How to be a good ally during Autism Month and beyond
You have cheerfully joined the D&I committee at your workplace and you are ready to make the world a more inclusive place. You have been assigned or have chosen to organise an event in April around autism. What do you do next?
1) Join autistic-led spaces and learn
These days most of these spaces are online. Join Facebook groups whose mission is to educate non-autistics about autism and where the educating is done by autistics. Be ready to be challenged on your views and internalised ableism (PSA – we all have it). Don’t get defensive, don’t run away.
2) Know your stuff
It is pointless to try to be an ally of a particular group without knowing the basics about it. We understand you are volunteers and not experts, but it is your responsibility to defend and not offend due to sincere ignorance. Learn about the history, the correct language we use, how we identify as a community, what the stereotypes about us are that we are trying to break, the myths and misinformation circulating about us, meet some autistic people, and learn about their experiences.
3) Manage your ego and amplify autistic voices
It is not about you, it is not about you, it is NOT ABOUT YOU. Autism is about autistic people every day of the year. It doesn’t matter if you are a mum, dad, sibling, professional (teacher, therapist, doctor, psychologist), a friend. Autism is about autistic people.
Remember, you only experience the external behaviours of an autistic person, but you do not have access to their brain, neurological system, or a way to experience the world the way they do. If you are a parent, you are an expert on your child, but your child is the expert on their autism.
4) Don’t speak over autistic people about anything autism-related
Especially not in April, but ideally not on any day of the year. Not about what autism means to you, how to make the workplace more autism-friendly, what symbols should be used, not about our life experiences.
5) If you are planning to do a fundraiser, do your research.
This will take time but remember you cannot be a lazy ally.
- Choose autistic-led organisations/charities vs non-autistic-led organisations.
- Be clear on what their mission is and what they stand for.
- Look at this organisation’s past. Have they ever supported looking for a cure for autism, used abusive tactics, talked about autism as a tragedy? These are red flags and reasons to be looking elsewhere.
- Be sure that the group really does what it claims to do. Ask for detailed information about programs and outcomes as well as a financial report and check what the money is spent on.
- Ask autistic people if they know about the organisation’s reputation and real on-the-ground work.
- Consider attending an event or program to determine if this is the right group for you to support.
And if after all this you still made mistakes and get called out by autistics, apologise and do better. Do not hide behind excuses, we get too many of those.