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World Autism Day 2024

It's World Autism Day.

World Autism Day can be a very difficult day for our community, as well-meaning people share harmful information about who we are and how we exist in the world.

I hope that this article will serve to support those in our community who may benefit from a resource to explain some of the basics to people who, while well intentioned, may be uninformed on some of the basics.

To those of you wonderful well-meaning people, I hope that this article serves as a conversation starter and that you explore your curiosity beyond just this day when we are all told we should. I encourage you to seek out autistic people in your communities, listen to them, respect their experiences and expertise as autistic people. 

An overview

Autism is a neurodevelopmental difference that impacts the way a person thinks, communicates, senses, processes and interacts with the world around them. 

It is currently estimated that 1 in 40 people in Australia are autistic. 

Autism is a beautiful and important part of human diversity. 

Just like the natural environment needs biodiversity to thrive and be healthy - humans need neurodiversity (different kinds of brains) to do the same.

There are many myths about autism. 

It’s unlikely that I will be able to capture quite the extent of these in this article. 

Honestly, whenever I think I have heard it all - I am still blown away by some of the crazy perceptions folks have about autism. 

Here, I will dispel a few of the more common ones - however I strongly encourage you to take your research further.

‘Autistic people don’t have empathy’

This crazy notion was born out of the ‘Theory of Mind’ theory of autism. 

Theory of mind refers to a person’s ability to ‘put themselves in another's shoes’ and understand them, their behavior and thoughts from their point of view.

There are a couple of reasons why this interpretation is incorrect and in fact extremely harmful to autistic people.

There are many types of empathy.

The ability to put oneself in another's shoes and understand their thoughts, emotions and behaviors is a type of empathy called Cognitive Empathy

Some think that autistic people may have lower levels of cognitive empathy, however many autistic people have higher rates of Emotional or Affective Empathy. 

This type of empathy refers to when a person physically feels the emotions of the person with them, it is instinctual and involuntary and can be extremely overwhelming.

Then there’s the Double Empathy Problem.

If you are not familiar with Dr Damian Milton’s research, Reframing Autism has an accessible summary for non-academics that you can access at this link. 

You can also read my blog on the Double Empathy Problem here. 

In summary, Dr Milton’s work suggests autistic people do not have a social communication deficit. 

Rather, autistic people communicate just as effectively with other autistic people as non-autistic people do. 

It is when people of different neurotypes communicate with each other that problems arise often resulting in breakdowns, miscommunication and misunderstanding.

'Girls can’t be autistic'

Early research into autism was conducted looking at white, usually young, males and boys. 

This is why our understanding of autism is predominantly centered on the presentation of autism in this population. 

We now know that autism looks quite different in different populations, including girls, gender diverse people, CALD and BIPOC people, adults and older people. 

While you may still be able to find disparity in rates of autism diagnosis between populations, it is important to remember that these are rates of diagnosis not rates of autism

'Everyone's a little autistic' 

The ‘autism as a spectrum’ concept has led people to believe that everyone sits somewhere on this linear spectrum from ‘a little autistic’ to ‘a lot autistic’. 

While it is true that certain traits of autism show up across the population, autism is a distinct neurotype that you either are or are not. 

One of our mentors shared an excellent analogy that explains this so well: 

 Credit: C.L. Lynch @lynchauthor

'Autistic people can't be (insert any particular type of profession)'

This misconception stems from stereotypes about the capabilities of autistic people. 

Autistic people aren’t ‘special’, there’s so much stigma against autism because it’s seen as a horrible disability when it’s not, and autistic people are some of the funniest, kindest, smartest and most creative people on the planet - Jack

In reality, autistic people can excel in a wide range of professions, our team makes up some of the most diverse experts likely found in many other places. 

From biomolecular scientists, to software engineers, designers and social scientists - autistic people can thrive in any area they feel passionate about so long as they are supported and given access to accommodations that enable them to do so.

'Autistic people only thrive in IT'

Well if this one were true I would be in some serious trouble!

While some autistic people may indeed have a passion for technology and excel in IT-related fields, it's important to recognize that autism does not limit one's potential to a single career path. 

I wish people knew that the autistic community is so rich and diverse; there are lots of autistic people with incredible talents and abilities and it’s a real shame to the rest of society that so many of us aren’t included or accommodated for. - Bella

Autistic people possess diverse talents and interests, and we can thrive in various industries with the right support and accommodations.

'Autism diagnosis as an adult is not worth it'

Contrary to this belief, receiving an autism diagnosis as an adult can be incredibly empowering, life changing. As Bella, one of our autistic staff members, shares, 

"Being diagnosed autistic was like receiving an instruction manual for my brain. I’d always felt different to my peers, and being able to put a name and language to my experiences changed my life."

So, how can you support Autistic people today, and every day?

Educate Yourself 

Take the time to learn about autism and neurodiversity from actually autistic people. 

Hire autistic people to talk at your events, conferences etc about autism, follow #actuallyautistic people on social media, sign up to webinars hosted by autistic people. 

Listen and Learn

Value the experiences and perspectives of autistic people, listening to us and respect our lived experience as autistic people. 

Too often, too many discount and shrug off our experiences and needs as ‘too difficult’, ‘too picky’, ‘too much’. When autistic people ask for accommodations, don’t question them, we are all the experts in our own lived experiences. 

Similarly, don’t ask or expect autistic people to provide their expertise and lived experience without adequate compensation and respect.

Advocate for Inclusion

Advocate for inclusive policies and accommodations in your workplaces, schools, and communities, ensuring that autistic people have equal opportunities to thrive.

Arrange training that is delivered by autistic people, hire autistic consultants to provide expertise on how to build environments that are supportive of autistic people, support autistic entrepreneurs and autistic led business’. 

In Summary

I hope this article has been helpful in challenging misconceptions about autism and shedding light on the diversity and strengths of autistic people.

I invite you to join me and Autistic speakers from across the globe at the upcoming United Nations World Autism Day event focusing on the theme ‘moving from surviving to thriving'. 

You can find out more and sign up via this link.

To all our Neurokin who will undoubtably find today and the rest of April challenging and tiring - please take care of yourselves.

Reach out for support if you need - our door is always open <3

B x

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