You probably noticed that last week was World Autism Awareness week – there were hundreds of awareness raising events going on across the UK and a lot of the UK press published associated articles. The overriding message during this week from the National Autistic Society (NAS) is that better understanding will mean autistic people are better able to lead the lives they choose. To promote the event NAS also produced this video to raise awareness of how some autistic people can be overwhelmed by too much information.
It’s interesting to see however how ‘raising awareness’ can take different approaches depending on the charity/ pressure group involved and even the country it takes place in.
In the US April is World Autism month with ‘Light it up Blue’ – promoted by charity Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks is well-funded and influential, and its blue jigsaw puzzle piece icon has come to symbolise autism in the US. This charity is not without controversy however. Critics have pointed out that the charity views autism as a ‘disease’ to be ‘cured’. They have stated that they are dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a possible cure for autism with an emphasis on prenatal testing. Many autistic self-advocates claim that its goal is an autism-free world.
A strikingly different approach autism is taken by UK Autism awareness activist Rosie King who was interviewed by Standard Issue magazine last week in How autism freed Rosie King
“Diagnosed with Asperger’s aged nine, Rosie King now works as an activist for autism awareness, and last year did a powerful (and drily funny) TED Talk on autism. She’s 17. She’s awesome.”
Rosie states in her interview, “A lot of people tend to think autism is a set thing, like we’re all the same or something. But autism affects each person in their own way and while some traits are very common among autistic people, no two of us are the same. Another common misconception is that autism is an illness that can be cured, which is definitely not the case. Trying to ‘cure’ someone with autism is like trying to cure someone who’s left handed, or gay, or Sagittarius. It’s something you’re born with and there’s nothing you can do to change it. The good thing about this is that there is absolutely no reason to change it whatsoever; autism isn’t the bogeyman, it’s just a different way of thinking. Also, vaccines don’t cause autism and even if they did, your kid being autistic is a lot better than your kid getting polio and dying horribly.”
Rosie’s TED talk ‘How autism freed me to be myself’ can be viewed here with a transcript version available here. Certainly worth a watch.
Claire Byron, AGCAS Disability Task Group, Newcastle University