What We Need from Our Neurotypical Allies3 min read

Those who live with and love autistic people can be among our greatest allies, but it’s been the mis­for­tune of the #ActuallyAutistic com­mu­nity that many par­ents, care­givers, and ther­a­pists have his­tor­i­cally advo­cated over (rather than with) us.
As autistic chil­dren have grown into autistic adults, we have found our own voices. We speak, post, blog, tweet, and oth­er­wise pub­lish our per­spec­tives; in doing so, we express much that goes against pop­ular nar­ra­tives about autism and autistic people.

We have ques­tioned the premises and assump­tions of past research, activism, and ther­a­pies on autism. The response to this move­ment has largely reflected that the closest self-appointed “allies” to autistic people are unpre­pared to hear our us or follow our lead.

The most promi­nent orga­ni­za­tions that have pur­ported to advo­cate on behalf of autism have done so for the ben­efit of par­ents, fam­i­lies, and care­givers of autistic chil­dren rather than autistic people them­selves. In leaving autistic voices out of the con­ver­sa­tion, such “advo­cates” stifle mean­ingful dia­logue and progress.

Predictably, there’s an ongoing clash of per­spec­tives between those who have his­tor­i­cally per­ceived and por­trayed autistic people as tragic, dis­eased, and in need of a myth­ical cure with those who are autistic, self-accepting, and self-advocating.
As with any other socially-marginalized and mis­un­der­stood group, true jus­tice cen­ters the needs of autistic people — as expressed by autistic people — in order to advance our common good. We get to say who we are, what we need, how we want sup­port, and who we con­sider our allies.
It’s a common mis­for­tune that when autistic adults dis­agree with people who work or live with autistic chil­dren, we expe­ri­ence dis­missal, rejec­tion, patron­iza­tion, and sep­a­ra­tion from people who claim to want what’s best for us and our com­mu­nity. We are shouted down or ignored.
We are told that our ability to “func­tion” (by ableist stan­dards) makes us unqual­i­fied to advo­cate for those who have greater phys­ical or intel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties and dif­fi­cul­ties. We are scolded and told that we can’t and don’t speak for other autistic people.
It seems that neu­rotyp­ical people believe that those of us who share a diver­gent neu­rotype and have sim­ilar (though not iden­tical) expe­ri­ences to more visibly-disabled autis­tics are less qual­i­fied than neu­rotyp­ical care­givers to speak for autis­tics.
To autistic minds, this mes­sage is baf­fling. It is true that no single voice speaks for all of a group; autistic people are not a mono­lith, but we are fully human.
As with any other group of humans, we have shared expe­ri­ences, sim­i­lar­i­ties, and degrees of dif­fer­ence. We are capable of col­lab­o­rating and uni­fying to ele­vate the mes­sages that matter to us, and to do so we need neu­rotyp­ical people to humbly step aside and pass the mic. In doing this, our allies can advance in their own under­standing and accep­tance of their loved ones, and help us build a more equi­table world that works with us, rather than against us.
Just as white people cannot be the arbiters of jus­tice for Black, indige­nous, or other people of color, neu­rotyp­ical people cannot ade­quately define the iden­ti­ties or needs of neu­ro­di­ver­gent people. The best advo­cates for LGBTQ+ inter­ests are people who iden­tify as such.
The voices that must be pri­or­i­tized if society is ever to under­stand and accept autistic people are autistic voices. However we choose to com­mu­ni­cate, it is the job of par­ents, ther­a­pists, doc­tors, fam­i­lies, and friends to hear us. Autistics speak; listen to us. Let autistic people lead our own cause. We need neu­rotyp­ical allies to get behind us in our fight for accep­tance, sup­port, and jus­tice.
To begin learning directly from the autistic com­mu­nity, search social media for hash­tags like:
Or, if you want to talk to us, rec­om­mend future arti­cles, or if you have ques­tions for us, leave a com­ment or click the “Contact us” link at the top of the page.
Follow and donate to autistic-led orga­ni­za­tions like Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network.
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