charles Kinsey. This incident was a sobering look at police oppression of two marginalized groups. The officer claimed he mistook the autistic man holding a silver toy truck for a gunman holding another man hostage.
3. Electric Shock Treatments on Autistic Children
If you want to go down a disturbing rabbit hole, Google “Judge Rotenberg Center.” The center is a residential facility in Canton, Massachusetts and is the only “school” (sounds more like a prison to me) in the United States currently using electric skin shocks as punishment for its students. The controversial practice has attracted passionate criticism from disability and human rights groups.
4. Dangerous “Cures” and Therapies
Due to the negative social perception of autism, a large number of unethical treatments have flooded the market, including dangerous, non-medically approved therapies based on junk science (such as a bleach solution called MMS, chelation, or even demonic exorcism) – exploiting the fears of worried parents.
5. Autistic Masking
To Disclose or not to Disclose (an Autism Diagnosis)? Many of us learned to mask in school as a way to avoid being picked on by our peers. All over the world, especially within the workplace and professional settings, many autistic people still feel a strong need to disguise their neurotype and hide much of who they are out of fear they will be bullied, fired, or passed over for promotions.
6. Stigma & Pathologizing
The natural mannerisms, habits, movements, and communication styles of autistic people are often pathologized. Autistic people are regularly scolded and chastised by the non-autistics around them for expressing themselves in an “autistic way.” Nicknames like “weird,” “neurotic,” “difficult,” and “rebellious” are common.
7. Autistic Rights to Autonomy
Some of the most vulnerable members of our community have been locked away kept in hospitals miles from home – hidden from the world, restrained, sedated, and secluded. Stories of unnecessary use of restraint, over-medication, and seclusion are common.
8. Failures in Public Accessibility
When you are checking a new location – like a store, restaurant, or hotel, do you need to research whether or not the environment will make you physically ill? Do you ever arrive at your well-researched destination and walk out quickly after discovering your choice was inaccessible?
9. “Autistic” is a Popular Insult
Most people don’t have their neurotype used as a generic insult to describe anything that is negative– whether or not it’s related to autism. “Autistic” should relate to people who experience the world from a different social, sensory, and emotional perspective, but sadly is too often thrown around as a derogatory insult.
On the internet, “autism” has gained usage as an insult aimed at mocking people. “You’re so autistic!” or “He’s probably autistic!” are used to mock the people who are the source of ridicule.
10. Lack of Representation in Media
Non-autistic people never have to look far to see themselves in mainstream society and pop-culture. Autistic characters in pop-culture are often heavily stereotyped, feeling more like a Wikipedia checklist of symptoms than a real person.
When a neurodivergent character is written into a script, they are often played by a neurotypical person.
Autistic Pride isn’t just about celebrating who we are. It’s also about coming together, remembering those we’ve lost, and working together towards a brighter future for future generations of autistic and other neurodivergent people.
This article is also hosted on Christa Holman’s personal blog, Neurodivergent Rebel.