Autistic History: Autistic Speaking Day

 Autistic people began several campaigns in response to Autism Awareness Month. This includes Autism Acceptance Month in April and Autistics Speaking Day on November 1. Its based on the Autism Speaks Slogan "Its Time to Listen." An autistic by the name of John Elder Robison, who was the sole autistic person ever in a leadership role there, states that they never listen to autistic people. Autism Speaks does not live by what they preach. They do not even follow their own slogan. 

History of Autistic Speaking Day

Autistic Speaking day was started in 2010 by Autistic Self Advocacy Network. Kathryn Bjornstad-Kelly, Communications Assistant for ASAN and Corina Becker, Vice President of Autism Women's Network (now Autistic Women's and NonBinary Network) first proposed a day for autistic people to counter Communication shutdown on Twitter and Facebook.  

Communication Shutdown was proposed by a group in Australia as a day to stop communications in order for allistic (non autistic) people to understand communication challenges of autistic people. This is like the Deaf Community's Day of Silence. It is so allistic people walk a day in an autistic person's shoes. 

Autistic people started to oppose this because it is counter productive. Becker states:

“I’m sorry, but no. Just no…. Why? Because it relies on the assumption that everyone participating uses Twitter and Facebook to communicate. While I realize that these sites make communication easier, it is not the only way in which NTs can communicate online, and thus subvert the entire exercise of the campaign. 

The question now becomes, what would be a better method for Communication Shutdown that would have the most impact for those involved? 

As for my fellow Autistics, as the NTs disconnect and fall silent, let’s speak. 

Let us use this day to flood every social networking site we know with our accounts, our experiences, what it feels like to be Autistic. 

Every sensory pain, every communication frustration, every account of being bullied, every wondrous moment, every peaceful calm, every instant of understanding and joy. 

Let them hear our voices and take back the Autism community.”


Why Autistic Speaking Day is Needed

People who oppose and really examine Autism Speaks are the people who really listen. An artist b the name of Carson Ellis and a columnist named Colin Meloy are both authors of the Wildwood series and parents of two autistic sons. They interviewed Ari Ne'eman, founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network  (ASAN). Ellis had her eyes opened due to protesters at an Autism Speaks event:

"Well I know that Carson had a really big moment. Right off the bat we were getting involved with Autism Speaks, I think because we wanted to do more. And there was going to be one of the walks in Portland. And Carson started gathering money and sponsors for her and my sister to do the walk, in Hank’s name, and she actually ended up raising the most amount of money as anybody in Portland. She was the top earner, the top fundraiser in Portland. I was on tour at the time. But when she went on the walk she noticed a bunch of autistic people protesting, which was incredibly eye-opening."

"You think you’re doing this thing for the autistic community and yet there are probably very few autistic people in the march, in the walk, and they’re all on the other side of the kind of the picket line protesting, something must be up. We talked about this and started doing our own research, and then started seeing how Autism Speaks functions and the methods it uses to raise money – and that was sort of an immediate red flag to us.  This is the most obvious and vocal autism organization – there must be others, there must be another voice somewhere. So who is the voice for the people who are protesting these walks?"

Parents of autistic children argue that autistic people who communicate are "not like my child." This could not be further from the truth. An autism diagnosis is based off characteristics that all autistic people have in common. 

People listen to bipolar adults talk about their condition. People listen when women talk about what its like being a girl and what its like to be a woman, even though everyone has a variety of differences. Hearing people are starting to listen to Deaf people about what its like to be Deaf. People listen because of similarities, not differences. Shouldn't autistic people be afforded the same courtesy?

Sources:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2015/10/31/autistics-speaking-day-is-november-1-so-it-is-really-time-to-listen/?sh=7a628e165c3c

https://autisticadvocacy.org/2010/11/reflections-on-autistics-speaking-day/

https://awnnetwork.org/autistics-speaking-day-2012-two-years-since-it-all-began/

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