I am an autistic researcher and this is why Autism Awareness Day matters to all of us
Themes: Participation and partnerships
I am terrified. I am autistic, a woman, of an ethnic minority, I am also an engineer, I work in a department of computer science, I am a researcher and as if that was not difficult enough, I am now writing this blog post. And this is difficult, because I need to talk about myself. But I do not want to. Yet I am doing this because it matters. Did I disclose too much information for you? I think you better get used to it. And this is what I am going to talk about.
Autism and Neurodiversity
Neurodiversity means that people are diverse because there is huge variability in brain structures and functions resulting in diverse ways of thinking and perceiving the world we live in. I prefer to use neurodiversity instead of neurodivergent because neurodivergent implies that there is a majority of people with “normal” brains, and that there are people with “different” or “divergent” brains. Which is not a very positive use of language.
If you are reading this and you are not sure what autism is, or if you are an autistic person that thinks that you know it all just because you are autistic, or you are interested in the social model of disability, please check out this website, take this course or read this book. Knowing one autistic person is not enough.
Why disclosure matters and why it is a personal choice influenced by society?
Disclosure comes with risks, but without disclosure there will be no change. Because it is far too easy to hide and to pretend that we are all the same; that we all need, think and feel the same. This makes society non-inclusive and it creates barriers to integration.
Not being faced with challenges makes humans think that all is ok. Disclosing autism feels right, but people choose not to disclose because of the risk of discrimination, exclusion, bullying, exposure to other people’s incorrect understanding, judgment or their lack of awareness and many other consequences like unemployment and suicide.
But non-disclosure can also bring the same difficulties because then how can we expect other people to be inclusive and understanding if they have no idea of what we need and why, they have no reason to think that they are non-inclusive.
“Every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better, more interesting place. So, thank you” – Captain Holt to Detective Diaz, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, series 5, episode 10.
The United Nations declared the 2nd of April as Autism Awareness Day, because there is a need to accept autism, to communicate better about autism and reflect on how to fight stigma and discrimination. So I would like you to be aware of autism and how you can help us to increase that acceptance and awareness. Awareness implies having knowledge about a situation or a fact. In this case, autism requires knowledge of both, because it is a fact that neurodiversity exists and it is a situation because it takes place in a context that has individual, societal and environmental aspects.
How can autistic and non-autistic help?
Look out for reliable sources of information when wanting to learn about autism. Watching online videos from popular social media may not be the best as as the only source of information. Try going to your local library and look for a book on an introduction to autism or go online and take a free online course on understanding autism. There are many other things you could do but this is just to give you an example of how you can inform yourself.
Understand what autism is before you give an opinion or establish a judgement. If there are no materials in your language, then campaign to get them and invite others to join you! Being aware of autism will help you to be able to recognize individuals that need autism awareness and to resist the normalisation of ill treatment of autistic people (pluralistic ignorance of autism).
But most importantly, do not be afraid to get to know us!